Was Genesis even authoritative for the Book of Watchers? In what sense? John J. Collins

John J. Collins indicates the size of a cubit – the conventional unit of measurement for Giants

John J. Collins writes:

It should be clear that the Torah is one of several sources on which the author [of the Book of the Watchers] drew, although in this case it provides the main frame for the story. The story itself is a moral tale, illustrating the pitfalls of fornication and of illicit knowledge. The understanding of the sin of the watchers as improper revelation provides an obvious counterpart to the proper revelation of Enoch in the rest of the book. The contrast between the watchers and Enoch is spelled  out a little later, when Enoch has his audience with God in 1 En. 15. The watchers are reproached for having left the high and holy heaven and lain with human women. The mystery they revealed was worthless. In contrast, Enoch is a human being who ascends to heaven and lives like the holy ones.

Of course, the career of Enoch, which takes up the greater part of the Book of the Watchers, is itself only loosely based on Genesis. Enoch was famously said to have ‘walked with God’ (Gen 5.22). While the biblical phrase may have meant only that Enoch lived a righteous life, it inspired the story that he had ascended to heaven, even before ‘God took him’ (Gen 5.24). It is widely agreed that he was modeled to some degree on Enmeduranki, king of Sippar, who is said to have been taken up to heaven and shown the techniques of divination and the tablet of the gods. The Book of the Watchers spins a story that he was given a tour of the ends of the earth, guided by an angel. In all of this, motifs that echo the Hebrew Scriptures are freely mixed with Hellenistic and Babylonian traditions.

It is difficult to say whether or in what sense the author of the Book of the Watchers regarded Genesis as authoritative. He mainly treated it as fodder for imagination. This is the way ‘canonical’ texts work in literature: they nourish the imagination of later writers, and constrain it only to a limited degree.

    • John J. Collins, “Torah as Narrative and Wisdom in the Dead Sea Scrolls”, in Reading the Bible in Ancient Traditions and Modern Editions: Studies in Memory of Peter W. Flint, ed. Andrew B. PerrinKyung S. BaekDaniel K. Falk (Atlanta: SBL Press, November 2017), pp. 361-362 (357-380).

What do you think? Was Genesis more like Harold Bloom’s literary canon, to which Collins may here allude? Or was it ‘authoritative’ in some further sense (as Collins still entertains, while also asking “in what sense” Genesis may be regarded as authoritative for the Book of Watchers)?

It is prudent that we avoid importing later senses of ‘canonical’ and ‘authoritative’ and other more dangerous terms such as ‘inspired’ and ‘biblical’, at least in the senses in which they are employed to describe phenomena in the Common Era. But two factors, at least, occur to me that suggest Genesis was also ‘authoritative’ in some sense that exceeds its demonstrated ability to “nourish the imagination of later writers”.

First, the text appeals to the arche or origins, a move which is always, inherently an attempt to justify some present situation, institution, practice, belief, doctrine, etc – to invest our present contingent circumstances with the illusion of some fixed and immovable anchor. This quality is intrinsic to ‘the authoritative’, which always involves the claim that one is standing on the shoulders of giants – which like Quixote’s, are no more than phantoms of the imagination.

Second, we should note the importance of the role of heavenly revelation within 1 Enoch, in particular revelations of heavenly secrets of creation (beginnings) and eschatology (endings), which strongly suggests an attempt to discover the ‘deeper meaning’ of Genesis, not to mention other aNE origin stories; this is a giveaway that the author regards Genesis as authoritative, although ‘authoritative’ in a sense that both overlaps with later ideas of inspiration and contrasts with them, given that the boundaries of what counts as ‘inspired’ are expanding, and by nature are expansive, open to new revelations of heavenly secrets.

Lastly, I note that the Book of Watchers sticks closely to the wording of the verses in Genesis 6.1-4, even while expanding its (authoritative, inspired and inspirational) words in what were probably unforeseen directions. Even the words of Genesis are authoritative, but not at all with the implication that they may not be added to – quite the opposite. As supplement to Genesis 6.1-4, the Book of the Watchers is Derridean, not simply making an addition to the text, but asserting its originary lack, a lack to be filled by a plumbing of deeper origins, and (allegedly) more secret truths of origins that are at once ultimate (eschatological) endings.

