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.


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.


Pseudepigrapha Saturday: 1 Enoch

Introduction to the Text:

I provided a brief introduction to 1 Enoch previously:

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. (Source)

Essentially 1 Enoch is a tradition “of Enoch’s spiritual relocation… when he was taken away by God, saw the secrets of of the mysteries of the universe, the future of the world, and the predetermined course of human history” [1].

In this post, though, I will briefly consider the scribe or righteousness. More so, I will raise a question and note provide an answer.

1 Enoch,Writing, and Scribes:

In a recent contribution to Evil and Death: Conceptions of the human in Biblical, Early Jewish, Greco-Roman and Egyptian Literature, Ekaterina Matusova suggests that the “great rivers” in 1 Enoch 17:5-6, generally attributed to Greek influence, are part of a substratum of Mesopotamian  influence [2]. What I’d like to question is other areas where the influence may not necessarily have been Greek .

In 1 Enoch 13:4-7a, Azaz’el and his followers, fallen angels, requests Enoch to write for them:

“And they begged me to write for them a memorial prayer in order that there may be for them a prayer of forgiveness, and so that I may raise their memorial prayer unto the Lord of heaven. For, as for themselves, from henceforth they will not be able to speak, nor will they raise their eyes unto heaven as a result of their sins which have been condemned. And then I wrote down their memorial prayers and the petitions on behalf of their spirits and the deeds of each one of them…”

This portion of text is intriguing because, if I am reading it correctly, writing is directly associated with the act of Enoch as an intercessor. Azaz’el does not request intercession; rather, he requests a written petition. Matthew Black translates “they besought me to draw up for them a memorial and petition” [3]. In either case, it is evident that writing is integral to Enoch’s intercessory role.

I wonder from where this influence arrived. Is writing integral to Enoch’s intercessory role due to Greek influence, Biblical tradition, or Mesopotamian thought? While I am unable to answer, or even provide a thorough answer, it is something to consider. For in 1 Enoch 15:1, Enoch is called “righteous man, scribe of righteousness”. Based at least on these two reference, it seems that the author(s), namely the scribal community, intend to speak something about themselves through how they speak of writing, or something about how they fit within certain cultural standards of scribal practice.

Perhaps I’ll explore the topic of writing, reading, and scribal practices in 1 Enoch in the near future.


[1] E. Isaac,“1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) ENOCH”, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume I (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1983), 5.

[2] Ekaterina Matusova, “The Post-mortem Divisions of the Dead in 1 Enoch 22:1-13”, eds. Beato Ego and Ulrike Mittmann, in Evil and Death: Conceptions of the human in Biblical, Early Jewish, Greco-Roman and Egyptian Literature (Berlin: de Gruyter: 2015), 149-177.

[3] Matthew Black, The Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch (Leiden: Brill: 1985), 32.