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Apocalypticism in Luke? Part V

August 26, 2010

It was suggested in an earlier post that the book of Luke was written in a specific context, for a particular audience with purposes which were shaped by the interpretive community itself. One of the ancient texts suggested here that may have had some considerable influence on various books of the NT in general, and Luke in particular, is 1 Enoch. Scholars divide 1Enoch into five different books written over hundreds of years. The first booklet of 1Enoch is commonly called the Book of Watchers (BW), in this book there is much elaboration on the text found in Genesis 6:1-4, which is a pre-flood account about the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men,” and their intermingling to create the Nephilim.

There has been no shortage of discussion pertaining to the identity of the בני־האלהים and הנפלים in modern scholarship, but it seems that most ancient interpreters understood the בני־האלהים to be divine beings.  This interpretation and belief is reflected in important ancient texts such as the Septuagint (LXX), Jubilees, Philo, and Josephus.[1] In 1 Enoch the “sons of God” are a group of angles that make a pact with each other to lie with the beautiful daughters of men.  They carry out this agreement and the resultant offspring is a race of giants who kill men and devour them.  Finally, God fed up with the havoc they have unleashed on the created order commands four angels to various tasks:

And to Michael he said, “Go, Michael, bind Shemihazah and the others with him, who have mated with the daughters of men, so that they were defiled by them in their uncleanness. And when their sons perish and they see the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, until the day of their judgment and consummation, until the everlasting judgment is consummated.” (1 Enoch 10:11-12)[2]

This Watchers myth is one of the most formative narratives in Second Temple Judaism; its footprint is in many places, and it is perhaps from this portion of 1 Enoch that the genealogy in Luke could be understood.

In Luke’s genealogy there are seventy-seven names from Jesus to Adam, and, as in Genesis and Chronicles, the person that occupies the seventh position is Enoch.  His position as the seventh in the genealogy of Adam may have been important for two reasons.  First, there are some parallels to other Ancient Near East (ANE) kingly genealogical lists in which the seventh person in the list ascends into the heavens to be with their god.[3] Second, the importance of the number seven in Jewish numerology which will be further pursued below.

In the passage of Watchers quoted above it records God as saying, “Bind them for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, until the day of their judgment and consummation, until the everlasting judgment is consummated.” Therefore, according to 1 Enoch, there were to be seventy generations after Enoch until “the judgment” of the sinful angels; add to this number the seven persons in Adam’s genealogy when Enoch is in heaven writing down this command from God, and from the beginning of history until the day of judgment, according to 1 Enoch, there are a grand total of seventy-seven generations. When the generations are tabulated in the genealogy of Luke there are also seventy-seven generations: Adam occupies the first position and Jesus the seventy-seventh.

Considering the didactic and polemical nature of genealogies in antiquity this number and parallel seem purposeful, but there are more possible symbolic allusions within Luke’s genealogy that may be significant. In a blog post it is impossible to go into all the particulars of Jewish numerology, therefore, it must suffice to say: seven is a very significant number, and is an important symbolic number in Jewish tradition. Seven symbolizes perfection and completeness. For example, the first-century philosopher Philo writes, “And I know not if anyone would be able to celebrate the nature of the number seven in adequate terms, since it is superior to every form of expression.”[4]

In Luke’s genealogy one will find Enoch in the seventh position, Abraham in the twenty-first position, David in the thirty-fifth position, and Jesus in the seventy-seventh position (all numbers divisible by seven). If seven is important then seven beside seven is even more important.  In Luke’s genealogy, Jesus occupies the seven by seven position, and if seven implies importance in the Jewish mindset for the position of Enoch, then seventy-seven implies ultimacy for the position of Jesus.[5]

There is one more intriguing element in this passage. In the Jewish mindset, and this genealogy, concerned with the symbolic significance of seven there was also great importance placed on seven times seven: the jubilee figure of forty-nine.[6] For anyone who read the Scriptures in Greek the names Jesus and Joshua were indistinguishable: Ἰησοῦς. This fact began to have significance in the early church, for just as the OT Ἰησοῦς took over the leadership of the Israelites from Moses, so then the NT Ἰησοῦς and his followers replaced the Mosaic covenant.[7] In Luke’s genealogy, in English versions of the Bible, the person that occupies the forty-ninth position is usually translated as Joshua; however, as noted above, in the original language it is Ἰησοῦς[8].  In Greek then Ἰησοῦς occupies the seven by seven position of ultimacy, and Ἰησοῦς occupies the seven times seven position of jubilee. It may well be that this genealogy reflects one dynamic way in which the Lukan community was remembering Jesus: as the fulfillment of history; the son of man born in the seventy-seventh generation who ushers in the Lord’s Jubilee; a connection that will be further examined.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (WBC 1; Dallas: Word, 1998), 139.

[2] George W. E. Nicklesburg and James VanderKam, 1 Enoch: A New Translation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 29.

[3] Wenham, Genesis, 128.

[4] Charles Duke Yonge, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 13.

[5] Richard Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990), 318.

[6] Ibid., 319.

[7] James Kugel, How To Read the Bible (New York: Free Press, 2007), 366.

[8] Nolland translates Ἰησοῦς as “Jesus” in his genealogy, Luke, 166.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 26, 2010 3:47 pm

    Good stuff here, Scott, but I can’t help myself. I was fascinated by the thought that this “group of angles” were right ones which have become obtuse.

  2. August 26, 2010 4:36 pm

    LOL. Good eye. My first year TA’ing and marking NT papers there was an assignment on different angles to interpreting the text. Literary angle, historical angle, etc. The students were supposed to write a reflection paper and one of them had spell checked all of the angles to angels. The paper was hilarious as the different angels told this student how to read the Bible.

    Oh, and that group of angles are definitely the obtuse ones!

  3. WenatcheeTheHatchet permalink
    August 27, 2010 3:13 pm

    So if I write a seven part rondo with a refrain in 7/8 that would be cool on numerological grounds?

  4. carol permalink
    August 27, 2010 6:26 pm

    Very intresting, as i have had an intrest in the “hidden,” books of the Bible, probably for about 40 years, that is since i 1st heard of them. I can’t remember where it was, but I read an article that mentioned the Book of Enoch in referance to Luke in the not too distant past.


  1. Week in Review: 08.27.10 | Near Emmaus

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