It was very brutal, very sudden. « Enoch walked with God, and then he was no more, for God took him away. »i A real trick. The construction of the sentence is straightforward, without nuance. If we translate word for word: « Enoch walked with God (in the text: ‘to the Gods’: et-ha-Elohim, אֶת–הָאֱלֹהִים ), then, ‘nothing more of him, vé-éïnénou, וְאֵינֶנּוּ ‘, because God (Elohim) took him away (or: seized him), ki-laqaḥ oto Elohim כִּי–לָקַח אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים .»
The expression used to render the key moment of Enoch’s disappearance (‘nothing more of him’ – éïnénou) evokes a kind of nothingness, an ‘absence’ instantaneously substituting for the ‘presence’ of Enoch, for his walking in ‘presence of God’, during three centuries.
Rachi comments as follows: « Enoch was a righteous man, but weak in conscience and easy to turn to evil. So God hastened to take him out of this world before his time. That is why the text expresses itself differently when it speaks of his death, and says: AND HE WAS NO LONGER in this world to complete his years. »
Therefore, Rashi does not believe that Enoch was taken up to Heaven in the manner of Elijah, like in a ‘rapture’. According to Rashi it is only a metaphor, a vigorous one admittedly, but which only translates the death of a « just », who was also a little « weak ».
I find that Rashi’s commentary falls rather short of the text.
Why demean Enoch by calling him a « weak man and easy to incite to evil »? Enoch is a « just » man. This is no small thing. Moreover, « he walks with God ». This is not a sign of weakness. Secondly, why does Rashi say that God « hastened to take him out of this world before his time, » when Enoch had already been walking with God ( וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ, אֶת–הָאֱלֹהִים ) for three hundred yearsii?
If we add the years that Enoch lived before giving birth to Methuselah, Enoch lived a total of three hundred and sixty five yearsiii…That is a long time before God decided to “hasten”...
A thousand years before Rashi, Philo of Alexandria had proposed a completely different interpretation. « Enoch was pleasing to God, and ‘they could not find him’ (Gen. 5:24). Where would one have looked to find this Good? What seas would one have crossed? On what islands, on what continents? Among the Barbarians, or among the Greeks? Aren’t there not even today initiates in the mysteries of philosophy who say that wisdom is without existence, since the wise man does not exist either? So it is said that ‘he could not be found’, that way of being which was pleasing to God, in the sense that while it exists well, it is hidden from view, and that it is hidden from us where it is, since it is also said that God took it away ».iv
Philo goes from the figure of Enoch to that of Good. Where to find the Good? Where to find Wisdom? Just because we can’t find them, doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly disappeared, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Philo sees in the text an incitement to take flight towards high ideas. Probably an influence of Pythagoras and Plato. A form of encounter, the spirit of Israel and that of Greece.
After Philo and Rashi, what can we still see in this passage of Genesis?
The name Enoch (חֲנוֹךְ ) gives a clue. It means « the initiate », « the one who is dedicated ». The word ḥanukah has the same root. Long before it meant the feast of the same name, which commemorates the victories of the Maccabees, this word had the generic meaning of « inauguration », of « dedication »: the dedication of the altar (Num. 7:11) or the inauguration of the temple (Ps. 30:1).
Enoch was a living « dedication ». He had « dedicated » himself to God. He was a “walking” sacrifice (like Isaac, walking to the place of his sacrifice).
Enoch had given his own life as a sacrifice. God was pleased with him, and God walked « with him ». Then, one day, suddenly, God took him away.
Why that day, precisely, and not before or after?
I think that Enoch was taken away on the day he was 365 years old. He had spent 65 years until he became the father of Methuselah, and 300 more years of walking in the presence of God. A life of 365 years, that is, a year of years.v
A « year of years » is a good metaphor to signify the perfection of time accomplished, the sum of the life of a righteous man.
But why was Enoch ‘suddenly’ no longer seen?
When God takes hold of a soul, it is not done in a picosecond or a femtosecond or even as one might say, ‘immediately’.
It is done in a time without time, infinitely short in the beginning, and infinitely long, immediately afterwards.
i Gen. 5, 24
ii Gen. 5,22
iiiGen. 5, 21-23
iv Mutatione Nominum, 34-38
vGen. 5, 21-23