Monday, July 6, 2009

The Sharp Word in 1 Enoch and Hebrews

I recall, but cannot pinpoint at the moment, Bauckham dismissing the importance of the Enochic corpus for early Christology (he was speaking of the famous scene of the enthronement of the Chosen One (later revealed as Enoch himself; 71:14) who will judge as "the exception who proves the rule" that no one other figure than God is enthroned and has rulership fo the cosmos. I tend to think the Enochic literature had a much further readership (or hearership), however. Clearly early Christians were reading Enochic books and considered it authoritative (see Jude), and, before the discovery of Aramaic fragments at Qumran, we only knew of 1 and 2 Enoch through Christian preservation, through the Ethiopic and Slavonic Churches respectively.

There is a passage in this very same Book of Parables in 1 Enoch, where the Chosen One is enthroned the reminds me of Hebrews.

First let's take a look at 1 Enoch 62:2:
And the Lord of Spirits upon the throne of his glory,
and the spirit of righteousness was poured upon him.
And the word of his mouth will slay all sinners,
and all the unrighteous will perish from his presence.
So we have the enthronement of the Chosen One, who is an exalted human figure, and his "word" slaying sinners and the unrighteous.

If you take this in reverse order, you might have Hebrews 4:12-16:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (RSV)
The passage then continues with the confidence a follower of Jesus has, since Jesus is the great high priest enthroned at the right hand of God. Enthronement is a preoccupation of Hebrews, and, in fact, the famous prologue commences this entire homily with Jesus' enthronement as Son. In chapter 4's enthronement passage coming on the heels of an extended meditation on unfaithfulness, the language of this sharp sword of the word of God, a scene of judgment in which Jesus' followers have hope while the unfaithful do not, sounds like an embellished expression of the slaying word of God of the enthroned Chosen One in 1 Enoch. Do we explain this similarity by the author of Hebrews appropriating an Enochic idea and elaborating it with great literary skill, claiming that this Chosen One is not Enoch, but Jesus? Or does everyone just think that the word of God in a scene of judgment in which a secondary figure exacts that judgment is sword-like and can slay? It is possible, but all of those elements only occur in these two passages so far as I know (although I would love for others to point out others for me). Whether independently expressing the same idea or not, when seeing these passages side by side, I must make an aesthetic judgment and note the much greater literary quality of Hebrews--this author was truly a gifted writer. Very few could express sword division more beautifully.


Ken Schenck said...

I always thought the parallel of this verse with Wisdom 18:15-16 was an interesting parallel, especially since I see more in common between Hebrews and Philo than Hebrews and apocalyptic literature, not to mention the fact that Heb. 1:3 seems to allude to Wisdom 7:26.

I might add that the word verification I got for this comment was enicksu, so perhaps God disagrees with me.

P.S. Bauckham is all wet on this one.

Jared Calaway said...

That is an interesting parallel with the sharp word, itself enthroned. Thank you for pointing it out. I also like the fact that it places itself in the context of Exodus (perhaps like Hebrews places itself in the context of Numbers at that point).

On a broader point, however, I think that apocalyptic and wisdom literature is a false dichotomy myself. I think 1 Enoch clearly knows, draws upon, and even at times presents itself as a wisdom discourse. So I would not exclude Wisdom and 1 Enoch together. Or, just because it alludes to one favorably does not mean it cannot draw upon the other favorably as well. The either/or dispute of "wisdom" and "apocalyptic" I hope is past. Hebrews, I think, is both. Wisdom of Solomon has the degree of literary skill more akin to Hebrews, though. On the other hand, the Book of Parables have an interesting exalted human character whose word is sharp like Hebrews does. On the face of it, I do not see that this passage is more like Hebrews than the one in 1 Enoch, but not less either. In 1 Enoch, the word of the enthroned one slays, in Hebrews the word of God is a sharp sword, and in Wisdom the word has a sword. The question is, in Hebrews is Jesus the word of God (or is that importing John into the text) or is the word of God also Jesus' speech?

Brian Small said...

Jared, it seems to me that the function of the word in the two passages is different. In 1 Enoch the word is used to destroy the unrighteous, while in Hebrews it is used to expose the inner thoughts of human beings.

Jared Calaway said...

Brian, thanks for your thoughts. I agree to an extent, and your observation has forced me to sharpen my reading (just as Ken's did). We might even say that Hebrews has taken a traditional image (the sword-bearing word) found in 1 Enoch and, as Ken pointed out, Wisdom of Solomon and transformed it (or at least added to it). All three texts appear to use this image in terms of judgment, whether through literally slaying or through exposure of internal thoughts and intentions. As such Hebrews does push the imagery further any other text has so far by emphasizing judgment in internal aspects, as you point out. Faithfulness / faithlessness has internal and external dimensions. Nonetheless the unrighteous are not far off in Hebrews since this imagery comes on the heels of the faithless and disobedient desert generation who "shall never enter my rest." And destruction is not really that far away: while the "word" judges intentions in this verse, by Heb. 12, the "voice" will shake and destroy the heavens and the earth (except for those safely in the unshakable realm--clearly not the faithless and disobedient of 3:7-4:11). As such, I see them as using the same imagery and more broadly for the same function as judgment, although Hebrews has a more sophisticated employment of that judgment beyond just actions to thought and intention.