Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Book of Enoch

From wikipedia:

“The Book of Enoch (also 1 Enoch[1]) is an ancient Jewish religious work, ascribed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. It is not currently regarded as part of the Canon of Scripture as used by Jews, apart from the Beta Israel canon; nor by any Christian group, apart from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church canon.”

“Eleven Aramaic-language fragments of the Book of Enoch were found in cave 4 of Qumran in 1948,[33] and are in the care of the Israel Antiquities Authority.”

“The famous Scottish traveller James Bruce in 1773 returned to Europe from six years in Abyssinia with three copies of a Ge'ez version”

“The first English translation of the Bodleian/Ethiopic manuscript was published in 1821 by Richard Laurence”

“The publication, in the early 1950s, of the first Aramaic fragments of 1 Enoch among the Dead Sea Scrolls profoundly changed the study of the document, as it provided evidence of its antiquity and original text. The official edition of all Enoch fragments appeared in 1976, by Jozef Milik.”

Scholars have established that this collection of books was written and assembled between about 300 B.C and about 50 B.C. There are parallel passages with books of the Old Testament. There are also quotes from Jesus indicating that He may well have been familiar with this work. And yet, it lost to any of the western versions of The Bible from the earliest compilations of the “Old” and New” “Testaments”, surviving intact only through continuous use in Ethiopia.

So: I had to read it.

Although Joseph Lumpkin’s translation does not make any natural divisions, the “Book of Enoch” easily falls into five distinct texts. These cover:
1. The book of Watchers
2. The parables of Enoch
3. A treatise on Astronomy
4. The Book of Dream Visions
5. The epistle of Enoch

My thoughts, in order of easiest to hardest:

The book of astronomy shows a greater respect for number systems and for mankind taking the measure of his world, than any other spiritual work. It shows clearly the Babylonian influence and their 60/360 counting system. It shows the correction of the calendar year from 360 to 364 days and has an even more accurate description of the orbit and phases of the moon. Not a bad job, for those days, and quite a surprise to find within a “spiritual” work.
The epistle is a simple prophetic send-off from Enoch to his descendants, including vague references to Noah and the flood, but also of the coming of the Son of Man and the end of evil. But its tame stuff with no specifics.

What others dubbed “the parables” I found to be a description of heaven suitable for a cartographer, rendered in the form of relating a special tour Enoch was given by one of God’s angels. I wondered if anyone has set out to actually map the place, given the description. There are mountains, valleys, rivers, streams, fields, and deserts, all in their place. It actually does not sound too different from this planet.

The Book of Dream Visions is written in the same style as the Book of Revelations. In metaphoric terms and with symbols of sheep and shepherds, bulls, dogs, eagles, and kits, it suggests a synopsis of the history of mankind, most especially the Hebrews, from Noah down through Jesus and culminating in a cataclysm resembling the Armageddon or second coming which many Christians believe is foretold through sections of the New Testament.

I refrained from starting any mental exercise of assignment; this sheep is this person, that death is that event, down and down and down. Clearly the book is vague enough that it could be applied with benefit by anybody wishing to make a political argument. However, I was strongly attentive to the description of shepherds assigned by angels or The Lord. The “shepherd” is a heavily-used metaphor throughout the Bible. However, nowhere in our Bible does anyone mention the ultimate outcome for many of the sheep. We probably overlook this simple aspect of that occupation. All shepherds are assigned from time to time to cull the herd and provide suitable animals for slaughter for food. That’s a pretty amusing aspect of my own culture which tends to want to glorify and sustain all life and all living things and pretend that we don’t ever deliberately kill animals and other people. In the Book of Enoch, however, there is a group of shepherds who were selected to carry out this task but who became overzealous in their duties. Later they received dire punishment for their excesses. I can’t ever remember reading or hearing anywhere else of anybody being chastised or punished for “killing too many”. Perhaps its an idea that could be brought back (especially know that its becoming more and more evident to more and more individuals that this planet can no longer support all the people who are here.)

Others have referred to the first section, the “Book of Watchers” as an account of the origins of evil. We may already be familiar with stories about Lucifer and his fall from grace, his revolt, perhaps we have also heard of Lilith, and though we consider these figures to be part of the Judeau-Christian religion, they are not really included in our Bible.

The Book of Watchers goes into great detail about a group of angels who came down from heaven and corrupted both themselves and the men and women on earth. I found myself recollecting the stories from Greek Mythology of Chronos, of Prometheus, of the Titans, even of Cyclops and other giants. There is an uncanny similarity here worthy of Joseph Campbell’s attention:
Since it is known that Greek dominance came to Israel with Alexander and stayed, this is probably not purely coincidental. In the Watchers account, the angels bring not only fire but the knowledge of metallurgy, including knowledge of gold, from which so much human suffering has disseminated. (Interesting that brimstone, that other traditional scourge threatened from so many pulpits also known as sulphur, is the other necessary ingredient for the refinement of copper and gold.) Historically, the Philistines had been masters of iron ore and probably taught the Hebrews when conquered. Not long after that the copper mines of Timna came to play a prominent roll in their commerce and led to Solomon’s wealth, and untold generations of sorrow afterwards. In sum, the ancients seemed to have a pretty good understanding of the tribulations and suffering which our discovery of metallurgy has brought down upon us all. Neither they nor we have yet devised any solution.

I have covered the bits and pieces which stuck out for me, the book is now readily available in an English translation, perhaps I have tweaked your curiosity enough to go look and see for yourself what you may find.

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