Wednesday, March 18, 2015

He Walked With God

The Book of Genesis can be regarded as one long genealogy with narrative interruptions.  True, the stories take up the bulk of the book, but the passages listing the generations from Adam through the sons of Jacob provide the framework for those stories.

I’ve always found the genealogical lists in Genesis of one patriarch begetting the next to be the most boring parts, and I tend to skim over them; but there are a couple places where we get more than a name and an antediluvian lifespan; we get a brief, tantalizing comment raises even more questions than it answers.

That is what we get with the great-grandfather of Noah, Enoch:  the man who Walked with God.

Genesis chapter 5 gives us the generations from Adam to Noah, through Adam’s third son, Seth.

When Seth had lived 105 years, he became the father of Enosh.  And after he became the father of Enosh, Seth lived 807 years and had other sons and daughters.  Altogether, Seth lived 912 years, and then he died.  (Genesis 5:6-8 NIV)

Each generation follows the same format:  this patriarch lived so many years and became the father of that patriarch; after which he lived for so many more years and had other children.  Finally we get a grand total.

For centuries, millennia even, scholars have tried to tally up all these years to come up with a definitive timetable of the Bible.  The Venerable Bede, an English theologian and historian of the 8th Century combined this method with cross-referencing known historical dates from Greek and Roman history with events from the Bible and came up with a date of 3952 BC for the Creation of the Earth.  Bishop Ussher came up with the better-known date of 4004 BC, but hey, what’s a half-century or so give or take?

Personally, I’m leery of trying to fit the ages of the Patriarchs into an exact chronology.  That way, I think, lies madness.  It has been suggested that some – or maybe all – of these ages are meant to be taken symbolically; and that the phrase rendered “…the father of” could also be translated “…the ancestor of”.  In any case, I think that the precise Age of Mahalelel when he begat Jared is one of the least important things one can get out of the Bible.  Then again, since I live for trivia, who am I to judge?

Each genealogical entry in this chapter ends with the words, “…and then he died.”  A mournful refrain, emphasizing Adam’s legacy to his descendants.

Then we get to Enoch:

When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.  And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters.  Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years.  Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.  (Genesis 5:21-24)

A few things to take away from this:  First of all, Enoch seems to have been pretty randy for a patriarch; most of the ones on the list (although not all) waited until they were at least a hundred before they began begetting sons.  Second, the repeated line that “Enoch walked with God.”  What does that mean?  We’ll be getting to that in a bit.  Third is his age:  365 years; and there are 365 days in a year.  Co-incidence?  Or do we have some numerological symbolism going down here?  Hard to say.

But the thing that jumps out at everyone is this:

It never says he died.

“God took him away.”  He did not pass “Go”.  He did not collect $200.  He went directly to Heaven. Only one other figure from the Bible, the Prophet Elijah, can make that claim; (two if you count Moses, as some rabbinical traditions do, but that’s a story for another day).

According to some rabbinical scholars, Enoch was the most righteous man of his era – the only pious man of his generation – and that he was taken way lest the world corrupt him.  But apart from the vague note that “…he walked with God”, we aren’t really told what he did.  There’s got to be more than that.

And… there sort of is.  There is a work called the Book of Enoch that was composed sometime between about 300 BC and the First Century AD which purports to be written by Enoch before the Deluge.

The Book of Enoch has a lot of material in it expanding on the early chapters of Genesis and talking about angels and cosmology and things of that nature.  The movie Noah borrowed liberally from the Book of Enoch for some of its weirder imagery.  It also describes a vision of Enoch’s in which he is given a tour of the Heavens (all Seven of them) and the Earth.

A few other books are also attributed to Enoch.  2 Enoch, sometimes called “Slavonic Enoch”, comes to us as a series of medieval manuscripts written in Old Slavonic translated from a now lost Greek original.  It is believed to have been written before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, but not long before it.  A 3 Enoch also exists, but is attributed to a priest named Isaac living during the First or Second Century AD.  Then there’s the Book of Jubilees, purportedly dictated by Enoch to Moses on Mt. Sinai, which gives further info on the Fallen Angels, the Nephilim and the Antediluvian World.  Hey, they could have met.

3 Enoch also suggests that Enoch did not just enter Paradise, he was transformed into an angelic being and became Metatron, the highest-ranking archangel according to legend, and official scribe to the Almighty; sometimes called “The Voice of God” and played by Alan Rickman in the movie Dogma.  And please don’t ask him if he’s an Autobot or a Decepticon.  It bugs him.

None of these books were considered authoritative by the Jewish scholars who compiled the Hebrew Scriptures canon, although they were deemed interesting enough to be included in the Septuagint, the Greek Translation on Scriptures written in the 2nd Century BC.  Personally, I suspect that the translators involved with the Septuagint realized they had a good gig going and once they’d finished the holiest books, they milked it out by working on whatever they could get their hands on.

The Book of Enoch contains a lot of messianic language and seems to have been popular and influential in the Early Christian Church.  Enoch uses the phrase “the Son of Man” to refer to a messianic figure, which is how Jesus used the phrase, and some of the teachings of Jesus have parallels in the wisdom portions of Enoch.

The Book of Jude, one of the shorter epistles of the New Testament and a rare non-Pauline one, directly quotes from it, (which is one reason why some of the Early Church Fathers felt entirely sure about Jude).

Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men:  “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”  (Jude vv. 14-15 NIV)

The author of the Book of Hebrews, although he does not quote the Book of Enoch, cites Enoch as one of the great heroes of faith in his epic ode to Faith in Hebrews chapter 11.

For a long time, Biblical scholars thought that it was written by an early Christian, but fragments of the book have turned up among the Dead Sea Scrolls of the Qumran community.

Although a few of the earliest Church Fathers also quote Enoch, sometime after the First Century opinion changed.  I suspect that the trippy mysticism of the Book of Enoch seemed too much like the heretical Gnostics.  The Church followed the precedent of the Jewish authorities and excluded the Book of Enoch from their canon.  They went even further and had it destroyed.  For many centuries the book was only known from schnibbles and bits quoted in places like the passage in Jude and some of the Early Church Fathers.

The Ethiopian branch of the Orthodox Church, isolated from the rest of European Christendom, never rejected Enoch, though, and regard both it and the Book of Jubilees as part of their canon; as does the Ethiopian Jewish Beta Israel sect.

Around 1770, a Scottish traveler and explorer named James Bruce spent several years in Abyssinia, searching for the source of the Nile, and came back with three complete copies of the Book of Enoch, translated into Ge’ez, an Ethiopic language; the first complete copies of the Book seen by Western scholars in over a millennium.

Despite this, Enoch himself remains a mystery.  When the Bible says “he walked with God”, does that mean he lived a godly life, or that he actually experienced God face-to-face?  Was he a seer and a visionary, as the Book of Enoch claims?  Was he the only uncorrupted man on earth as the Learned Rabbis have said?  Was he really Too Good to Live?  Is he a Transforming Archangelbot who works these days as the Scribe of Heaven?  And what kind of drugs was he on, anyway, and did St. John of Patmos have access to the same stuff?

Perhaps it’s best to leave the last word to the writer of the Book of Hebrews:

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away.  For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.  (Hebrews 11:5)

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