In 1077, Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV remained barefoot and on his knees in the snow for several days to express an act of penitence following his ex-communication by Pope Gregory VII, this symbolic gesture followed the power struggle between Church and State during the Investiture Controversy where appointed church officials had aligned their interests with the ruling nobility rather than the church that led to decades of civil war in Germany. There is implicit power in a symbolic gesture, a subtle and pre-reflexive understanding of an abstract, ritual discourse or exchange that represents a feeling or idea expressed using a non-verbal form of communication. Floriography explains the symbolic language of flowers, for instance, where the Lily and other flowers are used as a symbol in the Song of Songs to describe the purity, passion and beauty of the protagonist. The flower becomes the instrument to communicate feelings – as a gesture of friendship and love, to celebrate or mourn and thus the medium to explain these emotions. It is an implicit discourse embedded in our language and how we communicate with one another and gives meaning and significance to our experiences and personal interactions.
Figurative or allegorical language can be found throughout the bible that often use metaphors and symbols as instruments to poetically explain concepts and ideas that are sometimes literal and sometimes moral. Babylon was an actual place, for instance, but it is also used to describe godlessness or evil and combined with harlot becomes a warning not to be drawn by the seductive manipulation of worldly temptation leading one to break covenant with God. Parts of Daniel, Ezekiel and the Book of Revelations are often compared to the symbols conveyed in other parts of the bible such as Isaiah, Genesis or Jeremiah where scholars try to piece together the incredible analogies and interpret or offer insight for the possible meanings behind the apocalyptic and anagogic language. However, as the content in the bible is considered canonical or authoritative, the visions, dreams and experiences become symbols that convey literal prophetic fact and thus grounded in reality.
The Book of Enoch, however, while historically well regarded particularly by early Christians as evidenced by the large number of parchments found in Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) that – given the scarcity of such writing materials – verifies it was historically important, is now considered pseudepigraphal and therefore non-canonical. The narration is no longer grounded in reality and the metaphors and symbols are used to convey a moral message. This works as an interesting comparative given the strong similarities it has with many parts of the bible including the fall of Satan, the temptation or lust that turns the children of God away from the righteousness, and the complete punishment in similar vein to the end times.
Given the content, it also became a source of conspiracy theory, whereby in 364 during the Council of Laodicea in modern-day Turkey, a number of clerics came together to determine what was to be considered canon and included in the Bible and what was not, as well as a number of other liturgical practices and restrictions that regulated conduct within the church. This removed the Book of Enoch and even disparaged and portrayed as a threat that after several centuries eventually disappeared, causing renewed interest throughout the Middle Ages particularly during the Protestant Reformation that lead to many forgeries and conspiracies. Explorer James Bruce‘ return from his expedition to Africa in 1773 with Ethiopic copies of the Book of Enoch, along with others surfacing particularly in Qumran, finally enabled access to the long-lost content.
There are three books, 1Enoch (3rd century BCE), 2Enoch (1st century BCE) and finally 3Enoch (5th century AD). The Book of Enoch is composed of five sections including The Book of the Watchers – that describes the fallen angels and the final judgement; The Similitudes – the contains an explanation of “the chosen one” or the coming messiah; The Book of Luminaries – that describes solar and lunar calendar and other astronomical activities; The Book of Dreams – the describes the history Israel leading to the coming Messiah, and finally the Epistle of Enoch. I will primarily be discussing 1Enoch and touching on the Book of the Watchers due to the limitations, but will be regularly returning back to understand each of the other chapters at later stages.
It is falsely attributed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah as depicted in Genesis who illustrates a man of God and thus a patriarch prior to the great flood. Given that during the Council of Laodicea where astrology was broadly condemned, it is no wonder the book lost favour as descriptions of celestial beings and mythical giants, apocalyptic imagery and cosmological structures of the universe could have been seen as dangerously influential to the very problem they sought to diffuse. Yet, what about the Book of Revelations, Daniel and Ezekiel? What is the psychology behind the structure of our beliefs, about how we treat and interpret symbols, metaphors and allegories without either collapsing into the wild and untamed dimension of conspiracy theories and New Age mysticism, or on the other end of the spectrum the outright denial of any validity or necessity of the symbols? How do we understand when something should be literal or figurative, whether we should treat it as a moral lesson and assume that the contents should be grounded in reality?
