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.
A well-known tablet from Uruk dating to the Seleucid period (W.20030, 7) plots out this transmission of divine knowledge on both sides of the Flood.[i] It lists seven pre-diluvian kings, each of them accompanied by an assisting apkallu, the divine sage who gave the king the knowledge necessary for civilization. The list reads as follows, with the name of the apkallu on the left and the king on the right (in the cuneiform text the signs for the apkallu are part of the names on the left):
Following these names, one post-Flood apkallu is mentioned with his corresponding king: Nungalpiriggal (Enmekar). [ii] Other Mesopotamian texts actually provide evidence for four post-Flood apkallu. These individuals are the key players in understanding why Genesis 6:1–4 was ever written in Scripture. The four post-Flood apkallu are said in one cuneiform tablet to be “of human descent.”[iii] The fourth post-Flood apkallu is further described as being only “two-thirds apkallu.”[iv]
The implication of these sources is that the post-Flood apkallu were the result of sexual intercourse with human women. In her short essay on the apkallu, Anne Kilmer draws this same conclusion, and sees its relationship to the Nephilim of Genesis 6:1–4 quite clearly:
Humans and apkallu could presumably mate since we have a description of the four post-flood apkallu as “of human descent,” the fourth being only “two-thirds apkallu” as opposed to pre-flood pure apkallu and subsequent human sages (ummanu).[v]
Unfortunately, Kilmer did little more in her short essay other than to identify the post-Flood hybrid offspring with the biblical Nephilim. The work of Amar Annus is an altogether different case. His work in 2010 has laid out the parallels between the story of the Mesopotamian apkallu and Genesis 6:1–4 in greater detail and with more care than anyone to date.
Unlike Kilmer, Annus took note of the observation that the pre-Flood apkallu were fully divine but the post-Flood apkallu were hybrid beings. The result is that “apkallu” is a term for both fully divine beings before the Flood and quasi-divine hybrid beings after the Flood. This is precisely how 1 Enoch uses the term “Watcher” for both the fully divine sons of God who cohabited with human women in Genesis 6:1–4 and the spirits of the giant offspring produced by the forbidden union (1 Enoch 6–7). The former is readily understandable, as the Watchers who descended to earth were fully divine. The term “Watcher” was applied to the latter because the immaterial nature of the giants (their spirits) were not human but divine. Consequently, this is why the spirits of dead giants in the Enochian story were considered evil and, thus, the origin of demons (1 Enoch 15:8–12).[vi]
The Apkallu under Judgment as Evil Spirits
The apkallu from before the Flood were heroes to Mesopotamians. But is there evidence that the post-Flood apkallu of Mesopotamia were perceived to be giants and evil spirits? There is indeed.
Annus has a lengthy discussion of how apkallu were also associated with evil. He writes in part:
It is a little known fact that apkallu are occasionally depicted as malevolent beings in Mesopotamian literature, who either angered the gods with their hubris, or practiced witchcraft…. The post-diluvian sages in particular were attributed some malicious deeds, as the translation of the latter part of the Bit Meseri text shows…. It is explicitly said in [one] passage that two of the four post-diluvian sages angered the gods. Piriggalnungal angered the storm-god, who caused draught on earth for three years…. The apkallus occur at least twice in the anti-witchcraft series Maqlû as witches, against whom incantations are directed…. From many references in Mesopotamian literature we can learn that the fish-like sages were thought to have been created and also reside in Apsu…. The fact that apkallu are born and often reside in Apsu is not evidence that points to their exclusively positive character, since demonic creatures were also often thought to have their origin in the depths of the divine River. For example, in the Mesopotamian myth about slaying the dragon Labbu by god Tishpak, the monster is called “offspring of River.” This river, where the representations of witches and the models of evil omen carriers were cast for the purpose of purification, also had an epithet and aspect of deluge.[vii]
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In the Babylonian version of the Flood story, of which the apkallu were important characters, the great god Marduk is not kindly disposed toward either humans or the apkallu who cohabit with them, thereby preserving human civilization. In The Erra Epic (I.147–162), Marduk speaks about what he had done with the apkallu after the Flood:
I sent craftsmen down to Apsu, I ordered them not to come up. I changed the location of mēsu-tree and elmešu stone, and did not show it to anybody.
