Pseudepigrapha Saturday: The Book of Heavenly Luminaries

The Book of the Itinerary of the Luminaries of Heaven: the position of each and every one, in respect to their ranks, in respect to their authorities, and in respect to their seasons; each one according to their names and their places of origin and according to their months, which Uriel, the holy angel who was with me, and who (also) is their guide, showed me-just as he showed me all their treatises and the nature of the years of the world unto eternity, till the new creation witch abides forever is created.

– 1 Enoch 72:1; Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 1, p. 50

Introduction to the Text: 

The Book of Heavenly Luminaries is one book from the entire composition 1 Enoch, namely Book III. This book in particular highlights elements from the aforementioned quote. Simply put, Book III is a Hellenistic-Jewish piece about astrology (c. 110 BCE). Within it, every observable piece of the heavens are important to understanding how the heavenly realm and divinities operate. For in the ancient world, the observable heavens demonstrated how the deity (or deities) made the entire universe Ordered as opposed to Chaotic. By being in Order, occurrences in the heavens could be read, interpreted, and utilized to make decisions on current events.

Although I plan less on commenting on Book III itself, I hope that this post will help provide a the foundation elements within Babylonian history which may have led to the composition of this particular astrology piece. Consequently, it will provide better insight into the conceptual framework of Book III.

Babylonian Culture and its Inheritors: 

In Babylonian culture, the universe was the cuneiform tablet of the gods and goddesses. Though I am unable to recall where I read it, I recall a recent quote, which I shall paraphrase: “The only tablet big enough for the gods and goddesses to write their wills was the universe”. Understanding this idea is absolutely essential because it allows us, as modern readers, to look beyond the seemingly insignificant importance of Book III. When we choose to read Book III as a late reception of ideas within Babylonian culture, it becomes apparent that, at some level, understanding the heavens was of paramount importance to the social, religious, and political lives of the community and/or scribe(s) standing behind The Book of Heavenly Luminaries.

Too often as modern readers, we lack awareness not only of the direct context of ancient literature but also the historical background, both literary and cultural, which inform the text on some level. Although we should be careful not to assume that the text is dependent on a trend within Babylonian culture, it should at least be considered. Consideration of a text’s influences, in this case the influence of Babylonian culture upon Book III of 1 Enoch, may open up new avenues, approaches, and readings of ancient texts.

 

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