Introduction to the Text:
The Ethiopic Book of Enoch is the earliest of three works attributed to him. It is rooted in Genesis 5:24 where Enoch “walked with God… and then he vanished because God took him”. Written in portions between the 2nd century B.C.E. and 1st century C.E., the text explores the unknown mysteries of the universe revealed to Enoch alone. Further complicating the date, it is composite literature composed of multiples strata.
1 Enoch consists of five Books: The Book of the Watchers, the Book of the Similitude, the Book of Astronomical Writings, the Book of Dream Visions, and the Book of the Epistle of Enoch. As mentioned previously, various fragments demonstrate its composite nature. I will focus on the the first book of 1 Enoch, The Book of the Watchers.
Although The Book of the Watchers does not directly contribute to interpretation of the New Testament, it does well in elucidating the cognitive environment of the 2nd century B.C.E. to 1st century C.E (See Ron Herms, Being Saved Without Honor: A Conceptual Link Between 1 Cor 3 and 1 Enoch 50? in Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 29.2 (Dec 2006): 187-210 and a post by The Decablog). Furthermore, it provides more insight into the political and religious conflicts present during this period. Finally, The Book of the Watchers is important because it provides tangible evidence of the redacted historical traditions rooted in ancient Israel, especially as seen within the Hebrew Bible and LXX.
1 Enoch 1-37 (The Book of the Watchers) and the Chaotic Place:
Especially interesting to myself is how The Book of the Watchers expands upon ideas established in Genesis 1:2’s use of tehom. As present in ancient Near Eastern literature, tehom was representative of the chaotic, un-orderly waters waters best exemplified by Tiamat in Enuma Elish. The author uses this motif in order to appropriate her as the opposition societal cohesion, the bad guy if you will(see Debra Ballentine, The Conflict Myth and the Biblical Tradition, 2015). Now, 1 Enoch 21 notes that Enoch “came to an empty place. And [he] saw (there) neither a heaven alone nor an earth below, but a chaotic and terrible place.”
This phrase has two important aspects. First, “nor an earth below” is literally translated as “an earth with a foundation” (Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 24, footnote 21:b), indicating that this chaotic place does not even have a foundation. What, though, is this foundation? Foundations within 1 Enoch are especially important, as they uphold the Earth. Take 1 Enoch 18:1, for example: “he has embroidered all creation as well as the foundations of the earth”. This demonstrates how vital foundations are to an operative world. It upholds it. The nether territory which Enoch visits, though, is void of foundations. The implication for the lack of foundations is furthered by the use of chaotic. Chaotic literally means, “which is not organized, prepared, or orderly” (Charlesworth (ed.), The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 24, footnote 21:c).
The chaotic place is neither heaven nor earth; rather, it is the holding place for angels. In other words, angels are attributed the most intimidating and terrible place imaginable: a territory with not order or foundations. Essentially, by lacking order, a key to social life in antiquity, the angels are completely set apart from the world. Interestingly, they are also recognized to hold power. After all, if the angels were not locked up for unrighteousness, they likely held not power to sway or impact the course of events. So, by locking the angels in Sheol, the chaotic place, the authors demonstrates his belief that angels and demons, also known as “fallen stars” in 1 Enoch, have a powerful and active presence in the the world of antiquity
All of this is to say that 1 Enoch 1-37 contains valuable information about how people thought about the world. What was important to them? How did they present things that acted in opposition to their system of beliefs? These are the sort of questions which can be sought after in the Book of the Watchers.
Ballentine, Debra. The Conflict Myth and Biblical Literature. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Herms, Ron. “Being Saved Without Honor: A Conceptual Link Between 1 Cor 3 and 1 Enoch 50?”. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 29.2 (Dec 2006): 187-210.
Isaac E. “1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) ENOCH”. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I. Hendrickson Publishers, 1983: 5-90.
Setterholm, Vincent. “What’s In Your Bible?” Bible Study Magazine. http://www.biblestudymagazine.com/extras-1/2014/10/31/whats-in-the-bible (Accessed 11/7/2015).
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