Where is the mes-tree, the flesh of the gods, the emblem of the king of the universe, the pure tree, august hero, perfect for lordship, whose roots reach a hundred leagues through the vast sea to the depth of the underworld, whose crown brushed [Anu’s] heaven on high? Where is Ninildum, great carpenter of my supreme divinity, wielder of the glittering hatchet, who knows that tool, who makes [it] shine like the day and puts it in subjection at my feet? Where is Kusig-banda, fashioner of god and man, whose hands are consecrated? Where is Ninagal, wielder of the upper and lower millstone, who grinds up hard copper like hide and who forges to[ols]? Where are the choice stones, created by the vast sea, to ornament my diadem? Where are the seven [sa]ges of the depths, those sacred fish, who, like Ea their lord, are perfect in sublime wisdom, the ones who cleansed my body?[viii]
Annus notes that the “craftsmen,” a term we saw earlier that was applied to the apkallu, were “apparently done away by Marduk during the flood, just as God punished the Watchers with the deluge…like the Watchers, the Mesopotamian apkallus were punished by a flood according to the Erra Epic.”[ix] Annus is cautious about presuming that Marduk sent the apkallu away to the abyss because they violated the divine order of the cosmos, but given the fact that, as Greenfield noted earlier, the apkallu were responsible for maintaining the correct balance between heaven and earth, it seems reasonable to conclude that their behavior with humanity in the Flood episode may be in view.
That transgression of the divine order does in fact seem to be in view is further suggested by Marduk’s comment that “I changed the location of mēsu-tree and elmešu stone,” thereby preventing access to both by the apkallu. Annus gives us important details but, doesn’t quite put the pieces together:
Relocation of a tree and stones is also a motif in the Erra Epic, where Marduk during the flood ‘changed the location of mēsu-tree and elmešu-stone’, in the context of sending the sages down to Apsu (I 147–48). The garden with trees and precious stones in the second dream is comparable to the garden in the end of the hero’s journey in the Gilgamesh epic (IX 173–90), with the trees bearing jewels and precious stones.
It is impossible to miss in these words Ezekiel’s language of Eden—the original earthly garden where heaven met earth. Ezekiel’s literary context is, tellingly, Babylon (Ezekiel 1:13). Ezekiel 28:11–14 combines the garden imagery, the cosmic mountain imagery, and the lustrous precious stones associated with the radiance of divine presence in his description of Eden. Eden of course had the tree of life. Ezekiel 31:1–9 is also famous for its enigmatic description of the “garden of God” (31:8) with massive trees. The point is that the imagery from Marduk’s comments about what he had done to the apkallu in effect points to the banishment of the apkallu from his presence—his abode, the place of council, the place where cosmic order was maintained. This is precisely how the Watchers were punished. They are cast away from God and forsaken. They no longer have a role in the divine council to participate with God in the affairs of heaven and earth. The parallels to 1 Enoch’s description of how God dealt with the Watchers is unmistakable:
As apkallus are sent down to Apsu, the Watchers and their sons ‘will be led away to the fiery abyss, and to the torture, and to the prison where they will be confined forever’ in [1 Enoch] 10.13. The prison, where the spirits of the fallen angels are kept, is a chasm like Apsû, an abyss containing fiery pillars, and it is situated at the “end of the great earth” according to the Greek version of 1 En[och] 18.10, or “beyond the great earth” following the Ethiopic. The expression “great earth” is highly unusual in both languages, but it becomes explicable in the light of Mesopotamian mythology. The “great earth” is a name for the netherworld in Mesopotamian texts, ki-gal in Sumerian, whence the Akkadian kigallu was borrowed. The expression is found in the name of Mesopotamian queen of the underworld, Ereshkigal…. [T]he Aramaic fragment 4Q530 from Qumran, which belongs to the Book of Giants…contains in a broken context the reference to “gardeners” (gnnyn) at work, nurturing and protecting the trees (2 ii 7), which connotes the Watchers prior to their apostasy. This reference to “gardeners” is to be compared to Jub[ilees] 5.6, where God sent the angels to earth, and 4.15 further specifies the reason: “in order to instruct human beings and to act (with) justice and righteousness upon earth.” According to Jubilees, only after the Watchers’ arrival and sojourn among human beings were they corrupted and led astray by the irresistible beauty of mortal women…. From the comparative perspective, both the educational mission of the Watchers and likening them to “gardeners” make perfect sense. On Neo-Assyrian palace reliefs and seals, the famous apkallus as fish-cloaked men or as eagle-headed winged creatures are very often associated with the Tree of Life. The “watering of trees” by the Watchers in the Book of Giants finds many iconographic forerunners on Assyrian palace reliefs…. The Assyrian sacred tree symbolized both the divine world order and the king, who functioned as its earthly administrator. By sprinkling the tree with holy water the sages imparted to it their own sanctity, upheld the cosmic harmony, and thus “insured the correct functioning of the plans of heaven and earth.”[x]
The implications of all this are straightforward. After the Flood the apkallu are judged. The only thing the Mesopotamian texts imply they did that would be contrary to the original created order was their act of cohabitation at the time of the Flood. Their knowledge lived on among humans through their hybrid offspring, produced with human women. But Marduk was not pleased.
