Andrei A. Orlov

 Enoch as the Heavenly Priest

[an excerpt from A. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition (TSAJ, 107; Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2005), pp. xii+383. ISBN 3-16-148544-0.]



…. Enmeduranki’s priestly office, which is only implicitly hinted at in the text from Nineveh, finds its possible Enochic counterpart in the priestly role of the seventh patriarch. In contrast to Enmeduranki’s appointments in the earthly sanctuary Ebabbara, the Enochic tradition shifts emphasis from the earthly to the celestial locale in depicting the seventh antediluvian hero, not in his terrestrial priestly role, but in the role associated with the heavenly temple. This role is attested with varying degrees of clarity by early Enochic traditions found in the Book of the Watchers, the Book of Dreams and the Book of Jubilees. Enoch’s affiliations with the priestly office in the aforementioned texts can be seen as the gradual evolution from the implicit hints of his heavenly priesthood in the early materials to a more overt recognition and description of his celestial sacerdotal function in the later ones. While later Enochic traditions attested in the Book of Jubilees unambiguously point to Enoch’s priestly role, referring to his incense sacrifice in the celestial sanctuary, the earlier associations of the patriarch with the heavenly Temple hinted at in the Book of the Watchers take the form of rather enigmatic depictions. A certain amount of exegetical work is therefore required to discern the proper meaning of these initial associations of the patriarch with the celestial sanctuary.

Martha Himmelfarb’s research helps us better understand Enoch’s possible connections with the celestial sanctuary in the Book of the Watchers, which depicts the ascension of the seventh antediluvian patriarch to the Throne of Glory as a visitation of the heavenly Temple.[1]  1 Enoch 14:9–18 reads:

And I proceeded until I came near to a wall (t[eqm) which was built of hailstones, and a tongue of fire surrounded it, and it began to make me afraid. And I went into the tongue of fire and came near to a large house (be4t (a3biy) which was built of hailstones, and the wall of that house (was) like a mosaic (made) of hailstones, and its floor (was) snow. Its roof (was) like the path of the stars and flashes of lightning, and among them (were) fiery Cherubim, and their heaven (was like) water. And (there was) a fire burning around its wall, and its door was ablaze with fire. And I went into that house, and (it was) hot as fire and cold as snow, and there was neither pleasure nor life in it. Fear covered me and trembling, I fell on my face. And I saw in the vision, and behold, another house, which was larger than the former, and all its doors (were) open before me, and (it was) built of a tongue of fire. And in everything it so excelled in glory and splendor and size that I am unable to describe to you its glory and its size. And its floor (was) fire, and above (were) lightning and the path of the stars, and its roof also (was) a burning fire. And I looked and I saw in it a high throne, and its appearance (was) like ice and its surrounds like the shining sun and the sound of Cherubim.[2]

Commenting on this passage, Himmelfarb draws the readers’ attention to the description of the celestial edifices which Enoch encounters in his approach to the Throne. She notes that the Ethiopic text reports that, in order to reach God’s Throne, the patriarch passes through three celestial constructions: a wall, an outer house, and an inner house. The Greek version of this narrative mentions a house instead of a wall. Himmelfarb observes that “more clearly in the Greek, but also in the Ethiopic this arrangement echoes the structure of the earthly temple with its vestibule (Mlw)), sanctuary (lkyh), and the Holy of Holies (rybd).”[3]

God’s throne is located in the innermost chamber of this heavenly structure and is represented by a throne of cherubim (14:18).  It can be seen as a heavenly counterpart to the cherubim found in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem temple. In drawing parallels between the descriptions of the heavenly Temple in the Book of the Watchers and the features of the earthly sanctuary, Himmelfarb observes that the fiery cherubim which Enoch sees on the ceiling of the first house (Ethiopic) or middle house (Greek) of the heavenly structure represent not the cherubim of the divine throne, but images that recall the figures on the hangings on the wall of the tabernacle mentioned in Exod 26:1, 31; 36:8, 35 or possibly the figures which, according to 1 Kings 6:29, 2 Chr 3:7 and Ezek 41:15–26, were engraved on the walls of the earthly temple.[4]

Several comments must be made about the early traditions and sources that may lie behind the descriptions of the upper sanctuary in 1 Enoch 14. Scholars observe that the idea of heaven as a temple was not invented by the author of the Book of the Watchers; the concept of the heavenly temple as a celestial counterpart of the earthly sanctuary was widespread in the ancient Near East[5] and appears in a number of biblical sources.[6] Students of Jewish priestly traditions have observed that the existence of such a conception of the heavenly sanctuary appears to become increasingly important in times of religious crises, when the earthly sanctuaries were either destroyed or defiled by improper rituals or priestly successions.[7]

