A Case for Enoch

Arguments are sometimes made that one or more ancient Jewish or Christian texts, ultimately omitted from the canons of both faiths, might comfortably belong in the Bible and should be added to it. They point to the fact that many Jewish and Christian texts were considered authoritative prior to the establishment of those canons but were, at the last moment so to speak, left out, sometimes without explanation.

Those Jewish texts now collected as the Apocrypha in some Bibles were ultimately omitted from the Hebrew canon. Yet they were once part of the early Greek Bible. Early Christians relied on the Greek Jewish Bible for centuries until Jerome began to argue that the texts later omitted by the rabbis as they established their Hebrew canon should probably be omitted from the Christian canon as well. And so they were (though Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians continue to regard them as at least deutero-canonical).

The development of the New Testament followed similar lines. A number of early Christian texts were included in the Christian Bible but later removed. A 4th-century Bible, known today as Codex Sinaiticus, included the Christian compositions The Shepherd by Hermas and the Letter of Barnabas. In the 4th century, according to a manuscript known as the Muratorian fragment, other Christians were being warned not to consider The Shepherd canonical. The Muratorian fragment also rejects certain letters attributed to Paul including one to the Laodiceans and one to the Alexandrians. The Apocalypse of Peter, accepted by some early Christians as canonical, was similarly dismissed in this fragment. Fourth-century Egyptian bishop Athanasius even had to write his priests instructing them to refrain from including The Shepherd and also the Didache (“Teaching of the Apostles”) in the church readings.

Once both Hebrew and Christian canons stabilized there seems to have been little appetite to reform either one. As we said, the omitted Greek Jewish texts were preserved for Christian reading as either apocryphal or, in the case of Roman Catholic and Orthodox bibles, deutero-canonical. Rejected Christian texts were generally condemned to the dust heap of history only to be rediscovered in modern times.

One text that was both forgotten by most Jews and Christians after the 4th century and yet continues to be included in one Christian canon is the First Book of Enoch. The Ethiopic Orthodox Church accepts 1 Enoch in its biblical canon. It is fortunate for us that it does because the Ethiopic language version is the only complete version of the text available to us so far. Nevertheless, fragments of most of the work have been discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls indicating that the composition dates from as early as the 3rd century B.C.E. We now know that the entire work was originally composed in Judea in either Hebrew or Aramaic (or both). Let’s take a closer look at 1 Enoch. There is good reason for both Christians and Jews to become familiar with this ancient text. It is one of our earliest representatives of the apocalyptic movement within Judaism. As should also be obvious, apocalyptic beliefs informed nascent Christianity as well.

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