Nazarene Space

Why the Rabbis Suppressed the Book of Enoch

Why the Rabbis Suppressed the Book of Enoch
By
James Scott Trimm




In the Second Temple Era the Book of Enoch was widely used and accepted in Judaism.  Seven copies of the book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and the contents of the book were referenced by the original Jewish followers of Yeshua no less than 128 times in the Ketuvim Netzarim (The books that came to be known as the “New Testament”), with the book of Jude actually quoting the book (Jude 1:14-15 quotes 1Enoch 1:9).  Certainly it was from their Nazarene Jewish predecessors that the gentile Christians inherited the book.  The earliest Christian “Church Fathers” used the book right along side the others, Tertullian even called it “Sacred Scripture”.  

Some time after the close of the Second Temple Era the Book of Enoch became suppressed by the Rabbis.  Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, a 2nd-century tannaitic sage and traditional compiler of  the Zohar indicates that the Rabbis used the book secretly, but suppressed it for fear that laymen might be misled by misunderstanding it:

Rabbi Simeon said: ‘Had I been alive when the Holy One, blessed be He, gave mankind the book of Enoch and the book of Adam, I would have endeavoured to prevent their dissemination, because not all wise men read them with proper attention, and thus extract from them perverted ideas, such as lead men astray from the Most High to the worship of strange powers. Now, however, the wise who understand these things keep them secret, and thereby fortify themselves in the service of their Master.’
(Zohar 1:72b)

The so-called “Church Father” Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 CE) wrote around the same time period:

But since Enoch in the same Scripture has preached likewise concerning the Lord, nothing at all must be rejected by us which pertains to us; and we read that "every Scripture suitable for edification is divinely inspired." [110] By the Jews it may now seem to have been rejected for that (very) reason, just like all the other (portions) nearly which tell of Christ. Nor, of course, is this fact wonderful, that they did not receive some Scriptures which spake of Him whom even in person, speaking in their presence, they were not to receive. To these considerations is added the fact that Enoch possesses a testimony in the Apostle Jude. [111]              
(Tertullian; The Apparel of Women”; Fathers of the Church 3,1,1-3)

So Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai admits that among the sages of Rabbinic Judaism “the wise who understand these things keep them secret, and thereby fortify themselves in the service of their Master.’”.  But that he “endeavoured to prevent their dissemination” because, as he says “not all wise men read them with proper attention, and thus extract from them perverted ideas, such as lead men astray from the Most High to the worship of strange powers.”  

And Tertullian says “the Jews it may now seem to have been rejected” the Book of Enoch because “just like all the other (portions) nearly which tell of Christ. Nor, of course, is this fact wonderful, that they did not receive some Scriptures which spake of Him whom even in person, speaking in their presence, they were not to receive.”

In simpler terms, Rabbi Simeon says the Rabbis suppressed the book because they thought only the “sages” could be trusted to understand it without “extracting perverted ideas” and being led “astray from the Most High to the worship of strange powers.”  And Tertullian says the Jews rejected the book because is spoke so clearly of Messiah and because of their rejection of Yeshua as the Messiah.

In recent years Orthodox Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin (pictured at the top of this article) wrote a book "The Jewish Gospels; The Story of the Jewish Christ". This book also takes a non-hostile approach to Yeshua and his original Jewish followers. Daniel Boyarin is not only a noted historian of religion, he has also been called "one of the two or three greatest rabbinic scholars in the world." He holds dual United States and Israeli citizenship. Trained as a Talmudic scholar, in 1990 he was appointed Professor of Talmudic Culture, Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley, a post which he still holds.

Boyarin opens his book with some very interesting words:

If there is one thing that Christians know about their religion, it is that it’s not Judaism. If there’s one thing Jews know about their faith, it is that it’s not Christianity. If there is one thing that both groups know about this “double not,” it’s that Christians believe in the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ (the Greek word for Messiah) and that Jews don’t, that Jews keep kosher and Christians don’t.

If only things were that simple. In this book, I’m going to tell a very different story, a story of a time when Jews and Christians were much more mixed up with each other than they are now, when there were many Jews who believed in something quite like the Father and the Son and even in something like the incarnation of the Son in the Messiah, and when followers of Jesus kept kosher as Jews, and accordingly a time in which the difference between Judaism and Christianity just didn’t exist as it does now....

While by now almost everyone, Christian and non-Christian, is happy enough to refer to Jesus, the human, as a Jew, I want to go a step beyond that. I wish us to see that Christ too–the divine Messiah–is a Jew. Christology, or the early ideas about Christ, is also a Jewish discourse and not–until much later–an anti-Jewish discourse at all. Many Israelites at the time of Jesus were expecting a Messiah who would be divine and come to earth in the form of a human. Thus the basic underlying thoughts from which both the Trinity and the incarnation grew are there in the very world into which Jesus was born and in which he was first written about in the Gospels of Mark and John (1-2)
(Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels; The Story of the Jewish Christ; 2012, p. 1, 5-6)

Of course I believe that Boyarin uses the term "Christian" too loosely here (the original followers of Yeshua identified themselves as Jews and not as "Christians,") however it is very interesting that such an important Orthodox Jewish scholar is now willing to admit that not only were Yeshua's original followers Kosher eating and Torah observant, but that the doctrine of the Deity of Messiah itself was of Jewish origin, was held by the original Jewish followers of Yeshua from the very beginning, and has been rejected by Rabbinic Judaism since the first century in a reactionary manner!

What is even more interesting is what Boyarin has to say about the Book of Enoch in this very regard!  Boyarin’s book has an entire chapter on the “Son of Man” figure as portrayed in the Book of Enoch.  

