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 FAMILY DURING THIS SERIES.
Having read the excerpts from 1 Enoch, we can summarize the story for the purposes of reference throughout the rest of our study. Annette Yoshiko Reed does this nicely, especially as it will relate to the trajectory of this book:
The birth of the Giants is explored in terms of the mingling of “spirits and flesh” (15:8). Angels properly dwell in heaven, and humans properly dwell on earth (15:10), but the nature of the Giants is mixed. This transgression of categories brings terrible results: after their physical death, the Giants’ demonic spirits “come forth from their bodies” to plague humankind (15:9, 11–12; 16:1). According to 1 En[och] 16, the angelic transmission of heavenly knowledge to earthly humans can also be understood as a contamination of distinct categories within God’s orderly Creation. As inhabitants of heaven, the Watchers were privy to all the secrets of heaven; their revelation of this knowledge to the inhabitants of the earth was categorically improper as well as morally destructive.[i]
The Watchers, then, are clearly celestial (nonhuman) beings whose actions are regarded not only as morally evil, but spiritually destructive. While human rebellion first appeared in Eden, it is the actions of the Watchers that served as a catalyst to spread wickedness among humanity like a spiritual contagion. They are held responsible for teaching humans a variety of things that engender lust, warfare, astrology, occult practices, etc.
For the present purposes, readers should have it fixed in their minds that the story of the sin of the Watchers not only informed the mass of Jews in the Second Temple Period about the meaning and significance of Genesis 6:1–4, but it also informed New Testament writers who were a part of that period and community. We’ve already seen how Peter and Jude were informed by 1 Enoch when it came to “the angels that sinned.” The Watcher story lurks behind all sorts of New Testament passages. Demonstrating this fact is the purpose of this book.
Lest this thought be troubling—seeming as it is out of place with Christian tradition—two things can be said. First, biblical theology by definition comes from the biblical text (or ought to), not from Christian history or the writings of Christians about the Bible. We must be committed to the biblical text, read and interpreted in its own ancient context—not a later context—for our theology. Second, there is solid evidence that in the earliest Christian traditions, this reading of Genesis 6:1–4 was known and embraced. Stuckenbruck writes:
In particular [we] see the Christian Testament of Solomon 5:3; 17:1. In 5:3 (within the section 5:1–11), the author reinterprets the demon Asmodeus—this is a deliberate reference to the Book of Tobit which follows the longer recension (cf. Codex Sinaiticus at 3:7–8,17; 6:14–15,17; 8:2–3; 12:15)—one born from a human mother and an angel. In the latter text (in the passage 17:1–5) the demonic power thwarted by Jesus (in an allusion to M[ar]k 5:3) is identified as one of the giants who died in the internecine conflicts. Similarly, in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies 8.12–18 refers to the giants, which are designated as both “bastards” (18; cf. 15) and “demons” (14; 17) in the ante-diluvian phase of their existence. Here they are said to have survived the deluge in the form of disembodied “large souls” whose post-diluvian activities are proscribed through “a certain righteous law” given them through an angel…. Furthermore, one may consider Tertullian’s Apology 22, a passage deserving more detailed analysis, in which the offspring of the fallen angels are called a “demon-brood” who “inflict…upon our bodies diseases and other grievous calamities….” [In] the Instructions by the 3rd century North African bishop Commodianus (ch. 3)…the disembodied existence of the giants after their death is linked to the subversion of “many bodies.” The implications of the giants traditions for concepts of demonology at the turn of the Common Era have until now been insufficiently recognised.[ii]
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By way of a specific example, the beloved early church authority Irenaeus clearly looked at Genesis 6:1–4 the way the writer of 1 Enoch did. In his article, “The Origin of Sin in Irenaeus and Jewish Pseudepigraphical Literature,” D. R. Schultz writes:
It is well known that Satan appears in the writings of Irenaeus as the “tempter” of Adam. However, Irenaeus often bypasses Adam in his treatment of Satan and angels, so that this evil spirit world directly brings about mankind’s sinful condition. In effect, then, Irenaeus sometimes attributes the origin of sin directly to Satan and his forces in terms strongly reminiscent of 1 Enoch, Jubilees, and other late Jewish pseudepigraphical writings…. [T]he role of Satan in man’s sinfulness is a prominent one for Irenaeus, as (Satan) takes on many different titles. He is referred to as the “strong man,” the devil, and the apostate angel. It becomes evident that Irenaeus uses all of these names to signify a single creature who is angelic in nature and the chief adversary of God. Sin is directly related to angelic powers and principally to the leader of these powers, Satan. He is the first to sin against God and later lead others to that sin or apostasy…. Thus, the apostasy reaches from Satan to other angels who follow his lead in sin, transgression, and revolt. Moreover, the apostasy which began with Satan and continued through the apostate angels also extends to the whole of mankind. Irenaeus, speaking of all those whom God should punish in the eternal fires, lists “the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men” (citing Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1,10,1 [1,2]).… Irenaeus definitely understands that there exists a causal relationship between Genesis 6:1–4 and the wickedness that follows in Genesis 6:5.… Further clarification is achieved through an examination of the manner in which Satan’s apostasy is extended to mankind. Irenaeus has two different descriptions of the angels defiling mankind. One description is concerned with “unlawful unions” of angels with offspring from the daughters of men. This “unlawful union” produces “giants” upon the earth which cause man’s sinfulness; and these giants, which Irenaeus calls the “infamous race of men,” performed fruitless and wicked deeds. (citing Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 18 and Against Heresies 11.4,36,4 [4,58,4])[iii]
Irenaeus famously describes these “wicked deeds” in terms that have clear counterparts to the Watcher story: “The virtues of roots and herbs, and dyeing and cosmetics, and discoveries of precious materials, love philtres, hatreds, amours, passions, constraints of love, the bonds of witchcraft, every sorcery and idolatry, hateful to God.”[iv]
These thought trajectories will be foreign to practically all those whose training in theology and ministry has followed traditional lines. But to first-century Jews, they were common—and accepted as factual.[v] Stuckenbruck comments in this regard:
Scholars have observed that in a number of early Jewish writings such angels were regarded as evil beings whose activities, whether past or even present, were inimical to God’s purposes for creation.
Such an observation, however correct it may be, is often mentioned as if axiomatic; and there is, of course, ample reason for this. Traditions which refer to both evil angels and their gigantic offspring are preserved in a number of apocalyptic and sapiential writings dated mostly to the first three centuries before the Common Era, including the following documents: 1 Enoch (Book of Watchers ch.’s 1–36, Animal Apocalypse ch.’s 85–90, and the Noahic Appendix ch.’s 106–107); Book of Giants; Jubilees; Damascus Document; Ben Sira; Wisdom of Solomon; 3 Maccabees; 3 Baruch; and several fragmentary texts only preserved among the Dead Sea Scrolls (esp. 1Q20 Genesis Apocryphon, 4Q180–181 Ages of Creation, 4Q370 Exhortation Based on the Flood, 4Q444 Incantation, 4Q510–511 Songs of the Sage, and 11Q11 Apocryphal Psalms). For all the apparently one-sided emphasis of these writings with respect to their interpretation of “the sons of God” and their progeny as evil, nothing in Genesis 6 itself unambiguously prepares for such an understanding.… [I]t is thus remarkable how uniformly the ambiguous Genesis 6:1–4 was being read as a story about irreversibly rebellious angels and giants.[vi]
Stuckenbruck is of course correct that a number of details of 1 Enoch’s Watcher story are not unambiguously present in Genesis 6:1–4. But, as we shall see in our next chapter, they are present in the Mesopotamian story of the apkallu that prompted the writing of Genesis 6:1–4. When one reads these four short verses in light of the Mesopotamian religious propaganda they were designed to rebut, there is no room for any other interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4 than a supernaturalist approach.
