Skip to content

1 Enoch: Reception and Usage

For anyone interested in the writing known as 1 Enoch (and any NT student has to be in today’s world), there is a splendid review of reception and usage of the writing in ancient Jewish tradition and in early and modern (Ethiopian) Christianity:  Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “The Book of Enoch: Its Reception in Second Temple Jewish and in Christian Tradition,” Early Christianity 4 (2013): 7-40.

Over the last few years, Stuckenbruck has led a major effort to locate, photograph and/or transcribe every manuscript of 1 Enoch . . . which means scouring Ethiopia, the only place where one finds complete manuscripts of this writing.  In this valuable article, he reviews results thus far.

1 Enoch is actually a composite text, combining several discrete writings linked with the biblical figure of Enoch.  To use the labels of modern scholars, “The Book of Watchers” (chaps. 1-36), “the Book of Parables/Similitudes” (chaps. 37-71), the “Astronomical Book” (chaps. 72-82), “The Book of Dreams” (83-90, apologies to Steve Miller Band!), and the “Epistle of Enoch” (chaps 91-105), followed by two appendices, “The Birth of Noah” (chaps. 106-7) and the “Eschatological Admonitions” (chap 108).  But Stuckenbruck estimates that some 19 “distinct literary traditions can be identified within 1 Enoch” (8).  Moreover, the process that led to the formation of “1 Enoch” as we know it in classical Ethiopic “may have extended up to a period of 700 years” (8).

Parts of the text (in Aramaic) have turned up among the Dead Sea material, fragments of all the above named sections, except the “Book of Parables/Similitudes.”   Indeed, although NT scholars understandably have focused on the “Book of Parables” on account of the august messianic figure described therein, thus far there is no portion of this material found among either the Qumran Aramaic fragments or the Oxyrhynchus Greek fragments of 1 Enoch.  Moreover, it is hard to offer any clear instance of citation of this section of 1 Enoch among second-temple Jewish or early Christian writings. So, despite the recent groundswell of opinion that “the Book of Parables” was composed sometime in the early lst century CE or perhaps a bit earlier, there remains this curious absence in text-finds and identifiable citations.

About half of Stuckenbruck’s essay, however, is devoted to the place of 1 Enoch in the Ethiopian Church.  I found it striking that the inclusion of 1 Enoch in the Ethiopian canon of scriptures “did not clearly emerge until the 15th cent. CE” (21).  But Stuckenbruck cogently judges that the writing had already been valued and used for “a long time” in Ethiopian Christianity, and so the formal status accorded in the 15th century only made the matter official.

In Ethiopian Christianity, it appears that the “Book of Parables” is among the most frequently cited material, because the “Elect One” of this material is identified as Jesus Christ.  Enoch, thus, is taken as a prophet who predicted Jesus’ appearance, and from the 15th century or earlier, 1 Enoch was used by Ethiopian Christianity in an apologetic fashion against Jewish objections to Jesus’ divinity (36).

Stuckenbruck’s work has identified at least 120 Ethiopic manuscripts of 1 Enoch, although these all date no earlier than the late Medieval period.  So, lots of questions remain for future investigators.


Rome and Christians

Last night I enjoyed the final instalment of “Ultimate Rome:  Empire without Limit,” written and presented by Professor Mary Beard (Cambridge), which aired here in the UK last night on BBC2.  You can see more about  this episode and the full series here.

In this final episode, which dealt with the final phase of the Roman Empire, she did a good job of explaining how what we label “religion” was fully part of the fabric of social and political life, all areas, and how the many (and many kinds) of deities of the time functioned in the life-world of people.  She also indicated how Roman-era Judaism differed in the rejection of worship of the many deities, but how Romans accommodated this as essentially part of the ethnic peculiarity of the Jewish people.