Update (8 January 2018): Jim Davila answers my question above. He considers that not only was Gen 6.1-4 ‘authoritative’ for 1 Enoch, but that some earlier version of the Watcher/Giant story was also authoritative for Gen 6.1-4 (although the author of Gen 6.1-4 tried to play it down). Yet like me, Jim also states that this ‘authority’ was a long way from the later canonical authority. See what he wrote here. See also the similar views of J.T. Milik, Paolo Sacchi, Philip Davies, and Helge Kvanvig. On the other side, there are quite a few more other scholars who don’t think that Gen 6.1-4 is an abbreviation of any such story as found in 1 Enoch. Unfortunately, given the brevity of 1 Enoch 6.1-4, the issue is possibly beyond definitive resolution. I tend to think that Gen 6.1-4 is no abbreviation, and is not deliberately suppressing a form of Watcher/Giant story. For it works fine as an allusion to antediluvian heroes known for their reputation as great warriors and womanizers, and the story makes no reference to giants (that’s a much later development in the reception of Gen 6.1-4, prompted by Deut 1-3/Numbers 13, a tradition that develops and comes later than Gen 6.1-4). There is too much supposition required to make a reasonable case for dependence of Gen 6.1-4 on an earlier version of the Watcher/Giant story. On the other hand, it is an intriguing possibility…

Update 2 (9 January 2018): Jim Davila replies to my first update, and points out rightly that Nephilim did come to connote giants – at least by the time that the Bible was complete, and certainly in Modern Hebrew (based, as Modern Hebrew usually is, on the Bible read as a whole and interpreted over 2000 years). But as for whether the meaning of ‘giant’ is primary or secondary, he’s right also that this issue is a difficult one to resolve. The etymology, too, is uncertain – although I think the better etymology sees it as a reduction of the passive adjective (qaṭīl), קְטִיל, as I explained here: and so ‘fallen [heroes]’, that is, heroes fallen in battle. A third biblical text (in addition to Gen 6 and Num 13) which supports this view is Ezek 32:27, with its closely related group of gîbbōrîm nōflîm (fallen heroes). And a fourth text is the Hebrew of Sir 16:7, with its group of nsyqy qdm (“princes of old”) who also were ‘mighty’ (which Jim & I have discussed before). This all provides something short of conclusive evidence, but enough to make me favour seeing the primary meaning of the Nephilim as legendary or autochthonous heroes or princes famed for heroic deeds, maybe but not necessarily gigantic in stature.

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Foetal Dystocia resulting from Watcher-Human Sex: Eric Ondina’s Art

In a piece entitled “Fall of the Watchers”, artist Eric Ondina has managed to capture an aspect of the myth of sex between Watcher angels and human women that usually gets glossed over in renditions of the story.

Eric Ondina, “Fall of the Watchers”

The Book of Watchers tersely summarises that the Watchers “took” the women, “went into” them, and “defiled themselves with” them (7.1ab). The twenty named Watchers are contrasted with the anonymous and unnamed women who they “choose for themselves”. The Watchers act, and the unnamed women are acted upon. Their identities are suppressed, irrelevant to their function within the plot. Their reactions here are limited to their childbearing function: they “became pregnant” and “bore to them gigantic offspring” (7.2).

But what did giving birth to “gigantic offspring” do to these women? The text falls silent, in contrast to the cries of anguish which would have accompanied such extreme foetal dystocia. The birth canal is only important in the story insofar as it satisfies the Watchers’ desires – for sexual intercourse and for children.

But in Ondina’s “Fall of the Watchers”, the effect on the Women is brought to the fore in the artist’s portrayal of an evidently painful, bulging womb. But this pain is combined with a comical characterisation of the women as obsessed with the jewellery that the Watchers gave to them. The combination of extreme discomfort and vain satisfaction is, of course, absurd. And this absurdity provides a visual critique of the tendency in the Watcher myth to belittle or even blame women for the actions of the Watchers.

