EDITORS COMMENT: This new series is being offered in memoriam of Dr. Michael Heiser who’s truly groundbreaking research on the Divine Council and Enochian Worldview (based on the book of Enoch and its connection to Hebrew theology before and at the time of Jesus) opened the door for a richer understanding of the Life of Christ than previous generations could have imagined. This series reflects content from the leading-edge books published by Defender Publishing for Dr. Heiser—Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ as well as his two volume book set titled, A Companion to the Book of Enoch: A Reader’s Commentary, Volume 1: The Book of the Watchers and Vol II: The Parables of Enoch. PLEASE NOTE: ALL PROFITS FROM THE SALE OF DR. MICHAEL HEISER’S BOOKS FROM SKYWATCHTVSTORE.COM WILL BE DONATED TO HIS WIDOW DURING THIS SERIES.
This series is about the important influence that the story of the sin of the Watchers in 1 Enoch 6–16 had on the thinking of New Testament authors. For those to whom 1 Enoch sounds unfamiliar, this is the ancient apocalyptic literary work known popularly (but imprecisely) as “the Book of Enoch.”[i] Most scholars believe that 1 Enoch was originally written in Aramaic perhaps as early as the third century B.C.[ii] The oldest fragments of the book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and dated to roughly the second century B.C. This places the book squarely in the middle of what scholars call the Second Temple Period (ca. 500 B.C.—A.D. 70), an era more commonly referred to as the “Intertestamental Period.” This book will use the more academic designation (“Second Temple Period”).
The term “Watchers” is a biblical one. The Watchers (Aramaic: ʿirin)[iii] appear only in the book of Daniel in the Bible (Daniel 4:13, 17, 23), where they are also called “holy ones.” In Daniel, they are therefore “good” members of God’s entourage. The term occurs more frequently outside the Bible in Jewish literature composed between the Old and New Testament periods.
The Watcher story of 1 Enoch, as many readers will recall, is an expansion of the episode described in Genesis 6:1–4, in which “the sons of God (Hebrew: beney ha-ʾelohim) came in to the daughters of man” (Genesis 6:4, ESV). Consequently, “Watchers” is the Enochian term of choice (among others) for the divine “sons of God.”[iv] While the story of this supernatural rebellion occupies scant space in Genesis, it received considerable attention during the Second Temple Period. As we shall see, this attention is not peripheral to biblical theology.
The reason for this assertion is straightforward and will be demonstrated in detail: The Enochian version of the events of Genesis 6:1–4 preserves and transmits the original Mesopotamian context for the first four verses of the Flood account. Every element of Genesis 6:1–4 has a Mesopotamian counterpoint—a theological target that provides the rationale for why these four verses wound up in the inspired text in the first place.
Connections to that backstory can be found in the Old Testament, but they are scattered and unsystematically presented. This is not the case with Second Temple Jewish literature like 1 Enoch. Books like 1 Enoch preserve all of the Mesopotamian touchpoints with Genesis 6:1–4 when presenting their expanded retelling of the events of that biblical passage. The Enochian retelling of the story in turn finds its way into the New Testament, most transparently in the books of Peter and Jude, but, as this book will show, other New Testament writers do the same. Put another way, details in certain New Testament passages with links to the Genesis 6:1–4 episode can only be traced to 1 Enoch, and those elements in turn are quite consistent with the original Mesopotamian context of Genesis 6:1–4. This means the Enochian story not only provides important details as to how Genesis 6:1–4 should be understood, but also informs us how certain interpretations of that passage popular in both the early church and modern Christianity (e.g., the “Sethite” interpretation) fundamentally violate the original context of Genesis 6:1–4.
This is all well and good for those who already see the general incoherence of the Sethite view and other nonsupernatural interpretations. But the notion that the sin of the Watchers was a frequent theological reference point for New Testament writers will be new to most readers. It is not a novelty to scholars whose focus is the New Testament and the Second Temple Period. There is in fact a substantial amount of scholarly, peer-reviewed literature demonstrating this point. This book draws heavily on that scholarship.
If one were to ask a modern Christian, “Why is the world and all humanity so thoroughly wicked?” the chances are very high that an answer of “the Fall” would be forthcoming. We have been conditioned by church history (ancient and modern) to look only to Genesis 3 for such theology. But if you asked a Jew living in the Second Temple Period the same question, the answer would be dramatically different. Yes, the entrance of sin into God’s good world occurred in Eden, but the unanimous testimony of Second Temple Judaism is that the Watchers are to blame for the proliferation of evil on the earth. The New Testament writers, being predominantly Jewish and products of the Second Temple Period, more often than not telegraphed the same outlook. We just can’t see it because, frankly, we don’t have Second Temple Jewish eyes. We miss what the original audience would have seen.
To narrow our focus, a number of New Testament passages say what they say because they are literary expressions of a significant theme in New Testament theology—the reversal of the wickedness that has permeated the human race. Many readers will recognize that Mount Hermon is the place where, according to 1 Enoch 6:6, the Watchers descended and took an oath to commit the transgression described in Genesis 6:1–4. This book’s title, Reversing Hermon, alludes to the notion—hidden in plain sight in a surprising number of New Testament passages—that what happened in Genesis 6:1–4 had to be reversed as part of restoring the original Edenic vision. That reversal was, is, and will be accomplished by the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.