Returning to the analysis of 1 Enoch 14, one must examine the motif of the servants of the heavenly sanctuary depicted in that text. Himmelfarb argues that the priests of the heavenly temple in the Book of the Watchers appear to be represented by angels,[8] since the author of the text depicts them as the ones who are “standing before God’s throne in the heavenly temple.”[9] In her opinion, such identification can also be implicitly supported by the motif of intercession, which represents “a central priestly task.” Himmelfarb also points to the possibility that in the Book of the Watchers the patriarch himself in the course of his ascent become a priest,[10] similarly to the angels.[11] In this perspective the angelic status of patriarch and his priestly role[12] are viewed as mutually interconnected. Himmelfarb stresses that “the author of the Book of the Watchers claims angelic status for Enoch through his service in the heavenly temple” since “the ascent shows him passing through the outer court of the temple and the sanctuary to the door of the Holy of Holies, where God addresses him with his own mouth.”[13]

George Nickelsburg’s earlier research on the temple symbolism in 1 Enoch 14 provides important additional details relevant to this discussion. Nickelsburg argues that Enoch’s active involvement in the vision of the Lord’s throne, when he passes through the chambers of the celestial sanctuary, might indicate that the author(s) of the Book of the Watchers perceived him as a servant associated with the activities in these chambers. Nickelsburg points to the fact that Enoch’s vision of the Throne in the Book of the Watchers is “qualitatively different from that described in the biblical throne visions” because of the new active role of its visionary.[14] This new, active participation of Enoch in the vision puts 1 Enoch 14 closer to later Merkabah accounts which are different from biblical visions. Nickelsburg stresses that in the biblical throne visions, the seer is passive or, at best, his participation is reactional. But in the Merkabah accounts, Enoch appears to be actively involved in his vision.[15] In Nickelsburg’s view, the verbal forms of the narrative (“I drew near the wall,” “I went into that house”) serve as further indications of the active participation of the seer in the visionary reality of the heavenly Throne/Temple.[16]

Biblical visions are not completely forgotten by Enochic authors and provide an important exegetical framework for 1 Enoch 14. Comparing the Enochic vision with Ezekiel’s account of the temple, Nickelsburg suggests that the Enochic narrative also represents a vision of the temple but, in this case, the heavenly one. He argues that “the similarities to Ezek 40–48, together with other evidence, indicate that Enoch is describing his ascent to the heavenly temple and his progress through its temenos to the door of the Holy of Holies, where the chariot throne of God is set.”[17] The possibility that the author of 1 Enoch 14 was trying to describe Enoch’s celestial trip as a tour through the heavenly temple can be supported, in Nickelsburg’s judgment, by three significant details:

a. the “house” (14:10) of the Deity is by definition a temple;

b. both 12:4 and 15:3 speak about the eternal sanctuary;

c. the language about the fallen Watchers and the angels approaching God indicates that some of the angels are understood to be priests. [18]

The traditions about the seventh patriarch’s heavenly priesthood are not confined solely to the materials found in the Book of the Watchers, since they are attested in other materials associated with the Ethiopic Enoch, including the Animal Apocalypse. If in the Book of the Watchers, Enoch’s associations with the heavenly temple are clothed in ambiguous imagery, his portrait in the Animal Apocalypse does not leave any serious doubts that some of the early Enochic traditions understood the patriarch to be intimately connected with the heavenly sanctuary.

Chapter 87, verses 3 and 4 of 1 Enoch portrays the patriarch taken by three angels from the earth and raised to a high tower, where he is expected to remain until he will see the judgment prepared for the Watchers and their earthly families:

And those three who came out last took hold of me by my hand, and raised me from the generations of the earth, and lifted me on to a high place, and showed me a tower (ma3xefada) high above the earth, and all the hills were lower. And one said to me: “Remain here until you have seen everything which is coming upon these elephants and camels and asses, and upon the stars, and upon all the bulls.”[19]

VanderKam notes a significant detail in this description, namely, Enoch’s association with a tower. He observes that this term[20] is reserved in the Animal Apocalypse for a temple.[21] The association of the patriarch with the tower is long-lasting, and apparently he must have spent a considerable amount of time there, since the text does not say anything about Enoch’s return to the earth again until the time of judgment, so the patriarch is depicted as present in the heavenly sanctuary for most of the Animal Apocalypse.[22]

Although the traditions about Enoch’s associations with the heavenly Temple in the Book of the Watchers and in the Animal Apocalypse do not refer openly to his performance of priestly duties, the account attested in the Book of Jubilees explicitly makes this reference. Jubilees 4:23 depicts Enoch as taken from human society and placed in Eden[23] “for (his) greatness and honor.”[24] Jubilees then defines the Garden as a sanctuary[25] and Enoch as one who is offering an incense sacrifice on the mountain of incense: “He burned the evening incense of the sanctuary which is acceptable before the Lord on the mountain of incense.”[26] James VanderKam suggests that here Enoch is depicted as one who “performs the rites of a priest in the temple.”[27]  He further observes that Enoch’s priestly duties[28] represent a new element[29] in “Enoch’s expanding portfolio.”[30]