Ondina himself comments:

I have extracted multiple motifs from this story and melded them into a dynamic composition. The piece is painted in oil on a hand molded, cresting, reinforced plaster slab, which is bordered by a deep cradle frame. It was my intention to make a painting which mirrors this mini-epic in scale, drama and abject gruesomeness. With this in mind I decided to invoke the compositional and painting techniques found in the dynamic baroque of the 17th century while emulating the decisive moment found in 18th century Romanticism. There is also a clear reference to the Northern European Renaissance in the detail, cathedral-esque shape of the substrate, insider humor, and violence. These fuse into a style I have developed in this series which is both contemporary and historically reinforced. While my painting seeks to provide a portal into the past, I seek to do so through a modern lens, injecting subtle to sardonic satire into my subjects. This is readily apparent along the bottom of the painting; in the lower right hand corner an oblivious woman pampers herself with gold and makeup, her stomach bursting at the seams as her hulking half-angel broodling slithers out. She is a sarcastic embodiment of how our contemporary sensitivities are want to perceive this story. The Abrahamic religions are not renowned for their justice towards women, and The Book of Enoch once again exemplifies this ancient trend. Women are the seductresses and the baby factories, the intermediaries and cause of the sinfulness pressed upon the world; because of their erotic allure, mankind suffered nightmarish consequences. My painted jezebel is a mocking testimony to this ancient fear-mongering.

In portraying this extreme foetal dystocia in this manner, Ondina’s “Fall of the Watchers” has drawn attention to an aspect of the Watcher myth that has escaped many commentators, as well as critiquing that very failure to take account of the effects on women implied by the Watcher myth.

Is the Watcher/Fallen Angel Myth a reinterpretation of Mesopotamian inscriptions?

Jonathan Ben-Dov (University of Haifa) has developed a very interesting theory about the origin of the early Jewish tradition of the Fallen Angels and Giants. He presented it at Boston College on November 20, 2013, in a paper entitled “Iconography and Myth: From Nebuchadnezzar to the Fallen Angels”.

Ben-Dov’s theory is that the Watcher tradition derives, at least in part, from an attempt to interpret the gigantic iconography of great Mesopotamian kings on Assyrian, Babylonian, and Achaemenid monuments and reliefs. This was carried out in the third or second century BCE, long after the inscriptions were made, by which time they were not properly understood.

In his presentation, Ben-Dov examines many of the elements shared, on the one hand, by Mesopotamian inscriptions and monuments and, on the other hand, by Jewish literature such as 1 Enoch, the Book of Giants, Jubilees, etc.

ben-dov-nebuchadnezzar

In one part of his presentation, Ben-Dov discusses this interesting passage from Jubilees, which provides an example of a later generation (mis)interpreting an ancient inscription as referring to the Watchers:

And he [Kainam] found a writing which former (generations) had carved on the rock, and he read what was thereon, and he transcribed it and sinned owing to it; for it contained the teaching of the Watchers in accordance with which they used to observe the omens of the sun and moon and stars in all the signs of heaven. And he wrote it down and said nothing regarding it; for he was afraid to speak to Noah about it lest he should be angry with him on account of it. (Jubilees 8.3-4)

Ben-Dov also discusses inscriptions left by Nebuchadnezzar in Lebanon, studied recently by Rocío Da Riva.

Ben-Dov’s theory is well worth consideration, as identifying one of the concrete contributing causes of the Watcher tradition. I don’t know, due to the nature of the evidence, whether his theory could ever be conclusively established, but I do think it is at least plausible that the reliefs and inscriptions contributed to the construction of the Watcher myth. Have a watch of his lecture here.

Note also Brian Doak’s discussion of depictions of gigantic figures in ancient Near Eastern iconography in his The Last of the Rephaim, pp. 14-16.

Update (10 January 2016): Jim Davila notes that Ben-Dov’s theory was also set out in an article in Haaretz on October 18, 2013, “Turning to the Angels to Save Jewish Mythology” (subscription required).

