Enoch and the Birth of Melchizedek – 2 Enoch 64-73

In Chapter 64 Enoch once again is about to go up into heaven, this time as 2000 people watch. Enoch is described in this chapter as “glorified before the face of the Lord for all eternity” and the one the Lord chose in preference to all the people of the earth. OTP 190 note c comments this is such high praise it would not have pleased either Jew of Christian. The manuscript evidence show a high degree of “embarrassment” over this glowing endorsement of Enoch!

As with the previous moments when Enoch was about to go into heaven, he instructs the gathered people rather than ascend into heaven (chapters 65-67). Like the previous sections, Enoch exhorts his audience to good works based on the creation of the universe. In 66:6 there is an “affliction list” – walk before the Lord in longsuffering, meekness, affliction, distress, faithfulness, truth, hope, weakness, derision, assaults, temptations, deprivations, and nakedness. This list is not unlike Romans 8:35 and Paul’s own list of afflictions in 2 Cor. 4:8 and 11:16-29. The righteous ought not to expect an easy life even when they seek the Lord.

MethuselahChapters 69-73 contain a version of the flood narrative beginning with Enoch’s translation into heaven (68:1-4) and the response by his son Methusalem. This section reads quite differently than the rest of the book; Enoch is no longer the subject, Methusalem and later Melchizedek, Nir and Noah are the main characters. There is less ethical exhortation and more prose narrative than anywhere else in the book. This section is therefore probably from another source.

Enoch and his brothers construct an altar on the spot where Enoch ascended and sacrificed “in front of the face of the Lord.” (68:5-7). Chapter 69 describes Methusalem’s sacrifices. After the people bring the animals to sacrifice, Methusalem’s face glows radiantly and prays aloud to the Lord, asking him to accept the sacrifice.

As he prays, the altar is shaken and the knife leaps into his hand. From that time on he is honored as a prophet. Methusalem remained at the altar of the Lord for ten years, during which time not a single person “turned away from vanity” (chapter 71). Methusalem’s son Lamekh has two sons, Nir and Noe. After Methusalem is given a disturbing vision of the coming flood, Nir is made a priest. Methusalem dies and people continue to turn away from the Lord. The devil, we are told, came to rule a third time (70:24-25).

Nir’s wife Sopanim becomes pregnant in her old age, having been sterile (chapter 71). This is described as a “virgin” birth. While this story has elements similar to Matthew 2 and Luke 2, the differences are fantastic and legendary. She is embarrassed by this pregnancy and hides herself until the child is due. When Nir discovers she is pregnant he rebukes her and intends to send her away because she has disgraced him, but instead she falls dead at his feet.  Noe discovers this and tells Nir that the Lord has “covered up our scandal.” They bury Sopanim in a black shroud in a secret grave.

The child, however, was not dead and came out of the dead mother as a fully developed child. This terrifies Nir and Noe, but since the child is “glorious in appearance” they realize the Lord is renewing the priesthood in their bloodline. They name the child Melkisedek. We are told that Melkisedek will be the head of “thirteen priests who existed before” and later there will be another Melkisedek who will be the head over twelve priests as an archpriest. Melkisedek is only with Nir for forty days, then the Lord instructs Michael to go and take the boy up to heavEnoch The Lord calls him “my child Melkisedek” (72:1-2). The child is to be placed in Paradise forever. Nir is so grieved by the loss of his son. He also dies leaving no more priests in the world, allowing the world to become even more evil. Noe is therefore instructed to build the ark in chapter 73.

melchizadeckThis strange miraculous birth story for Melkisedek is part of an interest in the King of Salem first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 14:18. Psalm 110:4 describes the king / messiah as a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. This text is cited twice in Hebrews 5:6-10 and 7:1-17 and applied to Jesus. The writer of Hebrews is likely tapping into a common image of a true priesthood which runs outside of the line of the Levites and Aaron. In the case of 2 Enoch, the “legendary” elements of Melchizedek’s story pre-date the flood. This could be used to argue for an early date for this section as well, since the Melchizedek legend was popular in the first century. It is possible a medieval writer created a pre-flood Melchizedek birth story, but it is more likely 2 Enoch is reflecting a first century or earlier tradition.

Melchizedek was an important figure for the Qumran community, 11QMelch is a poorly preserved but important fragment in which the character Melchizedek is tied to Old Testament texts on the Jubilee and describes him as returning to proclaim liberty, probably based on Is. 61:1 (line 6). There are no real parallels between this Melchizedek legend and anything in the first century, implying this section is to be dated rather late.

9 thoughts on “Enoch and the Birth of Melchizedek – 2 Enoch 64-73

  1. On the subject of the Jewish apocrypha,here’s a couple of exciting contracted commentaries from Hermeneia I will probably never live to see:

    Jubilees: James C. VanderKam (TBD)

    Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs: James L. Kugel 978-0-8006-6058-1

    Hermenieia is going further than Anchor Bible in covering non-canonical material. Example: individual volumes devoted to The Temple Scroll
    Molly Zahn 978-0-8006-9902-4 and The Community Rule by Annette Steudel (TBD) as well as The Gospel of Mary (978-0-8006-6087-1), Thomas (978-0-8006-6076-5), and Christian Apocalypses (978-0-8006-6070-3).

    Also contracted is 1 and 2 Samuel by my old prof, Baruch Halpern 978-0-8006-6072-7 If he actually ever writes these they will be rather stellar, historically, although they will be devoid of theology.

    Lots for the Bible junkie.

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  2. Brother, I appreciate you essay. However, I would like to ask a sincere question. Why would you depict Melkisedek and Enoch as if they were of European decent when it was obvious that they were not. Just curious.

    If you do not honor God in TRUTH and Spirit, you indeed corrupt your message.

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    • I just steal the art from other websites, it is the way of the internet. The first picture is from Monty Python (and more or less a poor attempt at humor, I was just looking for a hairy guy…I guess Eric Idle is a very white man indeed) and the second is a byzantine mosaic, a time when everyone was white. Poke around, I have some others that are less offensive. Probably some that are more offensive. Sorry.

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