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.


Monster Theory in Biblical Studies

A recent article examines how “monster theory”, first developed within psychoanalysis and anthropology, has been applied to the study of the Hebrew Bible:

Brandon R. Grafius, “Text and Terror: Monster Theory and the Hebrew Bible“, Currents in Biblical Research
16, no. 1 (2017): 34–49.

Grafius discusses giants in a couple of places in the article. First, he briefly mentions Brian Doak’s description of the giants of Numbers 13-14 (from The Last of the Rephaim [2012], pp. 70-81) as typical of explorers’ accounts of their encounter with “monstrous others”. Second, Grafius discusses how “Anathea Portier-Young looks at how 1 Enoch 6–11 uses Gen. 6.1-6 in combination with the Greek myth known as the gigantomachy, in which the ‘uncivilized’ giants wage war against the gods of Olympus” (Apocalypse Against Empire [2011], pp. 18-23). For Portier-Young, according to Grafius’ summary, whereas Greeks had associated barbarian peoples with giants, the author of 1 Enoch 6-11 made the watchers “synonymous with Hellenistic culture”. This is a “critical inversion”! When 1 Enoch 6-11 portrays the giants’ “enormous size and uncontrollable appetite”, it does so as “a sharp critique of Hellenistic culture”. [Note that Grafius confuses his descriptions of the watchers (fallen angels) and their offspring (the giants) in his summary of Portier-Young: it is the giants whose “monstrous appetites cause them to devour all the people’s food, then the people, then each other” (p. 42), not the “watchers” (see 1 Enoch 7.3-5).]

Overall, the article provides a useful introduction to monster theory and its application to Biblical Studies.


Gospel of Peter’s Walking, Talking Cross Again: On Foster’s published response to Goodacre’s unpublished paper

I recently offered an explanation of the weird resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter, in which Jesus expands gigantically from earth to heaven, and his cross ‘walks’ out of his tomb and talks to God (“Whence the Giant Jesus and his Talking Cross? The Resurrection in Gospel of Peter 10.39–42 as Prophetic Fulfilment of LXX Psalm 18“).

During the editing process, I made the decision to cut my original discussion of Paul Foster’s published response to Mark Goodacre’s unpublished interpretation of the resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter — as it was not quite relevant. In ‘A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One? A Conjectural Emendation in the Gospel of Peter’ (Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting [Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha Section], London, July 2011), as well as in an earlier blog post, Goodacre had argued for an emendation of σταυρός (‘cross’) to σταυρωθεντα (‘crucified [one]’, i.e. Jesus). Goodacre puts forward the possibility that ‘cross’ in an earlier Greek version of the Gospel of Peter had been written with the nomen sacrum ΣΤΑ. Early Christians often abbreviated certain divine names or titles, which they might have done with ΣΤΑ, which would then have originally stood for σταυρωθέντα (‘the crucified one’). But the scribe of the main surviving copy of the Gospel of Peter (the Akhmîm Fragment) misconstrued ΣΤΑ as σταυρόν (‘cross’). And so, the existence of a walking, talking cross in the Gospel of Peter, according to Goodacre, was the result of a copyist’s error. Goodacre’s proposed conjectural emendation therefore makes the text more ‘sensible’. It means that the Gospel of Peter does not make Jesus’s cross walk and talk, but rather Jesus (as ‘the crucified one’). After all, it would be much less surprising, at least for modern readers, to have a person walking and taking, rather than a cross. So Goodacre’s proposal has some degree of plausiblity.

I have argued in ‘Whence the Giant Jesus’ that the surviving text already makes perfectly good sense as a Christocentric interpretation of LXX Psalm 18. So it was not directly relevant to engage with Goodacre’s quite different alternative — although I did make mention of it. As you might expect, I favour my own explanation, rather than Goodacre’s conjectural solution (I mean, conjectural emendation is a last resort, am I right?)

Yet while Goodacre’s suggestion is only conjectural (without any direct textual support), I do consider that it was internally logical and possible. But Paul Foster disagreed. In a published article, Foster made three main criticisms of Goodacre’s proposal (‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk? A Reconsideration of Gospel of Peter 10.39–42’, JTS 64 [2013] 97–99).

