to Barker's The Lost Prophet
for Prof. Carol Newsom
Barker, Margaret. The Lost Prophet: The Book of Enoch and its Influence on Christianity. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988.
Charlesworth's liner notes articulate the purpose of this wonderful little book:
Barker shows how scholars, using documents such as...the Book of Enoch, have been slowly prying open doors through which we can better see the origins of Christianity within Judaism. Her goal is...to share with non- specialist Christians speculative reflections on how an ancient collection of books may guide our present search for answers.
Barker's re-creation of the Enochan milieu within the pages of this book, with its angels, heavenly journeys, prophetic admonitions, visions, and covenants, brought the various facets of this semester's study of the Books of Enoch together for me. After a short review of a few of the many interesting topics from the book, I want to explain how it (along with the other literature I have reviewed) has allowed me to be more aware of and sensitive to the the issues that Enoch raises in the context of my own ministry.
The Enochan literature, condemned to exclusion by the redactors that formed the Hebrew canon, was important enough to the new sect of Christians that a quotation from it was canonized with the Epistle of Jude. The quotation concerns the judgment of the Lord on the ungodly, which might include the "watchers" that Enoch has so much to say about. Enoch (and Elijah) were agents for righteous judgment; each were to be hidden until the time for judgment was fulfilled. In the meantime, Enoch was sent to Earth to teach humankind the ways of God. The hearers of such wisdom proclaimed him king, and God made him a king over angels. Appropriate robes and a crown adorned Enoch as his new (yet hidden) station demanded. Closely resembling Enoch's exaltation if that of Christ, who teaches the ways of God, is made "a little lower" than the angels but exalted over them, and whose messiahship is to be kept a "secret" until the appropriate time (Mark 1:44; 3:12).
The origin of sin and evil in Enoch is from the fall of angels rather than the fall of Eve. Rather than portraying women as co-conspirators with the serpent in the "fall" (as Eve was in the Genesis account), Enoch implies that women were victimized by Shemihaza's hordes, and evil was forced on the world of humans from outside, rather than from inside. As a result, there came into existence a vast, cosmic syndicate of evil bent on corrupting divine wisdom (46), thus turning the goodness of creation from the divine plan to personal, self-servitude. The world of Jesus was still at odds with the evil offspring of fallen angels in the form of demons subverting and maiming human beings. Like Enoch, Jesus has God-given authority to expose, cast out, and judge "before the time" (23).
People need protection from evil and evil entities. The author postulates that the earliest understanding of the sacrifice once and for all of Jesus was for the primary purpose of (magical) protection from threatening evil (rather than or in addition to sacrifice for personal sin). The ancient hymn of 1 Corinthians 5:7 describes Jesus as the Passover lamb. The original Exodus story describes the purpose of the lamb's blood painted on the door as a protection against the angel of death. Therefore, Jesus' sacrifice may have been understood as a protection against death (and certainly seems to me to have developed this way as evidenced by 1 Corinthians 15).
Jesus, as the son of God, makes of humanity children of God, doing the same works as he, and greater feats of deliverance. In this light, Paul's difficult passage in Romans 8 comes clear - that "the whole corrupted and suffering creation was waiting for the new sons of God to release it from the bondage of evil, not just from physical evil, but from every abuse of its secrets" (47). The cosmos is redeemed through the Messiah's blood, but the agent of renewal is that segment of humanity that will appropriate the Messiah's power for re-creation and restoration.
The author finds this view relevant to today's many cosmic crises; one in particular - the "proper role of women" in Judeo-Christian circles. "If we are honest, [women] are more often victims who need protection than evil ones who need to repent" (36). There are many allusions to the "lost mythology" in the New Testament, particularly in reference to women. One of the most controversial of which is found in 1 Corinthians 10 concerning womens' wearing of hats in the church "because of the angels" (42).
The Book of Enoch also has many similarities to the Old Testament, but most striking are the differences. There is no sacrificial system or temple cult, no direct quotations, and the law of Moses is not primary. It paints a very different picture of (a sect of) ancient Judaism; not as a religion of forms, laws, and rituals, but a dynamic faith of direct and mediated revelation, cosmic events and consequences, and scientific and technological advances. (18)
Ascension and visions: Visionaries were out of favor with the final redactors of the Old Testament (50). Even the visionary experiences of Isaiah and Ezekiel were considered dangerous and suppressed by Jewish Law (52). One must look between the lines to see vestiges of an older tradition of ecstatis, such was "edited or censored" from the Old Testament sources (50). Enochic tradition was certainly available to the final Old Testament redactors (as evidenced in Genesis 4:18f. and 5:18f.), yet very little made its way into the Hebrew scriptures. This may mean that the stream of Judaism from which Christianity arose was deemed heretical even at the time of Jesus (as was the sect of the Essenes). Having the book of Enoch gives us reason to "change all our pictures of religious beliefs and practices in Palestine, and alter what we see as the background to the New Testament" (52).
