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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Random thought on authorship of texts like 1 Enoch

OK—this is just a random thought based on no research.

I have long been puzzled about the authorship claims of psuedonomous apocalyptic texts. Take 1 Enoch. It claims to be accounts of the heavenly visions of Enoch (who lived before Noah). The author speaks as Enoch but NOBODY thinks that Enoch wrote the texts. It was a Second Temple text.

So, the puzzle is this: surely the author knew that he was not actually Enoch! And yet the claim that he was consciously lying and attempting to deceive his audience does not wash with me.

So what's going on?

Here's my random thought. There is evidence that some Jews in this period believed that it was possible to be possessed by the spirit of a dead person (why else, after all, might some people think that Jesus was John the Baptist—that could not be about reincarnation but spirit-possession).

Now, contrary to the claims of some scholars, it seems to me that profound religious experiences underlie apocalyptic texts (which is what the texts claim) so perhaps the author of the book believed himself to be possessed by the spirit of Enoch and that he was recording Enoch's actual experiences.

That would explain how he could make what seem to be obviously false claims (i.e. to be Enoch) without any attempt to deceive.

I am now expecting lots of people to say, "Sure! Everyone knows that! You are slow on the uptake." I probably am slow but it never really occurred to me before.

I guess that what I ought to do is to go and research the issue and come to a considered opinion . . . but life is too short.


Kurt said...

The thing was running through my mind as I was reading this is, the debate about the authorship of Daniel. There is a whole host of scholars that believe Daniel (or at least part of it), was written in the 2nd century rather than the 6th (which is the setting of the book). So, around the same time as Enoch was supposedly written, except this one is makes the canon.

So, if 1Enoch was written by some dude that thought he was possessed by the dead Enoch... OK, weird, but if Daniel was written in 2nd century, and "spirit possession" was is the reason for the first person authorship, that would be kind of troubling to me.

James Goetz said...

My approach to the authorship of Enoch and Daniel is that the pseudepigraphic authorship was acceptable in the original context of the Second Temple period. Ideas that such pseudepigraphic authorship was "consciously lying and attempting to deceive his audience" is a modern western idea imposed on ancient Mediterranean authorship. And the latter involved the Holy Spirit.

Tongue in cheek, What would Gregory MacDonald say about this?:)

Robin Parry said...


what do you make of Jude 14 which quotes 1 Enoch 1:9 with the following intro, "Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men:"

He appears to believe that the words were indeed those of Enoch.

Was he mistaken, not realizing that this was a simple case of pseudopigraphy?

Or was this part of the psuedopigraphical "game" where readers play along with the presentation?

I am wondering whether the author of this part of 1 Enoch really did believe that Enoch was indeed speaking through these words.

I am also wondering whether a first C Jew (like Jude) would not have been phased in the slightest to discover that 1 Enoch was only written in the relatively recent past. Perhaps they would have imagined mechanisms by which Enoch could do that.

Then again, Mosaic prohibitions on communicating with the dead may make such notions problematic!!!

I have no idea.

But I don't think that some bloke sat down and thought that he'd have a go at imagining the heavenly world and write it up as Enoch's heavenly journeys to lend it some clout. I am pretty convinced that the authors believed that what was written was "inspired" and true (somehow)

Anonymous said...

re Tongue in cheek, What would Gregory MacDonald say about this?:)

I'm just wondering if 1 Enoch is doing precisely what Gregory MacDonald did -- to write in the spirit or in the tradition of the former -- only GM did it for both Gregory N and G MacDonald all in one go!!

Is this the same as 2nd and 3rd Isaiah writing in the same school or scholastic tradition as Isaiah No. 1 ?

James Goetz said...

