Enoch was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic by Jews, and some ancient fragments of it have been found near the Dead Sea. But the oldest complete versions are in the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge’ez because Ethiopian Christians are the only enduring church group that revered the book as Scripture.
James C. VanderKam, a professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Notre Dame University and a leading expert on the Book of Enoch, has inspected the book on loan to the trust and estimates that it’s probably one of the five oldest manuscripts of the work.
“We don’t have very many that go back that far,” said VanderKam, who is co-author of an English translation of Enoch and is working on a commentary. VanderKam estimated that the text was about 500 years old because its script and contents are similar to a manuscript of that age in the British Museum. Specialists in Ethiopian script could make a more specific determination, he said.
Enoch is mentioned in Luke’s genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:37). The writer of the epistles to the Hebrews says,
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God (Hebrews 11:5 NASB).
The most interesting mention of Enoch in the New Testament is the quotation from the book in the little letter of Jude. In the midst of a litany of charges against “certain persons” who had crept in unnoticed among the Christians to whom he writes, he says,
It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” (Jude 1:14-15 NASB).
The book of Enoch was not considered one of the canonical books of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) by the Jews, but Jude seems to think it expressed the truth about what will happen to false teachers. In the same way, Paul quoted pagan poets whose work expressed the truth he was seeking to express (Acts 17:28).
For several weeks I have been looking for an excuse to mention that my book, The Early Church, is now available in the Amharic language. All distribution is being done by Christians in Ethiopia, and I have no copies for distribution.
Ethiopians, sometimes called Abyssinians, have a small chapel adjoining the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. There they sometimes show a portion of the Gospels prepared in the shape of a cross. One of my guides used to ask the Ethiopian to read to us from Amharic. This photo was made in 1977.