Enoch's heavenly throne room (ascension) vision is the major reason for dismissing past arguments for Greek or pagan influence in New Testament teachings, and placing them in their proper context within Palestinian sectarian Judaism.
The author points out many similarities in Jesus' history as reported in the Fourth Gospel. "Ascended...descended, the Son of Man" (3:13), "the Son of Man ascending" (6:62), "I have not yet ascended" (20:17). The setting is often in God's temple (2:13,
5:14, 7:14, etc.). Jesus had known the presence of God, "bearing witness to what [he'd] seen" (3:11, also 8:16, 26, many more). Jesus is royal, a "son of God...king of Israel" (1:49), the "holy one of God" (6:69), and the earthly manifestation of God (2:11). Those who have seen Jesus as he is become children of God, angelic, having conquered death. "Eternal life," a term of the Fourth Gospel, has its counterpart in apocalyptic literature as having the "knowledge and status of an angel" (57).
The Jews think that eternal life is to be found in the scriptures, but they have neither seen nor heard God (5:37). Only those sent by God have seen God, the son of God has made God known. Like Enoch, Jesus had authority as the Son of Man to judge (5:26-27) (58). Once again we ask ourselves, from what kind of Judaism did Christianity "ascend?" The author is confident that further research will provide the missing puzzle pieces.
The Son of Man: Barker posits that the Similitudes are pre-Christian, or at least based on understandings developed before the advent of Jesus. (She comes to this conclusion through a lengthy analysis of scholarly views and biblical evidence that runs throughout the book.) Therefore, through the Similitudes, we may yet glimpse what the earliest Christians understood to be the meaning of the enigmatic designation "Son of Man" applied to Jesus by the gospel writers (21).
From her analysis, Barker distills three independent pieces of evidence to help us understand "Son of Man" in the New Testament. 1) Although no pre-Christian texts of the Similitudes has survived, its Son of Man is very compatible with the theology of the rest of the books of Enoch; 2) "man" is an apocalyptic code word for "angel"; and 3) as in Daniel 7, the New Testament uses the word "man" in conjunction with its understanding of the Messiah. Therefore, it is not likely that Jesus used this term to mean simply a man, or human being, but in a way which can help us understand better what he felt was his identity and mission. (96)
A son of man is an angelic counterpart for a (not "the") human who fulfills a divine mission both on earth and in heaven (there were others, such as Enoch). God gave Jesus authority to execute judgment (John 5:27). He had heavenly visions, and was an agent of God. In Matthew 25:31, the Son of Man is a royal king who sits in judgment. Likewise, in the first similitude, the Son of Man is beneath the wings of the Lord of Spirits, judgment is established. In the second, the Elect One sits on the throne while the earth is transformed into a place where the elect will live. Yet the identity of the Son of Man is only revealed to kings and the elect - it is still a secret. The author speculates: "Could [Jesus] himself have been influenced in his thinking by the very texts which we usually assume were the source of the later Christian community's elaborated picture of him?" (97)
Personal application: I find that the reading of this book has given me some insight into some areas of that I am currently involved.
(1) I have been in the preaching ministry for 14 years now. It is more and more evident to me that women have a very confused role in the church today. Many have accepted what Barker calls a "traditional role," seeming to take their place within: submission to the husband (divorce under no circumstances), the wearing of head coverings (yes, this is still very prevalent for the sake of the angels), the exclusion from the pulpit ("I do not allow a woman to teach"). I have noticed that when these traditions are broken down by sound reasoning, a liberating effect and empowerment for ministry is experienced, often to the frustration of the dominant husband. This study has given me some real ammunition; I am not yet sure how to use it, but I will certainly find a way.
(2) I purchased a Harper's Commentary last week, on the recommendation of the instructor, Dr. Newsom. (I found that she was on the editorial staff for the publication!) Anyway, I was very surprised that the analyst of the Epistle of Jude assigned this text as one of the earliest, fully consistent with its claim of authorship. Others that I had used assigned it late. I am sure that Enoch has something to do with Harper's assignment.
(3) For years I have understood the cosmic problem in Enochan terms; many others I know of have, as well. I have been very frustrated at Candler in this area - there is absolutely no credence given to this view by theology, psychology, or sociology professors (although professors of other schools do). Yet this way of understanding sin and power are uniquely Christian, if I may extend that term to include "pre-Christian." I must relegate the solution to the problem of evil, such as the "powerless, suffering God" proposed by several professors at Candler, to "scholarly nonsense." There can never be a renewal of Barker's "Cosmic Covenant" as long as seminary professors liberate their students to powerlessness.
(4) I have taken a renewed interest in hymnody in light of the study of Enoch, using the old Methodist Hymnal. All the way through the hymnal the imagery of the heavens can be found, yet such theology is disregarded today as old fashioned:
Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light
Ye watchers and ye holy ones,
(5) Finally, I have the opportunity to teach a course in Revelation throughout the summer. The study of apocalyptic literature, and especially Enoch, will help me immensely. I have taught on this subject before, but now have much clearer imagery and sources to rely on.