Then, however, she rightly noted that the early Christians presented a different problem.  They too were expected to demur from worship of the gods in favour of the one deity of biblical tradition.  But they had no ethnic basis or justification for doing so.  The trans-ethnic nature of early Christianity, and the more aggressive spread of it too, made it much more of a perceived threat, as it came to the notice of the Roman-era cultural/political elite.  I discuss this and other related matters in my forthcoming book:  Destroyer of the gods:  Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor University Press, September 2016).  For more information see here.

Of course, in a 60-minute TV programme for a general audience you can’t go far into the complexities of history.  I thought she again did a fine job, however, given the limits of the medium.  But she also triggered a couple of further observations.

First, it isn’t entirely correct to say that we have scant information about what the “pagan” Romans thought about early Christians.  She didn’t mention the correspondence between Pliny (the “Younger”) and Emperor Trajan, which most historians regard as crucial.  There are also comments by Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Galen (the famous physician of the day), and much of a full-scale critique of Christianity by the pagan sophisticate Celsus.  I discuss all this evidence in a chapter in my book.  Opinions varied from outright disdain (Marcus Aurelius) to curiosity and guarded admiration of Christian behaviour (Galen), to a determined effort to refute Christianity (Celsus), to efforts to force social and religious conformity (e.g., Pliny).  And the key thing that caused the most worry was the Christian refusal to worship the gods.

Second, as Professor Beard showed examples of the libelli (certificates vouching that you had sacrificed to the Roman gods) required by Emperor Decius (249-50 CE), she noted that we don’t know first-hand why Decius did this.  True.  But it’s really interesting that no previous emperor (or any other government official) ever thought it needed to have people present written proof of sacrificing.  Indeed, I’m not aware that there was ever any necessity to require people to sacrifice to the gods.  If all Decius wanted was to promote reverence for the traditional gods, surely that wouldn’t have required legislation.  After all, reverence for the gods was central to the social life of people, as it had been for centuries.  So, something of novel significance was reflected in Decius’ action of issuing his edict.

As I note in my book, Pliny’s report about his handling of those accused of being Christians (in Pontus and Bithynia, ca. 110-12 CE) seems to reflect judicial innovations not previously attested.  He required those accused to reverence images of the gods and the emperor, and to curse Christ.  If they did so, he let them go.  If they refused, he executed them.  This curious and novel judicial procedure, in short, seems to have been developed specifically to deal with Christians.  It was Pliny’s own idea (he says), but Trajan’s letter in response affirms it as valid.

So, by the very early years of the second century, Christianity was having an effect on Roman judicial procedure, at least under Pliny (and perhaps in other jurisdictions, though only locally enforced).  In Decius’ edict issued about 140 years later, we may have indication of legislative effects of Christians upon the Empire.  It’s an intriguing possibility.

In any case, Professor Beard’s latest series on the Roman Empire (as were her earlier ones)  is very much worth your attention.  The good old BBC comes through again!

(For more on Decius’ decree, see J. B. Rives, “The Decree of Decius and the Religion of Empire,” Journal of Roman Studies 89 (1999):  135-54.)

“God” in the New Testament

One of the better kept secrets of the universe (on account of the inept handling of it by the publisher) is my little book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010).  The publisher’s online catalogue entry here (although the city is Edinburgh, not Edingburgh).  Perhaps Edward Snowden could help in breaking the secrecy.  I’ve mentioned the book previously, and news of its French translation here.

Through some sort of snafu, the publisher never sent it out for reviews, so it hasn’t been noticed much.  Indeed, to my knowledge, it was never reviewed in any of the major journals.  Reviews I’ve found are online here and here.

I’ve been disappointed in this, obviously, for although it’s a small book, I did put a good deal of work into it. As there are so few books on “God” in the NT, whatever its shortcomings, there ain’t a lot of competition out there for it!  So, I shamelessly mention it, reminded to do so in light of a lecture given today here in New College (which shall remain unspecified).

