Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Ethiopic Book of Enoch

1 Enoch

This is believed to be the oldest extant example of a writing attributed to the antideluvian patriarch, Enoch, based on the mysterious line from Genesis 5:24. The work clearly pre-dates some of the New Testament writings, as it is quoted explicitly in Jude and has influenced other canonical texts and pseudepigraphic as well as apocryphal works. Luminaries such as Justin Martyr, Origen and Irenaeus held it in high regard.

It was preserved by the Ethiopic Christian community, in Ge’ez, and portions have also been found in the writings of the Essene community at Qumran.

The original language was either Hebrew or Aramaic or a combination of both, like the canonical Book of Daniel.

It appears to be the work of several authors in different time periods in Judea. The book reflects the historical events immediately preceding and following the Maccabean revolt.

It should be of interest to Latter-day Saints that only in the fourth century A.D. did it fall out of favor, disparaged by the likes of Jerome and Augustine. Men of “medieval minds,” to quote translator E. Isaac, p. 8.

What might we make of E. Isaac’s assertion that 1 Enoch influenced the canonical Gospels, Acts, most of the Pauline Epistles and the Revelation of John, in molding New Testament doctrines? While such a hypothesis might deeply distress a believer in the closed canon, it does not bother me. I might suggest as a Latter-day Saint, that the authors of this work had access to some now-lost genuine record or tradition from Enoch’s day, and that treasure of truth shining amongst the debris of this pseudepigrapha, by no mere coincidence, matches what the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the account of Enoch found in our Pearl of Great Price.
The three oldest extant Ge’ez manuscripts of 1 Enoch date to the fifteenth century. Not until 1821 did the first English translation appear, by one Lawrence. It will be a discussion for another time as to whether the Prophet could have had access to that translation.
Themes of the book include a theology of the Watchers – fallen angels; a heavenly Messiah; condemnation of economic exploitation; and an eschatological Last Judgment.
Extensively utilizes the paradigm of apocalyptic dualism – sharp distinctions between the cosmic powers of good and evil.
Although, being a long-lost book to the Western world, it had no direct influence on our culture, it certainly has directly influenced Ethiopia, most notably the Kebra Nagast (Ethiopic Royal Saga), as well as Ethiopic poetic literature. “What distinguishes Ethiopian Christian theology from either Western or Eastern Christendom may well be the Ethiopian emphases on Enochic thought.” (p. 10). Thus, the role of Satan and fallen angels in the origin and continuance of sin; as well as orders of protective angels. Festivals are specifically observed in honor of those angels.

Book One: Chapters 1-5:

Enoch offers an apostolic blessing upon the future righteous, a day seen “while his eyes were open.” He envisions the end days and the events therein. The Holy One, the very God of Heaven, will come forth from His dwelling in mighty power and march upon Mt. Sinai. He will render judgment upon all. He will be accompanied by his saints (cf Jude).

The planets in their order witness to God and all His creation obeys Him. I love the way this is written!

Chapters 6-11:
Certain angels lust after mortal women, and bind themselves with an oath and a curse to have them. Their giant progeny indulge in the most loathsome of sins and launch an era of bloodshed upon the earth. They reveal secrets which are performed in heaven. The earth cries out against them.

Michael, Surafel and Gabriel observe from heaven. Bruce R. McConkie suggested that Raphael may be Enoch. Alt. reading for Surafel is Rufa’el. So our narrator, Enoch, may have had a post-mortal role in dealing with these “Watchers.” (But see 22:3)

One of the Watchers is Azazel, which is the Hebrew for “Goat of Departure,” i.e., the scapegoat of Leviticus. He teaches both the dark arts of weaponry and seduction. Upon him is to be written all sin. The angels are to bind the Watchers and the Deluge will cleanse the earth.

The Holy One cries over the sins of mankind. (9:10, cf. Moses 7:29)
In the great season of the Lord’s rule over the earth, the storerooms of blessings in the heavens will be opened and shared with humankind, with peace and truth as partners. (ch. 11)
Chapters 12-13: Enoch reprimands the fallen Watchers. Fear and trembling seize them (cf. Moses 6:47) and they beg him to write a prayer for their forgiveness.

