What the Book of Enoch Says, and Doesn’t Say, about Ancient Judaism and Christianity

March 20 2015

The book known as 1 Enoch is not considered canonical by either Jews or Christians, with the exception of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which preserved the book in the church’s own liturgical language. However, 1 Enoch is based on several ancient Jewish texts, some of which have been discovered. Simon J. Joseph explains:

During the Second Temple period, Enoch became the central figure around whom a complex body of literature arose, a collection or library of texts now known as the book of Enoch or 1 Enoch. The book of Enoch includes five works dating from the 4th century BCE to the first century CE. . . .

A prominent theme of this apocalyptic tradition is the origin of evil. The people who produced these texts posited that evil, violence, and corruption were the result of a primordial angelic revolt against the divine order. This revolt corrupted human civilization with forbidden knowledge and diseases caused by the demonic offspring of the Watchers—the name for this group of fallen angels. These supposed protagonists of the Enochic tradition claimed to have secret knowledge and effective techniques for coping with and countering the effects of the fallen angels and their offspring. The solution to the problem of evil is an eschatological (end-time) program intended to counter the effects of the fallen angels’ corruption of the divine order by restoring the fallen creation and reaffirming God’s created order.

A few scholars have taken these works as evidence of an Enochic sect of Judaism that left a lasting impact on Christianity. Joseph argues that this hypothesis is incorrect, and that it reveals a foible of contemporary scholarship on ancient Judaism and early Christianity:

We have no ancient record of any group who self-identified as Enochic Jews. The term is a modern ideological construct. There is no reference to Enochic Judaism in our ancient texts. The book of Enoch is itself a construct, a Christian composition preserved only within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The book of Enoch is thus not, in its extant form, a Jewish book at all. . . .

The desire [of scholars] to construct a new kind of Judaism can be seen as an attempt to both recover and invent a form of ancient Judaism that represents neither normative Judaism nor orthodox Christianity but is yet somehow both Jewish and Christian. . . . Scholarly caution requires both the exploration of possible connections between texts and communities as well as the humility to admit when they are only tentative and suggestive.

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More about: ancient Judaism, Apocrypha, Bible, Christianity, History & Ideas, Religion

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays