The antediluvian patriarch Henoch according to Genesis "walked with God and was seen no more, because God took him". This walking with God was naturally understood to refer to special revelations made to the patriarch, and this, together with the mystery surrounding his departure from the world, made Henoch's name an apt one for the purposes of apocalyptic writers. In consequence there arose a literature attributed to him.
It influenced not only later Jewishapocrypha, but has left its imprint on the New Testament and the works of the early Fathers. The canonical Epistle of St. Jude, in verses 14, 15, explicitly quotes from the Book of Henoch; the citation is found in the Ethiopic version in verses 9 and 4 of the first chapter. There are probable traces of the Henoch literature in other portions of the New Testament.
Passing to the patristic writers, the Book of Henoch enjoyed a high esteem among them, mainly owing to the quotation in Jude. The so-called Epistle of Barnabas twice cites Henoch as Scripture. Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, and even St. Augustine suppose the work to be a genuine one of the patriarch. But in the fourth century the Henoch writings lost credit and ceased to be quoted. After an allusion by an author of the beginning of the ninth century, they disappear from view.
So great was the oblivion into which they fell that only scanty fragments of Greek and Latin versions were preserved in the West. The complete text was thought to have perished when it was discovered in two Ethiopic manuscripts in Abyssinia, by the traveler Bruce in 1773. Since, several more copies in the same language have been brought to light. Recently a large Greek fragment comprising chapters i-xxxii was unearthed at Akhmîn in Egypt.
Scholars agree that the Book of Henoch was originally composed either in Hebrew or Aramaic, and that the Ethiopic version was derived from a Greek one. A comparison of the Ethiopic text with the Akhmîn Greek fragment proves that the former is in general a trustworthy translation. The work is a compilation, and its component parts were written in Palestine by Jews of the orthodox Hasidic or Pharisaic schools. Its composite character appears clearly from the palpable differences in eschatology, in the views of the origin of sin and of the character and importance of the Messias found in portions otherwise marked off from each other by diversities of subject. Critics agree that the oldest portions are those included in chapters i-xxxvi and (broadly speaking) lxxi-civ.
It will be seen that the work is a voluminous one. But the most recent research, led by the Rev. R.H. Charles, an English specialist, breaks up this part into at least two distinct constituents. Charles's analysis and dating are: i-xxxvi, the oldest part, composed before 170 B.C.; xxxvii-lxx, lxxxiii-xc, written between 166-161 B.C.; chapters xci-civ between the years 134-95 B.C.; the Book of Parables between 94-64 B.C.; the Book of Celestial Physics, lxxii-lxxviii, lxxxii, lxxix, date undetermined. Criticism recognizes, scattered here and there, interpolations from a lost apocalypse, the Book of Noah. Expert opinion is not united on the date of the composite older portion, i.e. i-xxxvi, lxxi-civ. The preponderant authority represented by Charles and Schürer assigns it to the latter part of the second century before Christ, but Baldensperger would bring it down to a half century before our Era.
In the following outline of contents, Charles's analysis, which is supported by cogent reasons, has been adopted. The various elements are taken up in their chronological sequence.
Book I, chapters i-xxxvi
Its body contains an account of the fall of the angelic "Watchers", their punishment, and the patriarch's intervention in their history. It is based upon Gen., vi, 2: "The sons of God seeing the daughters of men, that they were fair, took to themselves wives of all they chose." The narrative is intended to explain the origin of sin and evil in the world and in this connection lays very little stress on the disobedience of our First Parents. This portion is remarkable for the entire absence of a Messias.
Book II, lxxxiii-xc
This book contains two visions. In the first, lxxxiii-lxxxiv, is portrayed the dreadful visitation of the flood, about to fall upon the earth. Henoch supplicates God not to annihilate the human race. The remaining section, under the symbolism of cattle, beasts, and birds, sketches the entire history of Israel down to the Messianic reign.
Book III, xci-civ, cviii
It professes to give a prophetic vision of the events of the world-weeks, centering about Israel. This part is distinguished by insistence upon a sharp conflict between the righteous of the nation and their wicked opponents both within and without Israel. They triumph and slay their oppressors in a Messianic kingdom without a personal Messias. At its close occurs the final judgment, which inaugurates a blessed immortality in heaven for the righteous. For this purpose all the departed just will rise from a mysterious abode, though apparently not in the body (ciii, 3, 4). The wicked will go into the Sheol of darkness and fire and dwell there forever. This is one of the earliest mentions of Sheol as a hell of torment, preceding portions of the book having described the place of retribution for the wicked as Tartarus and Geennom.
Book IV, xxxvii-lxx
This book consists of three "Parables". The first describes the secrets of heaven, giving prominence to the angelic hosts and their princes. The second parable (xliv-lvii) deals with the Messias, and is the most striking of this remarkable book. The influence of Daniel is easily traceable here, but the figure of the Messias is sketched much more fully, and the idea developed to a degree unparalleled in pre-Christian literature. The Elect One, or Son of Man, existed before the sun and stars were created, and is to execute justice upon all sinners who oppress the good. For this end there will be a resurrection of all Israel and a judgment in which the Son of Man will render to everyone according to his deeds. Iniquity will be banished from the earth and the reign of the Messias will be everlasting. The third parable (lviii-lxx) describes again the happiness reserved for the just, the great Judgment and the secrets of nature. Here and there throughout the Book of Parables the author gives piecemeal his theory of the origin of sin. Going a step further back than the fault of the Watchers of the first book, he attributes their fall to certain mysterious Satans.
Book V, lxxii-lxxviii, lxxxix, lxxix (transposed)
This book may be called the Book of Celestial Physics, or Astronomy. It presents a bewildering mass of revelations concerning the movements of the heavenly bodies, given to Henoch by the angel Uriel. The final chapters of the entire work, cv-cvii, are drawn from the lost Book of Noah.