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?)

Gabriele 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 scratched 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).