One of the emphases in my little book is that the key factor is the shape of earliest Christian devotion.  In later centuries, Christians (influenced by then-dominant philosophical categories) focused on what is called “ontological” questions/issues.  But I contend that the earlier, and more crucial, factor is the pattern of earliest devotional practice.  For example, the NT texts typically present God as the ultimate recipient of worship; but these texts equally make it requisite that worship of God be done through Jesus.  This introduces a novel “dyadic” devotional pattern, and the NT texts typically make it, not an option, but mandatory.  I submit that in this we have the decisive historical development that helped to generate, even to require, the subsequent history of theological argument about how to integrate Jesus into the developing Christian understanding of “God.”

But it isn’t feasible to deal with the matter adequately in a blog-posting.  So, those seriously interested will have to read the book.  You’ll have to make an effort to do so, however, for the publisher hasn’t made it easy!

Messiah and Divine Son

Among interesting points raised in the discussion at the Salamanca symposium last week was the observation by Prof. Guijarro that ascriptions of divine sonship to Jewish messianic figures of the second-temple period aren’t common, whereas in earliest Christian discourse Jesus’ filial status with God is more frequent and prominent.

Some have proposed the influence of Roman emperor discourse, in which the living emperor is son of the divine (deceased) predecessor emperor.  But it’s curious that, for example, Paul’s references to Jesus as the divine son are (1) few in comparison to other honorific claims (“Lord,” “Christ”), and (2) are clustered, not in letters in which “pagan” religion is engaged, but in letters in which Paul engages issues arising from the Jewish context (Galatians and Romans in particular).  You’d think that Paul would flout the claim of Jesus’ divine sonship in letters addressing the “pagan” environment if the point was to contrast Jesus with the Emperor or to draw upon imperial claims.

As well, it’s interesting that the actual title “Son of God” appears only four times among the 17 references in the 13 letters traditionally ascribed to Paul, and that there are variations in the form of the expression in each of these four instances:  tou . . . huios theou (Rom 1:4); ho tou theou . . . huios (2 Cor 1:19); tou huiou tou theou (Gal 2:20; and Eph 4:13). In the remaining 13 references, Jesus is “his [God’s] Son” (Rom 1:3, 9; 5:10; 8:29, 32; 1 Cor 1:9; Gal 1:16; 4:4, 6; 1 Thess 1:10), and “his [God’s] own Son” (Rom 8:3), “the Son” (1 Cor 15:28), and “the Son of his love” (Col 1:13).  As I’ve written in an earlier study, “The conviction that Jesus is God’s Son was apparently what mattered to Paul, not so much the Christological title or the fixed verbal formulas to express that conviction.”

The consistent feature in all of these references, however, is the use of the definite article:  Jesus for Paul is the Son of God.  This suggests that Paul saw Jesus as holding a unique sonship, and not as one member of a wider class of individuals.  But, to be sure, Paul also refers to people being made God’s sons/children through being incorporated into Jesus (e.g., Romans 8:12-30).  So, for Paul, Jesus’ status is unique but not exclusionist in effect; instead, Jesus’ divine status becomes the basis for the incorporation/inclusion of others into a filial status with God.

Jesus’ filial status seems to have been Paul’s favoured way of referring to Jesus in relation to God.  In relation to believers, Jesus is “Lord.”  In relation to God’s  eschatological purposes Jesus is also “Christ” (Messiah).  These latter two terms are used considerably more frequently by Paul as honorific terms for Jesus.  But Jesus’ filial status with God seems to have held a special place in Paul’s beliefs.

For further discussion, see my entry, “Son of God,” in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. G. F. Hawthorne, R. P. Martin, D. G. Reid (InterVaristy Press, 1993), pp. 900-6; and my essay, “Jesus’ Divine Sonship in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,” in Romans and the People of God, eds. S. K. Soderlund & N. T. Wright (Eerdmans, 1999), 217-33.

Psalms and Salamanca

I returned late Saturday from a very enjoyable trip to Spain that concluded with the day conference on the early Christian use/interpretation of certain “messianic” Psalms, in which I gave a paper that I summarized briefly in an earlier posting here.

