When was 1 Enoch Written?

Of all the apocalyptic material in the Pseudepigrapha, 1 Enoch is probably the most important. According to John Collins, the publication of 1 Enoch in the early nineteenth century was the major motivation for the study of Second Temple period literature. The book was virtually unknown outside of Ethiopic Christianity until James Bruce brought three copies from Abyssinia in 1773. Although the first translation was made in 1821 by Richard Laurence (1760–1838), it was the 1913 translation by R. H. Charles which brought the book of 1 Enoch to the attention of biblical studies.

While the book is a composite of several smaller units, all five major sections are normally dated to the first or second century B.C. The entire collection is known only in Ethiopic, although Greek and Aramaic fragments have been found at Qumran. The earliest manuscripts is written in Ethiopic (Ge’ez) and date to the sixteenth century. There are a few Latin quotations (only 1:9 and 106:1–18) from the book as well as fragments in Coptic and Syriac.

The Book of Enoch in Greek in the Chester Beatty Papyri (P.Mich.inv. 5552)

The Book of Enoch in Greek in the Chester Beatty Papyri (P.Mich.inv. 5552)

Aramaic fragments from four of the five sections of the book are attested in the Qumran literature, about one-fifth of the Ethiopic book (4Q201-202, 204-212; The Book of Giants 1Q23-24, 2Q26, 4Q203, 530-533, 6Q8). This confirms a pre-Christian era date for those sections as well as implying a Judean origin. The only section not found at Qumran was the Book of Similitudes (chapters 37-71).

R. H. Charles, who published one of the first editions of 1 Enoch in English, argued for a date between 94 and 67 B.C.E. for the Similitudes based on 38:5. Charles interpreted “the shedding of righteous blood” as the persecution of Pharisees by the Hasmoneans and Sadducees, although few accept this suggestion today.

Józef Milik, who first published the Aramaic fragments found at Qumran, argued for an “Enoch Pentateuch” which did not include the Similitudes, but instead had a “Book of Giants.” The astronomical section was also longer in this hypothetical document. It was not until after C.E. 400 that the book came into the present form (Milik, Enoch, 96-98). As Isaac comments in his introduction, this theory lacks “any solid evidence and has been subjected to serious criticism” (“1 Enoch” in OTP 1:7).

In 1977 and 1978 the SNTS Pseudepigrapha Seminar discussed the Similitudes and came to the consensus that the unit was a Jewish work dated to the first century C.E. Collins points out an additional two sections in Similitudes which appear to refer to historical events (Collins, Apocalyptic Imagination, 178).1 Enoch 56:5-7 refers to the Parthians, possibly just after the Parthian invasion of Palestine in 40 B.C.E. 1 Enoch 67:5-13 mentions hot springs, which Collins argues is an allusion to Herod’s attempt to heal himself at the hot springs of Callirhoe (Antiq. 17.6.5, 171-173; War 1.22.5, 657-658). Collins concludes by speculating a date for Similitudes in the mid-first century C.E., before the beginning of the war in C.E. 66. Collins also states the Similitudes was written in Aramaic (Apocalyptic Imagination, 178). This date is of critical importance to New Testament studies since the Similitudes contain the “son of man” sayings.

The Enoch collection is therefore the earliest witness to Jewish apocalyptic literature.

8 thoughts on “When was 1 Enoch Written?

  1. Thanks… Interesting. One thing comes to mind: though we might tend to think, “What else can yet be discovered of any consequence re. ancient or 2nd Temple Judaism or 1st-2nd century Christianity after around 2000 years?” Your 1773/1913 dates are interesting. People often also forget that as recently as 1945-53 (Nag Hammadi and Dead Sea Scrolls) MAJOR finds added a lot to our knowledge. This not to mention a lot of archaeology not involving manuscripts. And sometimes stuff is “hidden in plain sight” in museums! (But I’m not signing up to go searching!)

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    • Good point, certainly we have been blessed with an embarrassment of riches. I would also add the Cairo Geniza to the list, although not all of that is as interesting as the DSS. In the case of the DSS, the publication of the majority of the documents waited until the 1980s, so little more than a generation of scholarship has had access to the full collection.

      I would sign up to go searching, but I doubt the pay is very good!

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      • Well, I’m not too far behind you. From college days, more than one interest inventory pegged me top or top 3 for “librarian”. I never got that till recent years, bec. the “don’t coup me up”, “get outside” part of me was was so strong. Now maybe I COULD handle 8 hrs. a day in a library… under the right circumstances. I DO love libraries. And remind me what the Cairo Geniza is. Oh… and either the “greatest hoax” or “greatest discovery” (I lean to the former) of the Secret Gospel of Mark “discovered” by Morton Smith. And if a hoax… that’s a STRANGE as well as brilliant guy.

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  2. You may find interesting to read a decent review on the issue of dating the Parables by D. Bock in the book edited by Charlesworth and Bock himself called Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift (T&T Clark, 2013). He went through opinions since Charles up to recent, although his conclusions are heavily shaped by his own position.

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    • Thanks, I have that on my bibliography but have not had the time to track down a copy and read it. I see it is now available in a less-expensive paper back edition

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