Saturday, June 20, 2009


The fifth Enoch Seminar** in Naples last week was a great success; not because we now understand the book of 2 Enoch -- we don't, but because we understand much better why we don't understand it and what sorts of questions we need to ask to make any progress. I have many pages of minute notes from the numerous sessions, but rather than taking days or weeks to try to digest and summarize them, I will, without further delay, boil down what seem to me to be some of the main points that have come out of this Seminar. The attributions of positions to specific people are my effort to give credit where credit is due. If I have misunderstood anything anyone has said, apologies in advance and I will be happy to make corrections.

I should begin by noting two important presentations on the first evening of the conference. Esther Eshel reported on two new Aramaic fragments of 1 Enoch. These are attributed to Qumran (i.e., are taken to be Dead Sea Scrolls), although they were recovered on the antiquities market and are thus unprovenanced. One is a papyrus fragment containing 1 Enoch 106:19-107:1 (from the story of the birth of Noah). The other is a parchment fragment containing 1 Enoch 7:1-5. Eshel thinks it is part of 4QEnochc ar/4Q204.

The second presentation was by Joost Hagen on the new Coptic fragments of 2 Enoch. A summary of his work on the fragments is here. I won't repeat any more of it except to say that my favorite part of the story was how he identified the work as 2 Enoch. When he deciphered the phrase "and the appearance of the angel was like snow" on one of the Coptic fragments, he entered it into Google. A translation of 2 Enoch in Google Books then told him that the phrase came from 37:1.

The study of 2 Enoch suffers severely from the problem of the lack of a complete edition of all the Slavonic evidence. Grant Macaskill set out to produce a critical edition with an eclectic reconstructed critical text, but has decided this is impossible. He is now finishing a diplomatic edition that will at least collect all the evidence of all the Slavonic manuscripts.

Even so, very few scholars know Slavonic. Of the sixty delegates of this year's Enoch Seminar, only eight were specialists in this language. It is very important that specialists in other pseudepigrapha, Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity, Byzantine studies, etc., open a dialogue with them and keep it open. One of the most important accomplishments of the Naples Enoch Seminar was to have fully opened this dialogue.

At the beginning of the final plenary session Hanan Eshel commented that 2 Enoch is like Melchizedek in the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews. As he is without mother or father and with no genealogy, so 2 Enoch is without a date, a text, or an origin.

The problem of the short and long recensions of 2 Enoch may not be as simple as it initially looks. We must resist the temptation to place them in binary opposition as though one is "original" and the other "secondary." The truth may be far more complicated. To take just one scenario as an illustration (many more are possible) they could share a common original archetype that each has distorted in its own way. The short recension may have cut parts of the original but preserved the rest of it relatively well. The long recension may have added considerably to the archetype without any (or with much less) cutting. The result would be that the short recension is missing original material while the long recension includes both secondary and original material not in the short recension. And still more complicated scenarios are possible. (The basic point is Michael Stone's, although I have filled out the example.) We urgently need our Slavonic philologists to interrogate the text with the sorts of questions that will help us to start narrowing down the possibilities.

In addition to the problem of text and language, the content itself of 2 Enoch defies all our expectations. It is not obviously Christian: it lacks reference to Jesus and other obvious elements of early Christianity and the exalted picture of Enoch would not sit well with Christian theology. It is not obviously Jewish: it deals with biblical commandments but includes no halakhic development of them (i.e., it makes no attempt to think them through in the context of how they might actually be practiced). And it is not obviously Jewish-Christian, a widely-recognized third way that involves acceptance of Jesus as Messiah (and/or as divine0 along with acceptance of halakhic praxis. 2 Enoch is a new category that fails to fit into any of the boxes we have prepared for it and must be taken entirely on its own terms. (These points are Larry Schiffman's.)

From the various discussions during the conference, it seems to me that if there is a Second Temple-era base to 2 Enoch, the evidence is likely to come from the calendrical material in it, some of which may reflect a Jewish sectarian 364-day calendar. But at present all we can say with confidence is that there was a Greek version (behind the surviving fragments in Slavonic and Coptic) which had its origin sometime between the Second Temple period and the Byzantine period.

Andrei Orlov summed up correctly that even if we had the original manuscript of 2 Enoch in our hands, we still would not be able to understand it at present.

*A very free (perhaps excessively so) paraphrase of a comment by Enoch Seminar organizer Professor Gabriele Boccaccini in his closing address. But accurately expressing the sentiment.

**For full information on the 2009 Enoch Seminar in Naples, go to the Enoch Seminar website, click on the "Enoch Seminars" drop down menu, then click on "Naples 2009." Some of the information on the menus of the Naples 2009 page is password protected, but much is available to everyone. There's also more on Slavonic pseudepigrapha here. Many thanks to Gabriele Boccaccini and Andrei Orlov for organizing this event.

UPDATE (23 August): More here. It seems that the text of 2 Enoch is not in as much doubt as indicated above.

UPDATE (16 February 2010): More here on the priority of the short recension.