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.


The Women Seduce the Angels: Genesis 6.1-4 in Two Christian Versions – T. Reuben and The Almighty Bible

The curious incident which is narrated in Genesis 6.1-4 makes ‘the sons of God’ responsible for making off with some eye-catchingly beautiful human women, and having some (implicitly) transgressive divine-human sex:

And the sons of god saw that the daughters of man were good. And they took for themselves wives from whoever they chose… The fallen angels [Nephilim] were on earth in those days, and also after, the sons of God who copulated with the daughters of man and produced offspring for them. The offspring were the heroes who were from antiquity, the men of renown.

By contrast, Christian versions of the myth tend to transfer the blame for this transgression to human woman. That is, in some Christian versions, it is the women who tempt the angels!

One such Christian version is The Testament of Reuben (ca. A.D. 100). In T. Reub. 5.1-6, the women tempt the angels to descend from heaven, by treacherously charming them with their feminine beauty.

Paul may well be concerned that Christian women don’t continue to seduce angels when he requires them to wear a veil in 1 Corinthians 11.10 “because of the angels” (although, his reasoning here is more than a little obtuse).

A more recent Christian version is The Almighty Bible‘s translation of Gen. 6.4-7 (November 2010). The creators of The Almighty Bible decribe it as a graphic novel-type version of the Bible. In respect of Genesis 6, The Almighty Bible provides an illustration which appears to conflate Gen. 6.4-5, combining the stories of the Nephilim with the story of the human wickedness before the great Flood. So, Giants are pictured alongside human men and women, drinking and cavorting. The Giants (Gen. 6.4) are not particularly responsible for instigating the “wickedness” (Gen. 6.5). In fact, the illustration appears to show that “wicked” women are to blame for seducing both men and Giants. See the difference in height and facial hair of those seated at the two tables, and the (braless – how risque!) woman seductively hanging off a Giant in the foreground:

Almighty Bible's illustration of Genesis 6.4-5
Almighty Bible's illustration of Genesis 6.4-5

The Almighty Bible‘s transference of blame from the Giants to the human women is facilitated by the fact that the graphic novel misses out the first three verses of the episode (Gen. 6.1-3). But it is in these expurgated verses that the Nephilim (mistranslated as “Giants” in the LXX and many English versions) are most clearly responsible for coming down to earth and copulating with human women. Significantly,  The Almighty Bible doesn’t miss out the long boring genealogy in Ch. 5  immediately before this episode. From a notice on their website it seems that The Almighty Bible cares about decent family values, but cares somewhat less when it comes to damaging stereotypes about women. Under the heading “biblically accurate”, The Almighty Bible provides what may be a justification for its “inaccurate” reinterpretation of Genesis 6.4-5:

The Almighty Bible is created in a manner that maintains the drama and excitement of these amazing books but is also respectable of family norms and values when it comes to the nature of the images.

Chaste, non-angel-seducing woman sells Almighty Bible's version of Genesis
Chaste, non-angel-seducing woman sells Almighty Bible's version of Genesis

But why does the specifically Christian reception of Gen. 6.1-4 have this propensity to transfer blame from fallen angels to human women? Here are three interrelated thoughts on the development:

1. With the replacement of the account of evil found in the Book of Watchers with the account of evil based on (not found in) Genesis 1-11, the ultimate responsibility for evil was no longer attributed to angels but to humans. Hence, it is humans who instigate the evil; humans seduce the angels rather than the other way around.

2. Compared with some early Judaisms, Christianity greatly exaggerated the badness of humanity, and gave it a cosmic dimension. What was now required was nothing short of a heavenly intervention (and so enter Jesus Christ, Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man). Which came first? The Christian explanation was that Jesus was required to deal with the cosmic effects of the earlier sin. A more critical view is that the cosmic effects of sin were required so as to give Jesus a necessary role in God’s newly expanded plan of reconciliation.  As Slavoj Žižek nicely observes, the Christian Fall story of a certain “loss” of relationship with God in fact “obfuscate[s] the absolute synchronicity of the antagonism in question … [W]hen a certain historical moment is (mis)perceived as the moment of loss of some quality, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the lost quality emerged only at this very moment of its alleged loss.” In short, the Christian worldview invented both problem and solution simultaneously.

3. As a result of the Christian cosmic exaggeration of problem-and-solution, you get a whole series of related binaries that start to seem feasible together. So the heavenly Jesus and Son of Man is opposed to the corrupt sons of Adam. The life in the spirit of God is opposed to life in the flesh. And heavenly angels (who are all males in Jewish traditions) are opposed to earthly women. The logic is as tight and persuasive as the conception is unrealistic and invented. Bad women are the other side of the coin to the  necessary righteousness of the Christian Saviour, providing support for the whole system. The idea of corrupt, earthly women provides the blessed assurance for the idea of an angelic, heavenly existence in the afterlife.

Lastly, here’s The Almighty Bible‘s justification for employing a (pseudo-) graphic novel format to present the Bible:

It’s David vs. Goliath as The Almighty Bible sets out to compete with huge secular brands in a way that is equally entertaining yet shares a faith-based message