The conference was held in the Pontifical University of Salamanca, and Professor Santiago Guijarro Oporto was the superb organizer and host.  The particular focus was on Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, and there were fine papers given on each of these texts, focusing on questions about their origins and transmission (e.g., Greek rendering in the Septuagint) prior to early Christian appropriation of them.

Salamanca is a lovely small city to visit, the old city very well preserved and lots of historic sites and museums.  It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.  In 2018, they celebrate the 800th anniversary of the University of Salamanca, the oldest in Spain.


“Destroyer” Endorsements

It’s very nice to have such positive endorsements from such highly-respected scholars as those given to my forthcoming book:  Destroyer of the gods:  Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World.  You can see what April DeConick (Rice University), Jörg Frey (Zurich), and Paula Fredriksen (Hebrew University) have said here.  Click on “Reviews”.

The Book of Revelation: A Different Kind of “Apocalyptic” Text

Prompted by a recent guest lecture on the Book of Revelation given here, I pondered to myself again how unusual the book is. We (scholars) typically associate Revelation with a body of ancient texts that we classify as “apocalyptic” writings. But, actually, Revelation stands out in a number of interesting features that may signal something historically significant.

Typically, for example, “apocalyptic” texts are pseudonymous, fictively ascribed to some ancient figure such as Abraham, Moses, Enoch or Ezra. And typically, the texts pretend to be revelations given to such a figure about events that were “future” for him, but are actually recent/past events for the real readers.  Examples include the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Book of Jubilees, 4 Ezra, 1 Enoch, 2 Baruch, and a few others. But perhaps the most well-known example is the book of Daniel in the Old Testament, especially Daniel 7–12.

The intended message in these texts seems to be to say to readers that those recent events (which are often such things as destruction, war, etc.) don’t signal God’s lack of control or care, for the texts claim that God forewarned about them.  The texts seem intended to comfort readers and assure them that God is really in charge, and so their faith is well placed.

It may be that the main reason for ascribing these writings to this or that figure of the biblical past was that by the time these texts were composed it was widely thought among second-temple Jewish circles that prophecy had ceased. So, you couldn’t easily hope to get a text accepted if it was presented as some new writing and revelation.

But Revelation is different in a number of striking ways. First, the “John” of Revelation seems to have been a real figure, whose real name was John (and so was probably a Jewish believer), and who was a known contemporary of those to whom he wrote (e.g., 1:9).  Revelation isn’t pseudonymous.

Second, it doesn’t claim to have been given to people long ago, but instead directly addresses the specified readers, especially the believers in the seven churches described in Revelation 2—3.

Third, it doesn’t claim to be some past prediction of recent events, but instead claims to predict events that are yet to happen. That is, Revelation claims to be a real prophecy/prediction, not “prophecy after the fact.”

It’s also noteworthy that the author presents himself as a prophet and Revelation as a prophecy (e.g., 1:3; 22:18-19).  This seems to liken/align John to the OT prophets who spoke in God’s name.  But, another distinguishing feature:  The OT prophets spoke their prophecies, the biblical writings named after them claiming to preserve those oracles.  But John claims to be directed specifically to write his prophecy (e.g., 1:11).  The prophetic task assigned to John was to write a text.  This also tells us something about the religious ethos reflected in the book.

So, my first point is that Revelation really stands out from all the other writings with which we typically classify it. And that makes for some further pondering as to why it is so different and what that tells us.

It seems to me that Revelation reflects a different kind of “spirituality” or religious ethos, compared with the other apocalyptic texts I’ve mentioned. Clearly, in the circles of Jesus-followers reflected in Revelation, prophecy was (again?) considered a real and valid phenomenon.  John didn’t have to ascribe his text to some ancient worthy, but could straightforwardly claim a prophetic calling of his own.