14: Theophany of the Great Glory in heaven upon His throne, with tens of millions around Him. So similar to Rev. 4 that I wonder who is dependent upon who. Or do they both borrow from Isaiah and Ezekiel. Elohim with the Word? (14:25).
15-16: Curse upon the watchers.
17-19: The cosmic treasures -- and at the extremity of the universe, the hell of the Watchers.
20-22: Separation in the spirit world until the day of judgment.
23-25: Enoch sees the fragrant Tree of Life.
26-36: He journeys through the universe, seeing many cosmic wonders.
Book 2: The Book of the Similitudes
A second vision of Enoch, to those who dwell on earth. Judgment is coming, led by the Righteous One. The saints will descend to earth with Him, joining with the righteous already here. The earth to be transformed and made a blessing (45:4).
Millions stand in the presence of the Lord of Spirits (40:1). They praise Him for filling the world with spirits.
A vision of the Ancient of Days, with his prototype the Son of Man scattering the oppressors – the wealthy who cling to their false piety. That Son of Man, Messiah, was chosen (!) prior to the creation of the world and He will be the light of the Gentiles.
(If this is not a late Christian interpolation – and the editors do not suggest that it is – then this document reveals that before the Common Era, notions of a Messiah were developing that expanded beyond the idea of some mortal conquering hero. He was the very prototype of God, chosen in heaven for his mighty mission of salvation {48:7}, and sitting on the very throne of God [51:3]).
Enoch writes of the judgment by fire and by water (the Flood – possibly a fragment of a lost Book of Noah.)
In eternal, timeless light, the righteous will dwell.
Enoch again sees in vision the cosmic treasures: frost, wind, dew and rain. And praise of God.
More on judgment, when the concealed Son of Man is revealed. The high and mighty to be punished, with no more chance to become believers. The righteous to wear garments of glory (62:16).
The fallen angels revealed evil that was hidden unto the children of men. (64:1) Secret combinations. See also 69: one of the fallen angels reveals the bitter and the sweet; another a heavenly oath which he ought not.
The narration shifts to Noah, who in his sorrow at the upcoming Deluge, utters the thrice-repeated prayer to his grandfather, Enoch. (Cf. Moses 7:41). The angels make the Ark (!)

Enoch translated, in a wind chariot.
Book III
Enoch again becomes our narrator, and is given a detailed almanac of the course of the sun, moon and winds, in their cycle and seasons. A 364-day year. (82:6). He then reads the tablets of heaven and weeps on account of the people of earth. (81:4)
Book IV: The Dream Visions (83-90)
As a small child, Enoch has a terrifying first vision of the coming deluge. He awakes, and blesses God. As a young man, he has a vision in which the whole history of the chosen people is laid before him, all the events of the “Old” Testament, in the metaphors of sheep and cows, with the Day of the Lord and the Last Judgment taking place sometime after the era of the Maccabees.
Book V (91-107) The Two Ways and the Apocalypse of Weeks
Again Enoch returns to the theme of judgment upon the unrighteous, especially those who oppress – and of ultimate salvation for the righteous, though they suffer mightily in this life.
Ironically, in an aside, he wonders who can see all the activities of heaven and live – the very thing that he has done. (93:11).
“To the righteous and wise shall be given the Scriptures of joy, for truth and great wisdom.” (104:12-13).
The infant Noah is described in a most peculiar way, both as “whiter than snow” and “redder than a rose” – but with beautiful curling hair in a glorious “demdema” – an untranslatable Ethiopian word for which the closest English is “afro.” He appears like the children of the angels of heaven. (106).
This book is like a beautiful statue found amongst ruins somewhere and taken away to be cherished and preserved. We can guess from certain internal clues as to its origin and its originator, but no more than guess. It is an artifact irreparably separated from its context.
We can see that its writer was a deeply pious soul, steeped in the Hebrew faith. It mattered greatly to him that there be justice, if not now, in the Last Day, for the righteous and against the sinners – the wealthy and the godless. He was fascinated by celestial phenomena and believed strongly in cosmic order – that the sun, moon, rain, wind and stars were all carefully controlled by divine fiat, obeying the commands of God in their daily actions and following a prescribed pattern.
I have also gained in this, my third and most likely final journey through this book, a great appreciation for one of the most ancient and perhaps least-known of Christian communities – that of the African nation of Ethiopia. How this book reached these people long ago, we may never know precisely, but they have cherished and safeguarded it ever since, and to them it is fully scripture as part of their Christian Bible. It informs their ritual and theology and it suffuses their poetry.
I can only imagine the beauty of hearing it read or chanted in their Ge’ez tongue, which I am informed is a Semitic language and therefore a cousin of its putative original Hebrew or Aramaic.

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