The Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism

Herod's Rebuilt Second Temple

Herod’s Rebuilt Second Temple

The idea of the canon as a list of authoritative books would have been strange to Jews of the Second Temple period. For them, the Temple was the center of their religion. Lester L. Grabbe, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism at the University of Hull, England, writes:

It is natural that people often assume that Judaism in the Second Temple period was more or less like contemporary Judaism, in which people meet weekly or even more frequently in synagogues to pray, worship, and hear the Bible read. The written scripture and its reading and study are assumed to be the focus of Judaism at all times. …Yet the Judaism of pre-70 times was formally structured in a quite different way from the Judaism of later times. The main religious institution was the Jerusalem temple, and temple worship went back many centuries in Jewish and Israelite history. …The main activity in the temple was blood sacrifice.[1]

Lester L. Grabbe goes on to discuss the issue of the supposed canon during Second Temple Judaism.

When and how the present canon became finalized is still not known, despite a number of studies on the subject. Some Jewish groups seem to have accepted a different set of books as authoritative compared to other groups.[2]

Jaroslav Pelikan agrees with Grabbe, and writes:

Not only is the use of the word canon as a designation for an authoritative list of sacred books a rather late phenomenon within the history of the Jewish community, but even the idea of a fixed and final list came about only after a long evolution.[3]

Julio Trebolle Barrera notes the idea of a canon was foreign to the Jewish mind. He notes the word canon is a term connected to “New Testament studies,” and Jews did not use it until “the 4th cent. CE.” He writes:

To apply the term «canon» to the Hebrew Bible, therefore, is quite unsuitable. Hebrew has no term which corresponds to Greek «canon». Rabbinic discussions concerning the canonical or apocryphal character of certain biblical books such as Song of Songs and Qoheleth, turn on the expression «defiles the hands». The supposition is that books of which it is said that «they defile the hands» were considered as canonical, whereas books to which this expression was not applied were excluded from the biblical canon. However, the expression «defile the hands» may have no more significance than to refer to ritual purification to be performed after having used such books and before starting any other secular activity.[4]

Saying Hebrew has no term corresponding to the Greek word ‘canon’ is not precisely true. The Greek word ‘canon’ is itself a loan word from the Semitic languages. In Hebrew, the word is קָנֶה (qaneh) meaning ‘tube’ or ‘reed’. The Hebrew word qaneh is related to the Assyrian word qanu and the Arabic word qanah, meaning ‘hollow stick’ or ‘reed’. While the Greeks and Christians used the word canon in the sense of a rule or measuring stick, this idea comes from Greek philosophy.

The concept of canon as the rule of faith is a Christian idea that developed rather late. The Jews eventually used that idea for the Hebrew Scriptures, but such an idea was unknown in Jesus’ day. Jewish groups knew which books they considered to be Scripture, but there were different Jewish groups with competing ideas as to the extent of their scriptures. More importantly, the concept of canon was a gentile concept; as such it would likely not have been used by Jews to delimit their Scriptures to a specific set of books.

The Swiss Protestant theologian Robert Hanhart, writing in the introduction to Martin Hengel’s “The Septuagint as Christian Scripture”, notes that Jesus ben Sirach’s introduction to Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus) “assumes the three divisions transmitted by the Masoretes”, and draws a distinction between the material described by these divisions and that of his translation of his grandfather’s commentary on Scripture.[5] He concludes that Second Temple Judaism distinguished between canon and Apocrypha. By stating this, Robert Hanhart is reading the medieval Masoretic traditions back into the Second Temple period, two periods separated by nearly a millennium. Lutheran professor and theologian Emil Schürer differs with Robert Hanhart: “The most ancient testimony to the collocation of both collections with the Thorah [sic] is the prologue to the Book of Wisdom. …We cannot, however, determine from it that the third collection was then already concluded.”[6]

The disagreement between Robert Hanhart and Emil Schürer illustrates the manner in which scholars disagree regarding the boundaries of the Old Testament canon in the second temple period and reflects the wide range of perspectives among Jews of the second temple period. The Baptist Professor Jeff S. Anderson writes about the diversity existing within Second Temple Judaism.

What flourished in the Second Temple Period was not a single, fixed, “normative” Judaism, but a developing, evolving religion… No straight evolutionary line of the Jewish faith emerges. Consequently, it is preferable to speak of multiple Judaisms rather than a monolithic ideology that views one brand of Judaism as orthodox and the rest as “sects.” All Judaisms, consequently, competed for an audience and for the authority that accompanies broad-based acceptance.[7]

Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 310–320 – 403 CE) describes twelve specific sects of the Jews: the Samaritans, the Essenes, the Sebuaeans, the Gorothenes, the Dositheans, the Sadducees, the Scribes, the Pharisees, the Hemerobaptists, the Nasaraeans, the Ossaeans, and the Herodians.[8] The Jerusalem Talmud (c. 200 – 400 CE) quotes Rabbi Johanan as saying there were twenty-four heretical sects of Judaism in the time of Ezekiel.[9] With different Judaisms competing for acceptance, it is no wonder there was no consensus on the limits of the Hebrew Scriptures.[10] The great Protestant scholar of Second Temple Judaism, Martin Hengel, writes:

We cannot prove the existence of a genuine Jewish, pre-Christian collection of canonical value, unambiguously and clearly delimited, distinguishable through its greater scope from the canon of the Hebrew Bible in the realm of the historical books and wisdom writings and written in Greek. Nor, especially, can it be shown that such a ‘canon’ was already formed in pre-Christian Alexandria. One can only proceed from the fact that the five books of Moses’ Torah, the so-called Pentateuch, were translated into Greek under Ptolemy II Philadelphus (282-246), at the latest toward the middle of the third century [BC].[11]

The picture of Second Temple Judaism is much more complex than is commonly thought. There was the temple cult centered in Jerusalem, and there was the law which Jews agreed was scripture. Most Jews accepted the Prophets as well. Beyond that, we know different branches of Judaism accepted a varying list of writings as authoritative, and possibly as scripture. The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was not settled until well into the Christian era.

