The Animal Apocalypse, Part 1 – 1 Enoch 85-90

The Animal Apocalypse is one of the most remarkable sections of 1 Enoch. As Daniel Olson says, the Animal Apocalypse is  “an original theological interpretation of human history.” Olson argues in his recent dissertation this allegory was written early in the Maccabean period as propaganda to support Judas’s actions. Olson dates the section precisely: it was “probably written about 165 BCE and then updated in mid- 161, following the battle of Adasa in March (1 Macc 7:39-50; 2 Macc 15:15-17).” Nickelsburg places 1 Enoch 90:9b-10, 12-16 in italics as a possible interpolation made around 163-161 B.C. The allegory therefore presents a history up to a point in Maccabean Revolt, but the intervention of the Lord of the sheep did not occur in history, nor does the judgment described in 90:20-27 reflect a historical event in the Maccabean period. Similar to Daniel 11, the history is only accurate up to the point when the author begins to speculate about a future intervention by God to restore Israel.

SheepThe story begins and ends with Eden. Enoch sees a white bull and a heifer (Adam and Eve) to whom two bulls were born, one black and the other red. The black bull gored the red one, killing it (Cain and Abel). The heifer came after the black bull but the first white bull quiets her and she gives him another white bull (Seth), along with many other bulls and black cows. The third bull (Seth) is white, a reference to the purity of the line of Seth.

Beginning with chapter 86, the Apocalypse offers a history of the pre-flood world. The stars mingle with the cows in the following chapter, giving birth to elephants, camels and donkeys.  The cattle become frightened and they begin to bite and gore one another, referring to the fallen angels (Genesis 6; 1 Enoch 6-11). In 1 Enoch 87 a snow-white person comes down from heaven and rescues Enoch out of the chaos and tells him to watch the elephants and other animals.  Four heavenly beings seize the fallen stars in chapter 88 and place them in the Abyss, bound hand and foot.

In the earliest part of the vision the identifications are obvious and straightforward, but as the allegory becomes more detailed there is more difficulty determining what the original writer had in mind.  The basis for much of the imagery of the animal apocalypse seems to be Ezekiel 34 (sheep and shepherds) as well as the frequent imagery in the Psalms of Israel as the sheep of God’s pasture (95:6-7, for example). 1 Enoch 89:2-9 refers to the Flood.  One of the four angels teaches the white bovine how to build an ark and this bovine becomes a man and builds it.  The rising waters destroy all the animals, the ark lands and a man and three cows exit the ark.

The rest of Genesis and slavery in Egypt is summarized by 89:10-27. Israel is represented by sheep who are surrounded by wolves and rescued by the Lord of the Sheep (Israel in Egypt and the Exodus).  This dazzling Lord leads the sheep out of a swamp and into the desert. In the desert the Lord begins to open the eyes of the sheep (89:28-38). One of the sheep leads the nation becomes a man and is taken up into heaven, a clear reference to Moses (v. 36).

The sheep are then led across a stream (the Jordan) into “a good place,” a “pleasant and glorious land” (89:39). In 89:39-50, the sheep settle in the land. When the sheep become dim-sighted another sheep is appointed to lead them, and their eyes open again (the “Judges cycle”). The sheep are oppressed by a variety of animals (Gentiles). The kings of Israel are rams, Solomon himself is a “little ram” who built a house for the Lord of the Sheep (89:50).

After passing over the Davidic kingdom briefly, 89:51-67 offers significant detail for the divided Kingdom after Solomon. In verse 59 seventy shepherds are summoned and commanded to watch over the sheep. These shepherds are held responsible for what the sheep do, implying these are the seventy elders or priesthood of Israel (Exod 24:1, Ezek 8:11, 1 Enoch 34:1-31). R. H. Charles called the identity of the seventy “the most vexed question in Enoch” (Charles, Commentary, 2:255). He suggested the seventy were angels since they received their orders from God; humans would have been represented as animals in this context. Charles overlooks the fact some of the characters in the story were humans (Noah, for example, was a bovine who became human when given the commission to build the ark) and he seems to ignore the fact these seventy are judged for their mismanagement of the sheep, as were the elders of Israel.

The exile is briefly narrated in 89:68-72. The sheep are delivered to oppressors and many are killed.  A writer records in a book how many have perished.  This book was read aloud to the Lord of the Sheep and then sealed.  Verse 72 is probably the return from exile and the rebuilding of the city and temple under Ezra and Nehemiah. In 89:73-77 the city and temple are rebuilt, but the sheep are weak and poor-sighted (the post-exilic community in Judah).

The first section of the Animal Apocalypse closely follows the story of the Hebrew Bible from Eden through the exile, although it is remarkable how little is said about David and Solomon. Taken as a propaganda piece for Judas and the future Hasmoneans, the first part of the Animal Apocalypse is more interested in presenting Judas as a legitimate successor to other leaders who were empowered by the Lord of Sheep to lead the people out of slavery and into the glorious land (Moses, Joshua).

19 thoughts on “The Animal Apocalypse, Part 1 – 1 Enoch 85-90

  1. Whose job is the Interpretation, and Understanding, of the words written?
    Does the teacher give instruction on languages he does not understand?

    • Are you referring to interpreting the Animal Apocalypse? Or is this a general question about written words? The allegorical elements Animal Apocalypse are fairly clear, not much debate on the main points I wrote about.

      If you read, you interpret. Cannot avoid it!

  2. Thank you so much for the clarity it was so helpful. My question is : if which Judas to you write about? Thank you in advance. God bless

  3. I have never heard about the Animal Apocalypse. It is interesting to see how the author of 1 Enoch writes down his interpretation of the Jews. I liked the imagery of the Jews being sheep and them being in Exile surrounded as the wolves. It is crazy to think that today we still are learning more and more about these ancient manuscripts. We still have questions about what the others were saying in some parts of this passage. I was also cool to see how the author used animals to represent the humans in this interpretation. The White Bull and Heifer ( Adam and Eve) The two bulls (Cain and Abel) How the star mingled with the cows giving birth to many other animals like elephants and camels. The early parts were pretty clear on who was who and what the author was trying to say. But towards the end it is more difficult to interpret. I wonder if this was written to help make Judas seem more established than he was. Showing that he had great success like Moses and Joshua. As you said in the beginning of the article some believe that this was the original theological interpretation of human history. Did the audience understand what the author was trying to convey? Did they buy into the propaganda of Judas if that was the goal?

  4. It is interesting that the number 70 comes up and that some scholars have seen them as angels because there is also mention of a divine council of 70 and there were 70 nations which appeared to have been given over to the fallen angels or some such.

  5. I truly appreciate your effort and energy, I understood all of what you wrote…. Distinguishing the allegory of the bulls and comparing them got puzzling but I’ve managed to decipher who is who…..

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