This random thought crossed my mind a few minutes ago: Did early Christians differentiate between Jesus’ resurrected body dwelling in the heavenly realm and those of Enoch and Elijah who were taken there without death? I don’t recall ever reading anything about this anywhere. Anyone out there have any thoughts to offer?
(FYI, I’m not intending to do an extended study on the subject or anything, but it is something that popped into my head so I thought I’d post this inquiry here.)
A possible foundation for this question is the reference to the Book of Enoch in Jude 1:4. The church was originally divided when whether canonization of Jude justified canonization of the Book of Enoch. The Jews had decided “no” when canonizing the Old Testament, and the Church eventually followed suit for the New. So if by early Christians you mean the generation that established the Biblical canon, then I doubt they thought Enoch’s phsyical dwelling in Heaven completely through. However, if “early Christian” means the writers of the New Testament, then I believe there is enough in commonality with the Book of Enoch and the books of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Daniel, Luke, 1 Corinthians, Jude, Hebrews, 1/2 Peter, and Revelation to conclude that at least they probably took the Book of Enoch at face value. So the question is, what does the Book of Enoch say?
Well, according to Enoch, he had visions, and then later “disappeared.” In one of his visions, he witnessed a man receive a revelation conspicuously similar to John’s Revelation. Well Daniel 12 records Daniel witnessing **two** men witnessing a Revelation conspicuously similar to John’s! This suggests to me that Daniel witnessed Enoch witnessing John’s Revelation. If you are willing to consider that the NT writers may have realized this connection, then it suggests that the manifestation of Enoch in Heaven **in this vision** is like the physical manifestation of John within that **same** vision. Having three prophets transfigured into the same vision suggests that the vision could have been an actual spiritual translocation of all three men from across space and time into Heaven. In that case, if you can imagine the ramifications of John’s physicality in Heaven during his vision relative to Jesus in Revelation, then you can imagine Enoch’s as well. On the other hand, Enoch does distinguish between the his vision and his own disappearance. So, considering the vision alone is unclear.
According to the Book of Enoch, in his disappearance, Enoch ended up in the actual Heaven, and was shown the dwelling places of the angels, both fallen and unfallen. He was shown Hell and the Pit of Darkness, and also the Son of Man, who is conspicuously similar to the New Testament depiction of Jesus. Later in the Book of Enoch, Enoch comes back to answer questions of Noah and Noah’s father, suggesting that Enoch (if this is indeed accurate) had a continuity of consciousness that went from earth, to Heaven, then back to earth, and back to heaven again. Of course the book doesn’t really give us a sound means for accurately characterizing Enoch’s bodily dwelling in Heaven, but it does strongly suggest an equivalence with Jesus’ current physical dwelling there, suggesting the NT writers would have seen an equivalence with Enoch’s dwelling there as well.
I hope that helps.
There are some interesting thoughts on Enoch and Elijah in Dunn, Christology in the Making, p. 92-95 Also, an analysis by Begg of how Josephus handles Enoch & Elijah in JBL 109.4 (1990): 691-93. But they aren’t explicitly asking the question that you pose.
The only NT reference to this question that I can think of that comes close to giving a clue is Heb. 11. Verse 11:5 says that “By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death,” but v. 13 says “all of these died in faith without having received the promises. IOW, Enoch died but didn’t see himself die. Verse 32 speaks of David and Samuel and the prophets (presumably including Elijah), who, “though commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised” (v. 39), which is presumably resurrection to life in that eschatologically conceived heavenly city. Although they also presumably died, they were not resurrected. Consequently neither Enoch nor Elijah were resurrected. So, it seems that in the mind of the author of Hebrews no one except Jesus has been resurrected to that particularly eternal heavenly realm.
It’s complicated. Recall how Jesus insisted that John the Baptist was the returning Elijah. If one supposes the early Christians accepted that interpretation of John as fact, then by definition they didn’t understand Elijah to be located strictly in the “heavenly realms” – a loaded expression if ever there was one. Presumably, the same goes for Enoch.
