So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?”
And there, my eyes saw all those who do not sleep; standing in front of Him, and blessing, and saying: “Blessed are you, and blessed is the Name of the Lord, for ever and ever!”
This week I read The First Book of Enoch. I Enoch is accepted as part of the Bible only by two apostolic churches, the Ethiopian Oriental Orthodox Miaphysite Church and the Eritrean Oriental Orthodox Miaphysite Church. Additionally, a very similar text (with slightly different verse ordering and some additional material) was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, placing the text to the last few centuries Before Christ.
Three aspects are most notable. First, the window I Enoch opens to the culture that created it. Second, the Messianic Jewish aspects of I Enoch. Third, my own thoughts on what the this First Book of Enoch is.
Enoch seems obviously written in Africa. The geographic descriptions match an Ethiopian composition, including the Afrocentric geography (the eastern Red Sea 33:3. paradise in the cool North Pole, 77:3). Angels, always seen as terrifying and strange, here likewise appear as “white men” (87:2) — implying that is not the normal color of men.
The Book of Enoch appears to be the product of a civilization at the very beginning of literacy. Of all verse fraught with background in all compilations of the Bible, this must be the most notable
He [The fourth Fallen Angel] taught men the art of writing with ink and paper, and through this many have gone astray, from eternity to eternity, and to this day.
For men were not created for this, that the should confirm their faith like this, with pen and ink!
I Enoch 69:9-10
The First Book of Enoch must have been spoken against writing down the words of Scripture… and now only its written form survives!
And they began to sin again birds, and again animals, and against reptiles, and against fish, and they devoured one another’s flesh, and drank the blood from it
I Enoch 7:5
The most touching is an extended “prophecy,” written in the form of a children’s story, of the Bible. The action begins at creation, and includes the murder of Abel by Cain
Behold, a bull came out of the earth, and that bull was white. And after it, a heifer came out, and with the heifer came two bullocks, and one of them was black and the other red.
And that black bullock struck the red one, and perused it over the earth, and from then one I could not see the red bullock
Moses is also mentioned. Not as a Law-Giver, given Enoch’s anti-literate bias, but as a sheep leading other sheep who wish to return to their wolf-guarded pen:
And that sheep, which led them, again went up the summit of that rock; and the other sheep began to be blinded, and go astray from the path which had been shown to them, but that sheep did not know.
And the Lord of the Sheep was extremely angry with them, and that sheep knew, and went down from the summit of the rock, and came to the sheep, and found the majority of them, with their eyes blinded, and going astray from his path.
And when they saw it they were afraid and trembled before it and wished that they could return to their enclosure.
all the way through the Kingdom and the Exile, to the end of the world (including, strikingly, the a description of purgatory as a cleansing fire, and the conversion of the gentiles, as well as the New Earth)
And I saw at that time, how a similar abyss was opened in the middle of the Earth which was full of fire, and they brought those blind sheep and they were all judged, and found guilty, and thrown into that abyss of fire and they burned. And that abyss was on the south of that house…
And I looked until the Lord of the Sheep brought a new house, larger and higher than the first one, and He set it up on the site of the first one that had been folded up. And its pillars were all new, and its ornaments were new and larger than those of the first one — the old one that had been removed. And the Lord of the Sheep was in the middle of it.
And I saw all the sheep that were left, and all the animals of the earth, and all the birds of the sky, falling down and worshiping those sheep, and entreating them and obeying them in every command…
And all those which had been destroyed and scattered, and all the wild animals, and all the birds of the sky, gathered together in that house, and the Lord of the Sheep rejoiced very much because they were good and had returned to His House
I Enoch 90:26, 29-30, 33
Until, finally, all are resurrected in the perfect bodies, imitations of the Incarnate Christ:
And I saw that the house was large, broad, and exceptionally full.
And I saw how a white bull was born, and its horns were big, and all the wild animals, and all the birds of the sky, were afraid of it, and entreated it continually.
And I looked until all their species were transformed and they all became white bulls.
I Enoch 90:36-38a
The New Heaven is repeated, in a form intelligeible to adults, after the main narrative resumes
And the First Heaven will vanish and pass way and a New Heaven will appear, and all the Powers of Heaven will shine forever, with a sevenfold light.
And after this, there will be many weeks without number, forever, in goodness and in righteousness, . And from then on sin will never again be mentioned.
I Enoch 91:16-17
This is one of many introductions to the Messiah given in Enoch. In the Hebrew Bible, the relation of the Hebrew Bible is most clear in parts of the Torah, where the Father is known as El(ohim) and the Son as the LORD. In the Book of Daniel, the terms are “Ancient of Days” and “Son of Man.” Enoch prefers “Lord of Spirits” or “Head of Days” for the disincarnate eternal Father, and “Son of Man” or “His Son” for the Son.
And in those days, says the Lord, they shall call and testify to the sons of Earth about the wisdom in them. Show it to them for you are their leaders and the rewards will be all over the earth.
For my Son and I will join Ourselves with them, forever, in the paths of uprightness during their lives.
And you will have peace. Rejoice — you sons of uprightness!
And I saw one who had a Head a Days and his head was white like wool. And with him there was another whose face had the appearance of a man and his face was ful of grace like one of the Holy Angels.
And I asked one of the Holy Angels who went with me and showed me all the secrets, about that Son of Man, who he was, and from where he was, and why he went with the Head of Days
And he answered me, and said to me: “This is the Son of Man who has righteousness and with whom righteousness dwells. He will reveal all the treasures of that which is secret, for the Lord of Spirits has chosen him, and through uprightness his lot has surpassed all others, in front of the Lord of Spirits, forever.
And the Lord of Spirits will remain over them, and with that Son of Man they will dwell, and eat, and lie down, and rise up, for ever and ever
And at that hour that Son of Man was named, in the presence of the Lord of Spirits, and his name brought to the Head of Days.
Even before the Sun and the constellations were created, before the Stars of Heaven were made, His Name was named in front of the Lord of Spirits.
But the wisdom of the Lord of Spirits has revealed Him to the holy and the righteous, and He has kept safe the lot of the righteous, for they have hated and rejected this world of inequity. And all its work and its ways they have hated in the name of the Lord of Spirits. For in His Name they are saved, and He is the One who will require their lives…
And on the day of their trouble there will be rest on the earth and they will fall down in front of Him and will not rise. And there will be no one who will take them with his hands and raise them for they denied the Lord of Spirits and His Messiah. May the Name of the Lord of Spirits be blessed!
So, what is the First Book of Enoch? Like the Book of Daniel and the Revelation to John it is an apocalyptic book, but certain aspects (including an incredibly long astronomical section, and verses such as
And barrenness has not been given to a woman but because of the deeds of her hand she dies without children.
I Enoch 98:65
probably means it was rightly left out of the Bible compiled at the Synod of Hippo. At the same time, nothing in the text implies the author saw himself as outside of gentile Messianic Judaism in the decades or centuries leading to Christ.
Thus, the Book of Enoch is probably an ancient, African, equivalent to C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, a novel about death, the resurrection, and the end of the world. Both can help explain or elucidate the Christian and Jewish Scriptures. But neither, except for the Ethiopian and Eritrean Miaphysite Churches in the case of Enoch, are scripture themselves.
(Chapter and verse numbering from the New American Translation, Kindle Edition.)