Angels coming to earth and marrying women; giant offspring who become evil spirits on the earth; visions of the heavenly realm and the complex working of the universe; warnings of imminent judgment: the Book of Enoch can seem extremely crazy to the modern reader. And yet it may have more relevance to the Christian faith than one might imagine.
The Book of Enoch claims to be the testimony of Enoch, of the seventh generation of men as recorded by Methuselah his son and Noah his great-grandson (Genesis 5:21-32). Most scholars and even most Christians consider the book to be pseudepigraphal, most likely written between 300-50 BCE. The Book of Enoch is subdivided into five sections: the “Book of the Watchers” (1 Enoch 1:1-36:4), the “Book of Parables” (1 Enoch 37:1-71:17), the “Book of Luminaries” (1 Enoch 72:1-82:20), the “Book of Dream Visions” (1 Enoch 83:1-90:42), and the “Letter of Enoch” (1 Enoch 91:1-108:15). While all these subdivisions draw from the same body of stories regarding Enoch, it is generally suggested that different authors composed different sections at different times in different contexts. The Book of Enoch seems to have been written originally in Aramaic and then translated into Greek and from Greek into other languages. The Book of Enoch has only been preserved in its entirety in Ethiopic (Ge’ez); fragmentary evidence for the Book of Enoch has been preserved in Greek, Latin, Syriac, and Coptic, and most famously in Aramaic from among the Dead Sea Scrolls in Cave 4. The Book of Enoch records traditions regarding Enoch’s visions of heaven as they relate to fallen angels, the increased sinfulness of man, God’s judgment in the Flood, and the imminent expected judgment with the coming of the Chosen One, the Son of Man.
The “Book of the Watchers” (1 Enoch 1:1-36:4) introduced the whole collection of sayings and visions of Enoch and told the narrative of the events of Genesis 5:12-9:17: a group of angels, known as the Watchers or the Sons of God, saw the beauty of human women, the daughters of man, and were able to know them and produce offspring, the Nephilim. These fallen angels also revealed secret knowledge to humans which would make them more powerful and destructive. The Nephilim caused great damage to the earth and increased bloodshed. God determined to eliminate this thread by judging the world with the Flood and preserving Noah and his family while the archangels seized the fallen angels and imprisoned them in chains in the abyss of hell. Enoch is taken up into heaven and shown all of these things as well as the ways the creation operated: the ways of the sun, moon, winds, waters, to paradise, the abode of the dead, and the abyss of hell. Enoch would also see tablets in which all the deeds of mankind to come were written down, and was able to thus understand how all things would take place and their end.
The “Book of the Parables” (1 Enoch 37:1-71:17) featured stories similar to the narratives of the Book of the Watchers, but also told stories of Enoch seeing the coming of a Son of Man in righteousness, power and dominion given to Him, and His judgment upon the whole world. The “Book of Luminaries” (1 Enoch 72:1-82:20) focused on Enoch’s visions regarding the operation of the sun and moon, insisting on the priority of a solar calendar, and full of detail on how the calendar would work. The “Book of Dream Visions” (1 Enoch 83:1-90:42) set forth the history of Israel from creation until the Maccabees in a barely veiled series of animal figures, expecting imminent final judgment. The rest of the Book of Enoch coalesced around a “Letter of Enoch” (1 Enoch 91:1-108:15) in which Enoch spoke of a “vision of weeks,” with a week representing seven generations, and seventy weeks for the present heavens before the coming of the new heavens and unnumbered weeks of righteousness, the two ways of righteousness and sin, and a series of wisdom/prophetic discourses pronouncing woe on the oppressive rich and seeking to encourage the oppressed and persecuted righteous to persevere in faith. The book ends with a story regarding Noah’s birth, the judgment which would come in his day, and warning of future judgment, and the final vision of Enoch, of books written to glorify the deeds of the righteous who will be raised in light while sinners would see that light in their darkness and depart.
The Book of Enoch, or at least the core stories on which the Book of Enoch depend, proved highly influential as apocalyptic narratives of the Second Temple Period. Their presence among the Dead Sea Scrolls attests to their influence. Jesus’ comment regarding angels as not given in marriage has a parallel in the book of Enoch (Matthew 22:30, 1 Enoch 15). Jude explicitly quotes 1 Enoch 1:9 in Jude 1:14-15, and called it prophecy; the Book of Enoch’s narratives regarding fallen angels imprisoned in chains best explain Jude’s and Peter’s references in Jude 1:6 and 2 Peter 2:4, and themes in the Book of Enoch may help explain 1 Peter 3:18-20 and the whole framing of judgment in 2 Peter 3:1-13. Jesus’ strong emphasis on being the Son of Man is at least parallel with the Book of Enoch if not influenced by it. The Revelation of John featured many themes similar to those found in the Book of Enoch, suggesting at least parallelism if not some level of continuity in apocalyptic imagery.
Many early Christians believed in the inspiration of the Book of Enoch; Tertullian especially made a spirited defense of it (Epistle of Barnabas 4:16; Justin Martyr, Second Apology 5; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 4.16.2; Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 24; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 5.1.10, Selections from the Prophets 2.1; Tertullian, On the Apparel of Women 3.1-3). In the third century and following the Book of Enoch began to fall out of favor among many Christians; Ambrose and Augustine offered explicit disapproval. The Book of Enoch would be lost to Western and even most of Eastern “Christendom”; the Ethiopian Orthodox continued to consider it inspired and preserved its text over time.
The Book of Enoch remains a conundrum for Christians, since Jude affirmed Enoch as a prophet, and thus granted some legitimacy to the stories contained therein, and yet the work has all the hallmarks of being at least mostly pseudepigraphal and was lost to most Christians for over a millennium. Christians do well to explore the Book of Enoch: an English translation is available online. If nothing else the Book of Enoch helps to illuminate the world of Second Temple Judaism, providing an apocalyptic answer to the questions regarding the suffering of the righteous and the oppression of the wealthy and giving voice to the expectation of the imminent judgment of God by His Chosen Anointed One. Yet the Book of Enoch might well provide an important key to interpreting the events of Genesis 6:1-14; Peter and Jude at least seem to view those events in light of what is made known in the book of Enoch. It may well also have had some influence on Jesus Himself. May we put our trust in God through Jesus the Son of Man, seek His purposes, and be prepared for the day of judgment to come!
Ethan R. Longhenry
Nickelsburg, George and VanderKam, James. 1 Enoch. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2012.