Very interesting question… potentially an important one, in my view. I think the other commenters are onto the key leads… both the canonical and extra-canonical ref’s to Elijah and Enoch. But also Mark Gibb’s mention of John the Baptist in terms of the returning Elijah. It seems clear that Jews of that period expected more than just someone much LIKE Elijah to show up (i.e. in his “spirit” in the broad sense we moderns mean it sometimes). What further adds to the puzzle (that I don’t pretend to have figured out) is just why some seem to have thought Jesus might be the returned John the B., even though they presumably knew that the two were roughly the same age and that John had just recently been executed.
Another potentially relevant datapoint might be the transfiguration, in terms of what EITHER the story of it reveals re. expectations and beliefs. or the actuality of it, if one takes it as historical/literal. Overall, my sense is that Jews of the time had some unusual but perhaps generally vague ideas of how certain famous people’s identities (or consciousness) might transmit across time, probably including some kind of “reincarnation”, though probably not like existing Eastern concepts of the time.
I also think there is good evidence that Jesus’ immediate disciples did NOT make the connection of other “Christians” like Paul, that Jesus’ resurrection meant he was part of a “Godhead” or otherwise divine. Elijah and Enoch supply at least some evidence for flexibility about what a “translation to heaven” implied, and probably similarly, a personal and immediate resurrection, which WAS probably outside the general concept of “resurrection of the dead” held to by at least the Pharisees.
Excellent points, Howard.
Elijah is quite a bigshot in minority Middle Eastern sects – central to Sufi, Alawi, Kurdish, Druze, Mandaeans et al – which can’t really be explained by his Old Testament cameo. Elijah is often literally identified as Hermes in these groups, although I wouldn’t want to open that can of “hermeneutics” worms here.
The Hindu/Buddhist concept of reincarnation (each incarnation a reward or punishment for the previous) depends strictly on linear time. Gnostic-type mystery religions of Egypt and the Middle East understood time more as cyclical, or illusory, meaning that time is concurrent ( a series of “nows”). In other words, all incarnations are simultaneous. Moreover, this theme is universal, not “famous people” only.
Of course, the average Jew was hardly into metaphysics, and according to Matthew, Jesus’ disciples hadn’t even heard of the Elijah prophecy. As for John the Baptist being Elijah, Jesus makes the qualifier ” if you are prepared to accept it,” implying his disciples were not among those initiated for whom the concept was easy to accept.
For me, the issue of Elijah/Enoch and their supposed “ascensions” is one of metaphysics, rather than historicity, and for some reason metaphysics is borderline taboo.
On Jesus’ identification with John the Baptist…..I propose this interpretation as worthy of consideration:
@Mike: Thorough observations. It would seem from what you said that early Christians (we can include both the earliest generation to say the early Councils) didn’t attempt to juxtapose the two explicitly at any point.
@michael: Thanks for the heads up there.
@rwwilson: Insightful. This would mean that while Elijah and Enoch didn’t die like others, their transformation was a type of death. I wonder how this compares w. Paul’s statements about people changing at the Parousia. It seems like they don’t die, yet get to move on to the resurrected body.
Concerning the comment by Jesus i.e. “Baptist = Elijah”, if you take the narrative as one whole piece, Luke explains that to me metaphorical. I think in Luke1-2. That makes the prophecy in Zechariah metaphor.
One could argue the whole of Luke Chaps 1-2 are a metaphor. Plenty of OT themes, not much history, and the odd fiction (census in 6CE). Does Luke actually “explain” anything here. I just don’t see it.
I’m curious, what did/n’t the stories of Elijah and Enoch imply to Hebrews (in exile or in post-temple Judaism) about metaphysic, life eternal, the kingdom of heaven, or after-life (all very different things, I know, but conflated in part in contemporary evangelicalism) I’ll start by taking a look at Begg and Dunn, thanks @michael and everyone for some good thoughts.
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