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1 Enoch: An Update on Manuscripts and Cautionary Notes on Usage

October 6, 2019

At the meeting of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, 5 August 2019 in Aberdeen, Loren Stuckenbruck gave one of the main/plenary papers that draws upon his extensive efforts to locate and classify Ethiopic manuscripts of 1 Enoch.  I’m grateful to him for letting me see his paper:  “The Significance of Ethiopic Witnesses for the Text Tradition of 1 Enoch: Problems and Prospects,” and with his permission I cite some of his observations arising from his work.

1 Enoch is a composite text, the component parts likely written in Aramaic and/or Hebrew variously 3rd century BCE to late 1st century BCE (to go with what is now the dominant opinion).  At perhaps various point (likely in the lst century BCE to 2nd century CE) it was translated into Greek, and then, sometime between the 4th and 7th centuries CE, was translated into Ethiopic (or, more specifically, Ge’ez, the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church).

Fragments of portions of 1 Enoch in Aramaic survive among the thousands of fragments of manuscripts from Qumran (the “Dead Sea Scrolls”), and remnants of a Greek translation also survive (from Egypt).  But the only complete copies that survive are the Ethiopic manuscripts, the earliest of which (thus far) are from the 14th century, but most of them later still.  That is, about a thousand years separate our earliest copies of Ethiopian 1 Enoch from the time in which the translation was made.  Moreover, the Ethiopic shows signs of being translated from the Greek translation, so what we now have is a translation of a translation.

For a number of years now, Stuckenbruck (University of Munich) has given his summers to searching for manuscripts of 1 Enoch in Europe, the Middle East, North America, and especially Ethiopia.  Whereas the available editions of 1 Enoch drew upon a handful of manuscripts, Stuckenbruck has identified more than 150.  So, what are some results from his analysis of them?  I cite just a few of his observations.

“We cannot reconstruct an earliest version of 1 Enoch, even if we restrict ourselves to passages for which the very fragmentary Aramaic evidence is extant” for, in addition to smaller textual variants, “the Aramaic fragments indicate the existence of a longer or substantially different text not preserved in any of the later versions.”

Further, given that the extant Ethiopic text was translated and transmitted by Christians, and read by the Ethiopian Church as part of its Old Testament, this makes it “very difficult, in the first instance, to make the reconstruction of a complete Second Temple text the exclusive, if not ultimate goal.”

Although the Ethiopic manuscripts don’t show major interpolations or omissions, they do exhibit the kinds of smaller variants that happen in the transmission of practically any writing from ancient times.

In the case of those portions of 1 Enoch for which no Aramaic or Greek fragments survive, we have a particular difficulty in establishing what the text may have looked like in the first century CE.  The section called the Parables/Similitudes of 1 Enoch (chaps. 37-71 of the standard editions) is a prime example.  And given the enormous scholarly attention directed to this material, especially among NT scholars, Stuckenbruck’s cautionary words should be noted.  In other portions of 1 Enoch where we can make comparisons with the Aramaic or Greek fragments, we can see “how far removed from the important Aramaic Dead Sea evidence any edition starting with the Ge‘ez version as a point of departure may be, and it is up to textual work and to processes of interpretation to determine the plausibility of anchoring this or that text within a Second Temple context.”

Still more starkly, Stuckenbruck warns, “although descended from a Second Temple Period tradition, the Ethiopic version of Enoch is not in itself a Second Temple Period text” (emphasis his).  We should not disregard 1 Enoch, but we should bear in mind that, “the extant Ethiopic version, more or less better than existing Greek evidence, at best approximates what existed during the Second Temple Period, probably being nearly identical in some places, subtly changed in others, and wildly divergent elsewhere.”  So, “much higher levels of caution be exercised in its application to the world of Antiquity.”

Stuckenbruck’s paper will be published in the Proceedings of the IOSOT meeting in Aberdeen in due course.

