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.