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Apocalypticism in Luke? Part IV

August 26, 2010

A little bit shorter post here. As we move forward in Luke there will be a couple of texts outside of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament that will be used to provide context, and possibly give further meaning. One of these texts, 1 Enoch, may not be familiar to all readers, therefore, some background on its importance in the Second Temple period could be useful for some. For those familiar, you can skip to the next post.

In attempting to comprehend why early Christians would try to value the significance of Jesus’ life and death through a collection of books such as 1 Enoch it is important to clearly state in what sense 1 Enoch was a possible “nuclear script” useful for creating meaning and for understanding ‘reality.’  George Nickelsburg describes 1 Enoch as “arguably the most important text in the corpus of Jewish literature from the Hellenistic and Roman periods.”[1] R. H. Charles in discussing the significance of 1 Enoch writes, “To the biblical scholar and to the student of Jewish and Christian theology 1 Enoch is the most important Jewish work written between 200 BC and 100 AD.”[2] Gabriele Boccaccini proposes that the Essenes at Qumran emerged from Enochic Judaism influenced by compilations such as 1 Enoch.[3] For hundreds of years it appears 1 Enoch and other Enochic literature may have significantly influenced the biblical interpretations and worldviews of some groups in Judaism, the first followers of Jesus, and early forms of Christianity in ways incomparable to few texts outside of the biblical canon.

Modern scholars argue that parts of 1 Enoch might be some of the oldest Jewish writings outside of the HB with most dating the five booklets that comprise Enoch from the fourth century BCE to the turn of the Common Era.[4] Early rabbinic Judaism rejected 1 Enoch, and similar apocalyptic texts, after the catastrophes of the first and second Jewish rebellions.  Eventually, not only rabbinic Judaism rejected the Enochic works but almost all forms of later Christianity as well. 1 Enoch was lost for many centuries, and ironically until Qumran, the booklets, which are obviously Jewish in origin, were known only through its transmission by, and preservation in Christian sources,[5] until Scottish explorer James Bruce brought three manuscripts back from Ethiopia in 1773.[6] The version of 1 Enoch that we now use is indebted to this Ethiopic translation discovered by Bruce.

Among the many paradigm shifting discoveries at Qumran were twenty (possibly twenty-one) manuscripts of 1 Enoch.[7] With the discovery of these Enoch fragments among other ancient sacred texts scholars realized the booklets that comprised 1 Enoch were older than originally believed from the Ethiopic canon,[8] and subsequent study of 1 Enoch has led scholars to realize the book’s importance in understanding the Essene community who lived at Qumran, and the influence of 1 Enoch on second Temple Judaism including the religious worldview of many NT authors.[9] In fact, if one were to create a “Qumran Pentateuch” of the five most popular books found in the surrounding caves as represented by the manuscript evidence then 1 Enoch would find itself in such a collection.

It is reasonable to conclude from the data that 1 Enoch was considered “divine revelation” for some Jewish groups in the Second Temple period, it was a sacred text for them, was entirely formative and normative within their religious community, and significantly impacted how they understood their world and how they in turn interacted within it. However, at this stage it must still be demonstrated that any of the booklets of 1 Enoch functioned in this manner within the Lukan sources, and if so, what was their possible purpose within the community.

In the next post we will turn to the genealogy in Luke, and to possible understandings of that genealogy through the first book in the Enochic corpus, the Book of Watchers.


[1] George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch Chapters 1-36; 81-108 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 1.

[2] R. H. Charles, The Book of Enoch: Translated from the Editor’s Ethiopic Text and Edited with an Enlarged Introduction, Notes and Indexes, Together with a Reprint of the Greek Fragments (Escondido, CA: The Book Tree, 2000), vi.

[3] Gabriele Boccaccini, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

[4] Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch, 1.

[5] Michael A. Knibb, “Christian Adoption and Transmission of Jewish Pseudepigrapha: The Case of 1

Enoch,” JSJ XXXII, no. 4 (2001): 396-415.

[6] Daniel Olson, Enoch: A New Translation (North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 2004), 3.

[7] James VanderKam and Peter Flint, Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2002), 316-19.

[8] Margaret Barker, The Lost Prophet: The Book of Enoch and its Influence on Christianity (London: SPCK, 1988), 1.

[9] Jude quotes 1 En. 1:9. Considering the brevity of Jude’s letter, its purpose for refuting Christian false teachers, and its apparent large indebtedness to 1 Enoch it seems highly plausible that 1 Enoch was both formative and normative for Jude, and most likely the recipients of his letter. 1 and 2 Peter also appear indebted to the Enochian corpus, cf. 1 Pet 3:4; 2 Pet 2:4. A small sample of scholars who have used 1 Enoch to clarify and bring context to the NT text they have written upon: Peter Davids on the book of James; James Dunn on the letter to the Colossians; R.T. France on the Gospel of Mark; Donald Hagner on the Gospel of Matthew;  John Nolland on the Gospel of Luke; George Beasley-Murray on the Gospel of John; Andrew Lincoln on the letter to the Ephesians; and James Dunn (again) on the letter to the Romans.

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