Description of the project
A cursory perusal of Jewish, Christian, gnostic, and Muslim literature emanating from the Near East during the first millennium of the Common Era produces a substantial number of citations from or references to so-called ‘books of Enoch.’ These ‘books of Enoch’ are pseudepigraphic literary works allegedly authored by the seventh antediluvian biblical forefather Enoch (Gen 5:21-24). Interest in the figure of Enoch was apparently stimulated by the cryptic biblical notice recounting his mysterious removal from human society. A common perception developed wherein Enoch was considered to be an exemplary righteous individual who was transported to heaven and there granted access to divine secrets regarding the governance of the cosmos, the progression of history, and the final judgment of the created order. Judging from the quantity of quotations or allusions to Enochic books, a multitude of these compositions apparently circulated among learned circles during late antiquity well into the medieval period, enjoying wide popularity within diverse religious communities. Ancient estimates regarding Enoch’s literary productivity range from Wahb b. Munabbih’s ‘thirty scrolls’ to the presumably fantastic ‘360 (variant 365) books’ of the Slavonic book of Enoch (2 Enoch). Despite these testimonies to Enoch’s loquacity, only two indubitably Enochic ‘books’ have been recovered to date, and these are conventionally designated 1 Enoch (Ethiopic Enoch) and 2 Enoch (Slavonic Enoch).
Modern scholars have expended considerable energy in the study and analysis of the two ‘surviving’ books of Enoch. Most importantly for our present purposes, they have shown that these ‘books’ are themselves composite works stemming from earlier collections of Enochic lore. Few scholars however have attempted to correlate their studies of these extant apocalyptic books with the numerous fragmentary citations and allusions to Enochic works in the subsequent religious literatures. The primary explanation for such neglect is not difficult to identify. There does not exist (at present) any systematic compilation and/or comparative analysis of the citations from Enochic works in later Jewish, Christian, gnostic, and Muslim contexts. In order to utilize these later citations, scholars of the religions of late antiquity must consult a variety of print and manuscript resources in diverse languages, many of which are not readily available in a convenient form.
I am therefore engaged in a joint research project (with Annette Yoshiko Reed of New York University) whose ultimate objective is twofold: (1) to assemble all the fragmentary extant references to and citations of Enochic works within the aforementioned religious literatures into one convenient collection, and (2) to compare, classify, and analyze these subsequent references and citations in order to gain a clearer picture of the scope and range of what might tentatively be termed the ‘Enochic library,’ or the entire corpus of works attributed to Enoch. Both the collection and the comparative analysis will be published as a monographic study by Oxford University Press, thus providing students of Near Eastern religious history with a new tool for the assessment of the demonstrable intertextual relationships among the diverse religious communities of late antiquity and the early medieval era. Volume I will be available from Oxford in March 2018.
The initial methodology of the project is rather straightforward. It involves a systematic combing of the available manuscript or printed textual editions of those works wherein references to Enochic ‘books’ or ‘traditions’ occur or might be expected to occur, followed by the extraction and classification of the passage so identified. Texts wherein such passages occur include Jewish pseudepigrapha, Jewish and Christian apocalyptic works, Jewish esoteric works such as magical manuals and mystical treatises (Zohar), Christian exegetical texts (both western and eastern Church Fathers), so-called ‘universal histories’ prepared by both Christians (Syncellus) and Muslims (Tabari), Muslim esoteric texts (Umm al-Kitab), and gnostic compositions (e.g., Pistis Sophia).
The project possesses significance for several interrelated fields of humanistic inquiry. Students of Second Temple Jewish literature, the period wherein Enochic literature first appears, will be able to trace (or discount) the survival of Enochic motifs and mythemes within Jewish literary and intellectual circles from late antiquity well into the medieval period, thereby shedding light on the development of apocalypticism and its possible influence upon the history of Jewish mysticism. Students of Near Eastern gnosticism and Hellenistic philosophies would have further data to exploit in their quest for the origin of gnostic religiosity and its possible impact upon sectarian currents in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Those interested in the medieval literary and intellectual symbiosis among Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers, particularly with regard to the transmission of the ‘ancient sciences’ associated with hermeticism (e.g., astrology, theurgy, divinatory techniques, angelology and demonology) would for the first time be able to view, in textual form, a chain of tradition reconstructed in its entirety. Thus the project, when complete, has ramifications not only for students of Jewish pseudepigrapha, but for any scholar interested in understanding the complex development of the history of ideas, and their transmission, among the major religious communities of the ancient and medieval Near East.