Friday, February 09, 2007

The Work of the White Bull (Cow) in 1 Enoch 90:37-38

I have been reading a great deal of Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period. I am teaching a class on the backgrounds of the NT and we are reading much of the Apocrapha, Pseudepigrapha, the sectarian literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Aboth, Josephus, and Philo.
Recently, I read carefully the Animal Apocaplyse found in 1 Enoch 85-90. It is a fascinating presentation of the history of Israel from creation to consumation and it told in the form of an allegory. (Is this your picture of the messiah?)

The vision concludes with Israel's regathering as God's flock back within the borders of Israel and the captial city of Jerusalem. Of the greatness of that day, the author in 90:36 states, "I noticed that the house (Jerusalem) was large, wide, and exceedingly full." The statement echoes the restoration prophecies of Isa 54:1-3. Israel's restoration is complete. Throughout the vision Israel is presented as sheep. And YHWH is called the "Lord of the Sheep". Although prior to this restoration they are prone to stray and wonder, now they are made white and clean; signifying their purity.

At this point the traditional view of the latter day events, which is perhaps most authoratively presented inNickelsburg's commentary, is as follows. 90:37-38 presents the resolution of the whole vision: the return to the beginning when there were no sheep or beasts of the field and birds -- these latter animals (delinated in 89:10) are Gentiles. Here the author sees a white bull born, persumably irregularly born from the restored sheep. The bull becomes the agent of transformation not only for the beasts of the field and the birds, but also for the sheep: "all" are transformed into white bulls. The vision's culmination is a Adamic state where there is no longer distinctions. Hence, the enemies of the sheep are eliminated through the transformation of the whole of the created order. Nickelsburg summarizes:

“Although the author’s lengthy narration of Israel’s history dominates the Vision, that history must be placed in the context of the whole Vision. Israel’s story stands in the broader context of humanity’s story, and the nation’s deliverance from its enemies is a first step toward the re-creation and reuniting of the whole human race. That ultimate reconciliation emanates from within Israel, with the appearance of the great white bull that is described in the language at home in Davidic messianic speculation. But the symbol of the bull and the transformation that ensues take that human story back to its pre-Israelite beginnings. Through the re-creation of the whole human race God will accomplish what failed with the first family and with their counterparts who came out of the ark . . . The coming deliverance of a decimated Israel portends the salvation of all humanity” (Nickelsburg 2001: 356-57, emphasis added).
Nickelsburg further argues that the white bull is a Davidic Messianic figure on the grounds of a textual emenadation which echoes the earlier reference to David in 89:46. Thus, in concert with Ezekiel 34, 1 Enoch presents the Davidide appearing subsequent to the restoration of both houses of Israel in order to become a "leader among them" (90:38). The eschatological figure symbolized by the same animals as the early patriarchs implies a return to the beginning. While the significance of the transformation into bulls is debated, it is at least possible to see a connection to both a new Adam and Abraham as the conduit of blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1-3; Psa 72).
Nickelsburg's comment is not too far off the mark when he states: "The soteriological imagery of this author is daring and perhaps without parallel in pre-Christian Jewish literature" (407). However, I think there is a hint of this universal soteriology in Psalms of Solomon 17 as well--I argue for it in my forthcoming book.
Yet, I have a few significant observation that to my mind call into question this traditional view at least in the details if not in the big picture of Gentile inclusion in the salvation of Israel.
(1) The identity of the white bull as a Davidic Messiah is far from certain. The conclusion rests on the shakest of foundations: an emendation of the text. Yet this identification is made much of by Chae in his recent work call Jesus as the Eschatological Davidic Shepherd, pgs. 109-15. Without that emendation there is nothing else in this text that would suggest a Davidic Messianic figure.
(2) It is not at all obvious what the connection is between the return and restoration of the sheep to their home and the birth of the white bull. There is no reason to presume that the bull comes from the sheep. There is a clear transition statement in 90:36 and a new beginning in 9:37. The bull could have been born from the beasts of the field; while I am not suggesting this, it seems to me that this would make more sense in the context than presuming without evidence that it was born from a restored sheep.
(3) Therefore, it seems that we should not take the "all" in 90:37 inclusively to apprehend both the beasts of the field and the birds and the restored sheep. Rather the context suggests that the "all their kindred" is a reference to all the varieties of the beasts of the fields and the birds delinated in 89:10: lions, leopards, wolves, snakes, hyenas, etc. Thus, the eschatological vision is of two classes of creatures the restored sheep and the newly transformed white bulls.
(4) This interpretation is strengthed, I think by noting that YHWH is characterized as the "Lord of the sheep" even after the transformation. This significance is seen in the fact that only after the sheep were created was God referred to as the "Lord of the Sheep". In the beginning he was not referred to as such. Thus, if there were no more sheep, as the traditional view argues, it seems that the title of YHWH have disappeared.
In conclusion, I suggest that this text radically, although not signularly within Second Temple Judaism, promlegates the view that the Gentiles will be included in the renewal of creation. However, it appears to me that there are still two categories of creatures in the eschatological age: sheep and bulls. Furthermore, both are presented as purified and renewed.


Michael F. Bird said...

Interesting stuff. I wish had got you to read my sections on 1 Enoch in my PH.D thesis which touched on this.

Joel Willitts said...

Did you like the picture of the white bull? Do you want that as your messiah??

Mowens said...

Excellent post. I can't tell you how helpful this is for me, as I've very interested in "new creation" in 2nd temple literature. Blessings!