3 Enoch and the Cosmic Secrets

fire-tortureThe final section of 3 Enoch contains several heavenly features in a somewhat random order. Metatron reveals these “secrets of the cosmos.”

  • Chapter 41 describes the letters by which the world was created. These letters are not identified in this section, but in chapter 44 the letters of the Torah are specifically mentioned so it is not unlikely the letters that created the universe are the Hebrew letters of the Torah.
  • Chapter 42 describes the raqia’, the firmament of Genesis 1 and the power of the name of God, who is an everlasting rock and everlasting fire.
  • Chapter 43 describes a storehouse of souls of the righteous. Some of these souls have returned and others have not yet been created.
  • Chapter 44 describes the wicked in Sheol and lists the angels in charge of the place as well as the souls of the patriarchs who pray before the Holy One. Souls are brought “to punish them with fire in Gehinnom, with rods of burning coal” (v. 3). There is a hint at purgatory in this section, since these tortured souls “are tainted until purified of their iniquity by fire.”
  • Chapter 45 describes the “curtain of the Omnipresent One.” On this curtain are printed each generation of the world, which are listed from Adam until the time of the Messiah. There appear to be two messiahs here, one who is the son of Joseph and one who is the son of David (verse 5). There are a number of potential rabbinical sources for the “nebulous figure” of the first messiah, son of Joseph, as a forerunner of the Davidic messiah (OTP 1:298 note t).
  • Chapter 46 describes the “the spirits of the stars” which live in the raqia’. The section specifically quotes Psalm 147:4 (God counts and names all of the stars) and Psalm 19:1 (the heavens declare the glory of God), and there are allusions to several other texts from the Hebrew Bible.
  • Chapter 47 describes the ministering angels who are punished by the fiery coals whenever they “do not recite the song at the right time or in a proper and fitting manner.”

Chapter 48A is the most eschatological section in the book. This chapter describes the right hand of God which created the 955 heavens. This right hand is “banished behind him” because of the destruction of the Temple. When it weeps five rivers flow out of it and split the earth in five ways, five times. When the Lord reveals his arm to the world, Israel will be saved from the Gentiles (verses 9-10). This re-gathering of Israel is described as a banquet and even the gentiles will share in this eschatological with meal with Israel and the Messiah. This final eschatological statement may also allude to the banquet on Zion in Isaiah 25:6-8, but this is not as clear as Isaiah 66:20.

3 Enoch concludes by drawing together Isa 52:10, Deut 32:12 and Zech 14:9 to show the Lord will rule over the whole world, both Jew and Gentile. If 3 Enoch is the product of a ninth century Christian monk, it is strange that Israel would have first place in the kingdom since by this point Israel has been theologically replaced by the Church as God’s people and eschatology such as this played down or allegorized.  This eschatological conclusion seems to imply an early tradition present in 3 Enoch, although it is impossible to know how old this tradition is.

Angelic Beings in 3 Enoch

The book has a higher view of the man Enoch than the previous Enoch pseudepigrapha. We learn in chapter 4 the angel Metatron is actually Enoch himself, having been elevated by God himself to the level of an angel (6:1-2). Enoch is described as the “choicest of all” and worth all of the rest of humans in righteousness. He is brought up to heaven angel-of-firein the Shekinah glory of God and brought into the divine presence itself (chapter 7). He is blessed with 1,365,000 blessings, his body is enlarged and he is given 72 wings, each wing is large enough to cover the whole world, and he is given 365,000 eyes each like the Great Light (the sun, chapter 9). The number 365 repeats throughout the book in a variety of forms (hundreds, thousands, etc.)

This is based on Enoch’s age when taken into heaven, and probably reflects the 365-day calendar theme from the early Enoch literature. Enoch is given a throne in glory at the door of the seventh palace and the Lord commanded that all should obey him (chapter 10). Enoch was given a name (“little Yahweh”), a robe and a crown (chapter 12-13). This crown is inscribed with “the letters by which heaven was created.”

All of the angels worshiped him, and their names are listed in 14:4 along with their responsibility in the order of creation. He is finally transformed into fire (chapter 15). In Chapter 16 Metatron is dethroned, but this is likely a secondary addition since it is entirely out of place in the context of the glorification of Enoch. (OTP 1:268, note a).

In chapters 17-40 there is a detailed listing of the names and responsibilities of the angels and other personnel in heaven. This material goes far beyond the biblical teaching on angels. There is a mind-boggling level of complexity for the hierarchy of the angelic beings!  The seven honored princes of heaven are listed as Michael, Gabriel, Šatqiʾel, Šaḥaqiʾel, Baradiʾel, Baraqiʾel, and Sidriʾel; each are attended by 496,000 myriads of ministering angels. In addition to these are several princes in charge of “special angels.” These are all described like the angelic beings in the Hebrew Bible, majestic and powerful and unimaginably huge: The height of ʾOpanniʾel’s body is “a journey of 2,500 years.”

  • The princes of the “wheels” (the throne-chariot from Ezekiel), Rikbiʾel YHWH, “the great and terrible Prince.”
  • The prince of the holy creatures (the four-faced creatures from Ezekiel), Ḥayliʾel YHWH. The holy creatures are described in chapter 21 and they are far more amazing than Ezekiel 1. Each of their four wings covers the whole world, that their faces are crowned with 2000 crowns, each like a rainbow.
  • The prince of the cherubim, Kerubiʾel YHWH. This angel is described in terms similar to the angelic being in Daniel 10,
  • The prince of the ophanim, ʾOpanniʾel YHWH. This angel has 16 faces, and has 8,766 eyes, corresponding to the number of hours in a year.
  • The prince of the seraphim, Śerapiʾel. This creature wears a crown with the name “Prince of Peace.”
  • The heavenly archivist, Radweriʾel YHWH. This being has a sealed scroll box containing heavenly records

Chapters 29-40 describe the Watchers and other angelic beings in a “heavenly law court.”  These scenes contain the typical rivers of fire, thundering voices and earthquakes. Like the overly fantastic sizes of the angels, the numbers of the angels in this section are innumerable: 496,000 myriads of camps of angels with 496,000 angels in each camp (which works out to 246,016,000,000 angels!) There are seven rivers of fire 365,000 parasangs long (about 1,360,802 miles each), and they are 248,000 myriads of parasangs deep.

All of these overwhelming descriptions overwhelm the reader with the unimaginable greatness of heaven and the heavenly creatures. Although much of the imagery is drawn from the Hebrew Bible (especially Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1-3, and Daniel 10), the book multiplies these descriptions to infinity and beyond.