Recent Giant Scholarship

Israeli Ministry of Tourism logoWhat are biblical scholars saying about the Giants in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible? The latest word in biblical scholarship can be found here:

Galbraith, D. (2013). “Manufacturing Judean Myth: The Spy Narrative in Numbers 13–14 as Rewritten Tradition”(Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy)

Among the findings:

(1) the Hebronite traditions (concerning the Judahite leader Caleb, the city of Hebron, and ‘the sons of Anak’ who inhabit Hebron) are not vestiges of ancient legend which have been preserved in the text, but are all secondary to the spy-rebellion tradition derived from dtr Deut. 1;

(2) gigantic stature was first attributed to the sons of Anak and Nephilim in the composition of Num. 13–14, and to the Anakim and Rephaim of Deut. 1–3 in post-deuteronomistic Hexateuchal additions which harmonised the text with the expansionary Num. 13–14;

(3) the extension of the term ‘Rephaim’ to denote entire giant peoples throughout their associated territories also originates with the Hexateuchal harmonisations in Deut. 1–3;

And a detailed interview with the author can be found on Jim West’s blog, Zwinglius Redivivus:

“Scholars You Should Know: Deane Galbraith”

I know, I know – such gratuitous self-publicity…

Why didn’t the female angels have sex with man?

Today, this Google query ended up here. It’s an interesting question, given that the rich reception of Gen. 6.1-4 only depicts male angels having sex with human women.

But the answer is simple: there are no female angels. In early Jewish literature, all angels are male.

Update 1: This important issue seems to have provoked interest. Jack Collins (Worthless Mysteries) comments below that Na’amah, the subject of speculation since being listed as the one female Cainite in Gen. 4:22b (see the genealogy in Gen. 4:17-22), ends up as a fallen angel in the Zohar. As she has sex with Adam, this counts as a female angel having sex with a man. But we’re well into medieval Judaism here. The same would go for Lilith traditions, which SP discusses in the comments section.

Update 2: And the Greek goddesses become angels in late Christian tradition. Nike, already winged in Greek iconography, is easily angelified, given the conflation of angels with the winged creatures.

Update 3: Jim Davila (Paleojudaica) points out “the four Hayyot (“living creatures” or “beasts”) of Ezekiel chapter 1 are grammatically female”.  Grammatically, that is, but not in gender. Yet, what this means is a bit mysterious, as Jim points out, and they’re not precisely angels.

Update 4: Also in the comments section, SP points out that “in Targum Neofiti (on Gen. 6), the bene [ha]elohim take (אנשי(ן instead of women”. That is, the sons of the gods have sex with men rather than women. This might be a result of a problem in textual transmission, though, as the final nun is missing.

So it is still correct to say that, as far as the evidence of early Judaism goes, there are no female angels – and therefore no angels who have sex with men. Or have I missed some evidence of female angels in early Judaism….?

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah Film to include Giant Angels called Watchers

Empire has the latest on Darren Aronofsky’s Noah Film, scheduled for release in 2014:

Written by John Logan (Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo and many more) and Aronofsky himself, it’s not a traditional retelling of the age-old bible story but a radical reimagining, complete with giant angels called ‘Watchers’.

Russell Crowe as Noah
Russell Crowe as Noah

Along with Russell Crowe as Noah, Jennifer Connelly will play Noah’s wife, Naameh, Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman play Noah’s sons, Shem and Ham (not sure what happened to Japeth), Emma Watson plays a close friend of Shem’s, Ila, Anthony Hopkins plays Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, and Ray Winstone plays “an as-yet unnamed character who acts as Noah’s enemy”.

“Watchers”, as fans of Remnant of Giants will well know, is the name given to the angels who descend from heaven to earth in 1 Enoch 6-16 (that is, in The Book of Watchers). 1 Enoch 6-16 is one of the earliest “retellings” of a curious episode which is narrated immediately before the story of the Flood in Genesis 6:1-4:

When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then Yahweh said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterward – when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

According to 1 Enoch 6, the Watchers were originally angels (i.e., “sons of God”) in heaven with God. But they were enticed by the beauty of human women to come down to earth. Under their leader Shemihazah, they take some of the women as wives and have children by them. Their children are half-breed giants, whose wreck havoc on the earth. However, the bodies of the giants are  later destroyed by the Flood, and only their spirits remain: these evil spirits become what are known as “demons”.