The Mesopotamian Apkallu, the Watchers, and the Nephilim
Until very recently, the Mesopotamian backstory to Genesis 6:1–4 was unknown to all but a handful of scholars.[vii] This means that what follows will not be found in the writings of any modern denominational founder (Calvin, Luther, Wesley, etc.), nor any commentary on Genesis (to date), nor on the lips of any favorite preacher or Bible teacher.[viii] Without the knowledge of this backstory, interpreters fail to interpret Genesis 6:1–4 in its own context. Insisting on nonsupernatural interpretations like the Sethite hypothesis, where the sons of God are merely men from the line of Seth, violates the passage’s original intent and meaning.
Introducing the Apkallu
Greenfield’s brief summary of the apkallu states:
In Mesopotamian religion, the term apkallu (Sumerian: abgal) is used for the legendary creatures endowed with extraordinary wisdom. Seven in number, they are the culture heroes from before the Flood.… In the myth of the “Twenty-one Poultices” the “seven apkallu of Eridu,” who are also called the “seven apkallu of the Apsu,” are at the service of Ea (Enki)…. A variety of wisdom traditions from the antediluvian period were supposedly passed on by the apkallu…. The tradition of the apkallu is preserved in the bı̄t-mēseri ritual series and also by Berossus. The seven sages were created in the river and served as “those who ensured the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth.” Following the example of Ea, they taught mankind wisdom, social forms and craftsmanship. The authorship of texts dealing with omens, magic and other categories of “wisdom” such as medicine is attributed to the seven apkallu.[ix]
Readers familiar with the Watchers episode in 1 Enoch will be able to see a clear parallel to the Watcher story from even this cursory summary. The apkallu were divine beings bestowing special knowledge to humankind. This is precisely what the Watchers were blamed for in 1 Enoch. But there is much more. Several other specific links to Genesis 6:1–4 will be evident as we proceed.
As Greenfield’s summary noted, the seven apkallu were thought to have been created in “the river” and were assigned “the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth.” The “river” is actually a reference to the primeval deep in Mesopotamian thought.[x] This watery abode was located under the earth (hence, “underworld”) and was part of (or equivalent to, depending on the text) the Abyss (called the Apsu or Abzu by Mesopotamians) or realm of the dead. Readers will recall the same sort of conception for the realm of the dead in biblical material (e.g., Job 26:5–6). This means that, for Mesopotamians, the apkallu came from the Abyss and were responsible for maintaining the correct balance between heaven and earth that was the will of the greater gods. As such, the apkallu were thought to possess knowledge from the divine world that “made heaven and earth tick,” so to speak.
Over time, the apkallu had dealings with humanity. Mesopotamian literature presents them as the great antediluvian (“pre-Flood”) sages, “culture-heroes who brought the arts of civilization to the land. During the time that follows this period, nothing new is invented, the original revelation is only transmitted and unfolded.”[xi] This process of civilizing the world of men is viewed positively in Mesopotamian thought, so much so that “claims of both the physical ancestry and equality to antediluvian figures were important for Mesopotamian kings and scholars alike.”[xii] This was especially the case with respect to the apkallu, for such associations meant that humans could claim access to knowledge held only by the gods in the Mesopotamian divine council, an idea that would have been used to legitimize status, power and influence.[xiii]
It is difficult to do justice to the importance of the idea that the knowledge that made Mesopotamian civilization great—particularly in the case of Babylon—came from a divine source. It is a subject with immediate ties to Genesis. Cuneiform scholar Amar Annus writes:
There was a broad tradition in the Babylonian scribal milieu that the seventh antediluvian figure, a king or a sage, ascended to heaven and received insights into divine wisdom. The seventh antediluvian king according to several lists was Enmeduranki, the king of Sippar, who distinguished himself with divine knowledge from the gods Adad and Shamash. Biblical scholars generally agree that the religious-historical background of the figure of Enoch, the seventh antediluvian patriarch in Gen[esis] 5:23–24 and subsequently the apocalyptic authority in Enochic literature, lies in the seventh Mesopotamian antediluvian king Enmeduranki.