Endnotes

  1. (Grabbe 2010, Kindle Locations 536-538; 540-541)
  2. (Grabbe 2010, Kindle Locations 561-562)
  3. (Pelikan 2005, 39)
  4. (Barrera 1998, 148)
  5. (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture 2002, 2-3)
  6. (Schürer, A History of the Jewish People, Second Division, Volume 1 1890, 308)
  7. (Anderson 2002, 5-6)
  8. (Epiphanius of Salamis 2012, Book 1, Section 1, Parts 9-20)
  9. (Bowker 1973, 161) The Jerusalem Talmud was written well into the Christian era, in a period after many of the competing Judaisms had died out. Thus, the reference to them as ‘heretical sects.’
  10. The scholar April D. DeConick writes: “Judaism and Christianity are companion expressions of Second Temple Judaism, sibling religions that developed simultaneously within comparable historical contextures.” (DeConick 2006, 3)
  11. (Hengel, The Septuagint as Christian Scripture 2002, 19)

Bibliography

  1. Anderson, J. S. (2002). The Internal Diversification of Second Temple Judaism: An Introduction to the Second Temple Period. Lanham: University Press of America, Inc.
  2. Barrera, J. T. (1998). The Jewish Bible and the Christian Bible; An Introduction to the History of the Text. (W. G. Watson, Trans.) Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  3. Bowker, J. (1973). Jesus and the Pharisees. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  4. DeConick, A. D. (2006). What is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism? Retrieved August 7, 2017, from Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism: http://www.marquette.edu/maqom/definition.pdf
  5. Epiphanius of Salamis. (2012, April 25). The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis: A Treatise Against Eighty Sects in Three Books. Retrieved October 22, 2016, from Masseiana Home Page: http://www.masseiana.org/panarion_bk1.htm
  6. Grabbe, L. L. (2010). An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism (Kindle Edition ed.). New York: T&T Clark.
  7. Pelikan, J. (2005). Whose Bible Is It: A Short History of the Scriptures (Kindle Edition ed.). New York: Penguin Group US.
  8. Schürer, E. (1890). A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ (Vols. Second Division, Volume 1). (S. Taylor, & P. Christie, Trans.) Edinburgh: T & T Clark.

Second Temple Writings and the Bible

The Apocrypha and Other Second Temple Writings

One of the key features of biblical hermeneutics is its insistence upon reading the bible in context. The context of the verse is the passage; the context of the passage is the chapter; the context of the chapter is the book; the context of the book is the entirety of the bible. Another way of looking at this is that the context of a verse or passage touching upon a particular subject is all the other passages about that subject; and the context of all the passages about that subject are all the related subject matter. But there is yet another way of looking at the bible — examining it in light of the author’s intent, which is influenced by the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. For the authors of the New Testament, the turmoil of the second temple period was the spirit of their age, and is reflected in the wealth of second temple literature.

The New Testament authors had some surprising literary influences from the apocalyptic writings of the 2nd Temple period, influences that are reflected in the text of the four Gospels, as well as the books of Jude, 1 & 2 Peter, and Revelations. Robert Henry Charles, a biblical scholar known for his translations of various apocryphal and pseudepigraphacal works, describes two strains of Jewish literature — the Apocalyptic and the Legalistic, created by two broad strains of Judaism.[1]

Apocalyptic Judaism and legalistic Judaism were not in pre-Christian times essentially antagonistic. Fundamentally their origin was the same. Both started with the unreserved recognition of the supremacy of the Law. This is to be expected in regard to legalistic Pharisaism, which was therein only adopting the teaching of the priesthood. But it is enforced also in apocalyptic Pharisaism. Thus the most universalistic and ethical of all the apocalyptic writings, i.e. the Testaments of the XII Patriarchs, declares that this Law is ‘the light that lighteth every man’. To all Jewish apocalyptic writers the Law was of eternal validity, but they also clung fast to the validity of the prophetic teaching as the source of new truth and the right of apocalyptic as its successor in this respect. We have early evidence of this conjunction of legalism and apocalyptic in the Book of Joel. The Law is there recognized as authoritative, its ritual as of the highest import, while at the same time the impending advent of the kingdom of God is depicted in highly apocalyptic colouring.[2]

The New Testament is a product of both strains of Judaism, but leans more heavily towards the Apocalyptic, which is a consistent strain in the Gospels.[3] Besides the purely apocalyptic teachings of Jesus, we also see this in the way Jesus consistently refers to himself as the “Son of Man”. Jesus does this around eighty times, emphasizing the significance of this title. Many of the theological discussions of this title say Jesus is identifying himself as the Representative Man, something that is theologically significant.[4] But that is not how the Jews would have understand it, which is clear from a reading of the second temple literature. This was a messianic term, implying divine origins. The ‘Son of Man’ is given a kingly throne in heaven, from which he would judge the nations. Based on the grammatical-historical hermeneutic used by so many Protestants, we should be interpreting this term as Jesus knew His audience would understand it, not in a manner consistent with western cultural norms.

Some of the arguments for accepting the so-called Apocrypha could be applied to the books of 1 and 2 Enoch, and possibly other second temple literature. As you may recall, in chapter 11 we discussed Merrill F. Unger’s arguments why the Apocrypha are not scripture. We will not rehash those arguments here. However, it would be dishonest of me to not point out certain similarities between those books the post-Nicene church accepted as scripture, and those books they did not. In this context, two of Merrill F. Unger’s arguments are worth a brief mention.

They resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject matter and styling out of keeping with inspired Scripture.

As you may recall, our original argument is that the literary types, subject matter, and styling of the New Testament are quite different from that of the Old Testament, which demonstrates the hollowness of Unger’s argument. By contrast, the books of 1 and 2 Enoch, along with Jubilees, have much in common with the Old Testament. While they are apocalyptic writings, there are several sections in prophets which are apocalyptic in nature. In addition, 1 and 2 Enoch, along with Jubilees, expand upon the Old Testament historical books, and provide background information for some troubling passages.

They lack the distinctive elements which give genuine Scripture their divine character, such as prophetic power and poetic and religious feeling.

We previously discussed the ways in which the so-called Apocrypha actually meet these criteria. For example, we showed a number of prophetic passages which apply to Jesus Christ, and we provided examples of passages rich in poetic and religious feeling. In this Appendix, we will demonstrate the same could be said for 1 and 2 Enoch, as well as Jubilees.

In chapter 27 we demonstrated that Johann Gerhard’s arguments against the so-called Apocrypha were badly flawed, and that the Apocrypha did not meet his criteria for excluding them from the Old Testament. The same could be said for the books of 1 and 2 Enoch, as well as Jubilees.

The Apocrypha are not about Christ.

We previously showed that the Apocrypha actually contained a number of messianic prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ. Likewise, there are prophetic passages in 1 Enoch that were accepted in the ante-Nicene church as being about Christ. There are reasons why 1 Enoch lost favor with the Church, but it should become clear that without 1 Enoch, we have lost an important source for a good deal of New Testament content, and therefore are at a loss to interpret that content.

The Apocrypha are not accepted by Jews.

We demonstrated that this was a flawed argument, because there were multiple strands of Judaism in the second temple period. Moreover, the question of what books constituted the Hebrew Scriptures had not been settled. The inclusion of some of these books in the Dead Sea Scrolls demonstrates the possibility that these books were at least considered valuable for instruction, and were possibly read from in the Synagogues.

These books were written by Jews, for Jews, and touched upon particular themes of Jewish thought that did not pass on into Talmudic Judaism. Theologian and Professor Margaret Barker writes:

Until recently, all that we knew of Enoch was in Genesis 5.18-24. He was the son of Jared and the father of Methuselah; he walked with God and he was not, for God took him. …That is all the Old Testament tells us about him, yet books and visions in his name had once been widely known and very influential. It is clear that there was more to the figure than appeared in Genesis, and a considerable cult of Enoch did undoubtedly exist, even though the biblical writers gave no place to it.[5]

The book of Enoch was cited by Jude, and either quoted from or alluded to by the apostles Peter and John. To understand these passages, we have to understand the Enochian literature, even if we (like the Jews) do not accept that literature as scripture.

The Apocrypha were not accepted by the primitive Church.

We previously demonstrated that the Apocrypha were, in fact, accepted by the early church. Since a number of early church authors either quoted from or alluded to 1 Enoch, we can argue that while the status of 1 Enoch was unclear, there were some in the early church who considered it to be an important and valuable book.

An argument can be made that 2 Enoch was an important source for the book of Hebrews, and the description of Jesus Christ being a priest after the order of Melchizedek. There is much to say about the figure of Melchizedek, so much that we will save this discussion for its own section.

Given all this, why have we spent so much time discussing the likelihood that the so-called Apocrypha are in fact Scripture, only to exclude other books which potentially meet the same criteria? Our argument has not been that the Apocrypha are in fact scripture because they meet some scholastic criteria. Instead, we have turned that argument against itself by demonstrating the so-called Apocrypha do not, in fact, meet those criteria. But that is not the reason why we accept them as Scripture. No, we accept the Apocrypha as Scripture because the Church, operating under the guidance of the Holy Spirit determined the content of Sacred Scripture. The same Church defined the contents of the New and Old Testament, and we cannot reject the one without rejecting the other. It was the Church that decided that 1 and 2 Enoch, along with Jubilees, were not Scripture, despite being important source material for the New Testament.

The Apocalypse and Second Temple Judaism

The Old Testament prophetic books occasionally have apocalyptic sections that reflect the times prior to and during the Babylonian captivity. It was the turmoil of second temple Judaism that gave rise to the apocalypse as a Jewish literary genre, one that contrasting the troubles of this life with descriptions of the world to come. F. Crawford Burkitt describes these Apocalypses as follows:

They are the most characteristic survival of what I will venture to call, with all its narrowness and its incoherence, the heroic age of Jewish history, the age when the nation attempted to realize in action the part of the peculiar people of God. …We study the Apocalypses to learn how our spiritual ancestors hoped again that God would make all right in the end; and that we, their children, are here to-day studying them is an indication that their hope was not wholly unfounded. [6]

The apocalypse functions as an unveiling of God’s plan for the ages. It confesses a belief that history has a purpose, that evil will eventually be punished and good will eventually triumph. It purports to give the reader a glimpse behind the veil, so to speak. The Books of 1 & 2 Enoch, along with Jubilees, embody all these characteristics.

