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.

The Nephilim are on TV: Shadowhunters

I just watched the first episode of the new television series Shadowhunters and it’s quite watchable – even exciting. Some good casting, also, has the potential to make this adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments novel series a success. Probably even better than the film.

Katherine "Kat" McNamara plays Clary Fray
Katherine “Kat” McNamara plays Clary Fray

The shadowhunters are demon-fighting angelic-human hybrids (as a result of partaking of the Mortal Cup, given sometime in the Middle Ages by the Angel Raziel to Jonathan Shadowhunter, the first of the Nephilim).

how-excited-are-you-for-shadowhunters

As human-angel hybrids, the shadowhunters are loosely based on the angelic interpretation of Genesis 6:4, which describes the “sons of God” having sex with the “daughters of men”. Genesis 6:4 calls the offspring of this union … the “Nephilim”, a breed of heroes of ancient renown.

Now that Nephilim are on TV every week, the mission of Remnant of Giants is complete. Let the reader understand.

The Nephilim were descended from Pre-Adamites with no Souls: A New (Scientific) Theory from Geologist Gregg Davidson

neanderthal-human-sex
For those who consider the Bible to be the flawless word of God, the Primeval History in Genesis 1-11 provides some tough challenges. Where did Cain get a wife from? Who was Cain scared of when he went to settle in the east? Why do the races look different if all share a common ancestor in Adam (and in Noah, who lived not much longer than 4000 years ago)? And who were the sons of God in Gen 6:1-4: divine beings, angels, or merely humans, and – if human – were they descended from Seth or from the cursed lineage of Cain? Famously, Isaac La Peyrère (1596–1676) answered these questions by claiming that, before Adam had been created, there were other human beings alive on earth. For La Peyrère, these other humans were all Gentiles; Adam was not the first human being, but he was the first Jew.

A recent article by geologist Gregg Davidson, “Genetics, the Nephilim, and the Historicity of Adam“, also attempts to address some of these issues. Its aim is to account for the conflict between the Bible’s claim that Adam and Eve were the first humans created by God and the scientific consensus that the human species is descended from other animals. The article was published in the self-claimed “academic journal” of the American Scientific Affiliation, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (vol. 67 no. 1, March 2015: 24-34). Gregg Davidson’s theory follows La Peyrère’s in claiming that there were hominids before the creation of Adam and Eve. But Davidson also claims that God distinguished Adam and Eve from all the other hominids due to the fact that he endowed them with souls. It appears that the other hominids were soul-less. And how did the Nephilim get created? When there was cross-breeding between the en-souled humans and the soul-less hominids, this resulted in the creation of the Nephilim, a group that Gen 6:4 describes as the result of breeding between the “sons of God/gods” and the “daughters of men”.

In the proposed model, God chose an individual hominid pair to endow with souls, separating them spiritually, relationally, and cognitively from their otherwise biologically equivalent contemporaries. After being removed from Eden, limited (and forbidden) interbreeding took place between Adam and Eve’s progeny and still-extant hominids, including more distantly related hominid species such as Neanderthals, resulting in offspring with unique characteristics referred to as Nephilim. Such unions can potentially account for a present human population that derived from a genuine first human couple, while also carrying genetic evidence of contributions from a much larger hominid population. This model simultaneously offers a plausible explanation for Cain’s fear at the time of his banishment, and the enigmatic identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6.

The article by Gregg Davidson displays much of the typical anxiety about the boundaries of the human which we find in many historical and contemporary discussions of those liminal creatures, the Nephilim. Davidson insists, in one particularly consternated passage, that while the lower animals might be “soulish”, only humans have actual souls:

The higher animals are often spoken of today as soulish creatures, meaning that they possess some degree of decision-making capacity and conscience experience that goes beyond simple instinct. Soulish characteristics may include loyalty, affection, pleasure, excitement, curiosity, sadness, or a measure of self-awareness. The reason we have such a word in our theological vocabulary is that we assume the behavior of the higher animals resembles that of a soul-bearing human, though lacking the spiritual identity that makes them subject to eternal reward or punishment after death. A soul-bearing creature – what we think of today as a human – has mental and relational capacities that go well beyond soulishness, such as a cognitive understanding of justice and mercy, the ability to create and appreciate art, the desire to understand why things are the way they are, the ability to ponder and communicate abstract ideas, the desire to know truth, and the sense that there is a realm or existence that is beyond the physical. When the Bible speaks of creation in the image of God, it is not a physical appearance, but possession of such characteristics that allow human beings to be God’s relational representatives on this earth. As creatures lacking a soul, hominids living at the time of Adam and Eve may well have had behaviors that were much more soulish than those of the most advanced primates of today, but still only soul-ish.

Soulish, but not soul-bearing. Got the difference?

But what is most interesting – for avid Remnant of Giants readers – is Davidson’s proposed explanation for the creation of the Nephilim. They resulted from the divinely prohibited interbreeding of humans and Neanderthals. Or, failing that, Davidson adds, there was inter-breeding between humans and some other soul-less hominids. This, incidentally, explains why they were Giants!

… if the timing of Genesis 6 coincides with the period of overlap between humans and Neanderthals, the heavier musculature of the Neanderthals could certainly have resulted in offspring with enhanced strength or unique physical characteristics that made it natural to refer to them by a special name. (If farther back in time, then a similar argument can be made for an earlier variety of hominid.)

The genetic basis is simple (not to mention highly improbable):

Though this model equates the “sons of God” with hominids and the “daughters of men” with humans, it works equally well if these are reversed. Such a scenario perhaps fits better with the tendency for males to bring females back to their tribe. To preserve the ancestry of all living humans back to mitochondrial Eve, this simply requires that the progeny of all female-hominid/male-human unions eventually failed to produce daughters.

