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The writers intend this to be serious Bible study and theological reflection on Jewish history. However, they have a scenario that they work to fit the biblical texts into. The linguistic derivations they propose and the word meanings they claim violate standard principles of language and linguistic analysis.
This is not a book I can recommend in terms of what they propose or the theoretical framework in which they interpret it. But if you read this as science fiction it can be quite entertaining.
They take a mystical approach, drawing on the historical rabbinic approach of four levels of meaning of the Old Testament (Tanakh) writings. But ironically they destroy the meaning of much of it by reducing the text and its wording to a flat-level literalist interpretation, in the modern framework common to modernist and fundamentalist thought.
Both these modern approaches build upon Enlightenment European perspectives and a philosophy of truth as external, objective "facts," which leads them to discount any sense of "truth" or reality to "myth." The pagan stories are false, they say, with only about 25% "reality" or "truth." The similar biblical story, however, they say, is 100% true.
Even though these authors explain that the original Greek word mythos simply means "story," they still proceed to contrast the "truth" of the stories in the Bible (literal and historical only in their view) with similar stories of other cultures. But what they mean by "true" is the modern idea of objective factual history. They ignore the original concepts and the cultural context of the original writings.
These pagan stories are often very similar to the biblical ones, but they declare that because they are not from a Hebrew source, they are thus untrue. The overall result is to destroy the integrity of the scripture by pulling them out of their context. These authors twist the passages into their ethereal context, denying the historical and cultural content.
They ignore the source and style of the scriptural texts and assume they are modern rationalist texts with the only purpose of giving us objective information about the universe. An entirely too Gnostic approach. They claim the biblical passages have different levels of meaning, which they can apply to their metaphysical concerns. In other words these authors can decide what these texts should mean, even though that idea was never intended in the original writings.
They bypass the original meaning of figurative texts and take the literal words and "facts" of the situations in the biblical stories or encounters, and treat them as objective information on the metaphysical reality of the universe. Yet they deny the same possibility to the often similar stories from other cultures.
They claim the "true" parts that are present in the other cultures' stories can only be because they borrowed some basic germ of idea from the Hebrew (biblical) story or event. They don't even consider that they are similar because they might share some historical core of origin in the common culture they came from in ancient times.
From a few figurative references, one puzzling story from Genesis and odd pieces of a couple of prophets, they construct a whole metaphysical schema of highly-organized orders of angels, devils and demons. They insist that the various references to the different non-material evil beings require us to admit that there is a difference between devils and demons.
The oddest thing is that they treat the Hebrew stories about "divinities" (fallen angels) as objective fact, but discount the similar stories in other pagan myths.
They never discuss the origins of the words in Greek which were borrowed over into English and other European languages. They never explain the relationship between these English terms and the various Hebrew terms they competently analyze. They assume there is a commonly agreed standard definition or idea of "devil" and "demon." They treat the term "devil" as a category of beings, like "demons," not as the word for the Ultimate Evil personality, fallen angel or otherwise.
They even seem unaware that the most common idea and usage of the word "devil" is that there is only one, "The Devil." I never was clear on what they actual thought about "The Devil" as compared to "devils."
This point of view is a cultural imposition, using the English words and common concepts as the starting point, rather than investigating the concept. They never discuss what the Greek writers had in mind when they used the word "daimonion," from which comes the English transliteration "demon" (from the Latin transliteration of the term they took over directly from the Greeks, "daemonium" or "daemon" in English).
From this scenario they go on to explain the half-human individuals referred to a couple of places in the Old Testament as "nephilim," or giants, or heroes. These Nephilim then are semi-gods, who die like humans. They claim that when the Nephilim die they become the demons!
After they are into their theory, they reveal that the Bible is not actually the sources o0f their ideas, but they are building on a late Jewish fictional apocalyptic writing written before the time of Jesus, but popular in his time. They refer us to their primary source, the Book of Enoch, which in scholarly circles is more commonly called the First Book of Enoch, because of a later book written in the Christian era.
I have read this Book of Enoch in two different translations, along with the Greek text and some commentary by the translators and analysts. They claim this book was part of the Jewish canon at the time of Christ, and then was removed by the Catholic Church. It is not in any Jewish "canon" I am aware of, though it was very popular in the 1st centuries BCE and BC. It was one of many similar popular pieces of literature, but never referenced as Holy Writ in what I have read.
They comment that there were several copies in Qumran, and that may be. I have read much of the material from Qumran, and was not aware that this was one of the selections, but there were many, and it could very well be. However, that does not make it scripture. Qumran had a great library of many different kinds of literature.
The truth is, there was NO JEWISH "canon" as such. And the Book of Enoch does not occur in the more formal lists, such as that made in the Council of Jamnia, 90 CE. I am not sure what "canon" they could be talking about. The Jews did not bind together their various writings into what we know as books, like the Old Testament and New Testament.
