Review of W. Loader, Enoch, Levi, and Jubilees on Sexuality

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 9 (2009) - Review

William Loader, Enoch, Levi, and Jubilees on Sexuality: Attitudes towards Sexuality in the Early Enoch Literature, the Aramaic Levi Document, and the Book of Jubilees (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2007). Pp. ix + 350. Paper, US$38.00, £21.99. ISBN 978-0-8028-2583-4.

Enoch, Levi, and Jubilees on Sexuality presents the initial results of Loader's multi-year project on “attitudes towards sexuality in Judaism and Christianity of the Hellenistic era” (p. ix), but it is his third Eerdmans monograph on the topic. (The first two are The Septuagint, Sexuality, and the New Testament: Case Studies on the Impact of the LXX in Philo and the New Testament [2004] and Sexuality and the Jesus Tradition [2005]). It is a dense, inductive study of three early Jewish texts as they relate to the theme of sexuality, which Loader defines broadly as “behaviours, thoughts and feelings, which people have identified as pertaining to sexual desire and its expression.” He also examines “attitudes towards marriage as one of the contexts in which sexuality plays a role and towards men and women as sexual beings, generally” (p. 2). Readers searching for an inter-disciplinary approach that engages directly with current sexuality theory will need to look elsewhere. Loader's discussion is situated within conventional scholarship on early Judaism.

Loader's decision to restrict this study to Enochic literature, the Aramaic Levi Document and Jubilees is probably due to the on-going nature of his project, as several other important works would have been included if the sole criteria were age and influence (p. 1). However, the selection is not arbitrary, for Jubilees certainly knew 1 Enoch and was either dependent on the Aramaic Levi Document itself or on a common source (pp. 169, 175). The comparison between these related texts is illuminating, keeps the length manageable, and provides a convenient three-part structure.

In part 1 sections from 1 Enoch are treated in their order of composition, beginning with the Book of the Watchers (1-36), and then turning to the Book of Dream Visions (83-90), the Epistle of Enoch (91-105), and the Birth of Noah (106-7). A final section examines the DSS fragments of the Book of Giants. The Astronomical Book (72-82) is omitted as irrelevant to the theme. The Book of the Parables (37-71) and 1 Enoch 108, both of which are dated to the first century BCE or later, are postponed for treatment in a subsequent monograph. Most of part 1 consists of a close reading of the Watchers myth in 1 Enoch 6-16. Loader concentrates on the origins of sin in general, and of sexual sin in particular, but also mines the text for attitudes towards sexuality, whether positive or negative. He observes that predictions of long—rather than unending—life in the age to come imply the continuation of sexual relations. However, 1 Enoch shows no positive interest in sexual activity aside from procreation. On the negative side, sorcery is presented as a gendered activity consistently associated with women, and part of the blame for the Watchers' fall is placed on female seduction. The myth of the Watchers is both etiological, explaining the origins of evil, and paradigmatic, warning against the dangers of illicit marriage and the corrupting influence of foreign women. While chapters 12-16 are especially concerned with the danger of priestly exogamy, the warning is not limited to priests. Loader's comparatively brief survey of the remaining Enochic literature deals with isolated passages related to sexuality, most of which are closely related to the ideas raised in 1-16. Surprisingly, the authors of 1 Enoch do not exploit the myth of the Watchers to warn against sexual sin in general. The only contemporary concern related to sexuality is the problem of intermarriage. “Given the sexual potency of the myth, this is remarkable” (p. 80).

Part 2 is a short twenty-five page chapter on the fragmentary Aramaic Levi Document (ALD). One of ALD's concerns—reflected in the “foundational myth” of Dinah—is sexual wrongdoing, especially the problem of intermarriage. Loader concludes that ALD most likely presents Dinah as complicit in Shechem's action and the cause of her family's defilement. He also argues that the use of זנות in ALD prohibits exogamy, and not simply prostitution. Although ALD is primarily concerned about Levi and his descendents, the concern for marital purity is not limited to priests, for the priests are responsible to warn against the dangers of exogamy and, like Levi in the story of Dinah, to punish those who intermarry (pp. 107-8). While the text is concerned about sexual transgression, it does not suggest there is anything wrong with sexual activity within its proper context.

Parts 1 and 2 stand on their own, but they also prepare for Loader's discussion of Jubilees in Part 3, which comprises almost two thirds of the book. Loader shows that Jubilees is deeply concerned about sexual wrongdoing. After analysing statements about sexual sin in their narrative contexts, Loader examines related terminology in Greek, Hebrew and Ge‘ez to demonstrate that general words such as “impurity” assume sexual connotations even when sexual sin is not explicitly mentioned. Unlike in 1 Enoch, the Watchers' sexual activity “becomes paradigmatic for all sexual wrongdoing” in Jubilees (p. 131). As in 1 Enoch and ALD, intermarriage is a central concern that is not limited to priests, for Jubilees views the whole nation as a “priestly kingdom.” Thus Lev 21:9, which originally applied to daughters of priests who engaged in prostitution (זנות), is extended to any woman who marries a foreigner (pp. 168-9). The danger is not simply exposure to bad influences; proscribed sexual activity itself brings moral defilement on the people. In its proper context, Jubilees's attitude towards sexual activity is very positive—and not limited to procreation. This coincides with a favourable portrayal of women and an emphasis on loving companionship within marriage. The proper context includes respect for sacred time and sacred space. Thus Adam “knew” Eve in a sexual sense (Jub. 3:6) after she was created, but before they entered the garden (p. 279). Sexual relations are also excluded in the age to come, Loader suggests, because Jubilees envisions a return to innocence where everyone will be children (pp. 284-5).

In the case of Jubilees, at least, there is already an extensive secondary literature—amply represented in the footnotes—on some aspects of “sexuality.” Loader's main contribution is his thorough, contextual approach, and its application to three different texts. Their juxtaposition underlines their remarkable similarities, highlights their distinctive emphases, and raises questions that might not otherwise be addressed. Loader's persistent attention to positive statements about sexuality is especially helpful. The result is a valuable study of all three texts with implications for our understanding of the Judaism the texts represent.

Specialists will appreciate Loader's careful inductive analysis and his detailed exegesis. Helpful summary sections review the ground that has been covered. However, the extensive footnotes and lengthy back-and-forth examination of alternatives make for heavy reading. Perhaps because Loader regards it as preliminary spade-work in a larger project, the book is longer and less focused than it might otherwise have been.

David M. Miller, Briercrest College, Caronport, SK