Andrei A. Orlov

 Enoch as the Scribe

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



….This section on the unique scribal functions of the seventh antediluvian patriarch begins with the passage found in 2 Enoch 22, which provides a graphic picture of the patriarch’s initiation into scribal activities. This initiation takes place near the Throne of Glory when the Lord himself commands the archangel Vereveil to give a pen to Enoch so that he can write the mysteries explained to him by the angels. This tradition about the scribal functions of the patriarch reflected in the Slavonic apocalypse was already documented in the earliest Enochic literature.[1] The Book of Giants fragments label Enoch a distinguished scribe.[2] In Jub 4:17, he is attested as the one who “learned (the art of) writing, instruction, and wisdom and who wrote down in a book the signs of the sky….”[3] In the Merkabah tradition, Enoch/Metatron is also depicted as a scribe who has a seat (later a throne) in the heavenly realm.[4] The theme of Enoch-Metatron’s scribal functions became a prominent motif in the later rabbinic traditions where, according to b. H9ag. 15a, the privilege of sitting beside God was accorded to Metatron alone by virtue of his character as a scribe, for he was granted permission as a scribe to sit and write down the merits of Israel. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Gen 5:24 describes Metatron as the Great Scribe ()br )rps).[5]

The important aspect of the early portrayals of Enoch as a scribe is that they depict him in the capacity of both celestial and terrestrial scribe, as the one who not only records messages from his heavenly guides, but also composes petitions at the request of the creatures from the lower realms, for example, the fallen Watchers/Giants who ask him for mediation. The celestial and terrestrial sides of Enoch’s duties as a scribe reveal the composite nature of this important role. Indeed the patriarch’s scribal office can be seen as a mixture of various activities which the Near Eastern scribe was expected to perform.[6] Besides writing, this occupation also presupposes the ability to understand various scripts and languages, since scribal duties required proficiency in copying, i.e., duplicating written materials.[7] One will see later the significance of this dimension of Enoch’s scribal activities during his encounters with the celestial tablets from which he often reads and which he also occasionally copies. Another facet of the patriarch’s scribal duties linked to his involvement in the Watchers/Giants’ situation highlights how his scribal duties resemble the functions of the legal scribe whose activities necessarily include settling disputes and writing petitions.[8] J. Collins remarks that “Enoch is apparently modeled on the familiar figure of the scribe, whose skill in writing gives him importance not only in communication but also in legal proceedings.”[9]

Another detail which shows the composite nature of the patriarch’s scribal role is that this office cannot be separated from his initiation into the celestial lore. In early Enochic traditions these two functions appear to be conjoined. The motif of initiation into the secrets as the beginning of scribal activities occupies a substantial role in the Astronomical Book of 1 Enoch, the oldest Enochic material. [10] The same feature is discernible in the Enmeduranki material, where the initiation of the practitioner is combined with the motif of the transference to him of a tablet and a stylus.

 James VanderKam observes that the Astronomical Book not only expands several traits of the patriarch that are briefly mentioned in Genesis 5, but also assigns an entirely new role[11] to him, that of a writer[12] of angelic discourses.[13] VanderKam points out that the beginning of this new activity can be traced to one of the important testimonies in the Astronomical Book that reveals Enoch in his new celestial office. In 1 Enoch 74:2[14] the patriarch is depicted as the one who writes down the instructions of the angel Uriel regarding the secrets of the heavenly luminaries and their movements: “And Uriel, the holy angel who is the leader of them all, showed me everything, and I wrote down their positions as he showed (them) to me; and I wrote down their months, as they are, and the appearance of their light until fifteen days have been completed.”[15]

It can hardly be a coincidence that the text here names the angel Uriel as the one who initiates Enoch into the scribal activities; this angel is often depicted in the Enochic lore as a scribe himself.[16]

Later in the Astronomical Book (1 Enoch 81:6), Uriel advises the patriarch to write down the knowledge received in the celestial realm, so that Enoch can share it with his children during his upcoming visitation of the earth. The patriarch’s records made in heaven thus seem to play an important role in the transmission of the celestial secrets to humans in general and in particular to the patriarch’s son Methuselah, who, like Enmeduranki’s son in the Mesopotamian materials, occupies a special place in the mediating activities of the seventh antediluvian hero. One encounters this motif again in 1 Enoch 82:1, when Enoch assures his son Methuselah that he wrote a book for him.

It is puzzling that despite these numerous references to the patriarch’s scribal activities, the Astronomical Book does not overtly label Enoch as a scribe. This title with different variations, however, appears in other early Enochic books, including the Book of the Watchers, the Epistle of Enoch, and the Book of Giants. In these writings the patriarch’s scribal duties are surrounded by several titles and honorifics, including “scribe,” “scribe of righteousness,” “scribe of distinction,” and “the most skilled scribe.”

Scribe of Righteousness

The origin of the scribal titles in Enochic traditions can be traced to the Book of the Watchers, in which Enoch possesses several such titles. Although in 1 Enoch 12:3 the patriarch modestly refers to himself as a scribe, in 1 Enoch 12:4 and 15:11 he is defined by others by the honorific “scribe of righteousness,” which according to Milik can be related to the Aramaic term )+#wq rps.[17] One must note that in early Enochic materials the patriarch’s scribal honorifics never appear as Enoch’s self-designation, but always come from the mouth of various clients who benefit from the fruits of his scribal expertise. It is therefore natural that the occurrences of the title “scribe of righteousness” are located in the narrative devoted to Enoch’s mission to the Watchers group.

In 1 Enoch 12:3–4 Enoch is asked by the faithful Watchers of the heaven to go to their rebellious brethren in order to announce God’s upcoming punishment for the iniquities they committed on earth. The faithful angels address[18] the patriarch as “scribe of righteousness”: “And I Enoch was blessing the Great Lord and the King of Eternity, and behold the Watchers called to me, Enoch the scribe (s[ah[afi), and said to me: ‘Enoch, scribe of righteousness, [19] (s[ah[afe! s[edeq) go, inform the Watchers of heaven….’”[20]

Chapter 13 of 1 Enoch portrays the patriarch as one who delivers the message of the upcoming judgment for Asael and other Watchers. The terrified Watchers solicit the patriarch’s help in writing a petition to God, asking for forgiveness. With Enoch’s help the petition is prepared, and during its reading the patriarch falls into a mantic dream in which he sees a vision of wrath. 1 Enoch 14 subsequently emphasizes that the Watchers’ petition will not be granted and that they will be “bound in the earth for all the days of eternity.”[21] Enoch then travels to the throne of God where the Deity himself addresses him as “righteous man” and “scribe of righteousness,” telling the patriarch the truth about the sins of the rebellious angelic group: “And he answered me and said to me with his voice: Hear! Do not be afraid, Enoch, (you) righteous man and scribe of righteousness….”(1 Enoch 15:11).[22]

It is significant that the title “scribe of righteousness” appears in the narrative dealing with the group of fallen angelic beings and a righteous human destined to play the role of their mediator before God. It is quite possible that the title reflects not only the role of the elevated Enoch as an expert in writing, but his other roles, such as a righteous person, an expert in the “secrets of righteousness,” and a witness of the divine judgment.[23] Christine Schams observes that the title “scribe of righteousness” suggests that “Enoch was not regarded as a mere professional writer.”[24] In her opinion the title might be used “in conjunction with other attributes of the person. Most likely, Enoch’s expertise in writing and reading and his reputation as a righteous man, that is his teaching and knowledge of righteousness and God’s righteous judgment, were combined in his composite title of ‘scribe of righteousness.’”[25]

The composite nature of the epithet “scribe of righteousness” can be further illuminated through the reference to the Testament of Abraham (recension B) in which Enoch’s title as “scribe of righteousness” is combined with his role as a witness of the divine judgment. Testament of Abraham 11:2–4 reads:

And Michael said to Abraham, “Do you see the judge? This is Abel, who first bore witness, and God brought him here to judge. And the one who produces (the evidence) is the teacher of heaven and earth and the scribe of righteousness, Enoch. For the Lord sent them here in order that they might record the sins and the righteous deeds of each person. (B 11:2–4).[26]

It is intriguing that the Testament of Abraham also brings the scribal title into connection with Enoch’s role as the teacher of heaven and earth, which emphasizes the validity of the patriarch’s teaching not only for the citizens of earth but also for the inhabitants of heaven, i.e. angels.

It should be noted that in previous studies scholars tried to illuminate the etymology of the title “scribe of righteousness” by the reference to Enoch’s righteousness. Thus, Józef Milik connects the title with Enoch’s designation as a righteous man. He observes that the epithet “the scribe of righteousness” might underline Enoch’s moral rectitude in a way consonant with the patriarch’s designation as “the righteous man” in 1 Enoch 1:2.[27] George Nickelsburg also points to the possible connection of the title “scribe of righteousness” with numerous analogies in Jewish writings from the Greco-Roman period which employ appellations for righteous individuals. He highlights possible links to the Teacher of Righteousness from the Qumran writings including 1QpHab 1:13 and CD 6:11.[28]

Scribe of Distinction

Qumran Enochic fragments of the Book of Giants (4Q203 8:4 and 4Q530 2:14) attest to another of the patriarch’s honorifics, “the scribe of distinction,” or “the distinguished scribe,” )#rp rps.[29] Despite the extremely fragmentary character of the extant Qumran materials associated with the Book of Giants, the context of the original story can be partially restored with the help of portions of this book extant in the fragments of the Manichaean Book of Giants[30] and in the later Jewish account known as the Midrash of Shemhazai and Azael.[31]

One of the fragments (4Q203 8:3–4) in which the title “scribe of distinction” occurs possibly refers to a situation in which a written material (a tablet or a letter) must be delivered to one of the leaders of the rebellious group, Shemihazah, and his companions: “Copy of the seco[n]d tablet of [the] le[tter...] by the hand of Enoch, the distinguished scribe ()#rp rps) [...] and holy (one), to Shemihazah and to all [his] com[panions...].”[32] Despite its fragmentary nature, the passage unambiguously connects Enoch with his scribal title, demonstrating that the context of the appellation is linked with his role as an envoy to the Watchers. Here again, as in the case of the previous title “scribe of righteousness,” the scribal honorific is not presented as Enoch’s self-definition, nor is it fashioned as an address. The title is rather given as a description, although the context of the narrative or the identity of its possible narrator is difficult to establish.

The second fragment in which the identical designation occurs is from another section of the Book of Giants in which the giant Ahya, son of Shemihazah, sees a symbolic dream, the meaning of which the Watchers cannot understand. They decide to approach Enoch and ask the patriarch to interpret the dream: “[…] The Giants could [not] find (someone) to explain to the[m] [the dream … to Enoch,] the scribe of distinction ()#rp rpsl), and he will interpret the dream for us” (4Q530 2:13–14).[33]

The important feature found in the passage is that Enoch’s designation as “distinguished scribe” is combined with the patriarch’s expertise in the interpretation of mantic dreams. This detail points to the fact that the honorific “distinguished scribe” also, as the previously analyzed cognomen “scribe of righteousness,” represents a composite title. Besides Enoch’s writing skills, this title most likely also expresses his mastery as a mantic diviner who is able to record and interpret mantic dreams. It might further allude to his expertise in legal matters. Milik suggests that this title might qualify Enoch as a professional, distinguished copyist who writes distinctly, clearly, and perhaps also as a redactor of laws which have the force of the judge’s decisions.[34]

It is possible that the epithets of the patriarch as the righteous scribe and the scribe of distinction are related to his scribal designations by creatures of the upper and lower realms. It was demonstrated above that Enoch is often addressed as the scribe of righteousness by angels and the Deity in the celestial realm. In the Testament of Abraham the same designation comes again from the mouth of an angel in the heavenly realm. In contrast to these addresses, the title “scribe of distinction” appears to be connected with Enoch’s designation(s) in the terrestrial realm. This title may be linked to Enoch’s earthly scribal duties and his distinguished reputation among his earthly clients, including the Watchers/Giants group who are able to discern his “distinction” from other scribes. Such differentiation is less appropriate in the upper realm where the scribal function(s) are usually performed solely by Enoch, and only occasionally by other angels.

Most Skilled Scribe?

Other evidence of a possible scribal honorific of the patriarch comes from 1 Enoch 92:1. This poorly preserved evidence is reliably attested only in the Ethiopic language, since no Greek version of this passage is available, and the Qumran materials pertaining to this passage (4Q212 2:22–24) survived in an extremely fragmentary form which contain only the context surrounding this term. Although Milik argues that the missing title might represent the already known appellation of Enoch as )#rp rps,, which also occurs in two Qumran fragments of the Book of Giants, not all scholars agree with this position. Matthew Black draws[35] attention to the expressions found in an older recension[36] of the Ethiopic text[37] that possibly witnesses to a new title of the patriarch, “skilled scribe” or “scribe of all skill”; this title can be related to the expression ryhm rps, attested in the Bible with reference to Ezra.[38] Christine Schams observes that “in much the same way as in Ezra 7:6, it remains unclear from 1 Enoch 92:1 whether the attribute ‘skilled scribe’ refers to Enoch’s dexterity as scribe, his wisdom, or both.”[39]

One must not forget that the great bulk of information about Enoch’s scribal roles and honorifics found in Enochic literature may implicitly point to the social profile of the authors of these writings. John Collins notes that the description of Enoch as “scribe of righteousness” suggests that the author and his circle may have been scribes too.[40] He observes that although we know little about the authors of the Enochic writings, the books of Enoch “often speak of a class of the ‘righteous and chosen’ and Enoch, the righteous scribe, must be considered their prototype.”[41] He further suggests that it is possible that these people “were, or at least included in their number, scribes who were familiar with a wide range of ancient lore and who wrote books in the name of Enoch….”[42]




[1] In 1 Enoch 74:2, Enoch writes the instructions of the angel Uriel regarding the secrets of the heavenly bodies and their movements. Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.173. William Adler draws the reader’s attention to an interesting passage from M. Glycas which refers to Uriel’s instruction to Seth in a manner similar to Uriel’s revelation of the calendarical and astronomical secrets to Enoch in the Astronomical Book of 1 Enoch. “It is said that the angel stationed among the stars, that is the divine Uriel, descended to Seth and then to Enoch and taught them the distinctions between hours, months, seasons, and years.” W. Adler, Time Immemorial: Archaic History and Its Sources in Christian Chronography from Julius Africanus to George Syncellus (Dumbarton Oaks Studies 26; Washington: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1989) 105. For the Greek text, see Michaelis Glycae Annales (ed. I. Bekker; CSHB; Bonn: Weber, 1836) 228.

[2] 4Q203 8: “Copy of the seco[n]d tablet of [the] le[tter...] by the hand of Enoch, the distinguished scribe....” García Martínez and Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1.411.

[3] VanderKam, The Book of Jubilees, 2.25–6.

[4] This tradition can be seen already in 2 Enoch 23:4–6, which depicts the angel Vereveil (Uriel) commanding Enoch to sit down: “‘You sit down; write everything....’ And Enoch said, ‘And I sat down for a second period of 30 days and 30 nights, and I wrote accurately.’” F. Andersen, “2 (Slavonic Apocalypse of) Enoch,” The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (2 vols.; ed. J. H. Charlesworth; New York: Doubleday, 1985 [1983]) 1.141.

[5] Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis (tr. M. Maher, M.S.C.; The Aramaic Bible 1B; Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1992) 36.

[6] On the scribes and the scribal culture in Mesopotamian and Jewish environments, see M. Bar-Ilan, “Writing in Ancient Israel and Early Judaism: Scribes and Books in the Late Second Commonwealth and Rabbinic Period,” in: Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism in Early Christianity (eds. M. J. Mulder and H. Sysling; CRINT 2.1; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989) 21–38; J. Blenkinsopp, “The Sage, the Scribe, and Scribalism in the Chronicler’s Work,” in: The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, 307–315; J. J. Collins, “The Sage in Apocalyptic and Pseudepigraphic Literature,” in: The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, 343–354; P. R. Davies, Scribes and Schools: The Canonization of the Hebrew Scriptures (Louisville: Westminster, 1998) 74-88; L. R. Mack-Fisher, “The Scribe (and Sage) in the Royal Court at Ugarit,” in: The Sage in Israel and the Ancient Near East, 109–115; D. E. Orton, The Understanding Scribe: Matthew and the Apocalyptic Ideal (JSNTSup 25; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989); A. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees (Edinburgh: T&T. Clark, 1989); C. Schams, Jewish Scribes in the Second-Temple Period (JSOTSup 291; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998); E. E. Urbach, The Halakha, Its Sources and Development (Yad La-Talmud; Jerusalem: Massada, 1960).

[7] This aspect of the scribe as a translator looms large in 2 Enoch 23:2, where Vereveil (Uriel) teaches the elevated patriarch “every kind of language” (the longer recension) and, specifically, “the Hebrew language” (the shorter recension). See Andersen, “2 Enoch,” 140–41.

[8] Kvanvig draws attention to the similar role of Ezra, whose title “scribe of the law” indicates the conflation of scribal and legal duties. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic, 101.

[9] Collins, “The Sage in Apocalyptic and Pseudepigraphic Literature,” 344.

[10] Both R. H. Charles and M. Black argue that the possible biblical parallel to Enoch’s role as the Scribe could be the passage from Ezekiel 9, which depicts a man clad in white linen with an ink-horn by his side. Charles, The Book of Enoch, 28; Black, 1 Enoch, 143.

[11] In 1 Enoch 89:62 the scribal function is assigned to Michael.

[12] A number of scholars traced the role of Enoch as a celestial scribe back to the Mesopotamian lore about the scribe Nabu. See: H. Gunkel, “Der Schreiberengel Nabû im A. T. und in Judentum,” ARW 1 (1989) 294–300; Zimmern, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, 400–6; Charles, The Book of Enoch, 28; Black, 1 Enoch, 143. VanderKam criticizes this parallel pointing out that “nothing that is said in either of the compositions [the Astronomical Book and the Book of the Watchers] about his [Enoch] writing corresponds in distinctive ways with the traditions about Nabu, the scribe of the gods.” VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition, 133.

[13] VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition, 104.

[14] See also 1 Enoch 82:1: “And now, my son Methuselah, all these things I recount to you and write down for you; I have revealed everything to you and have given you books from the hand of your father, that you may pass (them) on to the generations of eternity.” Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.187.

[15] Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.173.

[16] For example, in 2 Enoch, Vereveil (Uriel) is depicted as a scribe. The exchange in the roles between Enoch and Uriel is intriguing and goes both ways. H. Kvanvig observes that in Pseudo-Eupolemus “Enoch was placed into the same position as Uriel in the Astronomical Book.” Kvanvig, 239.

[17] Milik, The Books of Enoch, 191. George Nickelsburg proposes that the title can be related to the Aramaic  )+#wq yd rps. G. W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch I: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 1–36; 81–108 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001) 65.

[18] It is significant that Enoch’s scribal titles are used by various parties in the Enochic materials. He is recognized with these titles by various subjects including the Watchers (12:4) and God himself (15:1), who like to address the patriarch by referring to his scribal office. In 12:3 the scribal office also becomes the patriarch’s self-definition: “me, Enoch the scribe.”

[19] In Codex Panopolitanus Enoch is designated as grammateu_j th~j dikaiosu&nhj.

[20] Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 1.41; 2.92.

[21] Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.96.

[22] Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.100.

[23]  Schams’ idea that here we deal with one of the composite titles which include several roles of the main character appears to be plausible.

[24] C. Schams, Jewish Scribes in the Second-Temple Period (JSOTSup 291; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998) 94.

[25]  Schams, Jewish Scribes in the Second-Temple Period, 94.

[26]  E. P. Sanders, “Testament of Abraham,” The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (ed. J.H. Charlesworth; New York: Doubleday, 1985 [1983]) 1.900.

[27] Milik, The Books of Enoch, 262.

[28] Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1, 65.

[29] Milik, The Books of Enoch, 260–62 and 305; F. García Martínez and E. J. C. Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1.410–411; 2.1062–63. John Reeves translates the title as “the scribe set apart,” a rendering which underlines Enoch’s separation from human society.  Reeves, Jewish Lore, 77. Loren Stuckenbruck highlights another aspect of the title, namely its possible connection with r#p. He argues that in view of this connection, the honorific can be translated as “the scribe of interpretation.” Stuckenbruck, The Book of Giants, 117–18. 

[30] W. B. Henning, “The Book of the Giants,” BSOAS 11 (1943–46) 52–74; P. O. Skjærvø, “Iranian Epic and the Manichean Book of Giants. Irano-Manichaica III,” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae XLVIII (1–2) (1995) 187–223; W. Sundermann, “Ein weiteres Fragment aus Manis Gigantenbuch,” Hommages et opera minora 9: Orientalia J. Duchesne-Guillemin emerito oblata (Acta Iranica, 23/Second Series 9; Leiden: Brill, 1984) 491–505.

[31] This study uses the Hebrew texts and the English translation of the Midrash published in Milik, The Books of Enoch, 321–328.

[32] F. García Martínez and E. J. C. Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 1.410–411.

[33] F. García Martínez and E. J. C. Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 2.1062–63.

[34] Milik, The Books of Enoch, 262.

[35] See Black, 1 Enoch, 283. Although some scholars do not support Black’s position, discussion of his hypothesis is useful since it is related to the current ongoing discussion of the titles.

[36] On the Ethiopic manuscript traditions of 1 Enoch see Black, 1 Enoch, 2–3; E. J. C. Tigchelaar, Prophets of Old and the Day of the End (OTS 35; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 144–5.

[37] M. Black’s translation of 1 Enoch 92 renders the context of the usage of the title as follows: “[Epistle of Enoch which] he wrote and gave to his son Methuselah. Enoch, skilled scribe and wisest of men, and the chosen of the sons of men and judge of all the earth, to all my children and to later generations, to all dwellers on earth who observe uprightness and peace.” Black, 1 Enoch, 84. In Knibb’s translation, which relies on Rylands Eth. MS 23, this passage has the following form: “Written by Enoch the scribe – this complete wisdom teaching, praised by all men and a judge of the whole earth – for all my sons who dwell upon the earth and for the last generations who will practice uprightness and peace.” Knibb, The Ethiopic Book of Enoch, 2.222.

[38] Ezra 7:6; Ps 45(44):2.

[39] Schams, Jewish Scribes in the Second-Temple Period, 95.

[40] Collins, Seers, Sybils and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism, 49.

[41] Collins, “The Sage in Apocalyptic and Pseudepigraphic Literature,” 346.

[42] Collins, “The Sage in Apocalyptic and Pseudepigraphic Literature,” 346; idem, Seers, Sybils and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism, 49.