Robin, there are various factors to consider with Jude and historicity. I'll try to outline some of the factors:

1. Paul quoted a pagan poet who happened to stumble on truth.
2. Various evangelicals holding the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy see good reason to doubt a literal genealogy in Genesis 5, regardless of Jude 14.
3. Most first century AD Jewish readers would know that Jude referred to 1 Enoch while most Jewish and Christian communities reached a consensus that 1 Enoch belonged in the Canon.
4. Jewish apocrypha helped to develop Christian eschatology.

I see two possibilities:

First, Jude never intended to appeal to history while he merely referred to the well known 1 Enoch. I suppose that this works with the Chicago Statement. Second, Jude made a historical mistake while believing in the historicity of 1 Enoch, but that historical mistake resulted in no doctrinal errors.

My hermeneutics could work with both possibilities while I strongly lean toward the first possibility.

Perhaps there are more possibilities while I oversimplify them. My short list of future projects include an article on Jude and biblical historicity, but I need to put that on the back burner for now. But I enjoy briefly toying with it in the meantime.:)

I wish to ask you an additional question. Do you maintain that Enoch must have literally been the seventh from Adam? When somebody answers yes, then I have a much harder time trying to drive home this point.

James Goetz said...

Big oops, I forgot the word "never." This is almost as bad a forgetting the word "not" in the Ten Commandments.:)

"3. Most first century AD Jewish readers would know that Jude referred to 1 Enoch while most Jewish and Christian communities [never] reached a consensus that 1 Enoch belonged in the Canon."

Robin Parry said...

Do I think Enoch was literally the seventh from Adam?

No. I think that Gen 1–11 is only linked to what we would call history at a tangent. It would not bother me if there never was an Enoch.

My question is not about whether 1 Enoch is historically accurate but simply why the author may have thought that he really was writing the truth "as Enoch" rather than just making something up. I am wondering whether we have a "revelatory" experience in an altered state of consciousness.

But I don't really care about the historical Enoch one way or t'other.

James Goetz said...

Okay, Robin. Here's a brief outline of some ideas about the authorship of 1 Enoch:

1. The author never tried to convince people that Enoch wrote 1 Enoch.
2. The author may have felt inspired by God (not necessarily canonical inspiration), but I'm unsure if the author was a wannabe Bible writer.
3. The author made up a story to elaborate upon Genesis 6:1–4, which included an explanation for the origin of evil spirits.
4. The author never considered the implications of basic knowledge about mammalian hybrids that was common knowledge among ancient livestock farmers.
5. If the author had a revelatory state that taught him his erroneous view of evil spirits, then it wasn't a revelation from God.

James Goetz said...


Additionally, I suppose that 1 Enoch has similarities to Midrash, perhaps a quasi-Midrash or proto-Midrash of Genesis 6:1-4. I suppose that 1 Enoch doesn't include all of the characteristics of Midrash, so that could make it a quasi-Midrash or proto-Midrash. And if this is the case, then the author made no attempt to "deceive his audience.

James Goetz said...

I reviewed some criticism on 1 Enoch and I need to clarify:

1. We're not talking about the author of 1 Enoch but about the authors of 1 Enoch.

2. I suppose that the Book of Watchers includes proto-Midrashic homilies of Deuteronomy 33 and Genesis 5:1—6:4.

3. Erroneous doctrine in 1 Enoch includes the myth that fallen angels are beyond redemption.:)

Allan Smith said...

Saul prophesied under the influence of an evil spirit from God. ie. he raved like a lunatic.

Perhaps a later prophet (in some elevated state) believed the voice in his head was the spirit of Enoch, sent by God. If this prophet was also a godly man, his testimony may well have been credible.

(Even if he was a total fraud, people may well have believed. Joseph Smith, anyone?)

Martin Trench said...

I have always thought - with equally as little research - that it was like a Jewish version of the Akashic records; that some prophetic person had some kind of out of body experience in which they were taken to the record of the things that Enoch (or whoever) saw, as if they were looking through his eyes. I know that all sounds very weird - but these books are very weird. And Jude does quote it as if he believes it. That's my penny's worth.