Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

Sources from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Volume 1

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John C. Reeves, Annette Yoshiko Reed
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , May
     2018.
     416 pages.
     $150.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198718413.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Annette Yoshiko Reed and John C. Reeves present the academic community with a valuable conglomeration of primary sources concerning the figure of Enoch in their work entitled Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Volume I: Sources from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Traditional scholarship relies heavily upon Jewish and Christian sources when attempting to unravel this enigmatic man referenced in Genesis whose name is attributed to multiple works and intrinsically tied to the fallen angels. Reed and Reeves successfully expand this tradition by presenting the scholarly community with an understanding of Enoch’s evolution over space and time. The inclusion of Islamic texts in addition to Jewish and Christian writings not only enriches the literary depictions of the man Enoch, but the wide breadth of material covered also serves as evidence for the literary transmission of this character across both religious and cultural boundaries. Reed and Reeves’s goal with this volume is to “provide a comprehensive set of core references for easy and accessible consultation” (4) where no such compilation previously existed. 

Seven chapters, organized thematically, compose the core of the book. One of this volume’s unique aspects is Reed and Reeves’s choice to show an alternate side of the otherwise exemplary Enoch.This exploration begins first with a survey of Enoch’s various titles, which describe him as the “seventh antediluvian forefather” (19) or as the “scribe of righteousness” (46). His most popular identifier, however, is that he was “righteous” (27). Readers of this volume will likely recall that God took Enoch alive to heaven because of his superior status. Though the descriptor “righteous” repeats throughout literature about Enoch, the authors balance this view with sources that counter this claim. A Jewish midrash called Genesis Rabbah, for example, vehemently advocates for a wicked Enoch. In this text, Rabbi Aibo claims that Enoch, while he at times acts righteous, often turns to evil deeds. 

Given the complexity of Enoch’s character, it is no surprise that the authors give attention to the most minute details of Enoch’s being, such as the description of Enoch’s outward appearance. Details about Enoch’s physique appear “in … literature that discusses his importance for the history of culture and in accounts of heavenly journeys” (50). While some texts describe Enoch as a bald man, others claim the contrary, though Enoch’s appearance is mostly described as attractive. The inclusion of these sources gives a fresh dimension to the reader’s interaction with biblical characters since the physical appearance of such characters is often left ambiguous or is absent from the texts. These details humanize Enoch’s character and raise awareness as to the existence of sources that are not readily utilized in traditional scholarly works on Enoch. 

A large sum of the texts presented connect Enoch to the divine realm. One literary connection is Enoch’s evolution into the angel Metatron, which indicates a “transformation from a mortal human being into a celestial being” (255). Other topics discussed include, but are certainly not limited to, Enoch’s assimilation with the “qur’anic avatar Idris” and his assimilation with the “Graeco-Egyptian figure of Hermes/Thoth” (57); his role in forming astrology and astronomy; and his association with the development of writing. Enoch also plays an important communal function through his knowledge of religious ritual practice. The authors stress that certain texts like the Book of Jubilees may go a step further and credit Enoch with the status of a priest. Enoch, the authors show, is a lofty figure that cannot be reduced to one category; he plays equally important roles both in human and divine mythologies.

Reed and Reeves recognize that one barrier to the study of Enochic literature is the lack of availability of these texts, which span diverse times, languages, and customs. This volume lowers that barrier while raising scholarly awareness that the Enochic corpus contains a richer legacy than previously thought. The authors propose that Second Temple Judaism scholars could apply these texts to search for “Enochic motifs and mythemes within Jewish literary circles from late antiquity to the Middle Ages” (4). Early Christian scholars can also benefit from this volume as they tackle the question of Enoch’s legacy after these works fell out of the favor in the West.

Reed and Reeves’s work challenges scholars to broaden their thinking in exploring the Enochic literary traditions while at the same time presenting a thematically-based glimpse into texts that help trace the legacy of Enoch. The authors are correct in their choice to present the material thematically, but the inclusion of a composition date could also benefit the reader who is curious about the chronology of Enoch’s evolution. This observation, however, is minute since the authors acknowledge that a thematic composition lets the reader observe “how elements of Enoch lore traveled across a variety of religious and historical settings” (9). Reed and Reeves’s work successfully introduces the academic world to an Enoch who crosses the lines of literature, tradition, and space.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Sarah S. Eckert is a doctoral student in the HIstory of Early Christianity at Claremont Graduate University.

Date of Review: 
August 29, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

John C. Reeves is Blumenthal Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Annette Yoshiko Reed is Professor at New York University.

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