The Book of Enoch begins with the Watchers or celestial angels who are present in the works of the Book of Daniel when Nebuchunezzar dreamt of a celestial being:
“I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed, and, behold, a watcher and an holy one came down from heaven; He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches.” (Daniel 4:13-14)
Daniel continues to explain his highly imaginative experiences in chapter seven and his dream relating to the four beasts that has been likened to the Book of Enoch:
“A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:10)
“The flaming fire was round about Him, and a great fire stood before Him, and none around could draw nigh Him: ten thousand times ten thousand (stood) before Him, yet He needed no counselor.” (1Enoch 14:22)
It begins by describing the fallen angels expelled by God from heaven called The Watchers who were tempted by women and left their holy position to marry and have sexual intercourse with them, whereby these women produced the Nephilim or giants that were similarly articulated as the violent and insolent Gibborim spoken of in Genesis:
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4)
“And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.” (1Enoch, 6:1-2)
“And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, 4. the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.” (1Enoch 7:1-6)
1Enoch 7:6 shows the giants to be lawless ones, arrogant and pompous where they ignore the covenant of God by sinning where women began wearing cosmetics and thinking about their appearances and men became violent, the community thus defiling themselves with ‘charms and enchantments’ that represents a pagan society. The Tower of Babel likens this arrogance where the King built the tower to signify his power over God for his capacity to reach the heavens – as though representative of the fallen being able to climb their way back up – and thus giant could be a description of this enlargement of ego, the power of Kings who are often pompous in character.
“Son of man, say unto the prince of Tyrus, Thus saith the Lord God; Because thine heart is lifted up, and thou hast said, I am a God, I sit in the seat of God, in the midst of the seas; yet thou art a man, and not God, though thou set thine heart as the heart of God” (Ezekiel 28:2)
It is clearly articulated in the story of the Amorite King of Og and that of Moses, whereby Moses arrives to confront the King of Bashan where stories circulated about Og being a giant sleeping on a notoriously large bed had brought fear to the Israelites:
“For only Og King of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man.” (Deuteronomy 3:11)
“And they turned and went up by the way to Bashan. So Og King of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Do not fear him, for I have delivered him into your hand, with all his people and his land; and you shall do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon.” So they defeated him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left him; and they took possession of his land.” (Deutreronomy 3:1-3)
When I think of the Ottoman Empire and Vlad the Impaler, stories were circulated about the latter and the grotesque descriptions of his violence that brought fear into the hearts of the janissaries (and later became the inspiration for stories of Dracula) that in effect forced the Ottomans after many battles to abandon possible attacks. Stories of drinking blood and impaling an entire forest of Ottomans is a type of psychological warfare and when Moses clear states “do not fear him” and ultimately an easy defeat may perhaps show his understanding of this exaggeration used to repel attack. These giants or Rephaite are present in other areas of the bible, perhaps famously when King David killed the last giant Goliath:
“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.” (Samuel 17:4)
Even here this height is profound (about nine and a half feet) but not impossible, because unlike the Nephilim, Goliath was isolated in his giantism, a medical condition we now know is caused by the over-production of a pituitary gland or growth hormone that can occur in humans such as that of Sultan Kösen and many more. In addition, Goliath would have been overwhelming for a time where people due to poor dietary habits were much smaller in stature then they are today. The Nephilim were, on the other hand, said to be a collection of giants born as a result of the immorality of these fallen angels. These angels are led by Azazel depicted in Enochic literature as the leader of these fallen angels and while contentious nevertheless clearly resembles the story of Satan or the serpent that tempts Adam and Eve, whereby Azazel disobeys God and teaches women to wear cosmetics and men to be violent, thus corrupting people to behave with godlessness.
“And Azâzêl taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways.” (Enoch 8: 1-3)
“And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life.” (Jeremiah 4:30)
The conclusion is Azazel’ punishment that would be determined on Judgement Day where he will be cast into the fire and continues similar to that of Dante’ Divine Comedy as Enoch travels through the ‘heavens’ with Uriel.
“And I went from thence to the middle of the earth, and I saw a blessed place ⌈in which there were trees⌉ with branches abiding and blooming [of a dismembered tree]. And there I saw a holy mountain, and underneath the mountain to the east there was a stream and it flowed towards the south. And I saw towards the east another mountain higher than this, and between them a deep and narrow ravine: in it also ran a stream underneath the mountain.” [1Enoch XXVI]
“Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the main street of the city. On either side of the river stood a tree of life, producing twelve kinds of fruit and yielding a fresh crop for each month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” [Revelations 22]
An understanding of these symbols and their relationship to the times that it was written is also essential as our limited understanding of the worldview of that time also limits our ability to understand the meaning and interpretation of the canonical scriptures. To simply reject the Book of Enoch is to reject insight and an opportunity to understand what symbols represent in other parts of the Bible.
Literal or Moral?
Symbols and metaphors are the nuances that explain the difference between a house and a home, or as St. Augustine said of justice: “In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?” where meaning gives life or substance to our experiences. Our imagination is in effect a cognitive tool that illuminates those gaps in language. When we trace language back to those days when parts of the bible were composed, with the limitations of knowledge and education along with the variations in cultural attitudes, those symbols were understood very differently to how we understand them today. If the ultimate or underlying purpose is moral then it is irrelevant if it is canon as long as it is understood correctly. Indeed, some parts – particularly the laws – are rooted in an ethical reality where experience of goodness is a shared objective, but the symbolism and poetic literature is rooted in our reality, that is, our moral reality and therefore an individual or personal experience. This then changes how we behave and how we articulate the world and that is how it becomes literal.