Judaism in the time of Christ was quite diverse, with multiple groups taking different approaches, yet all of them dependent upon the temple cult. As we have mentioned before, one way to distinguish between these parties is the emphasis they give to the Law and the Prophets; to legalism vs. the apocalyptic. Christians assumed the apocalyptic strain of Judaism, whereas after the destruction of the temple the Jews gradually abandoned the apocalyptic, becoming purely about the Law. Robert Henry Charles writes:

The affinity then between Jewish apocalyptic and legalism is essential, since the Law was for both valid eternally, but when apocalyptic passed over into Christianity and therein naturally abandoned this view of the Law, it became in a measure anti-legalistic. Even before the Christian era each of these two sides of Pharisaism necessarily tended to lay more and more emphasis on the chief factor in its belief and study to the almost complete exclusion of the other, and thus legalistic Pharisaism in time drove out almost wholly the apocalyptic element as an active factor (though it accepted some of its developments) and became the parent of Talmudic Judaism, whereas apocalyptic Judaism developed more and more the apocalyptic, i.e. prophetic, element, and in the process came to recognize, as in 4 Ezra, the inadequacy of the Law for salvation. From this it follows that the Judaism that survived the destruction of the Temple, being almost wholly bereft of the apocalyptic wing which had passed over into Christianity, was not the same as the Judaism of an earlier date. Before A. D. 70 Judaism was a Church with many parties: after A.D. 70 the legalistic party succeeded in suppressing its rivals, and so Judaism became in its essentials a Sect.[7]

Let us accept as a given that Christianity subsumed the apocalyptic strain of Judaism, reinterpreting and repurposing it in light of the Christ event. With that in mind, it behooves us to examine the primary texts which influenced the New Testament authors, as well as the subject of the Gospels — our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Place of Enoch within Judaism

We have already quoted Margaret Barker’s contention that Enoch played a much larger part in Judaism than suggested by the biblical literature. The interest in Enoch passed over into the early church. Given the hostility of Judaism to the Christians, it should not be surprising to find that Enoch fell out of favor among the Jews. Margaret Barker writes: “In the early Christian centuries Jewish writers had condemned him [Enoch], perhaps because he was so important for the newly emerging Christians.”[8] The 1906 version of the Jewish Encyclopedia describes a less exalted view of Enoch held by Jews engaged in disputes with Christians.

According to Targ. Pseudo-Jonathan (Gen. v. 24) Enoch was a pious worshiper of the true God, and was removed from among the dwellers on earth to heaven, receiving the names (and offices) of Meṭaṭron and “Safra Rabba” (Great Scribe). This view represents one and (after the complete separation of Christianity from Judaism) the prevailing rabbinical idea of Enoch’s character and exaltation. Another, not quite so favorable, appears in the polemics carried on by Abbahu and others with Christian disputants (Friedländer, “Patristische und Talmudische Studien,” p. 99; “R. E. J.” v. 3). Enoch is held to have been inconsistent in his piety and therefore to have been removed by God before his time in order to forestall further lapses. The miraculous character of his translation is denied, his death being attributed to the plague (Gen. R. v. 24; Yalk., Gen. v. 24; Rashi and Ibn Ezra on the verse; comp. Wisdom iv. 10-14; Frankel, “Ueber den Einfluss der Palästinischen Exegese,” etc., pp. 44, 45; Ecclus. [Sirach] xliv. 16; Zohar to Gen. v. 24; but see also Philo, “De Abrahamo,” § 3). But withal Enoch is one of those that passed into Gan Eden without tasting the pangs of death (Yalḳ., Gen. v. 24).[9]

There are three important questions: first, whether Enoch was important in early Judaism; second, why Enoch was so important to second temple Judaism; and third, why Enoch fell out of favor in Talmudic Judaism. As to the first, it is unclear whether a trove of scribal literature concerning Enoch existed far into the far distant past. Any scribal libraries have been destroyed, and nearly all of the manuscripts have succumbed to the ravages of time. However, given the oral culture existing in pre-Hellenic times, it is likely there was an oral tradition coexisting side-by-side with priestly Judaism. And yet we have no way of knowing whether the Enoch materials formed a part of that tradition.

On the other hand, it is possible that the brief mention of Enoch in Genesis 5:18-24 was intriguing enough to spark speculation. As presented in Genesis, the person of Enoch is a blank slate, one which a creative author might draw upon for his own purposes. But once again, we don’t have enough information to draw any conclusions, nor to engage in anything other than idle speculation.

During the second temple period, Enoch became a blank slate upon which writers developed and promoted their ideas. They used Enoch to provide legitimacy to and authority for their apocalyptic speculations, as well as their arguments for a solar rather than a lunar calendar.[10]

The Jewish loss of interest in the character of Enoch seems to have had two causes. First was the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., something that struck deep into the hearts of the Jewish people. They went from being a people of the temple to a people of the book, and as the apocalyptic books did not seem to mention the temple’s destruction, it would have been easy for the Jewish people to have rejected the Enochian literature. In addition, the fact that the figure of Enoch was important to the Christians led (as we have seen) to a less exalted view of Enoch among the Jews.

Among the early Church, the writings about Enoch were held in high regard. As we will demonstrate, a number of interesting problems are resolved by an acquaintance with Enochian literature. The references to Enoch, or the uses of subject matter more fully explained in the Enochian literature, are found in the four Gospels, as well as the books of Jude, 1 & 2 Peter, and Revelations. However, the post-Nicene Church lost faith in the books of Enoch. St. Augustine of Hippo mentions it unfavorably, and the Apostolic Constitutions condemn Enoch, linking it to the books written by the heretics. In a paragraph entitled “Concerning Books with False Inscriptions”, these books are called “poisonous books”, being “pernicious and repugnant to the truth.”[11]

We do have 1 Enoch, which survived as part of the canon of the Ethiopian Coptic Church. The internal evidence suggests there are multiple section and multiple authors of this material. Therefore, 1 Enoch may be just a sample of the Enochian literature, something demonstrated by the Enochian material contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls. [12] In particular, The Book of Giants was part of the version of 1 Enoch among the Manicheans. But wait, there’s more. Margaret Barker writes:

There are ancient texts which quote ‘Enoch’, but not any Enoch text that we know. The Testament of Simeon says Enoch predicted war between the Sons of Simeon and the sons of Levi. The Testament of Levi knew a passage in which Enoch predicted the future corruption of the Levitical priesthood. The testament of Judah knew a prophecy that Judah would be evil. The Testament of Benjamin and the Testament of Naphtali predicted, on the basis of Enoch, that their descendants would fall into evil ways. We cannot place any of these in known Enochic texts, and we can only assume that there must have been far more Enochic literature than we now know.[13]

Perhaps the most important of the second temple influences on the New Testament are the first and second books of Enoch — echoes of which are reflected in the text of the four Gospels, as well as the books of Jude, 1 & 2 Peter, and Revelations.  Except for the incomplete manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, these are the only surviving remnants of a once rich Enochian tradition.

