The Messiah figure (or Christ) in the Book of Enoch, specifically in the Parables or Similitudes section of that book, has several attributes and performs certain functions that make him a precursor of the Christ figure who became the focus of Christianity.
Paul’s understanding of who and what Christ was appears to have been influenced by the Book of Parables in 1 Enoch. Paul says that his gospel was revealed to him so it is easy to assume that either God revealed Christ to him in a vision or that he developed his own Christ concept to preach. However, the similarities of his Christ with the Christ/Messiah in Enoch are striking. Moreover, the same Enochic literature teaches that Christ is a figure unknown except to those to whom he is revealed from heaven. Or was he revealed to Paul, at least in part, through the Book of Enoch?
This account of at least one Jewish group’s beliefs about the Messiah before the time of Paul (and Jesus) is taken from The Messiah: A Comparative Study of the Enochic Son of Man and the Pauline Kyrios by James A. Waddell. The previous post in this series is here.
First things first. Let’s establish where in the Parables of Enoch (or Book of Parables, BP) we read the actual term “Messiah” or “Christ” — meaning “Anointed One”. The word occurs twice:
And on the day of their affliction there shall be rest on the earth,
And before them they shall fall and not rise again:
And there shall be no one to take them with his hands and raise them:
For they have denied the Lord of Spirits and His Anointed.
The name of the Lord of Spirits be blessed.
And he said unto me: ‘All these things which thou hast seen shall serve the dominion of His Anointed that he may be potent and mighty on the earth.’
We shall see through this series that this Christ, the Anointed One, is also named the Righteous One, the Chosen One, the Son of Man, and Name of the Lord of Spirits. We begin to look at some of the attributes or nature of this being in this post, and then we will (courtesy of Waddell) study the functions, the role, of this Messiah.
A Human Being
The Messiah in the Book of Enoch is a human being. It is the man Enoch himself who is (near the end of the book) declared to the Messiah himself. Enoch is the sixth human generation after Adam, or the seventh, counting inclusively. The human nature of Enoch is driven home in the following:
1 Enoch 37:1
The second vision which he saw, the vision of wisdom — which Enoch the son of Jared, the son of Mahalalel, the son of Cainan, the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, saw.
Compare 60:8 (Noah speaking)
the garden where the elect and righteous dwell, where my grandfather was taken up, the seventh from Adam, the first man whom the Lord of Spirits created.
So Enoch, we are emphatically assured, belongs to the human race. He is a descendant of Adam.
Then at the end of the BP this same human Enoch is explicitly identified with the Son of Man:
One of the angels who attended the Head of Days during Enoch’s final ascent to heaven (71:8, 13) came to Enoch and said to him: “You are that son of man who was born for righteousness” (71:14). The identification of the human being Enoch with the messiah figure the Son of Man is an explicit statement of the point of view in BP that the heavenly messiah figure is also a human being. (p. 50, The Messiah, my bolding and italics.)
Ascends to Heaven
Enoch is actually described as having two types of ascents into heaven.
In 1 Enoch 39:3
And in those days a whirlwind carried me off from the earth,
And set me down at the end of the heavens.
His human body is whisked up and into heaven. His bodily nature is emphasized when he repeatedly writes “my eyes saw”: 39:6, 10, 13; 41:2, 3; 52:1-2, 6; 53:1; 54:1; 59:1.
In 60:3-4 we read of his bodily weakness and loss of control:
And a great trembling seized me,
And fear took hold of me,
And my loins gave way,
And dissolved were my reins,
And I fell upon my face.
. . . for I had not been able to endure the look of this host, and the commotion and the quaking of the heaven.
In the latter series of ascents it is Enoch’s spirit that is taken up:
1 Enoch 71:1, 5-6
And it came to pass after this that my spirit was translated
And it ascended into the heavens . . .
And he translated my spirit into the heaven of heavens. . .
And my spirit saw the girdle which girt that house of fire
Note also that with this ascent it is not his “eyes” that saw, but his spirit.
It is interesting here to compare Isaiah’s ascent “in his spirit” and “apart from his body” into heaven in the Ascension of Isaiah 8:14-15 and Paul’s confusion in 2 Cor. 12:1-4 over whether or not he was in or out of his body when he was taken into heaven.
During the vision of his final ascent, Enoch’s spirit (apart from his body) sees the Head of Days coming out of the house built of hailstones. Enoch describes the Head of Days whose “head was white and pure as wool” (71:9-12; cf. 46:1). Enoch falls on his face, his flesh melts, his spirit is transformed, and he “blessed and praised and exalted” the Head of Days (71:9-11). And his praise was acceptable to the Head of Days (71:12). As the Head of Days came out of his heavenly house, he was accompanied by the angels Michael, Raphaei, Gabriel, and Phanuel, along with “thousands and tens of thousands of angels without number” (71:13; cf. 1:3-4, 9).
Enoch is then explicitly identified as the Son of Man who was “born for righteousness” and whom “the righteousness of the Head of Days will not forsake” (71:14). Enoch ceases to be a human being (his flesh melts) and he is transformed into the preexistent heavenly messiah, the Son of Man. (p. 51, The Messiah, my formatting and bolding — as for the references to Enoch’s flesh melting, James Waddell adds the following footnote: “This is most strange. How can Enoch’s flesh melt, if it is Enoch’s spirit that the angel is leading on this heavenly ascent? This is probably a redactor’s oversight.“)
Waddell’s commentary is that there can be little doubt that Enoch’s first ascents were of Enoch as “a corporeal being endowed with a human body”, and that when we come to the second series of ascents Enoch “no longer possesses this body.”
Yet this man Enoch is identified with the messiah, and this messiah is elsewhere clearly said to be “preexistent”, existing with the Lord of Spirits/Head of Days even before the creation of the world. So how can a human being, the sixth (or seventh, counting inclusively) from Adam, also be a preexistent heavenly being?
The answer would appear to be, according to 1 Enoch’s Book of Parables:
by stripping Enoch of his human body of flesh and transforming his spirit . . . Enoch becomes the heavenly messiah Son of Man. (p. 51, The Messiah, my bolding)
Later in this series we will see the way Enoch is associated with Wisdom and how this reinforces this interpretation.
The next post will illustrate the way 1 Enoch defines the Christ/Messiah as a preexistent heavenly being, even “Wisdom” personified.
The relevance of this to Christianity? Well, Paul’s/Christianity’s Christ is a man who was ascended to heaven. He writes of this Christ as having existed from eternity and as being personified by “Wisdom”. But this is in ongoing series and the Christ/Messiah of 1 Enoch will be compared with Christianity’s (Paul’s) Christ being will be drawn out as we progress.
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5 thoughts on “Christ Before Christianity, 2: A Man Ascended to Heaven”
“This is most strange. How can Enoch’s flesh melt, if it is Enoch’s spirit that the angel is leading on this heavenly ascent? This is probably a redactor’s oversight.”
Or a piece of evidence in favour of Earl’s theory that Jesus was a spirit who took on something like flesh?
Curious… what languages are the BP written in? Does it actually say “his christ” in Greek (christos autou), or is it “his anointed” (if I recall correctly, this would be chrisamenos autou)?
You have caught me out, here — I will have to review more carefully the manuscript evidence we have for 1 Enoch. My understanding is that chapters 48 and 52 are known in Ethiopic only. I’ll have to check.