July 5th, 2009


Enochin' on Heaven's Door

In Genesis 4, Cain's descendants are listed as Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methusael, and Lamech. Then in Genesis 5, we learn about the descendants of Cain's younger brother Seth, who are Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, and Lamech. Either no one was particularly creative with names back then, or we're looking at two versions of essentially the same story. I can't help but wonder if the Seth version was an alternative made up by someone who didn't like the idea of the entire human race being descended from a murderer.

We get more details on the people in Seth's line, including the ridiculously long lifespans that they had. Of particular interest is Enoch, the seventh of the antediluvian patriarchs, who lives a mere 365 years. But while the others in his line were specifically stated to have died, of Enoch it says, "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him." Why the different phrasing? Well, if we look at the Sumerian King List, you'll find that the seventh king mentioned is En-men-dur-ana, who was the subject of a myth about being shown the secrets of Heaven and Earth by the gods. The number seven was of great importance to the ancient peoples of the Middle East, one reason that I've seen suggested being that it referred to the seven visible planets. Regardless, with the significance of sevens, it's not too surprising that the seventh mythological Sumerian king would have been given special treatment, or that the Hebrews would follow suit with their seventh patriarch.

The best-known description of Enoch's cosmic adventures is in the Book of Enoch, a document from around the time of the Maccabees. The book is now often called 1 Enoch, to differentiate it from two other books about the patriarch that were written later. Of course, the Biblical mention of Enoch walking with God dates back to long before the writing of the Book of Enoch, so there's no way to know whether the book was based on existing traditions, or simply an imaginative explanation of the brief Biblical references. Regardless, the book describes how Enoch is given knowledge of the workings of the world, and information about the future. The book was rather popular, and is even cited in the Epistle of Jude, but was never accepted into most versions of the Biblical canon. I say "most" because it was accepted by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the only fully extent manuscripts are written in the ancient Ethiopian language Ge'ez. I have to suspect that one reason most early Christians weren't too keen on including it is that it states that the coming Messiah will be Enoch himself, and it would have been a bit difficult to say that Jesus and Enoch were one and the same.

Not surprisingly, Enoch's earthly lifespan of 365 years has been linked to the number of days in the solar calendar. I'm not sure whether any calendars back at the time of the writing of Genesis (whenever that was) actually used 365 days, but maybe the Babylonian astrologers had figured out the length of a solar year. Regardless of when it happened, Enoch did eventually come to be regarded as the inventor of the solar calendar, as well as astronomy, writing, arithmetic, scales, and tailoring. He was truly the Edison or Popeil of his time. Because of his association with mystical knowledge, he is sometimes regarded as a counterpart to Hermes Trismegistus, a combination of the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian Thoth. He is also sometimes credited with the Pillars of Enoch, two columns on which various information is written. Actually, the pillars were originally credited by Josephus to Enoch's ancestor Seth, but the Freemasons came to associate them with Enoch, and it's apparently a popular idea that the Great Pyramid is one of the pillars. Why anyone would confuse a pyramid with a pillar isn't clear (Josephus knew they were different things), but I suppose there's no accounting for mystics.

I wrote a paper on 1 Enoch in college, and that made me interested in learning what was in the other two books of Enoch. I haven't read either of them, but 2 Enoch (also known as Slavonic Enoch, after the language in which the only known complete manuscripts were written) apparently deals with much the same thing as the Ethiopian book, but seems to be more concerned with the Jewish priesthood. 3 Enoch, which takes place in the second century AD but was probably actually written in the fifth tells the story of Rabbi Ishmael, who visits the Seventh Heaven and finds Stephen Collins. No, seriously, he finds Enoch, who has since become the angel Metatron (not to be confused with the leader of the Decepticons).

The guy doesn't look particularly trustworthy, does he? Maybe that's why he was the main villain in The Amber Spyglass.

Next week, we'll take a look at the remaining patriarchs prior to Noah and the Flood.