The Book of Enoch makes for interesting reading. This pseudepigraphal work was widely read and accepted by the early church fathers, and once it went missing, the interpretation of key Biblical texts changed. Today, we distinguish between three works known as the Book of Enoch. So, what are these fascinating works all about?
1. The Book of Enoch? Which one?
There are three different books attributed to Enoch, and each is sometimes referred to as the Book of Enoch. The work most known as the Book of Enoch should rather be called 1 Enoch. It is a compilation of five other works: The Book of Watchers, The Similitudes of Enoch, The Astronomical Book, The Book of Dreams, and The Epistle of Enoch. Though some of the sections are earlier works, the dating of the compiled book is around 200 BCE.
2 Enoch, also known as The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, is a shorter retelling of the basic story of 1 Enoch. It does, however, have some unique content as well. The author wrote this version of the book of Enoch between the 1st Century BCE and the 3rd Century CE. The language of the original version of 2 Enoch is unknown. The only full versions of the text were written in Slavonic and dated to the 14th century and later. For this reason, it is called the Slavonic Enoch.
3 Enoch, variously known as The Hebrew Book of Enoch, The Book of the Palaces, The Book of Rabbi Ishmael, and The Revelation of Metatron, was written in Hebrew. It is dated to the 5th century CE, though it claims to be the work of Rabbi Ishmael of the 2nd century. 3 Enoch is associated with Merkabah mysticism, which in turn is based on the throne vision of Ezekiel 1-3. A prominent theme in this book is Enoch’s ascension into heaven and his transformation into the angel Metatron.
2. The Book of Enoch is a Pseudepigrapha
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The term pseudepigrapha refers to a book attributed to a person who was not the actual author of the work. Pseudepigrapha were common around 400 BCE to 200 CE. Authors attributed their works to famous characters from the Bible or from history to give them more weight and credibility. Other examples of pseudepigrapha from the approximate same time are the Testament of Job, the Apocalypse of Baruch, and IV Ezra, among many others.
In the case of the Book of Enoch, the author attempted to attribute the book to Enoch, the father of Methuselah, referenced in Genesis 5. This enigmatic character Enoch ascended to heaven without having died. The Bible provides little detail about Enoch, but what it does provide is the ideal material to create a back story around.
3. The New Testament Quoted the Book of Enoch
The Book of Enoch is both quoted and alluded to in the New Testament. First, it is alluded to in 2 Peter 2:4. Secondly, the book of James quotes the book of Enoch verbatim. 1 Enoch 1:9 reads:
“Behold, he comes with the myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to destroy all the wicked, and to convict all flesh for all the wicked deeds that they have done, and the proud and hard words that wicked sinners spoke against him.”
Jude 14 and 15 read:
“It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Allowing for variations in translation, James 14-15 quotes 1 Enoch 1:9 verbatim. The fact that the New Testament quotes from the Book of Enoch does not elevate it to canonical status. Several other books mentioned in the Bible are also not included in the canon. Such examples are the Book of the Wars of the Lord (Numbers 21:14), The Book of Jashar (Joshua 10:13), The Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), The Book of Annals (Nehemia 12:23), and The Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia (Esther 10:2).
4. Angels, Watchers, The Book of Enoch, and the Bible
According to The Book of Enoch (1 Enoch), God sent 200 angels, called watchers (“Irin” in Aramaic and “Egregoroi” in Greek), to serve as guardians, guides, or instructors. The Watchers were supposed to guide humanity to know and do good and virtuous things. Instead, they taught humans evil things and corrupted them.
Among the evil things listed are the art of sorcery, astrology, how to make weapons, and the art of making war. The Book of Enoch also includes seemingly innocuous things like metallurgy, meteorology, herbology, and cosmetics in the list of knowledge that the Watchers wrongfully shared with humanity. Arguably the greatest of the great evils the Watchers have done was to seduce women and copulate with them. We will discuss the consequences of this crossbreeding in due course.
As punishment for their deeds, God confined the Watchers to “Tartarus” according to 1 Enoch. The term “Tartarus” is not of Hebrew origin and is only used once in Scripture. 2 Peter 2:4 reads:
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but threw them into the lowest hell [Tartarus] and imprisoned them in chains of deepest darkness, holding them for judgment.”
