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.


New Book! Theologians and Philosophers Using Social Media

Theologians and Philosophers Using Social MediaHave you seen the #1 book on Amazon’s list of new releases in religious studies education?

Thomas Jay Oord, ed., Theologians and Philosophers Using Social Media: Advice, Tips, and Testimonials (SacraSage Press, September 2, 2017)

It includes a section by me on using social media, in which I discuss things like the Biblical Studies Online website, John Dominic Crossan’s holiday photos, online discussions that were very helpful in writing my recent article about Jesus turning into a Giant in the Gospel of Peter, a contribution to an engagement with Larry Hurtado, Sathya Sai Baba’s injunction to ‘Love all, serve all’, and some other words of sage theological advice.

The insights in these 90+ essays are nothing short of inspiring! Their tips on best practices for social engagement, time management, social media as a resource for scholarship or creativity, technology and pedagogy, etc. will help readers tremendously.

The contributors are diverse. They include….

– Public theologians like Ben Corey, Brian McLaren, and Richard Rohr

– Younger scholars like Tripp Fuller, Jorey Micah, and Alexis Waggoner

– Biblical scholars like Michael Gorman, Joel Green, and Daniel Kirk

– Philosophers like Helen De Cruz, Aaron Simmons, and Kevin Timpe

– Establish scholars like James Crossley, Kwok Pui-lan, and Amos Yong

– Scholars outside North America like Deane Galbraith, RT Mullins, Hanna Reichel, and Atle Sovik

– Pastoral theologians like Patricia Farmer, Len Sweet, and Kurt Willems

– Historical theologians like Kim Alexander and Christine Helmer

– Science and religion scholars like Ron Cole-Turner, Karl Giberson, Lea Schweitz, and Jim Stump

– Constructive theologians like Oliver Crisp, Grace Ji-Sun Kim, and Jason Lepojärvi

– Ethicists like Miguel De La Torre, David Gushee, and Michael Hardin

…and the list goes on!

Whether the reader is an armchair theologian, a professional scholar, a graduate student, or simply interested in how social media is changing religious and philosophical studies, that reader will find Theologians and Philosophers Using Social Media of great help.


Have a look on Amazon!

Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages

Exciting news for fans of Enoch and the giants. A volume from John C. Reeves and Annette Yoshiko Reed is planned for 1 March 2018 which will provide the first part of a comprehensive compendium of literature from antiquity to the Middle Ages which reference Enoch:

John C. Reeves and Annette Yoshiko Reed, eds., Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages: Sources From Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. [432 pages]

There’s some more information on John C. Reeve’s UNC Charlotte project webpage. Reeves describes the aim of the “Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages” project as twofold:

(1) to assemble all the fragmentary extant references to and citations of Enochic works within the aforementioned religious literatures [Jewish, Christian, gnostic, and Muslim] into one convenient collection, and (2) to compare, classify, and analyze these subsequent references and citations in order to gain a clearer picture of the scope and range of what might tentatively be termed the ‘Enochic library,’ or the entire corpus of works attributed to Enoch.

An exciting, not to mention wide-ranging, project!

h/t: Annette Yoshiko Reed

Gigantobibliophile Goodness: Ancient Tales of Giants from Qumran and Turfan (Mohr Siebeck, June 2016)

goff - ancient tales of giantsBig news for gigantobibliophiles! This volume has just been published:

Matthew Goff, Loren T. Stuckenbruck, and Enrico Morano, eds, Ancient Tales of Giants from Qumran and Turfan: Contexts, Traditions, and Influences (WUNT 360; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016)

While there has been much scholarly attention devoted to the Enochic Book of the Watchers , much less has been paid to the Book of Giants from Qumran. This volume is the proceedings of a conference that convened in Munich, Germany, in June 2014, which was devoted to the giants of Enochic tradition and in particular the Qumran Book of Giants . It engages the topic of the giants in relation to various ancient contexts, including the Hebrew Bible, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and ancient Mesopotamia. The authors of this volume give particular attention to Manichaeism, especially the Manichaean Book of Giants , fragments of which were found in Turfan (western China). They contribute to our understanding of the range of stories Jews told in antiquity about the sons of the watchers who descended to earth and their vibrant Nachleben in Manichaeism.

After the Introduction from Matthew Goff, Brian Doak examines the motif of giganticism in the Hebrew Bible and in its reception. The next two essays compare Greek Titans with Jewish giants and examine early Jewish literature in Greek. Part Two contains five essays examining aspects of the ancient Jewish context for giants (including especially the Qumran Book of Giants, along with other Dead Sea scrolls, Book of Watchers, and Daniel). Part Three takes us to Turfan, China, with four essays on the Book of Giants and Manichaeism.


I can’t wait to read it!

New Book on Goliath and his family: Goliath’s Legacy

Lukasz Niesiolowski-Spano - Not a Philistine

Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò – Not a Philistine

Harrassowitz has just published an English version of Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò’s book on the Philistines and other Sea Peoples: Goliath’s Legacy: Philistines and Hebrews in Biblical Times (Nov 2015). The book was originally published in Polish as Dziedzictwo Goliata: Filistyni i Hebrajczycy w czasach biblijnych (2012).

My task in writing this book has been to examine the impact of the Sea Peoples, especially the Philistines on the local population, particularly the Hebrews.
Łukasz Niesiołowski-Spanò


Table of Contents and other front matter here.


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.