The symbols used in biblical literature should not be treated as something that has a solid interpretation, instead the imagery should direct one to a preliminary but disjointed and fluid explanation of an underlying moral proposition so that one can decide how this is applicable to their own interpretation of the world. Cane and Able explains the evils of jealousy, Adam pointing the finger and blaming Eve for his decision to bite the apple explains the lack of accountability in temptation, the suffering of Lot explains patience and thus the problem of whether these are factual and rooted in reality is pointless if the moral is overlooked.
We can take Jesus and turn him into a god to symbolise his spiritual authority and yet completely miss the point of his teachings, like setting the stage for Christian eschatology by creating hatred and violence in the Middle East in order to initiate the second coming of Christ. This is grossly misunderstanding the teleology or purpose of the bible and of Christ himself. Can it not be that the second coming or Messiah is simply someone who has actually understood the moral purpose of the Bible?
“And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.” (Revelations 5:2-5)
Morality is not solid but fluid because one must continuously learn and improve, while a belief-system provides one with a type of egotism that authorises a pompous and arrogant attitude to the world; like a fallen angel, it can sometimes enable one to justify immoral behaviour. The point of the bible, of philosophy and contemplation is to learn and improve our understanding of morality by expanding our knowledge of virtue as our education and experience progresses. Our imagination captures the metaphorical language used to narrate and explain moral goodness and provide us with a mirror to our own behaviour to help us transcend the solidity of our own prejudices. It is using language as a tool and so opens us to continuous learning independent of belief-systems, the latter making people automatically or robotically reiterate information based on their social learning and therefore their learning remains concrete and never progresses.
In order for a person to authentically appreciate moral values so that it can be applied in the present and rooted in reality, they need to experience that “eureka effect” or that moment where one independently discovers, internalises and eventually wills moral value instead of adapting to expected religious or social behaviour without any genuine or authentic understanding, only because society or their social environment dictates these expectations. There is only value or substance in morality when a person has freely and independently decided to take that relativistic approach to learning and education.
Kant traverses in similar vein to this problem and states that in order for our actions to have moral worth, it must come from duty and that is not say conforming to moral regulations or being obliged to adhere to socially applied rules, but rather that moral worthiness is that very prompt within us that compels us to act morally, thus from a place of duty. He continues that authenticity of this duty is not by the aim or result of the act – i.e., so is it morally worthy to give to charity for the purpose of being congratulated? – but the maxim itself or the intention the action is performed describes authenticity and it is authenticity that describes moral worthiness. This internal aspect of the individual agent soon moves from morality to ethics and where the necessity of moral laws become universal, that point between our individual moral agency with our socially ethical duty regulated by what Kant believes is rational or with reason. This rationality is the same as the relativism I mentioned earlier, the fluid ability to continuously improve and learn, to be willing to better understand and be educated and commonsensical without being grounded in concrete beliefs or motivated by conforming to social expectations where your intention is determined by obligation.
The only beliefs that one should hold, then, is God – who is omnipresent and not anthropomorphic or a “man on a cloud” – and our individual agency and what binds us – me with God who encompasses all things – are the virtues or moral laws that I apply to the present reality that I live in. Whether one is a scientist, a philosopher, or a religious person, moral values are imperative for a good life, for the sustainability of happiness and for peace, without which one becomes capable of the most atrocious and ultimately destructive acts that lead only to misery. That is to say that an athiest, scientist or a hedonist cannot deny that the ethical duty to adhere to universal moral laws can enable both extrinsic and intrinsically valuable experiences that lead to happiness because happiness is pleasurable. Thus, as Epictetus states, “Since it is reason which shapes and regulates all other things, it ought not itself to be left in disorder,” and improving our language and understanding is key to improving moral virtue.
Mysticism is a result of an absence of reason, of making an ignorant choice to believe in these symbols without understanding the moral purpose, where the Kabbalah, Sufism and other occult or mystical religions believe in many worlds or realms and divine creatures as though it were real. Theosophy founded by Madame Blavatsky that caused the modern chain of global New Age mysticism similarly adheres to beliefs of celestial beings ruled by Satan as their godly figure, exposing the underlying madness of such beliefs when it is not grounded in moral laws.
I think it is time to set aside the old and begin anew, to re-create a new tabernacle that sources its understanding of the bible through moral interpretations of symbols given that it our actions and our activity that result in literal outcomes. The apocalyptic should not convey a deterministic outcome, but should be seen as a moral warning explaining the depravity of our ways and a choice that we have to prevent.