I do not consider any of Foster’s three criticisms at all fatal to Goodacre’s case. That’s what my deleted footnote had discussed, and it may be worthwhile preserving my reasons.

In his published response to Goodacre’s unpublished paper, Paul Foster objects that

(1) the proposed nomen sacrum is rare;

(2) the author would then have inconsistently translated ΣΤΑ as σταυρωθέντα in GPet 13.56; and

(3) the emendation produces a text in which Jesus is simultaneously supported by the two men and walks behind them

(Foster, ‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk?, pp.  97–99).

The first objection, while cogent, is hardly fatal. Plenty of things we see in early Christian texts are rare or unique. This might be a rare case of ΣΤΑ being used for σταυρωθέντα.

The second objection is evidentially neutral, given the Akhmîm Fragment’s tendency to employ other nomina sacra inconsistently, as Goodacre already notes. Foster’s first two objections raise the question of probability, but are far from being decisive.

The third objection misreads Goodacre’s interpretation of the resurrection scene. Goodacre’s interpretation sees the ‘two’ men or angels from heaven not as ‘supporting’ the [crucified] one, but ‘lifting up’ the one (according to Goodacre’s translation of the rare verb ὑπορθοῦντας in GPet 10.39c). Then, the crucified one subsequently follows the two out of the tomb (10.39d). Although Foster’s own interpretation is different, he needed to acknowledge that, on Goodacre’s particular interpretation, the sequence was quite coherent.

Foster goes on to argue that the scene of a mobile, talking cross is not ‘absurd’, as Goodacre stated, given the examples of cross piety in early Christianity, in which the cross is given an independent role as ‘a salvific object’ which is involved in action or gets addressed by other characters. I have some sympathy for the underlying point that this is an example of cross piety, and my own article discusses the cosmic nature of the cross piety in the Gospel of Peter. But Goodacre’s ISBL paper was really only taking its point of departure from the perceived oddness of the content of GPet 10.39-42. His argument, however, is based on text-critical considerations, in particular the Akhmîm Fragment’s late date and the large number of ‘errors, riddles, and puzzles’ it contains (p. 8). Moreover, as Foster had acknowledged in his commentary, the motif of cross piety fails to account for the innovation of a walking and talking cross, which is ‘not typical of the other forms of cross-devotion exemplified in patristic texts’ (Gospel of Peter, 418). Quite right – something more that “cross piety” is required as an explanation for the unique mobile, talking cross of the Gospel of Peter.

Foster’s counter-arguments therefore fail to convince; Goodacre’s case for textual emendation offers a plausible solution for a problematic text, albeit one which relies on recourse to conjectural emendation. I think ultimately that the debate is superseded by the solution I offered. Yet I find Goodacre’s proposal, while not likely, to be internally consistent and logically possible.

David and Goliath: The Very Scary Giant

Sunny Griffin (text) and Donna Lee Hill (illustrations),
David and The Very Scary Giant.
Ashland, OH: Landoll, 1994.

Some children’s books are quite oblique when it comes to explaining what happens to Goliath at the end of the story of David and Goliath. After a very slow build-up, with lots of background about David as a young boy and how he looked after his sheep – David and The Very Scary Giant suddenly gets to the climax:

The text explains that David’s stone killed Goliath. That is, however, the last page. There’s no actual depiction of David killing Goliath, just the expectation in Goliath’s eyes. And there is definitely no head-chopping.

David and Goliath: Toddlers Bible Library

My favourite David and Goliath children’s books are the ones aimed at very young readers. To be clear, they are my favourite. I wouldn’t let them near actual children.

Take this one, a short board book, in the series “The Toddlers Bible Library”: V. Gilbert Beers (text), David Fights a Giant. The Toddlers Bible Library (Wheaton: Paradise Press, 1993).

I dunno – something about that series title (The Toddlers Bible Library) might have perhaps provided a hint that the David & Goliath story wasn’t really suitable.