Yet there are at least three other explanations of the origins of the Watchers in ancient Jewish texts. In the Azazel-stratum of The Book of Watchers, the angels provide illicit knowledge to humans, such as metal-working, magic, and astronomical secrets. This is their main crime, rather than their sex with human women. The Life of Adam and Eve provides a third account of the Watchers, explaining that some angels, while in heaven, made a direct challenge to the authority of God, in an attempt to usurp his heavenly throne. What provoked them was their envy of God’s creation of Adam. A fourth account of the Watchers occurs in The Animal Apocalypse, also within 1 Enoch. Here the rebellious angels are first sent to earth by God in order to rule over humankind, rather than rebelling against God. But later on they abuse their legitimate authority, by using excessive force, tyranny, and exercising injustice. Later Christian accounts of the fall of the Watchers tend to emphasise the leader of the Watchers – and this leader becomes known as Satan. Many of the stories of the Watchers declare that, at the end of time, the Watchers will be destroyed in Hell for their rebellion against God. But from the time of the Flood to the end of time, 1 Enoch states that the Watchers were bound in chains in Hades, awaiting their final punishment.

Aronofsky takes elements of each of these accounts of the origin of the Watchers, but creates his own distinct version of why the Watchers came down to earth.

According to the biblical chronology in the Hebrew Masoretic Text of the Bible, Methusaleh died in the year preceding the Flood, some 99 years after Yahweh told Noah to build an ark. The Masoretic Text dates Methusaleh’s death to 1656 Anno Mundi and the Flood to 1657 Anno Mundi. Things get more confusing in some Septuagint versions of the Bible, where  according to the chronology, Methusaleh survives some 17 years after the Flood.

The name of Noah’s wife doesn’t appear in the Bible, and neither do the names of the wives of Ham, Shem, and Japeth. But “Naamah”, identified as the daughter of Lamech and sister of Tubal-Cain, is the name given to the wife of Noah in Genesis Rabbah (בראשית רבה), traditionally dated to the third century AD. In the much earlier, 2nd century BC book of Jubilees (ספר היובלים), Noah’s wife is called “Emzara”, and she is identified as the daughter of Rake’el, son of Methusaleh (Jub. 4.33). The name “Emzara” also appears in a text from Qumran which retells the book of Genesis, 1QApGen (6.7).

See the trailer here:

Children of Angels by Kathryn Dahlstrom – Harry Potter meets Frank Peretti, again

Kathryn Dahlstrom - Children of AngelsAnd another children’s fantasy book based on the Nephilim: Kathryn Dahlstrom, Children of Angels, Book One in the New Nephilim Series (WinePress Publishing, 2012) – an even more blatant Christianized rip-off of Harry Potter than Spirit Fighter by Jerel Law.

Jeremy Lapoint’s dad is in prison, and his mom struggles financially. When Jeremy discovers he can fly, pass through walls, and see spirits, his guardian angel, Asiel, explains that he is a Nephilim, a human-angel hybrid. Jeremy discovers other Nephilim young people. They’re enrolled in a school for teens with special powers and are told they’ve reached humanity’s next level. When Jeremy counters that they are half angel, he must battle human and superhuman forces who oppose the truth.

WinePress Publishing blurb

Dahlstrom describes Gen. 6.1-4 as “a fantasy up for grabs”:

“Jeremy drew back his sword like a batter waiting for the pitch. His attackers slammed their knobby shoulders together, their swords at the ready. Jeremy charged. The Lead Guard met his attack, his teeth bared in a snarl. Jeremy swung his sword. Clang!”

Children’s author Kathryn Dahlstrom offers plenty of action in “Children of Angels”, the first book in the New Nephilim series for 9-to-14-year-old readers. “I put as much fun as possible in this story,” she says. “Lots of humor, lots of exciting action.”

The fantasy series is based on the biblical mention of Nephilim in Genesis 6 and Numbers 13. When angels came to earth and took women as their wives, their children grew up to be Nephilim — “Heroes of old, men of renown.” Dahlstrom explains, “For me that was a fantasy up for grabs! I wondered what if the genes of the Nephilim resurfaced today in a kid? What if he could suddenly do everything an angel could do?”

– Winepress Publishing, “Author Offers Kids a Fresh, Action-Packed Take on Fantasy”, Standard Newswire, 29 February 2012