Boyarin says that the Book of Enoch “…makes extensive use of the term “Son of Man” to refer to a particular divine-human Redeemer figure…” which he says exhibits “many of the elements of the Christ story.”  (ibid p. 75) and “This book provides us with our most explicit evidence that the Son of Man as a divine-human Redeemer arose by Jesus’ time…” (ibid p. 76) he goes on to conclude:

What we learn from this is that there was controversy among Jews about the Son of Man long before the Gospels were written.  Some Jews accepted and some rejected the idea of a divine Messiah.  The Similitudes [of the Book of Enoch] are evidence for the tradition of the interpretation of the Son of Man as such a divine person, the tradition that fed into the Jesus movement as well.  It is only centuries later of course, that this difference in belief would become the marker and touchstone of the difference between two religions.
(ibid p. 77)

Boyarin even writes:

“In the Book of Enoch, this figure is a part of God; as a second or junior divinity, he may even be considered a Son alongside the Ancient of Days, whom we might begin to think of as the Father.  Although the Messiah designation appears elsewhere also, it is in Enoch 48 that the similarities to the Gospel ideas about Jesus are most pronounced.”(ibid pp. 77-78)

Boyarin then quotes Chapter 48 which I give in my own translation below:

1 And in that place I saw the fountain of righteousness
Which was inexhaustible:
And around it were many fountains of wisdom:
And all the thirsty drank of them,
And were filled with wisdom,
And their dwellings were with the righteous and set-apart and chosen.
2 And at that hour that Son of Man was named In the presence of YHWH Tzva’ot,
And his name before the Ancient of Days.  
3 Yea, before the sun and the signs were created,
Before the stars of the heaven were made,
His name was named before YHWH Tzva’ot.
4 He shall be a staff to the righteous whereon to stay themselves and not fall,
And he shall be the light of the Gentiles,  
And the hope of those who are troubled of heart.
5 All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him,
And will praise and bless and celebrate with song YHWH Tzva’ot.
6 And for this reason has he been chosen and hidden  before Him,
Before the creation of the world and for evermore.  
7 And the wisdom  of YHWH Tzva’ot has revealed him to the set-apart and righteous;
For he has preserved the lot of the righteous,
Because they have hated and despised this world of unrighteousness,
And have hated all its works and ways in the name of YHWH Tzva’ot:
For in his name they are saved,  
And according to his good pleasure has it been in regard to their life.
8 In these days downcast in countenance shall the kings of the earth have become,
And the strong who possess the land because of the works of their hands,
For on the day of their anguish and affliction they shall not (be able to) save themselves.
9 And I will give them over into the hands of My chosen:
As straw in the fire so shall they burn before the face of the set-apart:
As lead in the water shall they sink before the face of the righteous,
And no trace of them shall any more be found.
10 And on the day of their affliction there shall be rest on the earth,
And before them they shall fall and not rise again:
And there shall be no one to take them with his hands and raise them:
For they have denied YHWH Tzva’ot and His Anointed.
The name of YHWH Tzva’ot be blessed.
(1Enoch 48)

Boyarin comments on this chapter saying:

First of all, we find the doctrine of the preexistence of the Son of Man.  He was names even before the universe came into being.  Second, the Son of Man will be worshipped on earth: “All who dwell on earth will fall down and worship before him, and they will glorify and bless and sing hymns to the name of the Lord of Spirits.” Third, and perhaps most important of all, in v. 10 he is named as the Anointed One, which is precisely the Messiah (Hebrew Mashiach) or Christ (Greek Christos).  It seems quite clear that many of the religious ideas that were held about the Christ who was identified as Jesus were already present in the Judaism from which both the Enoch circle and the circles around Jesus emerged.
(ibid p. 80)

Boyarin then cites 1Enoch 69:26-29 which reads from my own translation:

26 And there was great joy among them,
And they blessed and glorified and extolled
Because the name of that Son of Man had been revealed unto them.
27 And he sat on the throne of his glory,
And the sum of judgment was given unto the Son of Man,
And he caused the sinners to pass away and be destroyed from off the face of the earth,
And those who have led the world astray.
28 With chains shall they be bound?
And in their assemblage-place of destruction shall they be imprisoned,
And all their works vanish from the face of the earth.
29 And from henceforth there shall be nothing corruptible;
For that Son of Man has appeared,
And has seated himself on the throne of his glory,
And all evil shall pass away before his face,
And the word of that Son of Man shall go forth
And be strong before YHWH Tzva’ot.
(1Enoch 69:26-29)

Boyarin says of these verses:

Here the Son of Man is clearly occupying his throne of glory, seated perhaps, at the right hand of the Ancient of Days.  It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Son of Man is a second person, as it were, of God.  And all the functions assigned to the divine figure called “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7 are given to this Son of Man, who is called, as we have seen, the Christ.
(ibid p. 81)

Here an Orthodox Jewish scholar has admitted that the beliefs of the original followers of Yeshua concerning the Messiah were originally Jewish ideas long before the time of Yeshua, and that the best evidence of this fact is the Book of Enoch!

It is no surprise then that by the second Century the Rabbis began to suppress the book of Enoch, thinking that only they had the ability to understand it without being drawn astray to follow after the Yeshua movement.

A new Study Edition of the Book of Enoch has just been published!

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The Book of Enoch (1st Enoch)

Translated where possible from Aramaic copies found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

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The Secrets of Enoch (2nd Enoch)

Complete and including the "Melchizedek" Chapters.

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Hundreds of helpful notes

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