Tartarus features prominently in Homer’s Iliad. In the Iliad, Zeus punished the Titans by casting them into Tartarus after the Titanomachy, a ten-year war between the Titans and the Olympians. Tartarus is “where … the deepest gulf beneath the earth” is “as far beneath Hades as heaven is above earth” (Iliad, Book 8:1). It is the deepest, darkest recess of the underworld or hell. The references to Tartarus in 1 Enoch and 2 Peter indicate that there was an awareness of the concept from Homer’s Iliad and it was used as a parallel to build a narrative about God’s punishment of the fallen angels.
5. Giant Offspring of the Watchers
The offspring of the Watchers and human women were called the Nephilim, which means “fallen ones.” Nephilim is a Hebrew word translated as “Gigantes” in Greek and Latin. “Gigantes” is where we derive the English “giants” from.
The Book of Enoch describes the giants as violent individuals who consumed everything the humans acquired. When the humans could no longer sustain them, the giants turned on the humans and devoured them. They then turned on the animals and the rest of creation, destroying everything they encountered.
The Bible details the presence of Nephilim after the flood (Numbers 13:32–33). Several nations either were giants or had giants among them. Examples are the sons of Anak (Genesis 23:2; Joshua 15:13), the Rephaim, once led by King Og (Deuteronomy 3:11), and the giants that aligned themselves with the Philistines, like Goliath (2 Samuel 21:18-22) and his brother, Lachmi (1 Chronicles 20:5).
6. Noah Interceded for the Giants
According to The Book of Enoch, Noah interceded for the giants and asked God to forgive them. The Book of Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus) details this incident but is not part of the protestant canon. It is, however, part of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles. God refused mercy for the giants because they were evil. He wanted to destroy their line.
7. The Book of Enoch and the Church Fathers
Many early church fathers believed and transmitted the teaching that the Nephilim were the descendants of the amalgamation of Watchers and human women. To them, The Book of Enoch provided the key to interpreting the Bible on this issue. The church fathers who held this view were, among others: Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Ambrose of Milan.
Later church fathers rejected this view. They believed that the context of Genesis 6 should guide the interpretation of who the Nephilim were. To them, as far as Genesis 6:2 is concerned, the sons of God referred to the male descendants of Seth, and the daughters of man referred to the female descendants of Kain. Augustine of Hippo‘s book, City of God, in which he detailed this perspective, contributed to the change in view of later scholars.
The Book of Enoch went missing for over a millennium and may have contributed to the significant change of view. Sometime before the 4th century, the book was lost and was only rediscovered again in 1773. The first English translation of The Book of Enoch only became available in 1821. Later Aramaic versions of The Book of Enoch, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, were published in the 1950s. Since its rediscovery, the interpretation of relevant Bible passages has again been influenced and even determined by what The Book of Enoch had to say.
8. Melchizedek in The Book of the Secrets of Enoch
The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, or 2 Enoch, tells the story of the miraculous birth of Melchizedek. According to 2 Enoch, Melchizedek, who appears in Genesis 14 when Abraham encounters him many years after the flood, was supernaturally conceived shortly before the flood. Nir, the brother of Noah, confronted his wife, Sopanima, about her pregnancy. Sopanima proclaimed her innocence, but when Nir did not believe her, she fell over and died.
The child appeared from his mother’s dead body soon afterward, fully clothed, able to speak, and “like one of three years old” (2 Enoch, Melchizedekian fragment, 3:18). Nir and Noah named the child Melchizedek. The earth was about to be destroyed by a flood, yet Melchizedek was not to die during this destruction, and neither would he be on the Ark. God sent the angel Michael to take Melchizedek and place him in paradise in Eden. He was later to serve as priest and king on earth again, where the Genesis 14 narrative in the Bible mentions Melchizedek.
The Book of Enoch: In Conclusion
Some authors of the New Testament took The Book of Enoch seriously enough to allude to and even quote from it. The first generations of church fathers also incorporated its teaching into their interpretation of Genesis 6. The Book of Enoch was lost and resulted in a change in how interpreters understood Genesis 6.
Would Augustine of Hippo, and the later church fathers who shared his view, have had a different interpretation of Genesis 6 if they had access to The Book of Enoch? One can only speculate. What is certain is that, both before the loss of The Book of Enoch and after its rediscovery, it impacted how theologians and lay people understood Genesis 6:1-4.