Book Review: Joseph Blenkinsopp, Abraham: The Story of a Life

Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Abraham: The Story of a Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 256 pp. Pb; $29.   Link to Eerdmans

In this book, Joseph Blenkinsopp offers what he calls a “discursive commentary” on Genesis 12-22, the life of Abraham. In the preface he states his in this book goal is to write an exposition of the text which is “basically historical-critical” but also sensitive to the general theological and human interest found in the biblical text itself (xi).

Blenkinsopp, AbrahamThe introduction to the book surveys the character of Abraham in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. In this book, Blenkinsopp assumes the stories reached a final form fairly late, in a “time of uncertainty” as a response to the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (21). The promise of land repeated throughout these stories would have been important to the struggling post-exilic community as would Abraham’s tenuous hold on the Promised Land. That God remained faithful to Abraham during his struggle to live in a land promised to him would have encouraged the post-exilic community.

The life of Abraham is divided into ten chapters, extending to the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. There are few technical details in the text, the few times he references the Hebrew text words appear only in transliteration, and interaction with literature on Genesis appears in the footnotes. This makes for a readable text without too much distraction from technical details.

Occasionally he deals with theological readings of the text. For example, he discusses the sacrifice of Isaac (the Aqedah) foreshadowing the death of Jesus (155-8). Although the New Testament does not specifically connect the story in Genesis 22 to the crucifixion, “it was practically inevitable” the story would be seen as prefiguring Jesus’ death. That Paul would call Jesus “our paschal lamb” (1 Cor 5:7) may be the New Testament connection to the Aqedah. The Second Temple book of Jubliees associates the sacrifice of Isaac with the Passover. According to that book, the story begins on the twelfth of Nisan. Since the journey to Moriah took three days, he arrives at Moriah on the fifteenth of the month, the day Passover will begin later in history. Every year after the events on Moriah, Abraham celebrated a seven day “feast of the Lord.” Although there is no explicit New Testament connection between Genesis 22 and the death of Jesus, Romans 8:32 says “God did not withhold his own son” (cf. Gen 22:16). Blenkinsopp suggests the Isaianic Servant is also dependent on the Aqedah.

At the end of each chapter is a short reflection entitled “Filling in the Gaps.” These sections draw on the post-biblical legends about Abraham found in Second Temple sources such as Jubilees, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Philo. He often summarizes the Genesis Rabbah or other later Jewish traditions which interrogate the biblical narrative “probing fractures and fissures” (25). He omits these legends in the commentary on the text since is goal is accurate exposition of the story of Abraham, yet these “illuminations of the text” provide insight into the way later faithful readers of the text understood the story of Abraham. As he points out at the very end of the book, most of these retellings of the Abraham story developed in a time when there were no Christians or Muslims, although they are the paradigm for both Christian and Muslim expansions of the text (210).

A welcome addition to the story of Abraham is a chapter on Abraham’s “other beloved son” Ishmael. Despite the brevity of this chapter, Blenkinsopp deals with some of the historical problems associated with the Ishmael stories, but also the theological problem of “setting aside the firstborn.” Although not considered the firstborn of Abraham, Ishmael “is still recipient of blessing and inheritor of the promise made to Abraham” (167), as is demonstrated by the genealogy of the twelve Arab tribes in Genesis 25. He briefly traces the history of these tribes into the Second Temple period and beyond into the legends included in Qur’an.

Conclusion. As Blenkinsopp states in his introduction, book is a theological exposition rather than a detailed exegetical commentary. Blenkinsopp achieves the goal of presenting the story of Abraham in a way that is both faithful to the text and theologically insightful.

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

The Fallen Angels – 1 Enoch 6-8

Chapter 6 begins the actual Book of the Watchers. In the biblical story of the Nephilim, the sons of God saw the daughters of men were beautiful so they married them and had children (Gen 6:1-4). These children were called the Nephilim, the “mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” In Genesis, the story shows how far the giants_genesiswickedness of humans had become: humans interacted sexually with spiritual beings. No details are given on how this might be possible, but the next verse in Genesis says “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This brief story is tantalizing: who are these “sons of God” and what were the Nephilim? 1 Enoch offers an expansion of this biblical story in chapters 6-11.

