Rare ‘Book of Enoch’ arrives in Jeffersonville – The Courier-Journal
Fallen angels marry human women and spawn a breed of giants that wreak havoc on the earth.
A righteous man takes a tour of the cosmos that reveals the throne of God, a prison for wayward stars and the storehouses of wind, hail and fire.
A messianic “Son of Man” comes to judge the earth, punish the wicked and reward the righteous.
It’s all part of the ancient Book of Enoch, an apocalyptic epic that was quoted in the New Testament and has always been revered as Scripture by Ethiopian Christians — even as it’s been largely forgotten in the Western world.
Now one of the world’s oldest manuscripts of Enoch has found at least a temporary a home in Jeffersonville.
The Remnant Trust — a private collection of rare books and documents with the aim of spurring public interest in culture-shaping works — unveiled the manuscript this week at its East Court Avenue building.
The wood-bound manuscript, written in red and black ink on animal-skin pages, is believed to date from the 15th or 16th centuries.
Two private collectors recently acquired it and loaned it to the trust for at least two years and will consider making it a permanent gift to the trust, said Kris Bex, president of the Remnant Trust. He did not disclose the price but said it was “expensive.”
“It’s one of a kind,” Bex said. “It’s the only Book of Enoch that’s ever been likely to have been sold or put on the market.”
Enoch was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic by ancient Jews, and some ancient fragments of it have been found near the Dead Sea.
But the oldest complete versions are in the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge’ez because Ethiopian Christians are the only enduring church group that revered the book as Scripture.
James C. VanderKam, a professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Notre Dame University and a leading expert on the Book of Enoch, has inspected the book and estimates it’s probably one of the five or so oldest manuscripts of the work.
“We don’t have very many that go back that far,” said VanderKam, who co-authored an English translation of Enoch and is now working on a commentary.
VanderKam estimated the text was about 500 years old because it has similar script and contents to another edition of Enoch in the British Museum, although he said specialists in Ethiopian script could make a more decisive determination.
The manuscript came on the market in the last couple of years from an American owner, and the trust has been able to establish a chain of ownership dating back only to 1924. But VanderKam said it appears authentic.
Enoch is considered a prime example of apocalyptic literature — Jewish and Christian books that purport to reveal the hidden secrets of a future in which the evil are punished and the righteous rewarded. They include books inside the Bible, such as Daniel and Revelation, as well as many outside of it, such as Enoch.
“The book is very significant,” said Susan Garrett, professor of New Testament at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. “It attests to a world view that is similar to (one found in) the New Testament.”
Portions of the book — such as references to a messianic Son of Man — have “incredible parallels” to language used about Jesus in the gospels, she added.
In fact, the New Testament book of Jude directly quotes this line: “See, the Lord is coming with tens of thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all.”
The book ultimately influenced Christians more than Jews, who excluded it from their Bible and whose apocalyptic strain largely faded in ancient times as scholarly, rabbinic Judaism came to the fore.
Ancient Jews “moved on to (scholarly texts such as the) Mishnah and Talmud, argued about law,” said Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport of The Temple synagogue in Louisville. “There’s antiquarian interest in it, but it’s not really functional in the rabbinic context of Judaism.”
The book is attributed to the ancient patriarch Enoch, who is depicted in the book of Genesis as so righteous that “God took” him, apparently without death.
But VanderKam and other scholars say various writers composed the book in Greco-Roman times and attributed it to Enoch to boost its credibility.
The book includes an elaborate retelling of a brief passage in Genesis 6, in which the “sons of God” lusted after the “daughters of humans” and bred a race of destructive giants just before Noah’s flood. In Enoch’s version, the ghosts of these giants continue to haunt the earth.
“What it does is show us a kind of Judaism that reflected on basic problems” such as the “tremendous power of evil in the world, and how might that be explained,” VanderKam said.
“Their explanation had to do with these marriages between these angels and women that they found hinted at in Genesis 6,” he said. “They put more stress on that than they did on the Adam and Eve story in the garden.”
Bex said visitors can view the book by appointment by calling (812) 280-2222.