When we discuss the Book of Enoch, we must admit of three different books with the same name. The first is the Ethiopian Book of Enoch which appears to have influenced the New Testament authors. 1 Enoch is likely a product of the 2nd century BC, and could not have been written any earlier than 250BC (due to mentioning countries that did not exist prior to that date.) 2 Enoch is the Slavonic Book of Enoch (aka The Secrets of Enoch), containing a variety of omissions and insertions which show our extant copy to be a 7th century AD recension of a second temple manuscript. Despite the recensions, there is much to be gleaned from 2 Enoch. And finally we 3 Enoch, known as the Hebrew book of Enoch, a book claiming to be a product of the 2nd century AD, but for which no manuscript evidence exists prior to the 4th century AD.  This third version is not part of the second temple literary output, but instead reflects rabbinic changes to Judaism following the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Therefore, we will limit ourselves to the first two books of Enoch.

The Ethiopian Book of Enoch (1 Enoch)

The book known as 1 Enoch, or the Ethiopian Book of Enoch, was once important to both Jews and Christians, but was lost to history, surviving as part of the canon of the Ethiopian Coptic Church. Enoch is the only non-canonical book cited by name in the New Testament, and its influence is worthy of notice.

1 Enoch appears to be comprised of four different books, each likely composed at different times.[14] Given this, it might be more appropriate to think of this as the Books of Enoch. These books, or sections, are:

  • The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36)
  • The Book of Parables (or Similitudes) of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71)
  • The Astronomical Book (aka the Book of the Heavenly Luminaries or Book of Luminaries) (1 Enoch 72–82)
  • The Book of Dream Visions (or the Book of Dreams) (1 Enoch 83–90)
  • The Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 91–108)
    Note: The Epistle of Enoch concludes with an account of the birth of Noah (1 Enoch 106-108)

The Astronomical Book is noteworthy for its use of a solar calendar, rather than the lunar calendar. It seems apparent that the weaknesses of the lunar calendar were apparent, and the issue of the calendar was a matter of some discussion during the second temple period. Aside from the apocalyptic nature of this section, it could also be viewed as an attempt to persuade the Jews to adopt its version of the solar calendar. Regarding the Hebrew calendar, Joseph Lumpkin writes:

The Hebrew calendar is a lunar-based system. In this system Passover occurs after sundown on the 15th day of the month Nisan. Passover is celebrated for seven days. The first Passover was in the springtime and many thought it should be keep in that period of the year. Since the calendar is based in lunar movements the Hebrew calendar is offset to the solar calendar by about 11 days a year. This meant that Passover would drift from spring, to winter, to autumn, and back again.[15]

The book of Enoch proposes a solar calendar that eliminates the annoying drift of the Passover, ensuring that it would occur in approximately the same time each year.

During the time period Enoch was written, the Jewish community was torn regarding which type of calendar to use. Enoch seems to taut a solar-based calendar that is 364 days long with a week added as needed to make up for the missing a day and a quarter (1.25). Compare 365.25 days to 364 days. The Enochian calendar began each year on a Sunday. The starting point for the calendar was the spring equinox, which occurs around March 21st or 22nd. Since the year always begins on the same day of the week, and only a full week is added when needed, the calendar is considered to be a calendar of weeks.[16]

The early church began to address the issue of the calendar by separating their celebration of Pascha from that of the Jewish Passover. The Christian Church eventually adopted the Julian calendar, a solar calendar with a 365 day year divided into 12 months. Because of the way the leap year is calculated, the Julian calendar has drifted from the solar year. The Western Church adopted the Gregorian calendar which, by changing the way the leap year is calculated, stays true to the solar year. However, because Pope Gregory imposed the Gregorian calendar by papal decree, many Christian Churches in the east continue to use a Julian liturgical calendar. The second temple disputes over the calendar were thus carried forward into Christianity.

The Slavonic Book of Enoch (2 Enoch)

The book we call 2 Enoch is also known as “Slavonic Enoch or Book of the Secrets of Enoch.”[17] The book was originally written in Greek, but now exists only in several Slavic translations. The longer versions show evidence of Christian interpolations, but the shorter and earlier versions were clearly products of second temple Judaism.[18]

2 Enoch differs from 1 Enoch in a number of ways. It appears to come from a different strain of Judaism than that of 1 Enoch, although the particulars have been lost to history. Michael E. Stone divides the book into three parts.

2 Enoch deals with three chief subjects. First, Enoch ascends through the heavens, achieves a vision of Goid, is transfigured into an angel, and receives God’s revelation of the secrets of the process of creation (chaps. 1-34). Next he descends upon earth, reveals the heavenly mysteries to his children and gives them his moral instruction (chaps 35-68). From this point until the end of the book, the story of the antediluvian priesthood is found. This narrative commences with Adam and reaches its climax in the narrative of the miraculous birth of Melchizedek who is Noah’s nephew by his apocryphal brother Nir. Melchizedek is eventually assumed to heaven where he is guarded safely until after the Flood.[19]

The importance of the Melchizedek story should not be underestimated, as the author of the book of Hebrews presumed the Jews were familiar with not only the story from Genesis, but also with the apocalyptic material. While the author does not use the material from 2 Enoch, he certainly makes use of the Jewish interest in the person of Melchizedek.