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5 Comments
  1. John Mitrosky permalink

    Admittedly. our knowledge of the Galilean situation during the Persian and Hellenistic periods is very little Larry, as Freyne and Horsley have pointed out. However, the deeper one goes into all the literature referring to the fall of the Watchers by the many accomplished Enoch Seminar authors, an inescapable truth emerges. At least Chapters 6 to 16 of 1 Enoch exhibit an ancient Second Temple Judaism, with no evidence of Ethiopian scribes being wildly divergent, or subtly changing the text at all. On the contrary, Chapters 6 to 11 are a mish-mash, or a confused composite mixture, of very ancient texts that go back to the 3rd century B.C.E. All this evidence bodes well with Mark’s preference for the term “unclean spirits” as a synonym for his “demons.”

    • Yes, John. For parts of 1 Enoch we can check things, e.g., against Aramaic fragments or Greek fragments. It’s not whether 1 Enoch is a “mishmash” but whether in subtle ways variants have developed across a 1000 yrs of copying. They have!

  2. Tom Hennell permalink

    Thanks for that Larry.

    I get the impression that Loren Stuckenbruck has adopted a rather different persepective from that of Michael Knibb (which I take to be the current consensus)? Though, as you don’t mention Knibb in your summary, I am not sure.

    Knibb proposed (if I have him correctly) that we cannot talk of 1 Enoch as existing in Aramaic as a defined text; rather that a number of Enoch texts were to be found at Qumran, of which three are found collected together in some scrolls, the Book of Watchers, the Dream Visions and the Epistle of Enoch. These multiple Aramaic texts were translated into Greek; and were copied in a Christian context down to the fifth/sixth century; as the Enoch quotations in the Chronography of Syncellus correspond to the Aramaic.

    But some time around the 1st Century CE (or maybe a bit later) these Aramaic texts were re-edited into a single composite work of pentateuchal form, now including the Parables of Enoch, and translated into Greek. This work was indeed presented as a single (albeit composite) text, and is witnessed in the three surviving sets of Greek papyrus fragments; the Akhmim papyrus, the Chester Beatty fragments and the Vatican fragments. Knibb maintains that the oldest form of the Ethiopic generally agrees with this Greek pentateuchal text.

    So Knibb would not say, I think : “the Aramaic fragments indicate the existence of a longer or substantially different text not preserved in any of the later versions.” both because he does not see the Aramaic as establishing any such single text; and also that at least one later version (that quoted by Symmachus) does conform with the Aramaic witnesses.

    As to whether Ethiopic Enoch gives access to a Second Temple text, I suppose that depends how you rate Knibb’s supposed Greek pentateuchal Enoch of the first/second century.

    • Tojm (and others): With Prof. Stuckenbruck’s permission, I copy here his comments emailed to me.

      ” I note a comment to your blog by a Tom Hennell. I think he misunderstands Knibb, who in any case – and I think he would agree – hasn’t had a real look at the Aramaic materials in a long time. Also, although the Ethiopic/ Ge’ez that we have ultimately goes back to a translation from the Greek, the underlying Greek was not always the same as the Greek extant to us through our sources (e.g. Codex Panopolitanus, Greek-Michigan Papyrus). For example, the phrase “and the righteous will be saved”, which occurs near the outset of 1 Enoch occurs in Codex Panopolitanus, but not in any Ethiopic ms. (though not certain, I consider it an addition made on the Christian level of transmission). Among a number of further examples, 1 Enoch 5:8 in the Greek is very different from the more sanguine / less embellished Ge’ez text. Nickelsburg’s translation takes over the Greek in both cases, while Knibb’s translation (albeit based on the later Ethiopic recension) does not. Fiodar Litvinau, a doctoral candidate with me in Munich, has an article forthcoming in Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha on 1 Enoch 5:8 in relation to this.

  3. Glen Shellrude permalink

    Thank you for another exceptional post. I often comment to students that you are a model of exceptional scholarship: thorough, objective, careful and generous. You are often in my prayers…though this is the first time I’ve said so here.

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