“And the vision appeared to me as follows: Behold clouds called me in the vision, and mist called me, and the path of the stars and flashes of lightning hastened me and drove me, and in the vision winds caused me to fly and hastened me and lifted me up into heaven.”
The words are spoken by the patriarch Enoch, whom the New Testament calls “the seventh from Adam” (Jude 14). In the Book of Genesis he’s Methuselah’s father, Noah’s great-grandfather. He’s the one among the pre-Flood patriarchs who died young, at the tender age of 365. Or maybe he didn’t die at all. “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).
Of course he never existed.
Which immediately puts his experience of flight and ascent into a different category from Paul’s “abduction” into the third heaven, about which I’ve been posting for the past two weeks. If any visionary experience has the ring of truth, it’s Paul’s in 2 Corinthians 12:1-5. Enoch’s, by contrast, is ancient science fiction. Which doesn’t make it one bit less interesting.
The ancient Jews created a whole Enoch literature. The mysterious remark in Genesis, that “he was not, for God took him,” was catnip for their imaginations. They connected this verse with the beginning of Genesis chapter 6, which speaks of how “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and they took them wives, whomsoever they chose. … The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.”
“Nephilim” is Hebrew for “fallen ones.” Enoch’s father is “Jared,” from the Hebrew root meaning “to go down.” It’s possible to see here hints of mysterious interpenetrations between the higher realms and the lower, where the “sons of God” go down and humans–or certain selected humans–go up. Not to mention that Enoch’s age of 365 years suggests he’s got something to do with the sun.
Of course we want to know more. Anonymous Jewish writers, speaking mostly as if they were Enoch, undertake to tell us.
Most of the Enoch literature has survived only in translations, or translations of translations. It first came to light in 1773, when the Scottish explorer James Bruce came back from Ethiopia with three manuscripts of a “Book of Enoch,” written in the Ethiopic language but evidently translated from a lost Greek text. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a dozen or so tiny fragments of the Aramaic original turned up among the Dead Sea Scrolls. From the handwriting, it looks like the manuscript from which these fragments came was written in the early or middle 2nd century BCE.
Which means that parts at least of the Book of Enoch, including Enoch’s star-journey, are older than parts of the Old Testament.
(Note: This “Book of Enoch” is not the same as the “Book of the Secrets of Enoch,” which I quoted from in my last post. The “Book of the Secrets of Enoch” is often called the “Slavonic Book of Enoch,” after the language in which it survives, as opposed to James Bruce’s “Ethiopic Book of Enoch”; or “2 Enoch,” as opposed to the Ethiopic “1 Enoch.” There’s a “3 Enoch” too; I’ll talk about it in a later post.)
Here’s the story behind Enoch’s flight: The “Watchers,” as the Book of Enoch calls the angels, have descended to earth and corrupted it. They’ve “taught all iniquity on the earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were made in heaven. … And they went in to the daughters of men together, and lay with those women … and revealed to them these sins. And the women bore giants, and thereby the whole earth has been filled with blood and iniquity” (Book of Enoch, 9:6-9).
Their condemnation is quick to come. Their punishment is postponed, for some future day when they will be led “to the abyss of fire; in torment and in prison they will be shut up for all eternity” (10:33). But they know the sentence that’s been pronounced on them, and they beg Enoch to go up to heaven and intercede for them.
And so …
“I went and sat down by the waters of Dan … which is southwest of Hermon; and I read out a record of their petition until I fell asleep. And behold a dream came to me, and visions came to me …” (13:7-8).
That’s when the clouds call and the mist beckons, and Enoch takes the path of the stars and the lightning.
Having reached heaven …
“I proceeded until I came near to a wall which was built of hail stones, and a tongue of fire surrounded it, and it began to make me afraid. And I went into the tongue of fire and came near to a large house which was built of hail stones, and the wall of that house was like a mosaic made of hail stones, and its floor was snow. Its roof was like the path of the stars and flashes of lightning, and among them were fiery Cherubim, and their haven was like water. And there was a fire burning around its wall, and its door was ablaze with fire. And I went into that house, and it was as hot as fire and cold as snow, and there was neither pleasure nor life in it. Fear covered me and trembling took hold of me. And as I was shaking and trembling, I fell on my face” (14:9-14).
Turns out there’s another house inside this house, even scarier and more splendid. In that inner house there’s a high throne, like ice surrounded by sunlight, and upon that throne sits “He who is great in glory … his raiment was brighter than the sun, and whiter than any snow” … and now we know exactly where we are.
This is the Temple of Jerusalem, with its Holy of Holies within it. Inside the Holy of Holies sits the Lord of hosts, enthroned upon the cherubim.
This structure has been projected, with fantastic dimensions and details, up into the skies. Or, the writer would surely have said, Enoch has visited the true dwelling of God, after which the Jerusalem Temple has been modeled.
The Deity’s response to Enoch’s petition is not encouraging:
“Come hither and hear my voice. And go, say to the Watchers of heaven who sent you to petition on their behalf, You ought to petition on behalf of men, not men on behalf of you. Why have you left the high, holy and eternal heaven, and lain with the women and become unclean with the daughters of men … ?”
Enoch, awakening from his vision, must go to the Watchers–“and they were all sitting gathered together as they mourned … with their faces covered”–and tell them to give up hope.
So the human is exalted, the angels degraded and damned. This process is continued in chapter 71 of the Book of Enoch. (Written much later than the story I’ve been describing–just when, we don’t know.) Enoch again ascends to heaven, to a house built of crystals mingled with fire. There he sees, amid an entourage of angels, “the Head of Days, his head white and pure like wool, and his garments indescribable.”
Once more he falls on his face …
” … and my whole body melted, and my spirit was transformed. … And that angel came to me, and greeted me with his voice, and said to me, You are the Son of Man who was born to righteousness, and righteousness remains over you, and the righteousness of the Head of Days will not leave you. … He proclaims peace to you in the name of the world which is to come, for from there peace has come out from the creation of the world; and so you will have it for ever and for ever and ever.”
“Son of Man”–that’s what Jesus calls himself, or more exactly, what he calls his exalted persona. (As in “you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven,” Mark 14:62). Enoch, too, has been transformed into a Messianic, possibly divine or semi-divine being. We’ll meet him again as such, under a new name: Metatron.
by David Halperin
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