Yet the authors attempt to make it suitable for toddlers by making it obscure how exactly David killed Goliath. The two characters never appear in the same shot, but only on successive pages. So your toddler doesn’t get to see this whole scene, which I’ve spliced together for older readers (R18):

And then you get a shot of Goliath lying down. One is not quite sure why he is lying down. To sanitise it for toddlers, the authors have had to make the plot undecipherable. But they do make the reason clear for why David defeated the giant: because he asked God for help, whereas Goliath did not. (No mention that it was ‘help’ … to kill someone.)

This is either a very confusing story for toddlers, or – if their parents explain what’s happening – a very unsuitable story for toddlers. All this explains a lot about how Christians turn out, though.

Is Og with the Quick or the Dead? New article from Laura Quick

Laura Quick has just published a useful discussion of the issues surrounding interpretation of King Og’s ערשׂ, in Deuteronomy 3.11, which she interprets as a literal sleeping bed rather than as a coffin or sarcophagus:

Laying Og to Rest: Deuteronomy 3 and the Making of a Myth,” Biblica 98:2 (2017): 161–172.

Quick argues first of all that there are no grounds for interpreting Og as having a link to the dead within the context of the biblical narrative in Deuteronomy 3. She points out, rightly I think, that the Rephaim, of which Og is the last member, were in the perspective of the biblical narrative alive at the time of the biblical conquest. While the Rephaim are long-dead in other poetic biblical passages, that is not the case here, because this is precisely the early pre-Israelite biblical period when the Rephaim are presented as still alive. Similarly, Francesca Stavrakopolou has argued that “It might be supposed, with Mario Liverani and others before him, that the biblical writers recast the Rephaim as giants because they believed that ‘before being dead they must have been alive . . . They should thus have been a people, one that exists no more, but lived in Palestine before [the Israelites’] arrival’” (Land of Our Fathers, 67, citing “Liverani, Israel’s History, 276. See also Loretz, Götter – Ahnen – Könige als gerechte Richter, 259–66″).

However, I note that from the perspective of the author of Deuteronomy, who knows of Og’s ערשׂ being on display in Ammon in his own day, the fact that Og is alive in the biblical narrative is evidentially neutral for identifying his ערשׂ – he’s been long dead and buried. So as King Og is now remembered as one of the long dead, it’s still just as plausible that we’re talking about his sarcophagus.

Quick also agrees with Allan Millard’s view that a bed made with iron indicates a literal sleeping bed rather than a sarcophagus, which would be made of stone. (See also Ulrich Hübner, “Og von Baschan und sein Bett in Rabbat-Ammon (Deuteronomium 3,11)”, ZAW 105 (1993): 86–92.) This is a plausible argument. And yet, as the history of debate has shown, there is a lot of uncertainty that remains. For example (and there are further possibilities), Driver (Deuteronomy, 54) suggested that the ברזל might be basalt rather than iron. As the ערשׂ is evidently on display in Ammon, in Deuteronomy’s day, this is quite understandable as a gigantic basalt tomb; but it is less understandable that there would be an enormous manmade bed with iron parts. It’s possible, but at the very least, the case is hardly laid to rest on the basis of the “iron”/”basalt”.

So Quick tries to rebut the links between Og and the dead which rely on data from outside of the biblical narrative in Deuteronomy 3, that is: the Ugaritic text KTU 1.108 (tablet ca. 1200 B.C.E.), Psalm 68, and a Phoenician tomb inscription from the early fifth century B.C.E., Byblos 13. Her reasoning here seems to be that, if these texts don’t support a chthonic connection to Og, this removes the supporting arguments upon which some scholars have relied to interpret Og’s ערשׂ as a sarcophagus rather than a bed. So this is not a direct argument for the interpretation of Og’s ערשׂ as a sleeping bed or sarcophagus. And it cannot logically have the power to put the issue to rest.

