Pseudepigrapha Saturday: 1 Enoch, The Dream Visions

*All quotes from 1 Enoch are taken from James H. Charlesworth’s translation of 1 Enoch in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume I. 

Introduction to the Text:

The Dream Visions is Book Four in 1 Enoch. As a whole, 1 Enoch was written and composed between the 2nd century BCE and 1st century CE. The Dream Visions in particular was written 165-161 BCE. In the book, Enoch reveals to Methuselah, his son, two visions he had seen prior to being married. In the first vision, Enoch sees the sky hurled towards earth and the earth being swallowed up, hills sinking, and trees being uprooted and tossed into the abyss. After waking up, Enoch says that his grandfather, Mahalalel, told him to pray and praise Yahweh, which he does.

The second vision is a dream which recounts a majority of narrative in the Hebrew Bible; however, in the vision the characters are played by animals, stars, and heavenly beings. From a historical perspective, this is important because it sheds light on the interpretive practices in strands of early Jewish practice and belief. Likewise, it provides a key to understanding the conceptual framework and symbolic meanings of various things from the time period and social group.

The Monstrosity of Fallen Stars:

One of the most intriguing aspects of The Dream Visions, at least for myself, is how the demons are represented in the recounting of the Primeval history (Genesis 1-11) in 1 Enoch 85:1-87:4. Within Chapter 85, the main animals are cows and bulls. What each bovid represents depends on how it connects to Genesis 1-11 and the color ascribed to it within 1 Enoch. In Chapter 86, though, the demons are described as turning into bovids.

“I saw many stars descending and casting themselves down from the sky upon that first star; and they became bovids among those calves and were pastured together with them in their midst.”

Essentially, the demons (fallen angels?) begin in a non-material, divine, and heavenly form. The only way they can interact with the bovids are through looking like bovids. Yet, there is something monstrous about these star turned bovids.

“I kept observing, and behold, I saw all of them extending their sexual organs like horses and commencing to mount upon the heifers, the bovids.”

Because most people are not farmers, this statement just comes across as odd. Examining the biology of these animals, though, brings light to the monstrosity of the demons. Compared to a bull, the penis of a horse enlarges more because it has “a lot of erectile tissue relative to connective tissue” (Wikipedia entry on Penis). So, for the person experienced at working with animals, the idea of a bovid with such a large sexual organ is unnatural and monstrous.

Enoch continues this monstrous description as he reveals the results of the mating between the demon-bovids and heifers:

“They… all became pregnant and bore elephants, camels, and donkeys”.

Rather than bearing more bovids, the mating results in the birth of elephants, camels, and donkeys. Naturally, the unnatural occurrence is results of the monstrosity of the demon-bulls. It serves to re-emphasize the monstrous nature of the demon-bulls. Each instance, namely their changing from stars into bulls, having sexual organs like horses, and mating resulting in non-bovids, serves to emphasize the sheer unnatural and monstrous elements of the demons within The Dream Visions.

Although I won’t explore the nuances how the details of The Dream Visions comments upon and interprets Genesis 1-11, I will provide two preliminary comments. In order to understand the reception of Genesis 1-11, it is of absolute importance to examine how texts like The Dream Visions comment upon it. Furthermore, understanding how The Dream Visions conceptualized demons as the Other provides a helpful tool for analyzing the reception of demons and evil spirits throughout the Hellenistic period.

 

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