As this excerpt demonstrates, the connection back to Genesis is Enoch. Jude 14 notes that Enoch was the seventh from Adam. Enoch was the father of Methuselah and the great-grandfather of Noah (Genesis 5:21–30). Enoch was the first to be taken to heaven, joining God and the divine council as a man (Genesis 5:24).[xiv] The correlation with Enmeduranki is interesting because of how the Mesopotamian stories regard the transmission of divine knowledge from before the Flood to those who survived the Flood. This is specifically the role of the apkallu.
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The Transmission of Divine Knowledge via the Apkallu
The scribes of Babylon living after the Flood took great pains to establish the notion that their knowledge—and so the greatness of Babylon and the greatness of its king—was directly inherited from the divine realm. But how did they make that argument? One scholar whose focus is Mesopotamian beliefs about secret knowledge explains:
The learned scribes received their secret texts in the same manner that all scribes received texts from before their own time: they inherited copies of them from other scribes. But how did they inherit copies from the gods? This is where another of Ea’s associations assisted the scholars in their construction of secret corpora by providing a mechanism of reception. Ea from very early times was associated with the seven mythological sages called the apkallu who lived before the flood. The scholars created a mythology in which the members of their guild became the professional continuation of the position of the ancient apkallu.[xv]
Amar Annus goes on to describe how the scholarly writings of the scribes were specifically linked to the apkallu by a literary tactic. Scribes would title their treatises with names given to the apkallu.
Giving to the antediluvian sages names resembling titles of scientific treatises served the purpose of establishing the explicit connection between contemporary and primeval scholarship…. As the Mesopotamian conception of knowledge was pre-eminently associated with pragmatic kinds of it, the term “wisdom” denotes the realms of technologies and handicraft skills as well. In some royal inscriptions of first-millennium Mesopotamia, references occur to royal craftsmen (ummānu), “who know the secret.” Such capable craftsmen as the carpenter Ninildu, the lapidary Ninzadim, the metal worker Ninagal, the stone-cutter Ninkurra and the goldsmith Kusigbanda were the patron deities of smiths, manifestations of the god Ea, and also identified with antediluvian apkallus.[xvi]
Francesca Rochberg adds:
This gets to the root of the Mesopotamian scribal notion of knowledge, which is what unites divination, horoscopy, and astronomy in the learned cuneiform tradition. And this way of identifying the elements of knowledge, i.e., systematized, even to some extent codified knowledge, was connected with the gods from whom it was claimed such scholarly knowledge was derived in the days before the Flood.[xvii]
It is no understatement that, for Mesopotamians, the entire repository of knowledge that was to prove indispensable for civilization—and thus their own greatness—“was traced back to the wisdom of apkallus in its entirety.”[xviii] This role is a precise parallel to the Watchers of 1 Enoch, who taught humanity forbidden knowledge by which they became wicked and depraved (1 Enoch 8:1–4; 10:7–8).
But how did the knowledge of the pre-Flood apkallus survive the Flood?
UP NEXT: The Apkallu
[i] Annette Yoshiko Reed, Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity, 46.
[ii] Loren T Stuckenbruck, “The Origins of Evil in Jewish Apocalyptic Tradition: The Interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4 in the Second and Third Centuries B.C.E.,” in The Fall of the Angels (ed. Christoff Auffarth and Loren T. Stuckenbruck; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2004) 103, n. 35.
[iii] D. R. Schultz, “The Origin of Sin in Irenaeus and Jewish Pseudepigraphical Literature,” Vigiliae Christianae 32:3 (Sep., 1978) 168–169, 172–173.