And his point wasn’t simply to assure readers about recent events but to summon them to prepare themselves for what he saw as looming events (“what must soon take place,” 1:1), in which believers would have only two alternatives:  to maintain their faith and die for it, or to commit apostasy.  That’s a different kind of “pastoral” aim and reflects a different setting.

Oh, and one more thing. People often comment on the violence in Revelation.  But it’s very important to note that it’s deferred, especially the vengeance to be meted out to the wicked; and believers have no role in executing that vengeance.  Instead, it’s “the armies of heaven” (apparently angelic forces) that ride out in Revelation 19, not an army of believers.  In that sense, Revelation is also different from texts such as the “War Scroll” from Qumran (1QM), which appears to portray “the sons of light” (the righteous of the Qumran community) joining in a final battle against “the sons of darkness” (the wicked).  In short, Revelation actually provides no basis for believers themselves exacting vengeance or making war against others, even against those who persecute them.  Instead, it’s all left in God’s hands and deferred to God’s own time.  There again, Revelation actually reflects a striking kind of religious stance.

So, granted the dizzying imagery of the book, Revelation seems to me a text that reflects an interesting kind of spirituality.  It’s been the playground of nutty people over the centuries, who’ve treated it as some kind of coded history-in-advance, and who’ve concocted various calculations of “the end.”  But Revelation is actually a much more serious and substantial text that deserves better.

More Text-Critical Commentary

For those able to handle Koine Greek, there is an additional resource dealing with text-critical matters, Wieland Wilker’s “Online Textual Commentary on the Greek Gospels,” here.  Like the Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (edited by Metzger) mentioned in an earlier posting, Wilker provides details and analysis.  But “online” means that Wilker didn’t have to deal with space/page limitations, and so he provides a much fuller presentation of the data, such as full quotations from early Christian writers (“Church Fathers”).

And his judgements broadly reflect those of the great majority of scholars who have worked with the relevant data.  I think that James Snapp was unkind and inaccurate to describe the Metzger textual commentary as “terrible” in the way it handles the questions about the ending of Mark a recent comment.  But it is limited, mainly by the purpose of the commentary, which was essentially to give the basic data and the rationale of the committee in judging which variants to print as primary and which as secondary.

P.S. After Snapp protesting that in his statement that the Metzger commentary was “terrible”he meant to say that it was “terribly one-sided and selective,” I modified this posting.  But he still objects that I’m somehow distorting him.  I’ll let people read his comment to this posting and judge.  “Terrible” or “terribly one-sided and selective,” both seem rather unkind and inaccurate.  But, for the record, Snapp meant to say “terribly one sided and selective.”  OK.

Codex & Bookroll: New Videos

I announce two newly-produced, short videos in which I explain the basics of the ancient bookroll and the codex, and the curious early Christian preference for the latter bookform:  here.  These videos were produced by/for the University of Edinburgh Centre for the History of the Book, as part of a series of videos about various history-of-book matters.

For a more extended discussion of questions about the early Christian preference for the codex, see the chapter in my book, The Earliest Christian Artifacts:  Manuscripts and Christian Origins (Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 43-93.

A Textual Commentary on the NT

Those interested in text-critical questions about the Greek NT will find very helpful as a first resource to consult:  A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition, Bruce M. Metzger (on behalf of and in cooperation with the Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament).  Stuttgart:  United Bible Societies, 1994.

NT scholars will know the work, but I mention it for the benefit of the many “lay/general” readers of this blog-site, as well as those who may be scholars in other fields, who are keen to know more about text-critical matters.

This work gives data and analysis on the places of textual variation noted in the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament, but these include pretty much all the really major ones.  At each point the commentary lays out the evidence and then gives the rationale for the decision made by the committee that produced the UBS Greek New Testament as to which variant to prefer.

So, for  example, to refer to a couple of points of textual variation mentioned in an earlier posting, the data on the “Pericope of the Adulteress” are discussed in pp. 187-89, and the thorny issue of the endings of Mark in pp. 102-7.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,925 other followers

%d bloggers like this: