Seth L. Sanders
One of the lynchpins in discussions of early Jewish apocalyptic literature has been dating the oldest extended fallen-angel narrative, the Enochic Book of the Watchers, to precisely the 3rd century BCE. As far as I can tell, that precise dating is on pretty shaky ground.
The script of the oldest copy, 4Q201, is dated by its most recent editor to the late 3rd or early 2nd century BCE (Drawnel 2019:71), but by its second-most-recent editor to the 2nd century (Langlois 2008:67-68) who notes that the Aramaic suggests multiple stages of updating.
Others note an equally important point: the text is not only layered, with an introduction (1-5) tacked on, but also interwoven: it combines two different narratives with totally different accounts of why the angels fell, followed by two separate but similar cosmic journeys.
Given that the oldest manuscript shows signs of copying and cannot be an original autograph composition, and that its content not only weaves together two myths that are otherwise known separately but adds layers to that, it is certainly *at least* as old as the 3rd century.
But this tells us absolutely nothing about when these myths began circulating. A common move has been to assume that one of the myths, about the angel Asael's revelation of forbidden knowledge to humans, must be the result of Greek influence dating to the Hellenistic period.
But myths of conflicts among primordial beings are well known to have circulated across the Mediterranean already in the Late Bronze Age, when a tragic divine revelation to a human is also documented in a text likely intertwined with the figure of Enoch:
- When the Gods Were Born: Greek Cosmogonies and the Near East
Carolina López-Ruiz | Harvard University Press
This book aims to bring the comparative study of Greek and Near Eastern cosmogonies to a new level. It analyzes themes such as succession myths, expressions of poetic inspiration, and claims to cosmic knowledge, as well as the role of itinerant specialists in the transmission of theogonies. Rather than compiling literary parallels from different periods and languages and treating the Near East as a monolithic matrix, the author focuses on the motifs specific to the North-West Semitic tradition with which the Greeks had direct contact in the Archaic period. Focusing on Hesiod’s Theogony, the Orphic texts, and their Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Hebrew counterparts, Carolina López-Ruiz avoids traditional diffusionist assumptions and proposes instead that dynamic cultural interaction led to the oral and intimate transmission of stories and beliefs.
https://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php ... 0674049468
(Speaking of Adapa's knowledge of ritual speech that makes him almost equivalent to his patron god, lord of secret knowledge, and gets him in serious trouble with the gods): "Why did Ea expose a human to such terrible cosmic things?" (Amarna fragment rev. 57-58)
Indeed, dating such a multi-layered text to precisely 30 or 50 years before the earliest manuscript would put the whole Hebrew Bible in the 3rd century as well. Another problematic argument is that the Enoch stories must be later additions to the older fallen-angels myth.
This is based on the important observation that Enoch plays no role in the initial fall of the angels (6-11) despite the fact that Genesis 5 states he was around then, and perhaps suggests he was in their company (if we choose to read אלהים as 'divine beings' not 'God').
But this doesn't show that Enoch was not originally connected with the story! A clear example of this issue is Tablet XI of the Standard Gilgamesh epic, a version of the Flood story with literary indications of being tacked-on to the epic. Gilgamesh only appears as the audience.
But it turns out that Gilgamesh's connection to the Flood hero was already a thousand years old by that point, since the Sumerian Death of Bilgames already lists 'who met the flood hero!' as one of his majestic accomplishments.
In sum, since texts like Ahiqar prove there was already a thriving Aramaic literary tradition by around 500 BCE, the guess of Enoch's first editor, Josef Milik, to date the core narrative to the 5th century BCE is just as likely as the 3rd century.
And of course, any historical claims based on making a special connection between the Book of the Watchers and the 3rd century BCE (rather than the equally plausible 4th, or the 2nd when it we know it was actually being repeatedly copied) are likely built on sand.
The lack of clear basis for the commonly accepted terminus post quem makes me wonder about some other assumptions. For example, the *Ethiopic* Book of Dreams (83-90) is dated based on historical allusions in 90, but despite 3 mss covering 89, there is no evidence of 90 at Qumran.
Nickelsburg uses 90:6ff to suggest composition around 200 BCE but does not differentiate in his commentary between the Aramaic and the Ethiopic, and despite his frequent emphasis on Fortschreibung and interpretive expansion in BW, he does not make anything of 90's absence.
On the one hand, the absence of the chapter used to date the book is quite plausibly an accident of preservation. On the other hand, the Aramaic version of BW in 4Q201 may be totally different from the Ethiopic after ch 9, and we know the Astronomical Book differed radically.
A further linguistic observation might suggest a tendency. Cook's dictionary of the nonbiblical Aramaic texts from Qumran registers about 20 Akkadian loanwords, 15 Persian loans, and 0 Greek. This is in contrast to earlier everyday Elephantine Aramaic (37 Akk, 72 Pers, 2 Gk)
For Biblical Aramaic Rosenthal mentions about 25 Akk and 24 Pers loanwords, alongside the 3 Greek terms for musical instruments mentioned in the court tale of Daniel 3. These corpora seem to be tools forged entirely or mostly in the Persian period--did they just ossify?
The corpus of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic seems to stand on the other side of a gulf. It is hard to read a page of early Palestinian Targum without encountering a Greek loan--more often they occur in almost every sentence. What might this mean?
While this doesn't prove how much Greek culture the creators of early Enochic literature were or were not aware of, it does show one thing: totally unlike with Aramaic under Akkadian or Persian administrations, these writers' education was *not* connected with Greek scribalism.