One of the reasons I am interested in this topic of visionary experiences is that they help flesh out a tangible environment, on the basis of concrete evidence, from which Christianity emerged. This is in contrast to the model of “oral traditions” being the roots of the canonical gospel narratives. The gospel narratives stand at an opposing polarity from the idea of salvation through a heavenly vision of the divine. April DeConick’s book, Voices of the Mystics, around which this and my previous posts are put together, argues that in the Gospel of John we find strong indications of a debate with Thomasine Christians who did uphold a central importance of the visionary experience. (Note, for example, the criticism of Thomas for believing only because he has seen.)
How do we account for Christianity growing out of Judaism yet being so unlike Judaism? Part of one possible answer lies in the recognition that there was no normative Judaism as we understand it prior to the destruction of the Temple in the year 70. Noncanonical Second Temple writings such as the Book of Enoch point to the existence of Jewish sectarians who had radically different ideas about contemporary Temple practices and priesthood, cosmology, the law, wisdom, even the angelic world and Godhead prior to the rise of rabbinic Judaism following the destruction of the Temple. Margaret Barker and others have noticed quite a few distinctively Christian ideas resonating in some of these early books such as the Book of Enoch and that came to be sidelined by later Jewish rabbis. We know, of course, that the Book of Enoch is even quoted in New Testament writings.
This post continues earlier ones taken from a 1981 Journal of Biblical Literature article by George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee”. (Note, though, that I am not reproducing many of N’s details. This post is only a selection of the points he makes.)
It considers the details of Peter’s commissioning as the Rock of the Church in the context of narratives found in Enoch and their adaptations again later in the Testament of Levi (pre-Christian version). Peter emerges as a possible replacement to the High Priest of the Temple, which was, of course, doomed to destruction. The story of Peter and his role in the Gospel of Matthew, at least, grew out of that branch of Jewish religion that opposed the Temple practices and drew upon writings such as the Book of Enoch that did not make it into the rabbinic and later Christian orthodox canon.
I suspect the narrative was composed long after the temple’s destruction, and is an etiological tale to explain how the Church is now the new Temple and Kingdom of God with the Jews having been punished be destruction, slavery and scattering.
In both 1 Enoch and the Gospel of Mark the location of God’s revelation is in Galilee, and especially upper Galilee in the Tel Dan region extending through Caesarea Philippi to Mount Hermon. It was outside Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was acknowledged as the Christ, and at a nearby mountain where he was transfigured.
In both books, this northern location that has long been associated with sacred sites of Jewish and pagan origin is set in opposition to the earthly and corrupt priesthood and Temple system based at Jerusalem.
It may not be insignificant that in the Hebrew scriptures, Dan (part of this region), is regularly associated with apostasy from the faith centred at the Jerusalem Temple and priesthood.
(I would not normally have thought of this region as strictly “Galilee” but I am using the term as used by George W. E. Nickelsburg in his 1981 JBL 100/4 article, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee”, on which this post is based.)
The Galilean setting of Enoch’s vision and the fallen angels
1 Enoch 13:7-9
7. And I went off and sat down at the waters of Dan, in the land of Dan, to the south of the west of Hermon: I read their petition till I fell asleep. 8. And behold a dream came to me, and visions fell down upon me, and I saw visions of chastisement, and a voice came bidding (me) I to tell it to the sons of heaven, and reprimand them. 9. And when I awaked, I came unto them, and they were all sitting gathered together, weeping in ’Abelsjâîl [Abel-Maîn], which is between Lebanon and Sênêsêr [Senir], with their faces covered.