While the book is attributed to the rabbi Ishmael, who died before the Bar Kokhba revolt, Alexander dates the book to the fifth or sixth century A.D. (Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 223). Odeberg thought the earliest stratum of the text dated to the first century, although the main body of the text was third century. Christopher Rowland described 3 Enoch is described as “a solitary example of the extravagant Enochic speculation preserved in the Jewish tradition” (DDD, 303) As Alexander summarizes: “3 Enoch contains some very old traditions and stands in direct line with developments which had already begun in the Maccabean era, a date for its final redaction in the fifth or sixth century A.D. cannot be far from the truth” (“3 Enoch,” 228). Milik dated the book very late, to the ninth or tenth century. This date is based his belief 3 Enoch was dependent on 2 Enoch, which he dated to the same period. For a bibliography on 3 Enoch, see Andrei A. Orlov, From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (Leiden: Brill, 2006), 59-63.
The importance of 3 Enoch is for the study of Jewish mysticism, especially merkabah mysticism. Merkabah mysticism is based on the throne vision of Ezekiel 1-3. A mystic is “caught up” into heaven and receives a vision of the wonders of heaven, the throne of God and the chariot of his glory. The visions are usually filled with fantastic descriptions of angelic beings. This is a very difficult area of study because sources are esoteric and often limited because the visions were secret. The Talmud considered these so esoteric they were not to be discussed (P. Alexander, “Third Enoch” in ABD 2:523).
3 Enoch may be important for the background to the Jewish mysticism in the Colossian heresy. Fred Francis argued the Colossian church was influenced by the merkabah mysticism of early Judaism. This mystical form of Judaism stressed visions (especially visions of the throne room of God.) Because of the obvious connection to the descriptions of the false teachers in the letter, this view has gained a great deal of attention of late.
A second possible New Testament connection to merkabah mysticism is Paul’s vision in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7. In this text Paul describes being “caught up to the third heaven,” language quite familiar to the reader of the Enoch literature. He says he entered paradise and learned secrets he cannot relate. There are any number of problems interpreting the section in 2 Corinthians (for example, when was this vision? What was the point of the vision for his ministry? Was Paul the subject of the vision himself? Is “I knew a man” an ambiguous self-reference?) Merkabah visionary experiences may provide some context for Paul’s experience, but it will be difficult to argue Paul’s vision is the same as the later merkabah visionaries.
The book of Revelation contains elements of merkabah mysticism in chapter 4-5, but there are a number of differences which set the Apocalypse apart from the later mystical texts especially with regard to the throne of God itself. But as David Aune points out, 2 Corinthians 12 and Revelation 4 are the only reports of these sorts of visions in all of early Christianity or Judaism (Aune, Revelation 1-5:14, 276-279). In Revelation, John is caught up into heaven, but he does not pass through stages or layers of heaven. He sees a variety of angelic / heavenly beings, although they are not described in the detail found in 3 Enoch or other any other intertestamental text. It is possible we can think of Revelation 4-5 as an “early” merkabah vision, while 3 Enoch represents a more fully developed form with the stock elements greatly expanded.
3 Enoch: Alexander, P. S. “3 Enoch” in OTP 1:223-254; “The Historical Setting of the Hebrew Book of Enoch,” JJS 28 (1977) 156-180. Christopher Rowland, “Enoch” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible. (in K. V. D. Toorn, B. Becking, and P. W. Horst, P., eds. 2nd rev. ed.; Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Merkabah Mysticism: G. G. Scholem, Jewish Gnosticism, Merkabah Mysticism, and Talmudic Tradition (New York, 1960); David Flusser, “Scholem’s Recent Book on Merkabah Literature,”`JJS 11 (1961). Ithamar Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (AGJU 14; Leiden: Brill, 1980).
Colossians and Merkabah mysticism: Fred Francis, “Humility and Angel Worship in Col 2:18,” pages 163-195 in Conflict at Colossae (F. O. Francis and W. A. Meeks, eds.; Missoula, MT: Scholars, 1975). F. F. Bruce argued the heresy is non-traditional Judaism, likely influenced by merkabah mysticism. F. F. Bruce, “The Colossian Heresy,” BibSac 141 (1984):195-208; H. Wayne House, “Heresies in the Colossian Church” BibSac 149 (1992) 45-59; Clint Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1996) 95-100.
Paul and Merkabah mysticism: “There are definite links from the language and ideas of these Jewish texts from Second Temples times and the testimony of Paul to and the Tannaitic and Amoraic Merkabah (and later Hekhalot) traditions….” James D. Tabor, “Heaven, Ascent To” in ABD 3:91-94; Brad H. Young, “The Ascension Motif of 2 Corinthians 12 in Jewish, Christian and Gnostic Texts” GTJ 9:1 (Spr 88) 73-103; J. Bowker, “‘Merkabah’ Visions and the Visions of Paul,” JSS 16 (1971): 157-173; P. Schäfer, “New Testament and Hekhalot Literature: The Journey into Heaven in Paul and in Merkavah Mysticism,” JJS 35 (1984): 19-35.