In 1 Enoch, the sons of God are the “sons of heaven,” angelic beings led by Shemihazah. The name Shemihazah (שׁמיחזה, šemîḥăzāh) means “My name has seen” and is sometimes vocalized as Semyaz of Semyaza (Nickelsburg, 179). “Name” refers to God, so the name refers to constantly watching God. This is ironic since God will see this rebellion and render judgment on the Shemihazah. Some readers want to find some reference to Satan as the leader of “fallen” angels. As the story progresses, however, Azazel emerges as the ringleader (but later Enoch will intercede on behalf of Azazel). This is an example of how foolish (and impossible) it is to project modern Christian angelology on 1 Enoch. Azazel is not the modern version of Satan at all!

The two hundred angels take an oath to descend to Mt Hermon, find women to marry and have children with them. 1 Enoch 6:7-8 lists the names of the leaders of these angels. Most have names with some reference to God (Remashel, “evening of God” or Kokabel, “star of God” ). The most interesting of these names is Dan’el, a name associated with the Ugaritic literature and often offered as an explanation of the legendary character of Daniel.

This is Fake.

This is Fake.

In chapters 7 and 8 the angels make good on their oath and take women as wives. They teach humans “magical medicines, incantations, the cutting of roots and about plants.” The origin of folk-medicine is therefore ascribed to these angelic beings. The children of the angels are giants standing three hundred cubits (an improbable 450 feet tall!) These giants eat so much food the humans cannot feed them anymore. The giants proceed to eat humans as well as all other kinds of animals.

The text notes especially that they drank the blood of animals, “sinning against them.” In the biblical flood story, the Noahic covenant includes a command about consuming blood. 1 Enoch 7-8 is a reflection upon this command which was probably given because the antediluvian world did in fact consume blood.

In addition to teaching humans in interpret a wide range of signs, they teach humans medicinal magic. The angel Azazel teaches humans metal-working, including making of ornaments and weapon making. Azazel also teaches them to make eye-shadow and other physical ornamentation. This may be a polemic against pagan practice of using make up in their religious ceremonies. Other angels teach the humans how to track the stars (astrology and divination) and the signs of the moon. These angels are responsible for teaching humans all sorts of sinful practices. Humanity cries out as a result of this oppression, a cry which “goes up to heaven.”

This detailed expansion of the biblical stories blames wicked angelic beings for revealing mysteries to humans which will result in sin. It is not Adam’s rebellion in the garden that is responsible for human evil, but wicked angelic beings who do not remain in their appointed place. What is more, the great Flood is not the result of human sin, but the rebellion of these angelic beings.

This is a significant re-writing of the worldview of Genesis 6. What is the author’s motivation for this shift of blame?

Last Call for Biblical Studies Carnival Links for May 2016

bs-carnival1The May Biblioblog Carnival will be hosted by Brian Renshaw. Brian hosted the carnival back in January 2014 on his old blog New Testament Exegesis. He is nearly finished selecting his links, but if you have something you think is carnival worthy, send Brian a link. What have you read this month that was challenging, simulating, or maybe even a bit strange? This is a good time to promote a less well-known blog you enjoy, or you can send a link to your own work.

Some readers may not know what a “blog carnival” is. Simply, a Blog Carnival is a collection of links on a particular topic for a given period. I think the idea of a blog carnival first developed out of psychology or sociology blogs, but the first BiblioBlog carnival was Joel Ng at Ebla Logs in March 2005. This month is the 114th BiblioBlog carnival, or CXIV (that makes it look more scholarly and official).

