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1 Enoch: Reception and Usage

May 26, 2016

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.


From → Qumran, Uncategorized

  1. edkunkel permalink

    Even reading what R. H. Charles did circa 100 yrs ago w/ the Ethiopic is hard to wrap your arms around. Going thru that reminded me of the task compiling the Oxford English Dictionary 🙂

  2. Donald Jacobs permalink

    What has happened to my second favourite blogger? Is he on holiday? Daily checkers might be informed.

    • Holiday break. I post when I’ve got something to offer. Otherwise, I keep quiet.

  3. Deane permalink

    Such skepticism about the lack of early textual evidence for the Parables of Enoch! It reminds me of the skepticism of the early Tübingen school in relation to the dates of the canonical Gospels.

    And yet, if the Parables of Enoch were written about the turn of the era, we would not expect them to be at Qumran, whose early first-century-BCE floruit was before this and before the probable break in settlement under Herod, unlike the case for the earlier Watchers, Astronomical Book, Animal Apoc, and Epistles. So the Qumran evidence is not cogent to the question. Even less cogent are the Oxyrhynchus Greek fragments, which don’t evidence Watchers or the Epistles either (if indeed there ever was a Greek translation of the Parables). Lee Martin McDonald, however, has made a good case for the influence of the Parables on the New Testament and lists about 5 parallels in second-century Christian texts, some involving plausible citation (in the Charlesworth & Bock volume).

    • Deane: Take a breath and breathe slowly out your nose! No “scepticism” on my part; just an observation about the dearth of physical evidence for the Parables . . . just when we’d most like to have it. But in my publications over the years I’ve always ridden along with the proposal that it does derive from the 2nd temple Jewish tradition.
      Oh, and actually, the Codex Panopolitanus (6th Cent) has material of the “Book of Watchers”, and Chester Beatty XII has portions of chaps 97-107, and Oxyrhynchus 2069 has bits of chaps 77-78, 85-87.
      And the Qumran site seems to most scholars to have remained in active operation till destruction in the Jewish revolt of 66-72 CE.
      So, it remains a curiosity that we have no remnants of the Parables, nor any clear citation/quotation either, in the first century or so. Just saying.

      • Deane permalink

        Ha! I’m still breathing. Ok, you’re just saying. 🙂

  4. Timothy Joseph permalink

    Dr. H.,
    Thanks again for the ‘heads up’ on this much needed book. I, for one, am extremely interested in a book in which the author has so diligently scoured the manuscript evidence. Especially in light of the claims about how open the Canon actually was, I am interested to read the chapters that deal with acceptance of this text into the Ethiopian Canon.


  5. “…apologies to Steve Miller Band!” LOL! If I may, tangentially, those who have Charlesworth’s Old Testament Pseudepigrapha may find Steve Delamarter’s A Scripture Index to Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha useful.

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