My task in this book is to remove the scales of our own tradition from our eyes, at least as it relates to the importance of the Watcher story of 1 Enoch for understanding portions of the New Testament. In doing so, I’ll endeavor to make serious, peer-reviewed scholarship accessible to interested readers outside the guild of academia. To that end, this is not a book filled with speculation. It is a book that provides readers with access to the best in current scholarship on 1 Enoch, other Second Temple Jewish literature (e.g., the Book of Giants found among the Dead Sea Scrolls), and their relationship to the New Testament.[v]
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Obstacles to the Task
Most Christians and Christian leaders know next to nothing about 1 Enoch. Few have read the book. Consequently, it’s unreasonable to expect most Christians to have ever thought about the importance of 1 Enoch’s recounting of how the Watchers’ sin and corruption of humanity needed to be reversed by the Messiah. This element of New Testament theology is basically absent from popular Christian understanding of the New Testament. There are several reasons for this systemic ignorance.
First and foremost is the matter of canonicity. A handful of important early Christian writers such as Tertullian, Irenaeus, Origen, and Clement either advocated 1 Enoch as worthy of canonical status or considered it authoritative on certain matters of truth and doctrine. The book was assigned full canonical recognition only in the Ethiopian Church.[vi]
A book that isn’t considered inspired by most of Christianity, many are told, isn’t valuable for biblical understanding. Consequently, unlike Peter and Jude, whose New Testament contributions show a close knowledge of 1 Enoch, many Christians not only never read 1 Enoch, but are discouraged from doing so. I don’t consider the book of 1 Enoch to be inspired and canonical, but that is no excuse for neglecting it in the study of Scripture. Frankly, this entire book is testimony to the folly of this inattention.
The assumption that uninspired ancient books aren’t valuable for understanding Scripture is deeply flawed. Biblical writers in both testaments show detailed knowledge of ancient writings now known to the modern world. That this material wasn’t inspired didn’t bother biblical writers. It is well known among scholars, for example, that Old Testament covenants follow the structure of different types of ancient Near Eastern treaties,[vii] that prophets and psalmists quote from the Baal Cycle (e.g., KTU 1.5.I; Psalm 74:13), and that Solomon borrowed material from the Wisdom of Amenemope for Proverbs 22:17–23:11. In the New Testament, Paul’s quotations of Greek poets are well known (Acts 17:28, Epimenides and Aratus; 1 Corinthians 15:33, Euripedes or Menander; Titus 1:2, Epimenides) as is the use of the apocryphal (“deutero-canonical” to Roman Catholics) Wisdom of Solomon in Hebrews 1:2 (Wisdom of Solomon 7:26). These are far from the only instances.
A second factor is that the reputation of 1 Enoch has been sullied by misguided thinking about the nature of the modern collection of books into which it has been grouped by scholars: the Pseudepigrapha. The following is representative: “The Pseudepigrapha books are those that are distinctly spurious and unauthentic in their overall content” and “no such formula as ‘it is written’ or ‘the Scriptures say’ is connected with these citations.”[viii] These assertions are incoherent. With respect to the first, the fact that Peter and Jude embrace content that is demonstrably from 1 Enoch means that the content of that book, though not canonical, cannot be thought of as entirely inauthentic. Regarding the second, some early church writers do indeed cite 1 Enoch with formulaic phrases like “For Scripture says” and “For it is written.”[ix]
As noted above, 1 Enoch is part of a grouping of ancient works known to scholars collectively as the Pseudepigrapha. The term does not mean “false writings” in the sense that the content of these books is to be regarded as wholly spurious. Rather, the term refers to the practice of producing written works and then assigning their authorship to someone (real or imagined) other than the actual author. This practice was common in the ancient world and is to be distinguished from literary forgeries. Well-known New Testament scholar D. A. Carson writes:
A literary forgery is a work written or modified with the intent to deceive. All literary forgeries are pseudepigraphical, but not all pseudepigrapha are literary forgeries. There is a substantial class of pseudepigraphical writings that, in the course of their transmission, somehow became associated with some figure or other. These connections between a text and an ancient figure, however fallacious, were judgments made with the best will in the world.[x]
The motivation for writing under a pseudonym or a nom de plum varied, whether well-intentioned or disreputable. For our purposes, the work of 1 Enoch cannot be regarded with suspicion merely because it is certain that the biblical figure of Enoch didn’t write the book.[xi] Canonical books named after biblical figures for which no evidence exists that their namesake did any of the writing include Job, 1 and 2 Samuel, and Joshua. Lack of evidence for a namesake’s authorship of a book bearing his name is no measurable invalidation of a work’s worth or value. During the Second Temple Period, pseudepigraphical literature was quite common. The practice didn’t discourage faithful Jews from reading such books.[xii] Peter and Jude are obvious examples.