The connection between 2 Enoch and Hebrews led some scholars to assume this was a Christian interpolation. The internal evidence suggests otherwise, as the story of Melchizedek in 2 Enoch contains no Christian elements, and the details to not match those in the book of Hebrews. For example, 2 Enoch provides an origin story for Melchizedek, while Hebrews argues from the lack of an origin story, using that as a similarity between Melchizedek and Jesus Christ.

For this Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings, and blessed him; To whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all; first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually. (Heb 7:1-3)

The Jewish interest in Melchizedek is demonstrated by an interesting document included among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Taken from Qumran cave 11 are a set of manuscript fragments designated 11Q13 (aka 11QMelchizedek). These fragments form an apocalypse whose main character, Melchizedek, is portrayed as a “Heavenly Prince.”  Geza Vermes, translator and editor of The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, describes the contents for us.

It takes the form of an eschatological midrash in which the proclamation of liberty to the captives at the end of days (Isa. lxi, 1) is understood as being part of the general restoration of property during the year of Jubilee (Lev. xxv, 13), seen in the Bible (Deut. xv, 2) as a remission of debts.

The Heavenly deliverer is Melchizedek. Identical with the archangel Michael, he is the head of the ‘sons of Heven’ or ‘gods of Justice’ and is referred to as <elohim> and <el>. …Here Melchizedek is portrayed as presiding over the final Judgement and condemnation of his demonic counterpart, Belial/Satan, the Prince of Darkness.

Here, instead of a human origin story as in 2 Enoch, the person of Melchizedek is identified as the archangel Michael. Clearly these two stories are in conflict, but provide evidence that the apocalyptic character of Melchizedek was present within the Judaism of the time of Christ. Thus, when the author of Hebrews used Melchizedek in the book of Hebrews, he was tapping into the zeitgeist, the spirit of the age.


 

Endnotes

[1] We are talking broadly and in one dimension about different strains of Judaism. There are other ways of looking at the Judaism of this period, other dimensionalities to explore. Margaret Barker, for example, draws a distinction between first temple and second temple Judaism. Distinctions are often drawn between the Judaism of the diaspora and the Judaism of Jerusalem; between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; between the Essenes and the Hasmonean priesthood; between the Samaritans and the Hebrews. These different dimensionalities are based on different presumptions and reveal different things.

[2] (Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English 1913, vii)

[3] The division of Apocalyptic and Legalistic Judaism should not be applied too formally. The Judaism of the time was essentially apocalyptic. (Heyler 2002, 119) What differed was the emphasis placed upon the apocalyptic among the different strains of Judaism.

[4] For example, Merrill F. Unger writes regarding the term ‘Son of Man’:

It portrays Him as the Representative Man. It designates Him as the ‘last Adam’ in distinction to the “first man Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). It sets Him forth as “the Second Man…the Lord from heaven” as over against “the first man…of the earth” (I Cor. 15:47). “The Son of Man” is thus our Lord’s racial name, as the “Son of David” is distinctly his Jewish name and “the Son of God” His Divine Name. (Unger 1966, 1038)

[5] (Barker 2005, 5)

[6] (Burkitt 1914, 15-16)

[7] (Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English 1913, vii)

[8] (Barker 2005, 5)

[9] (Enoch 1901-1906)

[10] During the second temple period, writers often attributed authorship to various biblical figures from the distant past. (Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period 1984, XXI) This is a distinct characteristic of second temple literature, and not — as some claim — the result of a “crisis of authority”, which is essentially the same as claiming an intent to deceive. (Heyler 2002, 117) Vincente Dubroruka notes that instead of being “mere fraud or a stylistic device”, the author may mystically identify himself with the author, considering himself to be a channel of revelation. (Dobroruka 2013, 1, 8) Thus, the pseudonymous authorship.

[11] (Schaff, ANF07 2004, Book IV, § III, para XVI, p. 680)

[12] The Prayer of Enosh and Enoch (4Q369); The Book of Enoch (4Q201-2, 204-12); The Book of Giants (1Q23-4, 2Q26, 4Q203, 530-33, 6Q8); the Book of Noah (1Q19, 1Q19 bis, 4 Q534-6, 6Q8, 19) (Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English 2004)

[13] (Barker 2005, 8)

[14] (Charles, The Book of Enoch 1917, xv)

[15] (Lumpkin, The Books of Enoch 2011, 19)

[16] (Lumpkin, The Books of Enoch 2011, 18)

[17] (Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period 1984, 406)

[18] (Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period 1984, 406-407)

[19] (Stone, Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period 1984, 407)

The Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Scroll

Dead Sea Scroll

It is not just the addition of vowel points and word spacing that differentiates the Masoretic text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, but that entire texts have been changed. The Book of Psalms, as found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, is quite different, including a number of psalms missing from both the Masoretic text and the LXX.[i] The book of Jeremiah is quite different, and agrees with the Septuagint instead of the Masoretic text. Karel Van Der Toorn, in his book “Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible”, writes:

Biblical scholars have long been aware of the fact that the Greek translation of Jeremiah as extant in the Septuagint is shorter by one-seventh than the text in the Hebrew Bible. Its arrangement of the material, moreover, differs at some points from that in the Hebrew text. The most striking instance is the position of the Oracles against the Nations. Whereas the Septuagint places them right after 25:13 (“ And I will bring upon that land all that I have decreed against it, all that is recorded in this book — that which Jeremiah prophesied against all the nations”), the Hebrew Bible has them at the end of the book (Chapters 46-51). The discoveries in the Judean Desert have yielded a fragment of a Hebrew version of Jeremiah (4QJerb) that agrees with the Septuagint (henceforth JerLXX) against the Hebrew text known from the Masoretic tradition (Henceforth JerMT). Based on this fragment, scholars have concluded that the Greek translation goes back to a Hebrew text of Jeremiah that differs in important respects from the Hebrew Bible. The differences between JerMT and JerLXX are such that they cannot be attributed to scribal errors in the process of transmission. Nor can the Hebrew vorlage[ii] of the Septuagint be interpreted as an abbreviated version of the book. In view of their different placement of the Oracles against the Nations, JerMT and JerLXX represent two different editions of the same book. Chronologically, the edition reflected in JerLXX  precedes the one extant in JerMT.[iii]

Lawrence Boadt, in his book “Reading the Old Testament, confirms this. He writes:

There were quite a variety of copies of the Hebrew Old Testament available by the time of Jesus. Since copying had gone on for a long time already, many different editions circulated, some longer with sections added in, some shorter with sections omitted. All had some change or error in them. Since a scribe in one area often copied from a local text, the same error or change often appeared regularly in one place, say, Babylon, but not in text copied in Egypt. Thus, at the time of Christ, three major “families” or groupings of text types could be found: The Babylonian, the Palestinian, and the Egyptian. …Only at the end of the first century A.D. did the rabbis decide to end the confusion and select one text, the best they could find, for each part of the Bible. In the Pentateuch they chose the Babylonian tradition, but in other books, such as the prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah, they followed the Palestinian-type text.

These first century rabbis also inaugurated a method of guaranteeing the text from any more glosses and additions, though not completely from copying errors. They counted words, syllables, and sections, and wrote the totals at the end of each book of the Old Testament. …The standard Hebrew text that resulted from the decisions of these early rabbis has become known as the “Masoretic text,” named after a later group of Jewish scholars of the eighth to eleventh centuries A.D., the masoretes, or “interpreters,” who put vowels into the text, and thus “Fixed the words in a definitive form. No longer could a reader be confused by whether the word qtl in the text meant qotel, “the killer,” or qatal, “he killed.”[iv]

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the earliest known manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible were from the 10th or 11th century. The fact that these two manuscripts exist at all is something of a miracle, because the Jews have a tradition of destroying old, worn manuscripts. Because these were the only extant manuscripts in Hebrew, the Reformers (and the scholar Erasmus) chose them when translating the Old Testament, under the influence of the Renaissance humanists and their cry: “ad fontes”; to the sources. However, we not have older manuscripts in the Dead Sea Scrolls, manuscripts supporting the ancient idea that the Hebrews altered their texts in response to the challenge of Christianity.

Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest texts of the Hebrew Bible were in two manuscripts from the 10th or possibly the early 11th century known as the Aleppo Codex and the Leningrad Codex. These manuscripts—the Aleppo Codex, which was recovered partially after a fire and somehow brought to Jerusalem, and the Leningrad Codex, which is now in St. Petersburg—both of these nearly identical texts are what scholars call the rabbinic recension.[v]

The problem is this. The Masoretes fixed the text in a form significantly different than that used by the Jewish diaspora for several hundred years. This was a radical emendation of the text which, when coupled by the Masoretic vowel pointing, fixed the interpretation of the text. Thus it is clear that as Judaism underwent substantial changes subsequent to the destruction of the temple, so too did the text used as the basis for their faith.


Endnotes

[i] (J. A. Sanders n.d.)

[ii] Vorlage: a prior version of a text under consideration.

[iii] (van der Toorn 2007, 199-200, van der Toorn 2007)

[iv] (Boadt 1984, 73-74)

[v] (Shanks 2007, 19)


Bibliography

Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press, 1984.

Sanders, J. A. “English Translation of the Psalms Scroll (Tehillim) 11QPs.” ibiblio.org. n.d. http://www.ibiblio.org/expo/deadsea.scrolls.exhibit/Library/psalms.html (accessed January 02, 2014).

Shanks, Hershel. “The Dead Sea Scrolls—Discovery and Meaning.” Biblical Archaeology Society. Biblical Archeological Society. 2007. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/free-ebooks/the-dead-sea-scrolls-discovery-and-meaning/ (accessed January 30, 2014).

van der Toorn, Karel. Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

 

The People of the Word

People of the Book

People of the Book

The Koran defines Muslims, along with Jews, Sabians,[1] and Christians, as “people of the book.” This makes sense in a Islamic context, because the Koran is the Word of God made text. Moreover, by the time the Koran was spoken (and later written down), both Jews and Christians had a defined canon considered to be inspired, and a process to preserve the inspired text relatively uncorrupted from additions and errors.

Most modern Christians would agree with the Islamic assessment of themselves as being people of the book. After all, they have the bible, which they refer to as Sacred Scripture and as the Word of God. And yet it is unlikely that the ancient Jews, or the earliest Christians, would have defined themselves as people of the book, for they had no such book.

Judaism was in flux during the time of Christ, with multiple canons and textual traditions; the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was not formalized until the 3rd century, and the differing textual traditions were not merged into a single text until the 9th century Masoretic text. Meanwhile primitive Christianity used the Septuagint text as Sacred Scripture, but the various New Testament writings only gradually became thought of as scripture, and the current canon of the New Testament was not formalized until the 9th century.