So if one simply accepts a literal understanding of Genesis 1-3, and Paul’s belief in an historical Adam, the existence of souls in humans, and the non-existence of souls in non-human animals, then Davidson has provided a logically possible way also to accept the findings of modern genetic science.

The model preserves an understanding of a first sin (whether original or ancestral) as described both in Genesis and in the writings of Paul, and also potentially resolves the biblical conundrums of who Cain was afraid of in Genesis 3 [sic], and the enigmatic identity of the “sons of God” and the Nephilim in Genesis 6.

It’s a fantastic theory. Literally.

It seems that La Peyrère’s Pre-adamite theory has experienced something of a comeback in 2015. Pre-adamites also featured – although conceived somewhat differently – in the book authored earlier in 2015 by John H. Walton and N.T. Wright, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015). What many other people see as the clear conflict between Bible and modern science has prompted some highly creative harmonizations.

J.G. Herder’s Euthyphron on the wicked abuse of Genesis 6:1-4

Johann Gottfried Herder
Johann Gottfried Herder

The extract below derives from the dialogue between Alciphron and Euthyphron in Johann Gottfried Herder’s The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry (1782-83).

In the extract, the two dialogue partners discuss the brief and allusive biblical reference to antediluvian giants in Genesis 6:1-4. Alciphron, who here as elsewhere speaks instinctively and reflects the sentiment of the general public, wishes that much more had been said about these giants. The more level-headed and rational Euthyphron – presumably aware of Enochic and other literature – argues that too much nonsense had already been written about them.

Alciphron: Would that we knew something more of these fables of giants.

Euthyphron: We ought to wish for no such thing, and even the few traces that we have of them have been wickedly abused. What fictions have not been invented out of what is said of the sons of God, who went in to the daughters of men? and yet the expression “sons of God,” i.e. nobles, heroes, men of superior power, beauty, and strength, is common and current in all heroick songs.

Are you on the side of Aliphron? Or are you on the side of Euthyphron?

Matthew Chrulew on Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-4)

Matthew Chrulew, author of The Angælien Conspiracy
Matthew Chrulew, author of The Angælien Apocalypse

Matthew Chrulew’s short novel The Angælien Apocalypse (Twelfth Planet Press, 2010) reads as though it may have been written as a collaboration between Erich von Däniken (Chariots of the Gods?) and Garth Ennis (Preacher). It’s a fun and clever account of what transpires when the world finds out that the ancient-aliens-in-the-Bible conspiracy theorists were right all along. Chrulew is a philosophical ethologist at the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University, where he leads the Posthumanism and Technology research program.

One of the highlights of The Angælien Apocalypse is this summary of Genesis 6:1-4, in the mouth of one of the main characters, Miguel:

“I’m sure they’ve gone through the regular scriptures with you: Ezekiel 1, Matthew 24, Revelation 4. But did they mention Genesis 6? The flood? The Nephilim, Joke [Joachim]. Did they mention them? It’s all there in the Bible: how the sons of God fucked the daughters of men and their kids busted arse all over the joint. Giant freaks, Joke. That’s why there was the flood: once they were around, God in His holiness had to do it, to purge those unholy powerful motherfuckers….

“The angælians almost got what they wanted that time, Joke. All of the Earth was wiped out – except for Noah and his crew. God decided to save a human remnant – and I bet that mightily pissed them off. So this time – this time they mean for him to take out the whole lot. That’s the Cherubim’s real plan, Joke. To cross-breed mongrel Neo-nephilim so when Jesus comes in divine judgement he can’t help but get all wrathful on our corrupt and violent arses…

“They’ve been jealous ever since we were created, ever since Lucifer was first banished to this star system. They want their favourite spot back, right next to the big guy. And so they mingle with the seed of men, manipulate the races, just like it says in Daniel 2.”

The idea that demonic seed has corrupted the human lineage is widely discussed in ancient alien lit, such as in the works of Zecharia Sitchin.

The idea that Lucifer/Satan/’Azaz’el was jealous of God’s creation of humanity, and conversely that the angels resented their resulting loss of status, may be found in ancient interpretations of Genesis 6:1-4, such as the Life of Adam and Eve (12-16) and Questions of Bartholomew 4.53-57.

 

Frauke Uhlenbruch: Nephilim as Cyborgs

cyborg

In her recent publication, The Nowhere Bible: Utopia, Dystopia, Science Fiction (DeGruyter, March 2015), Frauke Uhlenbruch treats the Nephilim of Numbers 13:32-33 as cyborgs.

Employing Donna Haraway’s definition of “cyborg”, Uhlenbruch interprets each of the the Nephilim as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (“A Cyborg Manifesto”, p. 149). For Uhlenbruch, the Nephilim are boundary-crossers, defying monist categorization. Unlike the twelve spies, whose ancestors are given as the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel, the Nephilim do not derive from the utopian unity which originates in the Garden of Eden and which may be traced through to the Patriarchs. In Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim are instead described as hybrid descendants of human women and the sons of the gods.

nowhere-bible“They are partial gods, partial humans, there has been intimacy with human women, and through this breach of boundaries, they are definite symbols of perversity” (p. 178).

But in the biblical story, partial identities and “contradictory standpoints” are not to be permitted. “In the ideal world-to-be that Numbers 13 proposes, the boundary-crosser will be eliminated… Their presence is clearly not desired in the biblical Promised Land, at least not by the Israelites” (p. 179).

And indeed, in the book of Joshua, the Anakim – said to be the descendants of the Nephilim in Num 13:33 – are finally driven out by Caleb (Josh 14-15). Or was that Joshua (Josh 11:21-22)?