Review: Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew by Amy E. Richter

Amy E. Richter. Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew. Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick, 2012. Viii + 234 pp. $27.

 Wipf and Stock / Amazon

PTMS_Template_newIn this work, a revision of a doctoral dissertation done under Deirdre Dempsey and Andrei Orlov at Marquette, Amy Richter argues for a very close connection between the gospel of Matthew and the Enochic literature. In chapter one, she sets forth her thesis that Matthew makes use of an “Enochic watcher’s template” in narrating his account of Jesus’ life and ministry (1).  This template is defined as “one of three groupings of elements found in early Jewish myths about the advent of evil in the world (the other two templates are the Adamic template and a Transitional template)” (2). The basic narrative of the template is as follows: angelic beings called “watchers” descend to earth, teach women magical arts and then have sexual relations with them, producing a race of giant offspring. These giants engage in violence and are punished by God, who later floods the earth to purge it of their corruption. Their immortal spirits, however, live on and from them arise demons that plague humanity (2). While she affirms that there is “little, if any, evidence of Matthew’s quoting material from 1 Enoch” and, thus, it is difficult to claim direct literary dependence, she argues that Matthew certainly alludes to material that is “Enochic” (3). Thus, Matthew was not only aware of this template but made use of it to show that Jesus brings about eschatological repair to the destruction brought by the watchers. In support of her argument, she focuses primarily on the genealogy and infancy narratives, arguing that the four annotations on the women in the genealogy as well as many aspects of Jesus’ birth (i.e. the dreams, the star and the magi) point to this template.

In chapter two, “Transgression,” Richter unfolds her argument by showing how in the Enochic template, the main problem that led to the origin of evil was transgression: the watchers transgress their boundaries by entering the earthly realm. Here she takes a closer look at this view in the story of the watchers and their interaction with human women, primarily in 1 Enoch 7—9, but also touches on other texts including Jubilees.  She focuses on two of their primary actions: sexual interaction and the teaching of forbidden knowledge. The latter includes sorcery, spells, magic, the cutting of plants, metalworking for warfare and jewelry, cosmetic adornment, and astrological skills. The result of these actions, which constitute disobedience, are destruction and violence, affecting the entire created order.

In chapter three, “Transgression Reassessed,” Richter zeroes in on the four women (excluding Mary from the group) and argues that Matthew includes them “because they foreshadow the overturning of the transgression of the watchers” (50). She examines each of their stories in the Old Testament (and other Jewish literature) pointing to several points of connection to elements of the template. Richter argues that “it is the combination of transgression, scandalous sexual interaction, and the illicit arts that brings all four women’s stories together” (51).  However, contrary to the results in the template, in Matthew these women “bring about righteous results” (50). According to Richter, Matthew not only uses this template but “subverts its elements so that the descendent of these transgressive women will be the cause of Matthew’s hope and the subject of his gospel” (126).

Chapter four, “Transgression Redressed” is where Richter deals with the fifth woman in the genealogy, Mary, as well as the infancy narrative, which “redresses” the watcher’s transgression and overturns its effects (127). Here, she focuses on several aspects of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth that find parallels in the Enochic template. These include Joseph’s suspicions of Mary’s pregnancy (which parallel suspicions attached to Noah’s birth in 1 Enoch and the Genesis Apocryphon), the mixing of an angelomorphic being (the Holy Spirit) and human, dreams as revelatory means, and the magi engaging in illicit arts taught by the watchers. Richter asserts that through these aspects of Jesus’ birth narrative, Matthew identifies him as “the one who will repair the damage caused by the watchers” (193).

In chapter five, “The Legacy of the Watcher’s Transgression versus the Legacy of ‘God with Us,’” Richter attempts to demonstrate that these themes continue throughout Jesus’ ministry in the remainder of the gospel. She argues that Matthew’s description of the life of Jesus stands in contrast to the aftermath of the fall of the watchers and that the repair of the watchers’ transgression continues into his adult life. She addresses six themes that show this reversal: his righteous pedagogy, his rejection of illicit sexual relationships, his righteous family, his ethic of peace, his practices of healing and exorcism, and his emphasis on true worship. The sixth chapter provides a brief summary in conclusion.

One cannot deny that Richter’s work is intriguing, at the least. The difficulties of such a study, however, lie in the methodology. It is the age-old problem of intertextuality: when one searches out congruence between texts, sometimes conclusions can end up seeming forced. One could not help but feel during this study that an aspect of the watchers’ template was lurking behind every Matthean bush.  This seemed especially true in the chapter on Jesus’ adult life. While Richter offered varying degrees of confidence for her correspondences, at times it felt as if she had to do some textual gymnastics to find them. Furthermore, one must ask whether Matthew truly composed his gospel with a keen eye focused on this Enochic template or whether these similarities exist simply because both were composed in the same Jewish cultural and religious milieu? And if the former is true, do the similarities point to dependence on the template or literary dependence on the text of 1 Enoch itself? In fact, Richter’s lack of clarity on her view of the relationship between the two is a major weakness of her book.

My second concern is theological. If Matthew is depending so heavily on the Enochic template, saying that Jesus is overturning the results of the watchers’ transgression, is he then concurring with this view of the origin of sin and evil? And if so, are his views inconsistent with the worldview that the other NT writers maintain that the Adamic template is to blame for the origin of sin and evil in the world? What do we make of the Enochic template seemingly playing such a foundational role within Matthew’s theology?

Third, while Richter’s view on the inclusion of the women offers an intriguing solution for an enduring mystery, one major question remains: were the shared aspects of these women’s stories uniquely Enochic or perhaps merely the realities of life as a woman in their cultures, especially one in which one’s relationship to men constituted their identity and determined their future? Furthermore, if Matthew is teaching that the destruction of the watchers is undone by their sexual transgression and engagement in illicit arts because it leads to Jesus, it seems somewhat contradictory to Jesus’ practice of a strict rebuke and avoidance of these same illicit actions which, in some sense, accomplishes that redemption.

Regardless of whether one accepts all of Richter’s conclusions, her study gives weight to growing assertions in New Testament scholarship regarding Matthew’s deeply ingrained apocalyptic interests and use of these motifs.  As Enochic texts and traditions are major players in this literary guild, her study reveals the need for a closer examination of these texts in any serious engagement with Matthew’s. Richter’s work offers much in this regard and at the same time provides a fresh and fascinating perspective on Matthew’s gospel. Anyone currently doing focused work in the gospel of Matthew will need to engage in serious consideration of her arguments.  As for a wholehearted acceptance of her thesis by New Testament scholars, however, that still lies firmly in the future.

Thank you to my colleague, Greg Thellman, for your helpful dialogue with me on this work and also to Wipf and Stock for the complimentary review copy.

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About Susan Rieske

I am in my fourth year of doctoral work at Wheaton College studying under Nicholas Perrin. My dissertation focuses on the concept of "generation" in the book of Matthew. Before pursuing a doctorate, I spent several years in ministry serving on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru), in various leadership roles in the local church, teaching as an adjunct professor at Moody Theological Seminary, Michigan, and as a writer and speaker with Shepherd Project Ministries. I live in Wheaton with my husband and four children, who I'm training to be amazing research assistants.
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One Response to Review: Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew by Amy E. Richter

  1. Pingback: Review: Enoch and the Gospel of Matthew by Amy E. Richter | ChristianBookBarn.com

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