Alexander stresses the significance of Enoch’s priestly role for the subsequent Jewish developments,[31] noting that  “Enoch in Jubilees in the second century B.C.E. is a high priest. Almost a thousand years later he retains this role in the Heikhaloth texts, though in a rather different setting.”[32] Indeed in the later rabbinic and Hekhalot sources, Metatron is often associated with the priestly office.[33]  One such source is a fragment from the Cairo Genizah in which he is directly named as the high priest:

I adjure you [Metatron], more beloved and dear than all heavenly beings, [Faithful servant] of the God of Israel, the High Priest, chief of [the priest]s, you who poss[ess seven]ty names; and whose name [is like your Master’s] … Great Prince, who is appointed over the great princes, who is the head of all the camps.[34]

In one further note, I must comment on particular details surrounding the depiction of Enoch’s priestly duties in early Enochic lore. The Book of the Watchers does not refer to any liturgical or sacrificial rituals of the patriarch; on the other hand, Jubilees depicts the patriarch offering incense to God. The absence of reference to any animal sacrificial or liturgical practice in Enoch’s sacerdotal duties might indicate that his office may have been understood by early Enochic traditions from the divinatory angle, that is as the office of oracle-priest, practiced also by the Mesopotamian diviners who, similarly to Enoch’s preoccupation with incense, widely used the ritual of libanomancy, or “smoke divination,” a “practice of throwing cedar shavings onto a censer in order to observe the patterns and direction of the smoke.”[35]



[1] M. Himmelfarb, “The Temple and the Garden of Eden in Ezekiel, the Book of the Watchers, and the Wisdom of ben Sira,” in: Sacred Places and Profane Spaces: Essays in the Geographics of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (eds. J. Scott and P. Simpson–Housley; New York: Greenwood Press, 1991) 63–78; idem, “Apocalyptic Ascent and the Heavenly Temple,” in: Society of Biblical Literature 1987 Seminar Papers (SBLSP 26; Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1987) 210–217. Martha Himmelfarb’s research draws on the previous publications of Johann Maier and George Nickelsburg. See: J. Maier, “Das Gefährdungsmotiv bei der Himmelsreise in der jüdischen Apocalyptik und ‘Gnosis,’” Kairos 5(1) 1963 18–40, esp. 23; idem, Vom Kultus zur Gnosis, 127–8; G. W. E. Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee,” JBL 100 (1981) 575–600, esp. 576–82. See also Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic, 101–102; Halperin, The Faces of the Chariot, 81.

[2] Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 1.50–52; 2.98–99.

[3] Himmelfarb, “Apocalyptic Ascent and the Heavenly Temple,” 210.

[4] Himmelfarb, “Apocalyptic Ascent and the Heavenly Temple,” 211.

[5] R. J. Clifford, The Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972) 177–80.

[6] Himmelfarb, “The Temple and the Garden of Eden,” 68.

[7] For an extensive discussion of this subject, see Gemeinde ohne Tempel/Community without Temple: Zur Substituierung und Transformation des Jerusalemer Tempels und seines Kults im Alten Testament, antiken Judentum und frühen Christentum (eds. B. Ego et al.; WUNT 118; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1999); R. Elior, “From Earthly Temple to Heavenly Shrines: Prayer and Sacred Song in the Hekhalot Literature and Its Relation to Temple Traditions,” JSQ 4 (1997) 217–67; idem, “The Priestly Nature of the Mystical Heritage in Heykalot Literature,” in: Expérience et écriture mystiques dans les religions du livre: Actes d’un colloque international tenu par le Centre d’études juives Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne 1994 (eds. R. B. Fenton and R. Goetschel; EJM 22; Leiden: Brill, 2000) 41–54.

[8] David Suter’s and George Nickelsburg’s earlier research pointed to the possibility that the fall of the Watchers in the Book of the Watchers can be interpreted as a typological reference to the exogamy of priests who, similar to the fallen angels, violated the boundaries of the cultic purity by marrying non-Israelite women. For the detailed discussion of the subject, see D. Suter, “Fallen Angel, Fallen Priest: The Problem of Family Purity in 1 Enoch,” HUCA 50 (1979) 115–35. Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee.” See also C. N. T. Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ 42; Leiden: Brill, 2002) 22.

[9] Himmelfarb, “Apocalyptic Ascent,” 211.

