People

Enoch by Kelley Coblentz Bautch

Jews and Christians in antiquity were fascinated by Enoch, an obscure figure from a genealogy (a list of ancestors) in Gen 5. We know this because people left behind many religious texts that mention this patriarch, who is said to live in the seventh generation following Adam and Eve. What interested people in this man who lived prior to the flood and was the great-grandfather of Noah? In writings including the books we know today as 1 Enoch and 2 Enoch, Enoch is a wise man and a scribe who shares visions of extraordinary journeys and secrets of the cosmos. Like a prophet, Enoch delivers stern messages and judgments from the divine, though he also intercedes for fallen angels and consoles the righteous. Many of the texts associated with Enoch are also apocalyptic and anticipate God’s acting definitively to right wrongs and transform the world as we know it.

How is Enoch portrayed in the Bible and other early Jewish and Christian writings?

In contrast to these vivid descriptions, the Bible’s presentation of Enoch is rather limited. Enoch’s appearances in biblical texts relate especially to his role in the genealogy or among famous ancestors (Gen 5:18-19, Gen 5:21-24; 1Chr 1:3; Sir 44:16; Sir 49:14; Luke 3:37; Heb 11:5). There is, however, a remarkable description of Enoch among the list of ancestors in Gen 5. Unlike the other patriarchs, who die after extremely long lives, Enoch is said to have “walked with God” and to have been taken by God (Gen 5:24). This cryptic statement may have inspired the abundant literature about Enoch that flourished in early Judaism and Christianity. Or, it may reflect a rich tradition about the patriarch that already existed and at which biblical texts only hint.   

Many scholars understand the vibrant traditions about Enoch emerging from close reading and interpretation of Genesis. From their perspective, early Jews and Christians intensely studied a book like Genesis and sought to explain further aspects of the text that were not clear or obvious for their communities. Enoch’s distinctive presentation in Gen 5’s brief genealogy invites speculation. A reader of Gen 5:21-24 might ask, “Why did God take Enoch?” “Where did Enoch go when God took him or what did he do?” Enoch’s enigmatic departure from earth may have led later interpreters of Genesis to imagine that, once taken, Enoch spent time with God or angels and received divinely revealed knowledge. Ancient Jewish literature, like the book of Jubilees, with expansions or clarifications of traditions familiar from the Bible, may provide such a context for the development of stories related to Enoch.

At the same time, Enoch’s being taken by God is similar to ancient Near Eastern stories in which a sage like Adapa or Utuabzu or kingly Enmeduranki ascends to the heavens and receives privileged information. Likewise, Enoch’s rebuke of angels who shared knowledge forbidden to  humans and had sexual relations with women recalls Mediterranean traditions of boundary-crossing culture bringers like Prometheus and Greek tales of gods mating with mortals. Simply put, traditions associated with Enoch may have been widespread, with ancient roots extending beyond Genesis. This would be rather unremarkable since aspects of Gen 1 and Gen 6-9 resemble elements of Near Eastern accounts like the Enuma Elish and the Epic of Gilgamesh. Thus, some scholars would suggest that both biblical passages and other Jewish and Christian writings about Enoch preserve vestiges of traditions that originated outside of Bible.

Where did the books of Enoch come from and how were they used?

The origin of this exceptional figure remains unclear. The books associated with Enoch do not provide historical information about an actual person from a time of a great flood. Rather, writings like the Epistle of Enoch are considered pseudepigraphal. This means that even though the texts appear to contain the words, visions, or experiences of Enoch, they were, in fact, written by someone else and attributed to the patriarch. There are many other texts regarded as pseudepigraphal that are related to figures from the Hebrew scriptures, such as Levi, Isaiah, or Ezra. While both biblical and nonbiblical traditions set Enoch prior to the great flood, many of the books associated with this patriarch come from the third century BCE to the first century CE The authors of Enochic books may have understood the patriarch’s setting just prior to the great flood (a time of judgment on the world) as similar in some ways to their own context—a connection they wished their readers to make as well.

Books associated with Enoch were popular among ancient Christians, and a selection from the Book of the Watchers (which we find today in 1 Enoch) is quoted in Jude 14-15. Many scholars also think that 2Pet 2:4 and Jude 6 allude to the punishment of fallen angels described in literature connected to Enoch. While interest in books attributed to Enoch eventually waned among Jews and Christians, one can still find references to this mysterious figure in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic literature into the Middle Ages.

Kelley Coblentz Bautch, "Enoch", n.p. [cited 3 Dec 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/people/main-articles/enoch

Contributors

Coblentz Bautch Kelley

Kelley Coblentz Bautch
Professor of Religious and Theological Studies, St. Edward’s University

Kelley Coblentz Bautch is Professor of Religious and Theological Studies at St. Edward’s University (Austin, TX). Her research and publications concern ancient Jewish literature including pseudepigraphal and apocalyptic texts. Among her publications that concern Enoch, she has edited, with A. K. Harkins and J. Endres, Fallen Angels Traditions: Second Temple Developments and Reception History (Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2014) and The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Fortress, 2014), and she authored A Study of the Geography of 1 Enoch 17–19 (Brill, 2003).

