Enoch and the Afterlife

This post deals with an important belief we today take for granted, one that was anything but clear in the Old Testament era, and how Enoch started the process of clarifying things.

Now we all know that after death, the righteous go to Heaven and the wicked go to Hell; everybody gets this, right? Not so, for a very long time this was not commonly understood.

As an increasing number of people are beginning to understand, the concept of what happens in the afterlife is not well developed in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the notion of Sheol, where everyone went after death, was similarly not developed in any detail.

This started to change in the Second Temple / Intertestamental era, and the more specific thinking about rewards for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, seen in the N.T., slowly developed in the centuries leading up to the N.T. era.

Here is where Enoch comes in – I was recently reading over the article on the background of the Greek word Hades in Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the N.T., originally published in 1932, and ran across this little gem, written by the N.T. scholar Joachim Jeremias:

“… under the influence of Persian and Hellenistic ideas concerning retribution after death, the belief arose [in pre-Christian Judaism] that the righteous and the godless would have very different fates, and we thus have the development of the idea of spacial separation [different eternal destinations] in the underworld, the first instance being found in Eth. Enoch, 22 [1 Enoch, chapter 22]. According to Josephus’ Antiquities, 18, 14 the Pharisees held this view.”

Here is Jeremias, then a rising young theologian, recognizing that Enoch was the first to begin laying the foundations of the understanding of separate destinations in the afterlife that we take for granted as readers of the N.T. – that is, that the righteous and the wicked can expect to have different fates after death.

This is another example of how Enoch contributed significantly to the development of theology and biblical understanding. It is not hard to see why it was so popular and influential.

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