Yet Quick is right that the the general article before ʿg in the Byblos 13 inscription makes it difficult to translate the term as the proper name ‘Og’, and that the reference to Bashan/bashan in Psalm 68 is not in the immediate context related to the dead. But in respect of the Ugaritic KTU 1.108, her assertion that  “the translation preferred by the majority of Ugaritologists reads these lexemes not as toponyms, but as divine names, Aṯtartu and Haddu” – which cites only (the often idiosyncratic) de Moor – is not convincing. The relevant part of the text reads (with my translation):

yšt rpˀu mlk ˁlm He is established, the rpˀu, the eternal king,
           wyšt [ˀil?] gṯr wyqr             and established is [the god(?),] Gathar-and-Yaqar;
ˀil yṯb bˁṯtrt the god who sits (enthroned) in Athtarat,
           ˀil ṯpṭ bhdrˁy the god who rules in Hedrey.

Contra Quick, most interpreters do identify the parallel words in KTU 1.108 with the cities situated in the Hauran (biblical Bashan), south of Damascus, north of the Yarmuk River. In Deut. 1:4; Josh. 12:4; 13:12, 31, the two cities are associated especially with King Og, who is described as enthroned (Heb. √ישׁב, cf. Ug. √yṯb) in the same two cities and also as one of the Rephaim. In favour of this interpretation are Michael C. Astour, ‘Two Ugaritic Serpent Charms’, JNES 27 (1968), 21; Margulis, ‘A Ugaritic Psalm’, 294 (‘the Honor of El sits (enthroned) in Ashtaroth’); Marvin H. Pope, ‘Notes on the Rephaim Texts’, in Essays on the Ancient Near East in Memory of Jacob Joel Finkelstein, ed. Maria de Jong Ellis, MCAAS 19 (Hamden: Archon, 1977), 170 (‘the god who dwells in Ashtaroth’); Sergio Ribichini and Paolo Xella, ‘Milk‘aštart, MLK(M) e la tradizione Siro-palestinese sui Refaim’, RSF 7 (1979), 154 (‘e Yqr il risiede in ˁAṯtartu’); Johannes C. de Moor, An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit, Nisaba, 16 (Leiden: Brill, 1987), 187 (‘the god who is dwelling in Athtartu’); Dennis C. Pardee, Les textes para-mythologiques de la 24e campagne (1961), Ras Shamra-Ougarit 4 (Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisation, 1988), 81 (‘le dieu qui siege à ˁAshtarot’); Wyatt, Religious Texts from Ugarit, 395 (‘the god enthroned in Athtarat’); Gregorio del Olmo Lete, Canaanite Religion: According to the Liturgical Texts of Ugarit, tr. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004), 186 (‘(the) god who sits in ˁAṯtartu’); DULAT, 195 (‘the god who sits in TN’); Aïcha Rahmouni, Divine Epithets in the Ugaritic Alphabetic Texts, HO, Section One: The Near and Middle East 93, tr. J. N. Ford (Leiden and Boston: Brill), 208 (‘The god who sits (enthroned) in ˁAṯtartu’).

In addition, the preposition b- does not ever mean ‘with, in the company of (a person)’, which favours the toponymic interpretation (Rahmouni, Divine Epithets, 38).

The spelling of Ug. hdrˁy versus Heb. אדרעי is not a common transition in North-West Semitic but is not unattested (e.g., Akkad. ewūm ‘to become’, cf. Aram. hǝwā: Sabatino Moscati, Anton Spitaler, Edward Ullendorff, and Wolfram Von Soden, An Introduction to The Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages: Phonology and Morphology, PLONS 6 (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1969), 42. Alternatively, Baruch Margulis suggests a scribal error of hdrˁy for ˀidrˁy, given the similarity of h and ˀi and the single, small missing wedge which would be involved (‘A Ugaritic Psalm (RS 24.252)’, JBL 89 (1970): 294). Nicolas Wyatt dismisses the difference as insignificant, imploring, ‘This is a school exercise!’ (Religious Texts from Ugarit: The Words of Ilimilku and His Colleagues, BS 53 [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998], 396 n. 8).

So there is life yet in King Og’s sarcophagus, I think.