[iv] Ibid., 179, citing Irenaeus, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, 18.
[v] Stuckenbruck notes that the scholarly literature establishing this fact “is considerable.” This is an understatement. He offers a short list of the scholarship on this point in the first footnote of his essay, “The Origins of Evil in Jewish Apocalyptic Tradition” (p. 87). His list includes: Devorah Dimant, “The Fallen Angels” in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphic Books Related to Them, Hebrew University: Ph.D. Thesis 1974 (in mod. Hebrew); P. Hanson, “Rebellion in Heaven, Azazel and Euhemeristic Heroes in 1 Enoch 6–11,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96 (1977) 195–233; G. W. E. Nickelsburg, “Apocalyptic and Myth in 1 Enoch 6–11,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96 (1977) 383–405; M. J. Davidson, Angels at Qumran. A Comparative Study of 1 Enoch 1–36, 72–108 and Sectarian Writings from Qumran, Sheffield 1992; P. S. Alexander, “Wrestling Against Wickedness in High Places: Magic in the Worldview of the Qumran Community,” in S. E. Porter and C. A. Evans (eds.), Qumran Fifty Years After, Sheffield 1997, 319–30; idem, “The Demonology of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in P. Flint and J. C. VanderKam (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years. A Comprehensive Assessment, Leiden/Boston/Köln 1999, vol. 2, 331–53; and A. M. Reimer, ‘Rescuing the Fallen Angels: The Case of the Disappearing Angels at Qumran’, Dead Sea Discoveries 7 (2000): 331–53.
[vi] Stuckenbruck, “The Origins of Evil in Jewish Apocalyptic Tradition,” 87–88.
[vii] The single best study on the material presented in this chapter was published in 2010: Amar Annus, “On the Origin of the Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 19.4 (2010) 277–320. The publication of this study was followed closely by David Melvin, “The Gilgamesh Traditions and the Pre-History of Genesis 6: 1–4,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 38:1 (2011): 23–32; Ida Fröhlich, “Mesopotamian Elements and the Watchers Traditions,” in The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions (ed. Angela Kim Hawkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John C. Endres, S.J.; Fortress Press, 2014), 11–24; Henryk Drawnel, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Enochic Giants and Evil Spirits,” Dead Sea Discoveries 21:1 (2014): 14–38; Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading (Journal for the Study of Judaism Supplement 149; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2011). Some of the material in this last source was published earlier in 2002, though Annus’ article supersedes that work considerably: Helge Kvanvig, “Gen. 6: 1–4 as an antediluvian event,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 16:1 (2002): 79–112.
[viii] The only place I know of where this material has been brought to light in a source generally accessible to the public is my book: The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (Lexham Press, 2015) 92–109.
[ix] J. C. Greenfield, “Apkallu,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst: Leiden: E. J. Brill; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) 72.
[x] Annus (p. 302) notes: “The realm of Apsu is often confused with underworld in Mesopotamian literature. Evidence indicates that the reason for this was either a simple confusion, or Apsu itself was occasionally thought to be a netherworld inhabited by malevolent spirits. The second option seems more likely, as there are many literary references, which place underworld deities and demons in Apsu.” See also Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Eisenbrauns, 1998) 342–343.
[xi] Kvanvig, Roots of Apocalyptic, 201.
[xii] Annus, 295.
[xiii] Entire scholarly studies on such access to secret knowledge have been produced. The most recent and, arguably, the most thorough, is 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).
[xv] Lenzi, 106–107.
[xvi] Ibid., 287–289.
[xvii] Francesca Rochberg, The Heavenly Writing: Divination, Horoscopy, and Astronomy in Mesopotamian Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2004) 17.
[xviii] Annus., 289. On this subject, see also the monograph by the great Sumerian-Akkadian scholar William Hallo, Origins: The Ancient Near Eastern Background of Some Modern Western Institutions (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1996).