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.
The 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).