The Apkallu as Giants and Men of Renown
The most telling parallel to the Watchers and, thus, to Genesis 6:1–4, is that the hybrid post-Flood apkallu are giants.
Recall that the fourth of the post-Flood apkallu was described as only being two-thirds apkallu. This note comes from a section of the cuneiform bı̄t mēseri texts, incantations for protecting a house or building against invading evil spirits.[xi] Annus writes:
This exactly matches the status of Gilgamesh in the post-diluvian world, as he also was “two-thirds divine, and one-third human” (I 48). Gilgamesh was remotely related to antediluvian apkallus, as he “brought back a message from the antediluvian age” (I 8). In Jewish terms, he was like one of the giant Nephilim, as exactly the Book of Giants depicts him…. There is new supporting cuneiform evidence that Gilgamesh was thought of as having a gigantic stature, his height being 11 cubits…. The reading of the passage in which the Standard Babylonian epic gives the height of Gilgamesh’s giant body as 11 cubits (I 52–58), is now confirmed by the newest published evidence from Ugarit.[xii]
Gilgamesh is explicitly connected to the apkallu in a cylinder that refers to him as “master of the apkallu.”[xiii]
The parallels to Enochian material in this regard could not be more explicit. Gilgamesh is referenced by name in the Book of Giants from Qumran, another telling of the sin of the Watchers and its fallout. Other names from the Gilgamesh Epic and Mesopotamian flood stories are also present in this Second Temple Jewish book (e.g., Humbaba and Uta-napishti). All three of these names are the names of giant children of the Watchers. Annus notes that “different versions of the Jewish Book of Giants depict some giants as bird-men. [The giant] Mahaway has wings and flies in the air in the Qumran fragment 4Q530 7 ii 4.”[xiv]
Understanding and Honoring the Polemic of Genesis 6:1–4
What do the Mesopotamian data provide for the present work? Nothing less than direct ancient literary proof that:
- All the elements of Genesis 6:1–4 can be accounted for in Mesopotamian material relating to precisely the same context—the great Flood.
- These parallels were preserved in the Second Temple Jewish book known as 1 Enoch.
- The elements in the 1 Enoch story of the sin of the Watchers that are not found directly in Genesis 6:1–4 may nevertheless be entirely consistent with Genesis 6:1–4.
- New Testament writers like Peter and Jude should not be criticized for their attention to 1 Enoch in their own theological thinking.
More broadly, the Mesopotamian apkallu saga provides something biblical scholars have so long sought: a rationale for why Genesis 6:1–4 is even in the book of Genesis at all. The purpose was not to tell us about the godly human line of Seth. That interpretation is not only wholly ignorant of the original religious context but violates it at every turn. Rather, the reason Genesis 6:1–4 is in the Bible is because the writer sought to target the deeply held religious beliefs of Mesopotamia and, most pointedly, the myth of Babylonian superiority.