In the ancient world, the oral word was primary; the written word was of little importance, useful only to a very small class of people in government, religion, or business. John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy write:

After the discovery of writing, whether for the Egyptians or Sumerians, the Greeks or Romans, it was often only the priestly or commercial elites that acquired enough literacy to carry out their duties (or they purchased slaves who had been trained to read and write on behalf of their masters). Beyond that, the wealthy may have been educated enough to be literate. For the general populace literacy was rare, for it was almost never a necessity. (Walton and Sandy 2013, 90)

This seems odd to us, being raised in a literate culture, one in which someone who is illiterate is seen as uneducated, backwards, and unintelligent. And yet, even in our literate age, people learn to speak before they learn to write; and the mass media of television and radio are oral means of communication. Speaking and hearing are fundamental; reading and writing come later. Walton and Sandy write:

Fundamentally, speaking is primary; writing is derivative. So it is in the Bible: nothing in the biblical creation accounts suggests that God wrote or created writing. Speaking was the focus; writing would come later. So it is for children: learning to speak is essential and comes first; learning to write is helpful and comes second. So it has been in history: a society that does not speak to one another has never existed ; a society that does not write to one another has always existed. (Walton and Sandy 2013, 89-90)

This may be hard for us to grasp, but the bible was primarily oral before it became the written text we know today. In the synagogues, the reader would translate the written text on the fly into the vernacular tongue. In the early churches, Christians would gather together to hear the Gospels and the epistles read to them.  Even today, we gather together to hear the scriptures read to us, after which we hear a sermon or a homily, usually interpreting the text we just heard. The distinction between an oral culture and a textual culture revolves around the question of authority. Walton and Sandy write: “For oral communication, authority focuses on the persons who transmit the tradition. In written communication, authority shifts to the words on the page.” (Walton and Sandy 2013, 89)

The Holy Prophet Jeremiah

The Holy Prophet Jeremiah

In an oral culture, the speaker is the one who transmits the tradition. In other words, it is the speaker who determines what is said, and how it is understood. In a textual culture, the hearer is responsible for determining what the author meant, irrespective of the tradition. And thus it is that modern Protestantism, which developed side by side with the Gutenberg press, is compelled to disregard the oral tradition in favor of its own interpretation. And having disregarded the apostolic tradition (2Th 3:6), it is no wonder that each reader, having determined a new meaning in the text, is compelled to create a new denomination, leading directly to the confusion of denominations.

If, as the scriptures state, “God is not the author of confusion” (1 Co 14:33), is it possible that we are approaching Sacred Scripture incorrectly? That the God who spake the worlds into existence, who commanded the prophets to speak the words of God unto the people, and who gave prophets, evangelists, and teachers unto the church, expects the oral transmission of tradition — including Sacred Scripture?


Bibliography

Walton, John H, and D. Brent Sandy. The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.


Endnotes

[1] The Sabians seems to refer to a variety of monotheistic faiths that are neither Jewish nor Christian, although they appear to have more in common with Christianity than with Islam.

The Septuagint and the Canon

Psalm 90 from the Septuagint

Psalm 90 from the Septuagint

The Septuagint is a version of the Hebrew Scriptures that was translated into Greek. At a minimum, the Pentateuch (also known as the five books of Moses), were translated sometime between 285-240 BC, and for sure the rest of the books were translated by 130 BC.  (Gentry 2009, 24) This translation was in widespread use among the Jewish diaspora, who for the most part no longer spoke Hebrew. Even in the Holy Land, most people spoke Greek and Aramaic instead of Hebrew, so the Septuagint was in use even in Jerusalem.

Many people find it curious that when the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, the quotations often don’t match. The reason is that the Masoretic Text, which is the primary source material for English language translations, did not exist at the time of Christ. It is possible to trace the Masoretic Text back to some text contained within the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the Masoretic Text itself is an edited text, a fixation of a particular strain of Jewish interpretation.  (Clarke 1833, iii)

The Septuagint was the Bible for the earliest Christians. This presents all manner of difficulties for conservative Protestants, who have a marked preference for the Masoretic Text, and a formal, literal, word for word translation. The Septuagint, by contrast, represents a grab bag of translation techniques. Bruce Metzger informs us the translators “avoided literalistic renderings of phrases congenial to another age and another language.” (Metzger 2001, Kindle Locations 266-267) Peter J. Gentry, writing in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, describes the translation styles as follows.

Individual books [of the Septuagint] vary in character and quality of translation and exhibit a full spectrum from extreme formal correspondence and literal translation to dynamic and functional translation and even paraphrase. (Gentry 2009, 24)

We therefore have to deal with the fact that the early church, and indeed Christ Himself, used a bible that not only was based on different texts than ours, but was translated using a variety of methods that would not pass muster with most people today. And yet, the Septuagint was referred to by the New Testament writers as Scripture, and was the Bible for the early church.

When I was still a Lutheran, I raised the question of why we didn’t use the Septuagint instead of using the Masoretic text as the basis for our Bible — to which one pastor replied: “Which Septuagint?” Not a bad question, since the Septuagint is not a book in the modern sense, but instead an amorphous collection of scrolls. (In this way it is similar to the Hebrew Scriptures, which also consisted of a similar collection of scrolls.) In fact, given the rather fluid condition of Judaism at the time of Christ, it can be argued that until the destruction of Jerusalem, Judaism existed in multiple sects, using multiple and somewhat undefined canons. Instead of asking “Which Septuagint”, one might as well ask “Which Bible”, as even today there are multiple canons in use amongst the different Christian communities.


Bibliography

Clarke, Adam. The Holy Bible: containing the Old and New Testaments, with a commentary and critical notes. Royal Octavo Stereotype Edition. Vol. I. New York: B. Waugh and T. Maxon, 1833.

Gentry, Peter J. “The Text of the Old Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological 52, no. 1 (2009): 19-45.

Metzger, Bruce M. The Bible in Translation. Kindle Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2001.