Dating the Similitudes – 1 Enoch 37-71

The book now known as 1 Enoch is a compilation of at least five smaller books. Chapters 1-36 (or at least 6-36) are usually entitled The Book of the Watchers and this next section The Book of the Similitudes or the Parables of Enoch. A problem for dating these chapters is that the Similitudes have not been attested in the Qumran literature. Although Milik dated this section to A.D. 270, most scholars date the Similitudes after 40 B.C. based on the reference to the Parthians in 56:5:

 “In those days, the angels will assemble and thrust themselves to the east at the Parthians and Medes. They will shake up the kings (so that) a spirit of unrest shall come upon them, and stir them up from their thrones; and they will break forth from their beds like lions and like hungry hyenas among their own flocks.”

It is possible this verse refers to a past attack from the east led by the Parthians and Medes. In 40 B.C. a governor of the Parthians name Barzapharnes invaded part of Judea to aid Antigonus II against Hyrcanus II (Josephus, JW 1.13.1–11; Antiq. 14.13.3–14.6). On the other hand, 1 Enoch 56 may be an intertextual allusion to classic eschatological texts like Joel 2:4-5, Zechariah 12; 14; and Ezekiel 38-39. James VanderKam considers a simple identification of these verses with the Parthian invasion is “is not without its problems” and that “one should exercise caution in employing these verses” to date the Similitudes (1 Enoch 2: Chapters 37–82, 209).

Ethiopic Illuminated Gospel, 1300s.

Ethiopic Illuminated Gospel, 1300s.

A second factor in dating this section is 67:8-13, verses which appear to allude to the last days of Herod the Great. In these verses “a poisonous drug of the body and a punishment of the spirit unto the kings, rulers, and exalted one.” Herod died at the hot springs at Kallirrhoë seeking relief from an excruciating disease (Josephus called this disease “God’s judgment upon him for his sins,” Antiq., 17.6.5). Although this seems to require a date after 4 B.C., but many Enoch scholars now consider an allusion to the death of Herod an interpolation into the text.

It may very well have been a part of the Enoch literature in the late first century B.C., but since the section is missing from the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is impossible to be certain. James Vanderkam suggests a range of 40 B.C. to A.D. 70 for these chapters, although “with some preference for the earlier part of this time span” (1 Enoch 2, 63).

The reason dating the Similitudes is important is the use of the term “son of man” in the Similitudes. (For a basic overview of the issues, see Collins, Apocalyptic Imagination, 177-193). Until the Aramaic fragments of the other four sections of Enoch were found at Qumran, the Similitudes were dated to the pre-Christian era and the phrase “son of man” in the gospels was thought to have been drawn from popular apocalyptic texts of the first century. Because the Qumran fragments are missing the Similitudes, it possible to argue they were not a part of the original, pre-Christian Enoch collection or that they have Christian interpolations.

Even if it is proven the Similitudes pre-date the New Testament, readers should be very cautious describing the relationship between the “son of man” sayings in the Gospels and 1 Enoch.

9 thoughts on “Dating the Similitudes – 1 Enoch 37-71

    • Thanks, excellent article. I appreciate the link to the paper on

      Erho argues for a wide range for the date of the section, observing “no scholar of early Judaism in the past forty years has ventured to date this document outside of the period 50 b.c.e. to 100 c.e.” He thinks we can drop “tentatively” from the date, but “in favor of a wider era of consensus rather than a disputed pre-Christian Herodian date.” That is wider than VanderKam’s range, but not by much.

      I agree with his assertion “the historical events during the Parthian invasion fail to cohere very well with the contents of 1 En. 56:5-8,” but that is also the nature of apocalyptic. Those who date Daniel 11 late have the same problems, since there are details which do not fit. The text cited above at least mentions the Parthians, leading to the 40 BC invasion, but as Erho says, “to have depended heavily on a stock characterization of the Parthians, as opposed to actual historical events.”

      Ted M. Erho, “Historical-Allusional Dating and the Similitudes of Enoch,” JBL 130 (2011): 493–511.

    • Thank you so much for your link, James Hamrick. This was the ‘missing link’ for my paper.

  1. Thanks for this blog post. You saved me a bit of work. I am going to quote your concluding paragraphs for a comment in a blog post at a site that is promoting the idea that Matthew sourced I Enoch for his use of “son of man”. The author relies on an outdated source from 1955 for his assertions.

    I have Charlesworth’s two volumes, but your synopsis saved me from doing other related research, e.g., the presence, or lack thereof, of “son of man” at Qumran. In E. Issac’s intro to 1 Enoch, he writes (countering Milik), “I am convinced that 1 Enoch already contained the Similitudes by the end of the first century A.D.” (p 7).

  2. The late Larry Hurtado also insisted that we should be very cautious about treating the Similitudes of Enoch as an influence on Christianity since:

    “thus far there is no portion of this material found among either the Qumran Aramaic fragments or the Oxyrhynchus Greek fragments of 1 Enoch. Moreover, it is hard to offer any clear instance of citation of this section of 1 Enoch among second-temple Jewish or early Christian writings. So, despite the recent groundswell of opinion that “the Book of Parables” was composed sometime in the early lst century CE or perhaps a bit earlier, there remains this curious absence in text-finds and identifiable citations”

    I also find it surprising how few point out that three different Ge’ez phrases are all translated “son of man” in our modern Enoch translations. Translating all three different terms as “son of man” results in our translations giving the impression of a fixed title in a way the Ethiopic texts do not.

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