I took over as the “keeper of the list” from Dr Jim Linville in August of 2012. Basically that means I find volunteers to host the carnival. In fact, I am always looking for volunteers to host future carnivals!  Right now I have June covered, but the rest of the year is more or less open. Hosting a carnival is a great way to draw readers to your blog and it is really fun to do. Contact me either by leaving a comment here, or sending me an email (plong42 at or a direct message via twitter (@plong42).


The Book of Watchers – 1 Enoch 1-5

1 Enoch 1-5 is an introduction to the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 6-36). Nickelsburg  argues the superscription to the book is an allusion to Deuteronomy 33:1 and he translates it to make the allusion more clear.

Deuteronomy 33:1 This is the blessing with which Moses the man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death.

1 Enoch 1:1 The words of the blessing with which Enoch blessed the righteous chosen who will be present on the day of tribulation, to remove all the enemies; and the righteous will be saved.

Chapter 1 describes a “day of tribulation” (יום צרה, εἰς ἡμέραν ἀνάγκης) during which the ungodly will be destroyed and a great cataclysm. The chapter is rich with apocalyptic language here: mountains and high places falling down, earth split asunder, etc. This tribulation is a time when the Enoch-Apocalypse“God of the universe” will come forth from his dwelling and “march upon Sinai and appear in his camp” (1:4). This awesome event will cause all to tremble, even the Watchers, the angelic beings who constantly observe the actions of God.

This arrival of God is for judgment, as 1:9 states: “He will come with ten millions of his holy ones in order to execute judgment upon all.” This verse is used by Jude in the New Testament, but here in 1 Enoch it is the theme for the whole Book of the Watchers. With respect to the plot of the book, the judgment is the coming Flood, but it is clear the writer of 1 Enoch is thinking beyond the Flood to a future judgment of God on the wicked in his own day. Like Noah and his family, the elect of the writer’s day will be preserved from this coming judgment: “to the righteous he will grant peace.” The phrase “the elect” will be repeated throughout the Book of Watchers.

Chapters 2-5 are speculative wisdom not unlike Job 38-41. The writer invites his readers to examine the orderliness of creation and observe that God does not change. The natural order is a progression of seasons which follow very precise patterns and laws. In 5:4 he turns this into a condemnation of the wicked: “But as for you, you have long transgressed and spoken slanderously….” Verse seven then turns to the righteous, who will have “joy and peace in the earth.”

After the judgment, wisdom will be given to the elect who will all live and not return again to sin, being preserved from the plagues and wrath (5:7). This is not necessarily immortality since verse eight says they will live out the complete designated number of their days. Verse 9, however says their lives and happiness will “increase forever.” Isaac says some manuscripts modify this to “and their lives shall be increased in peace,” taking away some of the ambiguity OTP, 1:15 note v, on verse 10). Nickelsburg agrees with this translation.

Like many prophetic books, 1 Enoch begins by sounding several key themes. First, judgment is coming on the wicked. Like the Flood, this judgment will be a cataclysm which destroys all. But second, the elect will be preserved from this coming tribulation. Like Noah’s family, Enoch’s community may suffer, but they will be ultimately preserved and vindicated when the final judgment arrives. These are themes found in many apocalyptic texts; in the New Testament, Revelation promises judgment is coming and the preservation of the elect through that time of persecution.

Book Review: John J. Collins, Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy

Collins, John J. Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy: On Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2015. 399 pp. Pb; $34.   Link to Eerdmans  

Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy collects nineteen essays published by Collins in various journals and collections, some of which are expensive and difficult to find. Three of the chapters were originally presentations at conferences. The introductory chapter was presented at a symposium on Forms of Ancient Jewish Literature in Its Graeco-Roman and Ancient Near Eastern Setting, University of Manchester, January 19-21, 2009. Collins reconsiders the definition of the genre of Apocalyptic Collins developed in Semeia 14 in 1979. That volume represented a report on the first stage of the work of the Apocalypse Group of the SBL Genres Project and produced a “first stage” definition of an apocalypse:

A genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world. (Semeia 14 [1979]: 9).

