From Scribalism to Sectarianism The Angelic Descent Myth and the Social Settings of Enochic Pseudepigraphy

The composite nature and complex redaction-history of the Book of the Watchers point to its origins, not in the vision of a single author, but rather in the hands of a series of authors, redactors, and tradents. The previous chapter surveyed some of the scribal concerns that dominate this apocalypse: we noted its elevation of Enoch as a "scribe of righteousness" (1 En. 12:3-4; 15:1) and its self-consciousness about the power ofwriting, as well as its "scientific," exegetical, and epistemological interests. Most scholars infer from these features that the apocalypse emerged from a scribal milieu.1 Important questions, however, remain unanswered: should we imagine these scribes as a closed group of apocalypticists, visionaries, or "Enochians," who can be readily distinguished from other Jews? Or should we see their distinctive interests and concerns as part of a broader continuum of "normative" ideologies in the third century bce, reflecting ongoing discussions about knowledge, purity, and piety within a single scribal discourse? And, most importantly, what was their relationship to the Jerusalem Temple and to the tradents responsible for the continued transmission of the texts that would eventually form the Tanakh?

We lack the evidence to reconstruct Judaism in the third century bce with any degree of certainty.2 Consequently, scholarly answers to these questions have often been shaped by the reception-history of the Book of the Watchers. Three factors have been determinative: [1 ] its influence on later works, most notably the other Enochic pseudepigrapha now collected in 1 Enoch, [2] its popularity among the Qumran sectarians, and [3 ] its eventual omission from

2 Stone calls this century the "'dark ages' of post-exilic Judaism" ("Enoch and Apocalyptic," 95).

Extant texts from this time include AB and BW as well as possibly Aramaic Levi Document,

Qohelet, and Tobit.

the Rabbinic Tanakh and most Christian OTs.3 In different ways, each of these factors has facilitated the assumption that the apocalypse originated on the margins of "mainstream" Judaism.

Howevertempting such conclusions maybe, our inquiry into the Nachleben of this text necessitates a greater degree of sensitivity to the possible differences between those who composed this text and those who later used it. The present chapter thus explores the social setting(s) of the composition of the Book of the Watchers with special attention to the differences in the settings of its subsequent reception, transmission, and reinterpretation.

We will first consider the social and historical context of its authors/ redactors on the basis of the text itself and its commonalities with the earlier Enochic apocalypse, the Astronomical Book. We will then turn to our oldest extant evidence for the influence of its version of the angelic descent myth, analyzing references to Enoch and the fallen angels in the Wisdom of ben Sira and the second-century bce Enochic writings preserved in the Book of Dreams (1 En. 83-90) and the Epistle of Enoch (1 En. 92-105).4 Most scholars reconstruct the social setting of the Book of the Watchers with primary reference to the latter two. By contrast, I will stress the differences between the Enochic writings from the third century bce and those from the second, suggesting that it is problematic to reconstruct the social setting of the Book of the Watchers with primary reference to the "Enochic community" implied in these later works.

Central to my argument is a distinction between the character of scribal/ priestly debates before and after the Maccabean Revolt. The redactional formation of the Book of the Watchers took place in Judaea in the wake of the conquests of Alexander ofMacedon (333 -323 bce) and the wars of his successors, the Diadochi (323-302 bce).5 In the decades after Alexander's death, Ptolemy I Soter and Seleucus I each laid claims to the lands between their respective strongholds in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and for two centuries the fate of the Jews was entangled in the rivalry between the two Hellenistic dynasties that they founded.6 The tensions under Ptolemaic rule, however, pale in comparison to the political upheavals and religious schisms that shaped texts like the Book of Dreams and Epistle of Enoch, written in the decades surrounding the Maccabean Revolt.

3 E.g. Stone, "Enoch, Aramaic Levi," 167-68.

4 For an argument against Milik's proposal that the earliest extant reference to BW is 4QLevia iii, 6 (Commentary, 23), VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth, 113.

5 Nickelsburg, Commentary, 1.

6 Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism, 6-18; Schafer, History, 1 -25.

We find few hints of any animosity towards Hellenistic culture or Hellenized Jews within the Book of the Watchers, and the polemical concerns that we do find speak less to the encounter between Judaism and Hellenism than to internal debates within the scribal/priestly stratum of Judaean society.7 With the growing prestige of both the Torah and the Temple, it appears that competition between religious specialists intensified. Yet the polemics ofthe third and early second centuries bce remained relatively mild; one can discern traces of debates that would become more divisive in the wake of the Maccabean Revolt, but the Book of the Watchers belongs to an earlier age, in which such concerns had yet to splinter Judaea's learned and literate classes.

In terms of socio-historical context, the Wisdom of ben Sira ironically exhibits more continuity with the Book of the Watchers than the Book of Dreams and Epistle of Enoch. Although composed after the conquest of Judaea by Antiochus III (200 bce), this text seems to have emerged from a relatively peaceful milieu in which scribes continued to flourish, serving an increasingly wealthy aristocracy in Jerusalem and benefiting from the political, economic, and religious power of the Temple. In Chapter 1, we noted ben Sira's distaste for the types of speculative wisdom found in the Astronomical Book and the Book of the Watchers. Below, we will examine the evidence for his familiarity with these works, even despite their association with the competing circles of scribes against whom he warned his students. In light of the conflicting assessments of speculative wisdom within different strata in the Book of the Watchers,I will propose that ben Sira's attitude towards apocalyptic epistemol-ogy is best seen as part of an internal debate within a single discourse of priestly scribalism.

The Enochic writings from the second century bce self-consciously operate within the same literary tradition as the Book of the Watchers, and we find them anthologized together with this apocalypse, both in Enochic manuscripts from Qumran and in the Ethiopic collection 1 Enoch. Even as their authors draw heavily from the earlier apocalypse, they depart from it in a number of ways and express a different understanding of the nature and purpose of Enoch's revelations. They console the persecuted righteous with eschatological prophecies about the imminent destruction ofIsrael's enemies, which include foreigners who attack the nation no less than those Jews said to corrupt it from within. In other words, these texts speak eloquently to the events surrounding the Maccabean Revolt, when Antiochus IV disrupted the Temple cult and proscribed elements of the traditional practice of Judaism, possibly with some initial support from Hellenized elites among the Jewish populace.

7 Schwartz, Imperialism, 31.

If,assome scholars suggest, the Book of Dreams and Epistle of Enoch emerged from the same scribal circles as this earlier apocalypse, then these events have clearly impacted their self-understanding vis-a-vis the rest of Israel, their attitudes towards the Second Temple, and perhaps even their social status. The Book of Dreams and Epistle of Enoch provide important evidence for the reinterpretation of the Book of the Watchers and its account of angelic descent to fit the needs of a new age. Nevertheless, their differences demonstrate the dangers of reading 1 Enoch as a single document without some sensitivity to the evolving nature of the Enochic literary tradition and the progressive reinterpretation of Enoch and his role as an antediluvian revealer of heavenly secrets.

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