Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Historical-Allusional Dating and the Similitudes of Enoch

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Historical-Allusional Dating and the Similitudes of Enoch

Article excerpt

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In 1909, Léon Gry entitled one of his series of articles on the Similitudes of Enoch with the seemingly simple question: "Quand furent composées les Paraboles d'Hénoch?"1 In the century since, despite the proliferation of theories, this question has remained largely unanswered, at least with any certainty in the matter. It is perhaps therefore fitting at the centenary of the publication of the first article to deal solely with this enigma to review and reassess the status quaestionis on the dating of the Similitudes of Enoch.2 In the following, I shall attend to this task through a critical reevaluation of the historically dominant hypothesis, probing its weaknesses and offering alternative renderings of some of its commonly accepted tenets. Too many unknown variables and contradictory data exist, rendering the purported communis opinio on the dating of the Similitudes of Enoch an incomplete and unproven equation.

I. The Scholarly Consensus

In the early nineteenth century, Richard Laurence, who introduced Ethiopic Enoch (1 Enoch) into modern Western scholarship, proposed that the book as a whole be dated just prior to the turn of the era. This argument was constructed on two pillars, namely, that the contents of the Book of Dreams (chs. 83-90) alluded to the Herodian period and that mention of the Parthians along with the Medes (1 En. 56:5) indicated a date following the defeat of Mark Antony in 36 b.c.e.3 Laurence went on to conclude the following: "At this time [36 b.c.e.] perhaps the credit of the Parthian arms was at the highest; and it is probable that about the same period, or at least not long after, the Book of Enoch was written."4 This argument was bolstered by a further examination of the remainder of ch. 56, wherein the observation that the contents of vv. 6-7 were offered a counterpart in the actions of the Parthians in setting Matthias Antigonus upon the Jewish throne in 40 b.c.e. prompted the rhetorical question: "Is it not therefore probable, that the Parthian invasion of Judea at the period mentioned, the only one indeed upon record must have been in the contemplation of the author when he wrote the preceding passage?" 5

While the quintpartite (or rather sexpartite) nature of the book has since been unanimously accepted along with the separate origins of each of these sections, at its core this theory is remarkably similar to that which has dominated the discussion of this topic over the past nearly two centuries in various forms, and which continues to do so in a much more monolithic manner.6 Indeed, the present-day hypothesis also alleges that the contents of 1 En. 56:5-8 allude to the Parthian incursion into Palestine in 40 b.c.e. The crucial pericope reads as follows:

56:5In those days, the angels will assemble themselves, and hurl themselves toward the East against the Parthians and Medes. They will stir up the kings, and a spirit of agitation will come upon them, and it will rouse them from their thrones. They will break out like lions from their lairs, and like hungry wolves in the midst of their flocks. 6They will go up and trample the land of his chosen ones, and the land of his chosen ones will be before them as a threshing floor and a (beaten) path; 7but the city of my righteous ones will be a hindrance to their horses. They will begin (to make) war among themselves, and their right hand will be strong against them(selves), a man will not acknowledge his brother, nor a son, his father or his mother; Until the number of corpses will be enough due to their slaughter, and their punishment will not be in vain. 8In those days, Sheol will open its mouth, and they will sink into it. And their destruction will be at an end; Sheol will devour the sinners from the presence of the chosen.7

On the basis of the reference to the Parthians in v. 5, a nation only rarely mentioned in Jewish literature, many scholars (albeit with varying degrees of certainty) choose to see this passage as rooted in vaticinium ex eventu. …

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