In contrast, the Christians took up this new format used by the Greeks and Romans in the 1st century CE, and began to bind various documents together in collections. Even at that, the "New Testament" as we know it did not exist as a separate single agreed up on collection for some centuries.
Greek, not Hebrew
The primary collection of the Jews in the centuries just before and during the time of Christ was a Greek translation of the major Hebrew writings, referred to as the Septuagint (LXX). This included some later writings in Greek, or Aramaic translated into Greek for the LXX.
The complete set of documents came out of Alexandria, translated by scholars there for the huge Greek-speaking majority of the Jewish people approximately 200 years before the time of Jesus. The Book of Enoch and other popular novelettes of Jewish literature were not considered "Scripture," as far as I can tell.
Adding to Scripture
But the Messianic Jewish rabbi and Christian pastor who wrote this book treat them as such and claim the Jews of Jesus' time treated this book as Scripture on the same level as the Torah and Prophets. On this slim basis they cast their fate. This Book of Enoch (or Enoch I) expands in great metaphysical detail the bare, unclear story of Genesis 6 about the "divinities" or "heavenly beings" (perhaps poorly translated as "Sons of God") who came to earth and married "daughters of men."
From their sexual union, the story says, came a new race of semi-divine giants who were evil and corrupted the people of the earth. These are called by the Hebrew term for them, "Nephilim." They do an excellent job of linguistic analysis on the word-sets related to the various beings and entities involved, and explain their usage and likely spirit-world scenario this reveals.
The problem is that they insist that these must represent some single consistent ordered, rational and tight system of supernatural reality. I just don't see that in the writings, even the Book of Enoch, which also arose out of the dynamic eastern worldview.
This oral, visual, symbolic, concrete-relational world (to use the common worldview terms to describe non-western, non-analytical societies) is reduced to a flat-level, literalist system, rather than being allowed to express its truths in the non-analytical, emotive, relational and visual imaginative language common to all the eastern cultures. In short, they deprive this literature of its character and power, by insisting that it is simply describing a metaphysical objective reality of the spirit world.
Their story is in the same category as Science Fiction, and shares much of the general and specific components in common popular science fiction. This would make a great Sc Fi movie. It sounds disrespectful for me to say this, because it overlooks the serious, devout intent of the authors. But while I think their intentions are good, and I found much helpful in this, and it led me to my Hebrew text to check (and often disagree with) what they claim, the assumptions they have brought to this determine what they are getting out of it.
Even in the very process of attempting to defend and justify the Hebrew thought and context in which the texts arise, they themselves treat it with such unconscious disrespect that it appalls me. They impose their own modern literalist scientific and literary requirements on the Biblical text, which keeps them from seeing what it might be saying and admitting how it might be saying it from some alternative ancient perspective that might have its own integrity, rules and expectations.
The biblical text, or even Enoch 1, does not exist to meet our expectations! It is wrong to impose our expectations and preferences on the Hebrew text, to twist the Hebrew insights into some alien structure to meet requirements outside the context in which they arose. This bypasses the actual possibility of allowing them to speak to us.
Stifling the Scriptures
It became a characteristic of the modern Christian mind, just as the modern non-religious mind, to impose on the scriptures our modern worldview requirements that they give us literal, historical metaphysical information. This only robs the ancient holy scriptures of their own internal integrity. If we do that, the ancient texts cannot be free to tell us what they originally meant, and what that can mean to us.
Our modernist mindset, whether "liberal" or "conservative," or yes, -- even fundamentalist -- thus only leads us to abuse the scriptures. They must speak to us in their own way, out of their own time, or otherwise we are stifling their voice, abusing their role. Our role is to listen, not to tell the scriptures how they must speak to us.
I felt uncomfortable with this background attitude on the part of these authors, which came through in the way they portrayed passages of the scriptures, and in the way they treated the extra-biblical sources, like the Book of Enoch. Because of this attitude, they can make their point only by claiming that the Book of Enoch should have been included in the canon, or by claiming that, in fact, it was accepted as de facto Holy Scripture.
Violating the Genre
This in fact weakens the point they wish to make, while violating both the Scriptures and the popular literature of the time. They cannot simply accept these ideas as imaginative folklore. Their mindset allows them only to assume that this mystical idea is somehow a literal report of the angels cross-breeding with humans, literally and historically created demons. They can only see the value of this story from Jewish folklore as though it was an objective description of metaphysical reality in the real empirical universe.
They read back into this ancient genre of literature our modern worldview. Or put another way, they bring the spiritual dimension down to our modernist, empirical literal level. In the process they destroy whatever true word this might say to us.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
An Adventure in Christian Science Fiction
The Book of Enoch the Prophet
More Speculation About Angels
More Speculation About Angels
Principalities and Powers: Notes On Demonic Hierarchies
Review of Legends of the Bible, by Louis Ginzberg
Reading List Notes on Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai
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First written 1 July 2007 and Expanded 14 July 2007
Finalized as an article 11 August 2007
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 13 August 2007
Last edited 12 November 2008
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.