In Semeia 36, this definition was expanded to include “intended to interpret present, earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority” (Adela Yarbro Collins, Semeia 36 [1986]: 7). Near the end of this book, Collins cites T.S. Eliot, apocalypses are written for times when humankind cannot bear very much reality (324).

Collins-ApocalypseThis definition distinguished between apocalypses which featured an extended review of history and “otherworldly journey” apocalypses. Collins surveys some of the responses to this definition, beginning with the objection that genre cannot be defined, although “we know one when we see it” because of “a family resemblance.” Citing Wittgenstein, a genre like “game” covers everything from card games to the Olympic Games. Even though there is little resemblance between the two, we recognize them both as “games.”

Collins thinks this is “too vague to be satisfying” (11). A second challenge uses prototype theory to suggest a particular example is an ancestor of later similar members of the genre. All subsequent examples of the genre are really variations on the prototype, so that boundaries between genres are blurred. He goes on to offer two problematic examples. Jubilees and Joseph and Asenath. Both have sections which have been identified as apocalyptic, yet cannot be described as apocalyptic as a whole. Jubilees “belongs on the fuzzy fringes of the genre” (18).

The first section of this collection relates the genre of apocalypse to prophecy. In “The Eschatology of Zechariah,” (originally published as L. L. Grabbe and R. D. Haak, eds., Knowing the End from the Beginning: The Prophetic, the Apocalyptic, and Their Relationship [New York: T&T Clark International, 2003]: 74-84), Collins argues the future expectations of Zechariah are eschatological in the prophetic sense, and even messianic, but not apocalyptic (33). In the second essay in this section Collins examines a common element in both apocalypse and prophecy, the end of the world (originally published as “The Beginning of the End of the World,” in John Ahn and Stephen Cook, eds., Thus Says the Lord: Essays on the Former and Latter Prophets in Honor of Robert R. Wilson [New York: Continuum, 2009]:137-55). In the Hebrew Bible and all examples of Jewish apocalyptic, the end of the world always leads to restoration and renewal (53). The only exception Collins finds is Sibylline Oracles 5.512-31, and even this example is debatable.

The third essay in this section discusses the shift from classic prophecy to apocalyptic (originally delivered as the Johannes Munck Lecture: “Apocalypticism and the Transformation of Prophecy in the Second Temple Period,” University of Aarhus, October 10, 2013). During the post exilic period prophecy shifted from a spoken form to a textual form, which had the effect of unmooring a prophecy from a historical context (63). For example, Daniel 12:1-4 makes six references to Isaiah 53. Daniel is “drawing on the linguistic resources of Isaiah” to react to the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes (65). This is a new text, not a pesher (interpretation). For Collins, the apocalyptic prophets were not simply creating a pastiche of older texts, they were “engages in wide ranging bricolage drawing on many sources” (67), transforming prophecy, wisdom and myth in the face of cultural disruption (69).

The essays in the second section concern “variations on a genre.” First in this section is an evaluation of Gabriele Boccaccini’s “Essene Hypothesis” (originally published as “Enochic Judaism: An Assessment,” in Adolfo D. Roitman, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Shani Tzoref, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture: Proceedings of the International Conference Held at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (July 6-8, 2008) [STDJ 93; Leiden: Brill, 2011] 219-34). Although Collins agrees with Boccaccini that the Enoch literature is a distinctive form of Judaism, it is still a movement with Judaism and it is not clear the Essenes were distinct because of their use of Enoch.

As suggested in the introductory essay, Jubilees is problematic for a definition of apocalyptic. In the third essay in this section Collins suggest Jubilees is an hybrid work which does not fit into any one category (originally published as “The Genre of the Book of Jubilees,” in Eric F. Mason et al., eds., A Teacher for All Generations: Essays in Honor of James C. VanderKam [JSJSup 153/2; Leiden: Brill, 2011]: 737-55). He critiques Hanneken’s suggestion that Jubilees imitates apocalypses on the surface level, but the basic elements of an apocalyptic worldview are “caricatured, inverted and refuted” (103). But as Collins points out, if this is irony it is humorless in the extreme.