This is the nature of polemic argumentation, which Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines as “an aggressive attack on or refutation of the opinions or principles of another.”[xv] Annus’ recent work on the apkallu highlights the polemic nature of Genesis 6:1–4 and the account of the sin of the Watchers in 1 Enoch. He writes:
Varying accounts of the antediluvian history in the ancient Mesopotamian and [Second Temple] Jewish sources should be regarded as results of ancient debates. Not only direct borrowings took place, but also creative reinterpretations, especially on the Jewish side. Some of these creative reinterpretations must have occurred as deliberate inversions of the Mesopotamian source material. The Jewish authors often inverted the Mesopotamian intellectual traditions with the intention of showing the superiority of their own cultural foundations.[xvi]
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The Jewish writers of the Enochian literature in fact invert every element of the apkallu tradition, linking that inversion to the sons of God and Nephilim of Genesis 6:1–4. The point was to turn the Mesopotamian belief system on its head, to make sure that Israelites and Jewish readers would know that what happened between the sons of God and the daughters of humankind was not something that bettered humanity. It was the opposite—a transgression of heaven and earth that would corrupt humankind and produce a lineage that would later be a threat to the very existence of Israel, Yahweh’s portion and people (Deuteronomy 32:8–9).[xvii]
Annus continues, drawing attention to specific “heroic” deeds of the apkallu as perversions of divine order:
The Mesopotamian apkallus were demonized as the “sons of God,” and their sons Nephilim (Gen[esis]. 6.3–4), who in later Enochic literature appear as Watchers and giants, illegitimate teachers of humankind before the flood (see 1 En[och] 6–8)…. As many kinds of Mesopotamian sciences and technologies were ideologically conceived as originating with antediluvian apkallus, so both Enoch and the Watchers were depicted as antediluvian teaching powers…. By comparison, the Book of Watchers 8.1 enumerates the first set of arts forbidden to humanity—a list which consists mainly of useful crafts and technologies. This revelation of forbidden secrets was considered a transgression, because it promoted promiscuity and violence.[xviii]
The “wisdom” of the apkallu was not the only target. Their sexual activity with human women was also in the crosshairs of biblical and Enochian writers. Annus summarizes:
The “sons of God” in Genesis and the Watchers in Enochic literature are fully divine, as also were the antediluvian apkallus in the Mesopotamian tradition. The four post-flood apkallus were “of human descent,” which means that apkallus could mate with humans, as the Watchers did…. This exactly matches the status of Gilgamesh in the post-diluvian world, as he also was “two-thirds divine, and one-third human” (I 48). Gilgamesh was remotely related to antediluvian apkallus, as he “brought back a message from the antediluvian age” (I 8). In Jewish terms, he was like one of the giant Nephilim, as exactly the Book of Giants depicts him…. By identifying certain traditional archenemies as descendants of Watchers, the Jewish authors once again gave a polemical thrust to the Mesopotamian concept of the ruler as “seed preserved from before the flood.” This reversal of attitudes is also seen in the sexual transgressions that were ascribed to Watchers. The sexual encounters between humans and divinities had a clearly fixed place in the royal ritual of sacred marriage in Mesopotamian culture. In 1 Enoch, however, such transgression of the boundaries between human and divine is depicted as sacrilegious at the outset, and a source of irreversible corruption in the human world.[xix]
Finally, Second Temple Jewish writers wanted to so clearly associate Genesis 6:1–4 with the apkallu traditions for the purpose of theological polemic that they apparently coined the term “Watcher” to do so (or at least used it to be explicit). Recalling that, for Mesopotamians, the apkallu could be good or evil, Annus explains:
Figurines of apkallus were buried in boxes as foundation deposits in Mesopotamian buildings in order to avert evil from the house. The term maṣṣarē, “watchers,” is used of these sets of figurines in Akkadian incantations according to ritual texts. This appellation matches the Aramaic term ʿyryn, “the wakeful ones,” for both good angels and the Watchers…. The text from Assur, KAR 298, which prescribes the making of apotropaic apkallu figurines, often quotes the first line of otherwise unknown incantation attunu ṣalmē apkallē maṣṣarē (“You are the apkallu-figures, the watchers,” e.g., line 14).[xx]
The verdict of all this is inescapable. No interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4 that does not carefully observe and interact with the original Mesopotamian context can hope to be even remotely correct. Jews of the Second Temple Period understood this context. The New Testament writers were part of that milieu. Consequently, it should be no surprise that the sin of the Watchers was in the back of their minds as they wrote about what the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth must, did, and would reverse at His coming and return. As we’ll discover from this point forward, this theme of reversing the effects of the sin of the Watchers lurks under the surface of many New Testament passages.
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[i] The Seleucid period is historically late, well after the Babylonian (or earlier) era. Nevertheless, as studies of the apkallu have confirmed, the ideas and names conveyed in this tablet have a much older history in Mesopotamian material. See Lenzi, 107–108.