Enoch has played an important role in the religious imagination of ancient Jews and Christians even though his presence in the Bible is rather limited.

Did you know…?

  • First Enoch is an anthology made up of at least five distinctive booklets. While parts of 1 Enoch are found in Aramaic and Greek, the entire anthology survives only in Classical Ethiopic.
  • Selections from many Enochic booklets have been identified among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but those texts were not likely authored there.
  • In the Astronomic Book (or Book of Heavenly Luminaries) Enoch sees the movement of heavenly bodies, which were important in antiquity for maintaining calendars and determining religious holidays.
  • Interpretations of Enoch are not always flattering. Enoch is presented by some early Jewish interpreters in association with repentance (suggesting an imperfect past), and some later rabbinic literature also underscores his moral failings.
  • In some traditions, Enoch not only spends time with angels—he becomes one! Both 2 and 3 Enoch refer to Enoch’s bodily transformation into an angel.
  • The Book of Enoch (commonly known as 1 Enoch) is sometimes included in the Old Testament of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The historical period from the beginning of Western civilization to the start of the Middle Ages.

The known universe.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

The third division of the Jewish canon, also called by the Hebrew name Ketuvim. The other two divisions are the Torah (Pentateuch) and Nevi'im (Prophets); together the three divisions create the acronym Tanakh, the Jewish term for the Hebrew Bible.

Gen 5

Adam's Descendants to Noah and His Sons
1This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God.2Male and ... View more

In Mesopotamian myth, the first of the ancient sages, a human-fish hybrid who bypassed a chance at immortality.

The historical era of Judaism spanning the periods of Persian and Roman rule, from the 6th century BCE to the 3rd century CE.

A Mesopotamian epic centered around the king of Uruk, Gilgamesh, and his quest for immortality, with themes of humanity, friendship, and the duties of kings.

A Mesopotamian king from ~2500 B.C.E.; he became the hero of a major epic poem and was addressed as a deity in later religious texts.

People who study a text from historical, literary, theological and other angles.

An ancient Jewish book that retells the stories of Genesis with added references to angels, fallen angels, and prophecy. It was highly regarded by early Christians and the Jews from Qumran, and is still considered canonical to Ethiopian Jews and Christians.

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

male founding ancestors of the people of Israel

Gen 5:18-19

18When Jared had lived one hundred sixty-two years he became the father of Enoch.19Jared lived after the birth of Enoch eight hundred years, and had other sons ... View more

Gen 5:21-24

21When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah.22Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had o ... View more

1Chr 1:3

3Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech;

Sir 44:16

16 Enoch pleased the Lord and was taken up,
    an example of repentance to all generations.

Sir 49:14

14 Few have[a] ever been created on earth like Enoch,
for he was taken up from the earth.

Luke 3:37

37son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel, son of Cainan,

Heb 11:5

5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death, and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” For it was attested before he was taken away ... View more

Gen 5

Adam's Descendants to Noah and His Sons
1This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God.2Male and ... View more

Gen 5:24

24Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.

Gen 5:21-24

21When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah.22Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had o ... View more

Gen 1

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath
1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face o ... View more

Gen 6-9

The Wickedness of Humankind
1When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them,2the sons of God saw that they were fair; ... View more

A detailed letter, written in formal prose. Most of the New Testament books beyond the gospels are epistles (letters written to early Christians).

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The historical period generally spanning from the fifth century to the fifteenth century C.E. in Europe and characterized by decreases in populations and the degeneration of urban life.

A genre of ancient literature in which authorship is falsely attributed to a notable figure.

Jude 14-15

14 It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming[a] with ten thousands of his holy ones, ... View more

2Pet 2:4

4 For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned but cast them into hell and committed them to chains[a] of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment ... View more

Jude 6

6 And the angels who did not keep their own position but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of t ... View more

A collection of Jewish texts (biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian) from around the time of Christ that were preserved near the Dead Sea and rediscovered in the 20th century.

Christian denomination founded in ancient Ethiopia

Also called the Hebrew Bible, those parts of the canon that are common to both Jews and Christians. The designation "Old Testament" places this part of the canon in relation to the New Testament, the part of the Bible canonical only to Christians. Because the term "Old Testament" assumes a distinctly Christian perspective, many scholars prefer to use the more neutral "Hebrew Bible," which derives from the fact that the texts of this part of the canon are written almost entirely in Hebrew.

Of or belonging to any of several branches of Christianity, especially from Eastern Europe and the Middle East, whose adherents trace their tradition back to the earliest Christian communities. Lowercase ("orthodox"), this term means conforming with the dominant, sanctioned ideas or belief system.

Related to the rabbis, who became the religious authorities of Judaism in the period after the destruction of the second temple in 70 C.E. Rabbinic traditions were initially oral but were written down in the Mishnah, the Talmud, and various other collections.

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.