The fourth essay in this section examines another genre which is not apocalyptic, yet has some elements of the genre, the Sibylline Oracles (originally published as “The Sibyl and the Apocalypses,” in David E. Aune and Frederick E. Brenk, eds., Greco-Roman Culture and the New Testament [Leiden: Brill, 2012]: 185-202. There are some common features such as universal world history (and often violent destruction), but the Sibylline Oracles were not modeled on the apocalypses (125).

The fifth essay in the section critiques a recently published text sometimes called The Gabriel Revelation (originally published as “Gabriel and David: Some Reflections on an Enigmatic Text,” in Matthias Henze, ed., Hazon Gabriel: New Readings of the Gabriel Revelation [SBLEJL; Atlanta: SBL, 2011] 99-112). This text describes an eschatological attack on Jerusalem and refers to an “evil branch” as a kind of Antichrist and a messiah from Ephraim, the son of Joseph rather than David. Collins carefully works through Knohl’s argument and concludes it is problematic on many counts, not the least of which is the uncertainty of this particular text.

Finally in this section Collins discusses the apocalyptic theology of 4 Ezra (originally published as “The Idea of Election in 4 Ezra,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 16 [2009]: 83-96). Although 4 Ezra is certainly an apocalypse, it is quite different from other representatives of the genre. The book has three long dialogues between Ezra and an angel which become increasingly concerned with the election of Israel. Because of the book’s unique view of election, Sanders considered the book as an exception to his “covenantal nomism” and Bruce Longenecker described book as “ethnocentric nomism” (148). Collins suggests the book is in dialogue with wisdom tradition (especially in the laments), but has an “apocalyptic solution” to the problem of covenant theology and the fall of Jerusalem. God’s chosen people will survive, a theology which would serve to “reassure a relatively small and powerless people” (155).

The third section of the book develops themes in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. First, “Jerusalem and the Temple in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature of the Second Temple Period” (originally a presentation at Bar Ilan University in 1998 (International Rennert Guest Lecture Series). Although many Jews in the Second Temple were satisfied with worship at the Temple, “apocalyptic visionaries, by definition, wanted something more” (177). Daniel and the Animal Apocalypse respond to the Maccabean crisis by looking forward to a “more spectacular restoration” than Judas Maccabees provided (165). Collins also examines the Song of Sabbath Sacrifice and the Temple Scroll from Qumran and concludes “the Dead Sea sect evidently expected some kind of restoration of the temple before the new creation” (173).

In “Journeys to the World Beyond in Ancient Judaism” Collins focuses on the earliest ascent apocalypses (originally published in Martin McNamara, ed., Apocalyptic and Eschatological Heritage: The Middle East and Celtic Realms [Dublin: Four Courts, 2003]: 20-36). He considers Bousset’s view these heavenly journeys were an anticipation of the ascent of the soul to heaven after death as an “overgeneralization” (195). There is a real interest in life after death, whether to encourage righteous behavior or warn against punishments to come.  The third article in this section is related to this topic, “The Afterlife in Apocalyptic Literature,” (originally published in A. J. Avery Peck and J. Neusner, eds., Judaism in Late Antiquity, Part 4: Death, Life-After-Death, Resurrection and the World-to-Come in the Judaisms of Antiquity [Handbuch der Orientalistik; Leiden: Brill, 2000]: 119-39. Collins repeats the well-known fact that a belief in actual resurrection of individuals was not accepted until the Persian period (199). This belief is developed in several Second Temple apocalypses so that 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch look forward to a general resurrection at the end of history. Collins concludes, however, the more typical apocalyptic description of afterlife is the heavenly ascent (216).