As this book will demonstrate, Peter and Jude were not alone. The New Testament writers took the story of the Watchers in 1 Enoch 6–16 seriously. While several specific statements in the epistles of Peter and Jude can be traced directly to the book, 1 Enoch informs other New Testament writers in profound ways and, therefore, it influences the theological content of what they wrote under inspiration as well.
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Genesis 6:1–4 in Its Original Ancient Contexts
It won’t seem unusual that we begin our study in Genesis 6:1–4. After all, that’s the passage behind the story of the sin of the Watchers in 1 Enoch. But it is perhaps unexpected that we’ll also be spending a good deal of time looking at ancient Mesopotamia. As we’ll see, Genesis 6:1–4 and the story of the Watchers have deep roots in Mesopotamian literature. This is a fact with which scholars of 1 Enoch are well-acquainted, but which most lay readers are not.[xiii]
More specifically, the story of the sons of God and the Nephilim in Genesis 6:1–4 is framed by the Mesopotamian story of the seven pre-Flood wise, divine sages—the apkallu. The Mesopotamian material has explicit, unmistakable point-for-point parallels to Genesis 6:1–4. These parallels show that the Genesis passage was written as a theological polemic—a refutation of Mesopotamian religious interpretation of pre- and post-Flood events. Understanding the close relationship between the apkallu saga and Genesis 6:1–4 is crucial for understanding the Watcher story of 1 Enoch for several reasons:
- The Watcher story is an expansion of Genesis 6:1–4;
- Several of the elements added to Genesis 6:1–4 in 1 Enoch are not found anywhere in the Old Testament—but are present in both the Mesopotamian material and the New Testament;
- The above show us that the writer of 1 Enoch knew and preserved the original Mesopotamian context of Genesis 6:1–4;
- This preservation demands that we take the Watcher story seriously, even though it is not in the canon, and that we interpret Genesis 6:1–4 supernaturally, understanding the sons of God (the Watchers) as being divine, and their offspring, the Nephilim, as men—but not merely men;
- This context and its preservation help us understand how the Watcher story of 1 Enoch influenced the thinking of Peter, Jude, and other New Testament writers and, therefore, how considering the Watcher story as a backdrop is necessary for interpreting certain New Testament passages.
UP NEXT: The Sons of God and the Nephilim: Taking Genesis 6:1–4 Seriously
[i] The appellation “Book of Enoch” is incorrect since there are other (different) books of Enoch besides 1 Enoch. There is 2 Enoch (also called the Slavonic Apocalypse of Enoch), dated entirely to the late 1st century A.D., and 3 Enoch (also called the Hebrew Apocalypse of Enoch), which dates to fifth or sixth centuries A.D.
[ii] See appendix II for more detail.
[iii] Technically precise transliteration has not been used in this book. Transliteration of words from biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, along with other ancient languages, has been simplified for English-only readers.
[iv] On the divine nature of the sons of God in Gen. 6:1–4, see the extended discussion in Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, 2015) 93–109.
[v] The material in the Book of Giants from Qumran overlaps with the content of 1 Enoch, most notably 1 Enoch 6–16, the expanded treatment of the episode of Gen. 6:1–4. This being the case, the present volume will include material from the Book of Giants in its discussion of the New Testament theme of “reversing Hermon.” See appendix II.
[vi] See appendix I: “Reception of 1 Enoch in the Early Church.”
[vii] R. Lopez, “Israelite Covenants in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Covenants (Part 1 of 2),” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 9:1 (2003): 97–102; idem, “Israelite Covenants in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Covenants (Part 2 of 2),” Chafer Theological Seminary Journal 9:2 (2003): 92–111.
[viii] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Rev. and expanded; Chicago: Moody Press, 1986) 262.
[ix] See appendix I.
[x] D. A. Carson, “Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy,” ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000) 858.
[xi] No such argument can be made on any grounds. For example, the oldest textual remains of 1 Enoch date (perhaps) to the third century B.C., long after the lifetime of the antediluvian figure for whom it is named and concerning whom it has much to say. See appendix II.
[xii] D. A. Carson, “Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy,” 859; James H. Charlesworth, “Pseudonymity and Pseudepigraphy,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992) 540.
[xiii] See for example Helge S. Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic: the Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and of the Son of Man (Neukirchener Verlag, 1988); idem, “The Watchers Story, Genesis and Atrahasis: A Triangular Reading.” Henoch 24 (2002), 17–21; Siam Bhayro, “Noah’s Library: Sources for 1 Enoch 6–11,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Vol 15.3 (2006): 163–177; James C. VanderKam, Enoch and the Growth of an Apocalyptic Tradition, Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series 16 (Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1984); Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “Giant Mythology and Demonology: From the Ancient Near East to the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in A. Lange, H. Lichtenberger and K.F. Diethard (eds.), Demons: The Demonology of Israelite—Jewish and Early Christian Literature in Context of their Environment (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003) 318–38; Alan Lenzi, Secrecy and the Gods: Secret Knowledge in Ancient Mesopotamia and Biblical Israel (The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project; State Archives of Assyria Studies XIX; Helsinki, 2008).