Book of Enoch (Sefer Chanoch)

June 22, 2018

3 min read


What is the Book of Enoch? It seems to contain fascinating content and I’m wondering if you recommend I buy it for study.

The Aish Rabbi Replies

The Book of Enoch is an ancient but non-sacred work, dating most likely from the Second Temple period. The book attributes itself to Enoch (Chanoch), a direct descendant of Adam and Noah’s great-grandfather.

Several fragments of it, in Aramaic, have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. (It is not known if the book was written originally in Hebrew or in Aramaic, the common language of the time.) However, it was not incorporated into the Tanach and is not considered a sacred work. There is no mention of it, to my knowledge, in any classic Jewish text.

In fact, the Book of Enoch was more or less a lost work to the Jews from not long after that time. It was translated into Greek and possibly from there (or from Latin) to Ge’ez, an ancient Ethiopian language, and the liturgical language of some Ethiopian Christians today. Only the Ethiopians preserved the Book of Enoch throughout the ages and revere it today.

In terms of its contents, the Book of Enoch covers many topics. Although some parts of it parallel passages in Jewish Midrash, much of it is foreign and speaks of notions not compatible with our beliefs. It speaks at great length about the fallen angels, who begat a race of giants known as the Nephilim (Genesis 6:4). Although a minority opinion in Jewish literature understands the “sons of God” of Genesis 6:2 to be referring to fallen angels, they are not understood as “rebellious” angels, only fallen ones. See here for a longer discussion of this topic.

Other parts of Enoch outline the history of the world from ancient times till the end of days. Here too, parts of it resemble traditional Judaism, but many parts of it diverge drastically, in some ways perhaps more closely resembling Christian eschatology. It also describes a solar Jewish calendar, which too is at odds with the lunar months of the Jewish calendar of the Mishna.

I should add that the inhabitants of the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, were not from the mainstream Jews of the time (the “Pharisees”). They belonged to one of a number of breakaway groups, known as the Essenes, many of whom practiced such divergent laws as celibacy, poverty, and communal living. They also believed the end of the world was near, and so retreated to the wilderness. Thus, the Book of Enoch, as well as several of the works found in the caves, is known to differ considerably with Rabbinic Judaism.

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