The fourth section of three essays is devoted to pseudepigraphy in apocalyptic literature. First, Collins explores the importance of pseudepigraphy for group formation (originally published as “Pseudepigraphy and Group Formation in Second Temple Judaism,” in E. G. Chazon and M. Stone, eds., Pseudepigraphic Perspectives: The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls [Leiden: Brill, 1999]: 43-58). He surveys apocalypses written in the name of Enoch, Daniel and Moses and concludes these names provide legitimization for the group by creating prophecy ex eventu supporting the group. By way of contrast, the Dead Sea Scrolls do not use pseudepigraphy because of the authority of the Teacher of Righteousness. Rather than create prophecies in the style of some ancient authority, the DSS practice exegesis on prophecy to legitimatize the group (the pesher on Habakkuk, for example).

The second article in this section is closely related to the first. Collins asks why anyone would choose to write in the name of Enoch or Ezra (originally published as “Enoch and Ezra,” in Matthias Henze and Gabriele Boccaccini, eds., Fourth Ezra and Second Baruch: Reconstruction after the Fall [Leiden: Brill, 2013]: 83-97). Enoch seems an obvious candidate since all that is known about him is he “walked with God” or “walked with angels.” But Ezra is a well-known character from the Old Testament. Collins suggests 4 Ezra transforms Ezra into a kind of Moses, subverting the covenant theology of the past “almost beyond recognition” (245).

The final essay in this section focuses on the use of the Sibylline oracles as a pseudepigrapha (originally published in Eibert Tigchelaar, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the Scriptures [BETL 270; Leuven: Peeters, 2014]: 195-210). Collins argues a non-Jewish person would be unimpressed by the Sibylline Oracles, knowing them to be forgeries. A Jewish (or Christian) reader, however, may have been impressed to find a prophetic voice in the Greek world which rebuked paganism (266). As such, the oracles function as an expression of anger toward a colonial oppressor.

The final section in this volume concerns ethics and politics in apocalyptic literature. First, Collins disagrees with a common opinion that there was a distinct “apocalyptic Judaism” responsible for the collect of books now known as 1 Enoch (originally published as “Ethos and Identity in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature,” in Matthias Konradt and Ulrike Steinert, eds., Ethos und Identität. Einheit und Vielfalt des Judentums im hellenistisch-römischer Zeit [Munich: Schöningh, 2002]: 51-65). The apocalyptic genre could be used by diverse groups often motivated by a desire for higher (or hidden) wisdom and an interest in another life beyond this one.

Collins’s article “Apocalypse and Empire” (originally Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 76 [2011]: 1-19) evaluates another common view of apocalyptic, namely that it is a kind of resistance literature. This view was popularized by Richard Horsley, who claimed the problem behind both Daniel and 1 Enoch was oppressive violence by foreign rulers. But to describe this literature as “opposition to empire” is “simplistic and misses the nuances of the mode of resistance” and “obliterate the generic that are essential for nuanced interpretation” (306-7).

In “Cognitive Dissonance and Eschatological Violence: Fantasized Solutions to a Theological Dilemma in Second Temple Judaism”(originally published in Nathan MacDonald and Ken Brown, eds., Monotheism in Late Prophetic and Early Apocalyptic Literature [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014]: 201-17), Collins explores potential links between apocalyptic literature and violence in monotheistic religions. He takes as a starting point the recent claim that monotheistic religions lead to acts of violence like 9/11. He surveys several Old Testament examples of “violent fantasy” and combat myth, such as Isaiah 63:3-4. The claim these violent texts contribute to the Jewish Revolt in A.D. 70 is an open question, since Josephus states “deceivers and imposters” were the cause of the rebellion (322), but Josephus may be more interested in exonerating the majority of the Jewish people after the war was over. Although this literature may fuel a revolutionary spirit, Collins points out that “imagining an alternative universe can be therapeutic in times of crisis” (324).

