The Unintentionally Canonical Enoch, Part II

1 Peter

I showed in a previous article that the New Testament text called the Letter of Judah owes its existence to the Book of Enoch. The letter would barely exist if we erased the Enoch-inspired content. I also talked about how the Letter of Judah was actually written in the late first century, by a Christian pretending to be Judah, the brother of Jacob the Just, the brother of Jesus.

There were other pseudepigrapha that made it into the New Testament along with the Letter of Judah. Another one was the First Letter of Peter.

Like Judah, 1 Peter was written sometime within the last couple of decades of the first century. Far too late to have been written by the actual Peter. Scholars rely on a number of elements in the text to come to this conclusion (style, vocabulary, theology, etc.), but the dead giveaway is 1 Peter 5.13, which refers to Rome as 'Babylon'. This identification only emerged after AD 70 when Rome (like Babylon) destroyed Jerusalem's temple. Peter was dead before AD 70; no one was calling Rome 'Babylon' yet.

Some Christian scholars accept that 1 Peter was written pseudonymously, but various theories are put forth to protect the text from harsher implications. I'll leave aside the question of whether the author wrote in Peter's name to honor him, or to abuse the authority Peter's name carried. What I'm interested in here is 1 Peter's use of the Book of Enoch.

First Peter is addressed to Judean followers of Jesus; verse 1.1 addresses the letter to 'exiles of the Diaspora', an overt reference to Judeans scattered around the Greco-Roman world. The text works better as an encyclical letter compared to Judah, since this text has the specific purpose of encouraging its readers to endure through suffering. In the course of making his points, the author meanders into Enochian lore.

In chapter 3, 'Peter' tells his readers 'it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil'. He points to Jesus' death on the cross as the ultimate example of such suffering, but then he wanders a bit off course from his topic:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
1 Peter 3.18-22

Scholars have scratched their heads over how to make sense of the flow of logic here for a long time. In particular, what to make of Jesus preaching to 'spirits in prison'. Who are these spirits? What did Jesus proclaim to them? What happened to them after they received his message? A popular interpretation among Christians is that Peter is here talking about the Harrowing of Hell: while dead in the tomb, Jesus' spirit traversed the underworld of the dead and proclaimed the Gospel to the spirits of all the people who had died up to that time. Those who received his message were saved and released from this hellish 'prison', while those who rejected him stayed behind.

Unfortunately, this makes little sense of the details of the text, such as why it highlights 'the days of Noah' as opposed to the time of Moses, or David, or the Babylonian exile. It also assumes a positive response from the imprisoned spirits where none is implied. (The Harrowing of Hell is better found in 1 Peter 4.5-6.)

One more thing. At the time 1 Peter was written, Greek was penned only in capital letters, without punctuation or accents, and rarely any spacing. The text of 1 Peter 3.19 thus read:

ΕΝΩΚΑΙΤΟΙΣΕΝΦΥΛΑΚΗΠΝΕΥΜΑΣΙΝΠΟΡΕΥΘΕΙΣΕΚΗΡΥΞΕΝ

As you can imagine, when a scribe was copying a written work by hand, it was easy for errors to creep into the text. A scribe could skip a line, or repeat one twice. One scribe was discovered to have copied two separate columns of text as if they were a single column. Notes in the margin of one text have sometimes been accidentally included in the main body of its copy. If there was a lector reading a work out loud, the copyist listening to him could mishear something and write down the wrong thing entirely. And one common mistake was to simply misread the individual letters, confusing one for another, such as the triangular-shaped letters A (alpha), Δ (delta), and Λ (lambda).

In this case, I think it's likely a scribe making a very early copy of 1 Peter made a mistake in the line of text above, accidentally omitting a single letter that changed the whole sentence. In this way, a very early scribal error was passed on to every other copy made from his copy. If we restore this hypothetical missing letter, the text of 1 Peter 3.19 now reads:

ΕΝΩΧΚΑΙΤΟΙΣΕΝΦΥΛΑΚΗΠΝΕΥΜΑΣΙΝΠΟΡΕΥΘΕΙΣΕΚΗΡΥΞΕΝ

All we've done is emend the letter Χ (chi). Whether the scribe misread the Χ with the Κ that followed right after it, or whether he misheard a lector reading the sounds of Χ and Κ together as only the Κ, it would have been a very easy mistake to make. When we translate the emended text into English, it now reads:

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit. And Enoch went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Now it is not Jesus (antecedent of 'he') who proclaimed to imprisoned spirits, but Enoch. Anyone who has read 1 Enoch 1-36 will instantly recognize the situation being described in 1 Peter 3. The author, like the individual who wrote the Letter of Judah, was an avid student of 1 Enoch and has incorporated the apocryphal story of Enoch into his letter.

With this emendation of 'ΕΝΩΚΑΙ' to 'ΕΝΩΧΚΑΙ', 1 Peter 3 now has the author stating that baptism was foreshadowed in Noah's survival through the flood, while Enoch's proclamation to the Watchers anticipated the exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God, where he now wields authority over 'angels, authorities, and powers' such as the Watchers. Later chapters of the Book of Enoch depict a figure called 'the son of man' as presiding over the day of judgment, and Jesus is, of course, identified as 'the son of man' in early Christian literature.

Below, you can compare the text of 1 Peter 3.19 with the relevant passages of the Book of Enoch.

Enoch // 1 Peter

12.3-13.1: And I, Enoch, was standing blessing the Lord of majesty, the King of the Ages. And behold, the watchers of the Great Holy One called me, Enoch the scribe, and said to me, "Enoch, righteous scribe, go and declares to the watchers of heaven who forsook the high heavens […] Tell them: 'All of you have wrought great desolation on the earth; not one of you will have peace or forgiveness.' […] And, Enoch, go and say to Azazel, 'You will have no peace.'" […] Then I went and spoke to all of them together. And Enoch went and made a proclamation to the spirits
10.4,11-12: And to [the archangel] Raphael he said, "Proceed, Raphael, and bind Azazel hand and foot and cast him into the darkness." […] And to Michael he said, "Proceed, Michael […] bind them [the Watchers] for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, until the great day of their judgment" in prison,
6.1-4: And it came to pass when the sons of men had multiplied in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to him. And the watchers, the sons of heaven, saw them and desired them. And they said to one another, "Come, let us choose wives for ourselves from the daughters of men, and let us beget children for ourselves." And Shemihazah, their leader, said to them, "I fear that you will not want to do this deed, and I alone shall be guilty of a great sin." And they all said to him, "Let us swear an oath, and let us all bind one another with imprecations, that none of us shall turn back from this counsel until we fulfill it and do this deed." who in former times did not obey,
10.1-2: Then the Most High declared, and the Great Holy One spoke. And he sent [the archangel] Sariel to the son of Lamech, saying, "Go to Noah and tell him in my name, 'Hide yourself.' And reveal to him […] that a flood is about to come upon all the earth and destroy everything on the earth. And now instruct the righteous one, the son of Lamech, what he should do, how he may preserve his soul and escape forever." when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water.