[10] David Halperin’s research also stresses the “apocalyptic” priestly function of Enoch in the Book of the Watchers. He observes that “Daniel and Enoch share an image, perhaps drawn from the hymnic tradition of merkabah exegesis (think of the Angelic liturgy), of God surrounded by multitudes of angels. But, in the Holy of Holies, God sits alone....The angels, barred from the inner house, are the priests of Enoch’s heavenly Temple. The high priest must be Enoch himself, who appears in the celestial Holy of Holies to procure forgiveness for holy beings.” Halperin, Faces of the Chariot, 81–2.

[11] Himmelfarb, “Apocalyptic Ascent,” 213.

[12] Enoch’s sacerdotal duties in the Book of the Watchers also involve his intercession and transmission of the judgment against Asael. Crispin Fletcher-Louis observes that “Enoch’s intercession and transmission of the judgment against Asael is thoroughly priestly and related closely to that of the high priest on the Day of Atonement whose ministry involves the sending of a scapegoat into the wilderness to Azazel (Lev 16).” Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 40.

[13] Himmelfarb, “Apocalyptic Ascent,” 212.

[14] G. W. E. Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee,” JBL 100 (1981) 575–600, esp. 579.

[15] Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee,” 580.

[16] Fletcher-Louis stresses that the language of Enoch’s approach (“to draw near”) is cultic. Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 23.

[17] Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee,” 580.

[18] Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee,” 580–81.

[19] Knibb. The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 1.294; 2.198.

[20] 1 Enoch 89:50: “And that house became large and broad, and for those sheep a high tower was built on that house for the Lord of the sheep; and that house was low, but the tower was raised up and high; and the Lord of the sheep stood on that tower, and they spread a full table before him.” Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 208; 1 Enoch 89:73: “And they began again to build, as before, and they raised up that tower, and it was called the high tower; and they began again to place a table before the tower, but all the bread on it (was) unclean and was not pure.” Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.211.

[21] VanderKam, Enoch: A Man for All Generations, 117.

[22] VanderKam, Enoch: A Man for All Generations, 117.

[23]  For Enoch’s place in the heavenly Paradise, see: Testament of Benjamin 10:6, Apocalypse of Paul 20, Clementine Recognitions 1:52, Acts of Pilate 25, and the Ascension of Isaiah 9:6. C. Rowland, “Enoch,” in: Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (eds. K. van der Toorn et al; Leiden: Brill, 1999) 302.

[24] VanderKam, The Book of Jubilees, 2.28.

[25] VanderKam argues that there are other indications that in the Book of Jubilees Eden was understood as a sanctuary. As an example, he points to Jub 3:9–14, which “derives the law from Lev 11 regarding when women who have given birth may enter the sanctuary from the two times when Adam and Eve, respectively, went into the garden.” VanderKam, Enoch: A Man for All Generation, 117.

[26] VanderKam, The Book of Jubilees, 2.28.

[27] VanderKam, Enoch: A Man for All Generations, 117.

[28] Fletcher-Louis notes that in Jubilees 4:7, “the patriarch’s observation of the heavens and their order so that the sons of man might know the (appointed) times of the year according to their order, with respect to each of their months…is knowledge of a thoroughly priestly and cultic nature.” Fletcher-Louis, All the Glory of Adam, 24.

[29] Scholars point to the possible polemical nature of the patriarch’s priestly role. Gabriele Boccaccini observes that “Enochians completely ignore the Mosaic torah and the Jerusalem Temple, that is, the two tenets of the order of the universe.” In his opinion, “the attribution to Enoch of priestly characteristics suggests the existence of a pure predeluvian, and pre-fall, priesthood and disrupts the foundation of the Zadokite priesthood, which claimed its origin in Aaron at the time of the exodus, in an age that, for the Enochians, was already corrupted after the angelic sin and the flood.” G. Boccaccini, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 74.

[30] VanderKam, Enoch: A Man for All Generations, 117.

[31] Enoch’s role as a priest is also attested in several Christian sources, including Apostolic Constitutions 8:5, the Cave of Treasures, and the Book of Rolls. C. Rowland, “Enoch,” in: Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (eds. K. van der Toorn et al; Leiden: Brill, 1999) 302.

[32] Alexander, From Son of Adam, 107

[33] A passage from Sefer Hekhalot reads: “Metatron is the Prince over all princes, and stands before him who is exalted above all gods. He goes beneath the throne of glory, where he has a great heavenly tabernacle of light, and brings out the deafening fire, and puts it in the ears of the holy creatures, so that they should not hear the sound of the utterance that issues from the mouth of the Almighty.” Alexander, “3 Enoch,” 303.

[34] L. H. Schiffman and M. D. Swartz, Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Genizah (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992) 145.

[35] Moore, The Balaam Traditions: Their Character and Development, 43.