Finally, Collins engages the embarrassing legacy of apocalyptic millenarianism such as Hal Lindsey and Left Behind (“Radical Religion and the Ethical Dilemmas of Apocalyptic Millenarianism,” originally published in Zoe Bennett and David B. Gowler, eds., Radical Christian Voices and Practice: Essays in Honour of Christopher Rowland [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012]: 87-102). In Collins’s view, the ambiguity of the genre of apocalyptic and overly simplistic interpretations of apocalyptic has generated many unfortunate views hoping to “decode the text” of Daniel and Revelation. As in the previous essay, Collins points out that violent fantasies common in these interpretations are often cathartic. Apocalyptic literature itself can be “harnessed for good or evil” (342).

Conclusion. Eerdmans has done a great service for Jewish apocalyptic scholarship by bringing these essays together in a single, affordable volume. Readers interested in apocalyptic Second Temple literature will find Apocalypse, Prophecy, and Pseudepigraphy to be a valuable resource.


NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on May 24, 2016 on Reading Acts.

Enoch and the Essene Hypothesis

The book known today as 1 Enoch not a single book, but rather a series of short books written over a period of time. They share some themes and interests, most obviously revelations given to Enoch. Since four of the five major sections of the book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, it would appear the Qumran community valued the books. But just because a book appears in a library is not sufficient evidence to conclude the owner of the book agrees with the contents. (For example, how many books in your personal library reflect what you actually believe?)

Essene-hypothesisGabriele Boccaccini argues in favor of a close relationship between the books of Enoch and the Qumran community. While there is no evidence to suggest the Essene community produced the documents which later became known as 1 Enoch, Boccaccini rightly notes the importance of this literature to the community, which he describes as a “a parent-child relationship.” (Boccaccini, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis, 12). He believes “the mystery of Essene and Qumran origins is largely hidden in the Enoch literature” (Boccaccini, 13).

There are problems with this proposal, however. As Boccaccini admits, the presence of an anti-Zadokite Enoch in a pro-Zadok Essene library is troubling. Other elements which are important in the sectarian literature of Qumran are missing. “The Enochian texts offer some theological surprises to the thoughtful reader who is sensitive both to what is there and what is not there” (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch, 5). No sacrificial cult in Jerusalem, for example. “Soteriology is knowledge in Enoch, divinely revealed secret knowledge” (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch, 6).

Reconstructing the community which might have created this literature is clearly difficult. Commenting on the possibility of reconstructing 1 Enoch’s community, Nickelsburg rightly warns, “We see darkly in a tarnished and qumran-cavescratched mirror, and our interpretations of the images often present only one of several possibilities” (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch, 3).  In Boccaccini’s reconstruction, the influence of Hellenism on the religion and practice of Israel is the impetus for the creation of this literature. As Hellenism made inroads into Jewish society in Palestine, those who argued for traditional Jewish values found themselves in a struggle for the hearts of the people.

That Israel is God’s elect is clear from the Hebrew Bible, but how that election relates to Jewish boundary markers was not always clear. The Hebrew Bible demonstrates clearly that God will judge between the righteous and the sinner, the elect and the non-elect. The Community which produced the material in 1 Enoch seems to have looked forward to a judgment of God which would sort out the true elect from the false.


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

Translations of 1 Enoch

Dillman's Ethiopic text of 1 Enoch

Dillman’s Ethiopic text of 1 Enoch

I have been asked several times where to get a copy of 1 Enoch to read. As with most books, there are free copies on the internet and expensive books only available in the reserve room at high quality university libraries.  For the student looking to read the text, perhaps the free editions will suffice, but there are some problems with these older, free resources.

Richard Laurence published the first English translation of 1 Enoch in 1883, followed by R. H. Charles (Oxford, 1893, revised in 1913). Both are out of print and
widely available on the Internet (; Sacred Texts). The 1893 edition of Charles’s translation is available in Google Books and 1 Enoch is also included in his two-volume Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913). The 1917 edition of 1 Enoch has an introduction to apocalyptic literature by W. O. E. Oesterley (available from Logos).  Wipf & Stock sells a reprint of Charles’s 1912 translation and Dillman’s Ethiopic text of 1 Enoch.

The problem with these older, free resources is the limited manuscript evidence available to the translator. Since the Aramaic fragments of the book were not discovered and published until after 1948, Charles relies on limited Ethiopic and Greek witnesses to the text. An additional problem with these older resources is the tendency to affect a biblical tone similar to the KJV Bible.

Charles-pseudepigraphaMore recently, the translation by E. Isaac (“1 (Ethiopic Apocalypse of) Enoch” in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:5-89) is very readable translation although it is part of a much larger volume. Isaac states in his introduction there are forty Ethiopic manuscripts of the book, but his translation is based on a fifteenth century manuscript (Kebrān 9/II, Hammerschmidt).

George W. E. Nickelsburg’s commentary on 1 Enoch in the Hermeneia (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001) is essential for the study of the book. The first volume covers chapters 1–36 and 81–108.  The second volume on chapters 37–82 was completed by James C. VanderKam in 2012. Since Hermeneia commentaries are expensive, it is not cost-effective to buy these two volumes just to read 1 Enoch, Fortress has published the translation in a separate paperback volume in 2012. In the introduction to this volume, the authors state they have consulted fifty of the ninety available Stuckenbruck-Enochmanuscripts of 1 Enoch as well as the Greek, Aramaic, Coptic and Latin fragments of the book. Nickelsburg attempted to translate the “earliest recoverable text” favoring the Aramaic, then Greek, then Ethiopic manuscripts.

Loren Stuckenbruck has two translations of sections of 1 Enoch: The Book of Giants from Qumran (Text und Studien zum Antiken Judentum 63; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997) and 1 Enoch 91-108 (Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature; de Gruyter, 2007). The latter is a major commentary on few chapters of the book. The translation in the commentary “departs significantly from the strategy adopted in the translation published by Nickelsburg” (18), focusing on the Ethiopic rather than an eclectic text. Stuckenbruck offers detailed textual notes after his translation and provides notes and commentary on the text. Unfortunately the book is expensive and will only be found in quality research libraries.

I will offer one verse of comparison, 1 Enoch 91:11. I chose this verse since the Ethiopic is longer and misplaced.

And after that the roots of unrighteousness shall be cut off, and the sinners shall be destroyed by the sword … shall be cut off from the blasphemers in every place, and those who plan violence and those who commit blasphemy shall perish by the sword. (R. H. Charles, Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, 2:262).

…and through him the roots of oppression shall be cut off. Sinners shall be destroyed; by the sword they shall be cut off (together with) the blasphemers in every place; and those who design oppression and commit blasphemy shall perish by the knife. Isaac, OPT 1:72–73.

And they will uproot the foundations of violence, and the structure of deceit in it, to execute judgment.  (Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch, 434).

And after that the roots of oppression will be cut off, and the sinners shall be destroyed by the sword; and from every place the blasphemers will be cut off, and those who plan oppression and those who commit blasphemy will be destroyed by the knife.  (Stuckenbruck, 1 Enoch 91-108, 118)

Nickelsburg adds a footnote, “Translation follows 4QEng 1 4:14 (Milik, Enoch, 265)” since he does not follow the longer Ethiopic text, but rather the shorter, Aramaic text from the Dead Sea Scrolls. There is a translation of the longer text in the footnote in his commentary, but not the shorter paperback translation. Isaac adds a footnote” “4QEn: “And they will have rooted out the foundations of violence and the structure of falsehood therein to execute [judgment].”

Conclusion: The “best value” translation is the Fortress Press reprint of Nickelsburg and VanderKam from the Hermeneia series. Although it has far less textual annotations, the inexpensive paperback format makes it an easy addition. I am sure there are other translations of 1 Enoch available, what did I miss?