[ii] The spellings and the list come from Lenzi, 108.
[iii] Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nephilim,” in Perspectives on Language and Text: Essays and Poems in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s 60th Birthday (ed. E. W. Conrad and E. G. Newing; Eisenbrauns, 1987) 39–40. On the cuneiform text from which this information derives, see Erica Reiner, “The Etiological Myth of the ‘Seven Sages’,” Orientalia 30 (1961) 1–11.
[iv] Kilmer, 40-41. More on this apkallu and this cuneiform text below.
[v] Ibid., 40.
[vi] Wright (Origin of Evil Spirits, 146–147) notes: “The death of the giants reveals something about the nature of their spirits. They are considered evil spirits because they were born on the earth; they are a mixed product of a spiritual being (Watcher angel) and a physical, and a somewhat spiritually undefined human. The resulting entities are identified in I Enoch 15.8 as ‘strong spirits,’ ‘evil spirits,’ which come out of their bodies at their death…. [T]he Watchers [were necessarily] bound in Tartarus in order to halt their activity, while the spirits of the giants, following the death of their physical body, are allowed to roam freely upon the earth. The ability to roam about the earth links the nature of the evil spirits of the giants to the spiritual nature of the Watchers prior to their fall. What is not clear is why these beings are given that freedom.”
[vii] Annus, 297–303. The characterization of the Apkallu as fish-men points to their origin in the watery abyss in Mesopotamian religion. Apkallu are also characterized as bird-men, a likely image associated with their divine (“heavenly”) nature. The major study on the pictorial iconography of Apkallu is F. A. M. Wiggerman, Mesopotamian Protective Spirits: The Ritual Texts (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1992).
[viii] Cited by Annus, 309.
[ix] Ibid., 309, 311.
[x] Ibid., 311 and 293, in that order. On this point see also John C. Reeves, Jewish Lore in Manichean Cosmology: Studies in the Book of the Giants (Hebrew Union College Monographs 14; Hebrew Union College Press, 1995) 95; Simo Parpola, Letters from Assyrian and Babylonian Scholars (The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project; State Archives of Assyria Studies X; Helsinki, 1993) xx.
[xi] On this text and its translation, see R. Borger, “The Incantation Series bı̄t mēseri and Enoch’s Ascension to Heaven,” in I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1–11 (ed. Richard S. Hess and David T. Tsumura; Sources for Biblical and Theological Study 4; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994) 230–231.
[xii] Annus, 283, 296. On the description of Gilgamesh in the Book of Giants from Qumran, see Loren Stuckenbruck, The Book of Giants from Qumran: Text, Translation, and Commentary (Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum 63; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997) 329. On the cuneiform evidence for Gilgamesh’s height, see the line references in the translation of Andrew R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts (Oxford University Press, 2003). On the Ugaritic material he refers to, Annus adds a footnote on p. 296 that cites another source by Andrew R. George: “The passage describing the physical appearance of Gilgamesh can be reconstructed in five lines as follows: ‘[A giant(?)] in stature, eleven cubits [was his height, four cubits was] the width of [his chest,] a triple cubit his foot, half a rod his leg, six cubits was the length of his stride, [x] cubits the whiskers(?) of his cheeks’.” See Andrew R. George, “The Gilgameš Epic at Ugarit,” Aula Orientalis 25 (207): 237–54.
[xiii] Greenfield, 73.
[xiv] Annus, 304. As noted earlier, this characterization as bird-men is likely chosen to denote the divine (“heavenly”) nature of Apkallu.
[xv] Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).
[xvi] Annus, 280.
[xvii] On Deut. 32:8–9 and its importance for biblical theology, see Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm, 110–122; Michael S. Heiser, “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God,” Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (January–March 2001) 52–74.
[xviii] Annus, 282, 289.
[xix] Annus, 282–283, 295.
[xx] Annus, 283, 314–315. Annus adds (p. 315): “The Aramaic term for ‘Watchers’ (ʿyr) must have come about as an adaptation of Akkadian term maṣṣaru, the term which denoted specialized guards for gates, doors, walls, and so on, but also divine guardians and their representations in private houses and temples. The verbal root ʿwr in Hebrew means ‘(to be) awake’, and Syriac ʿr, with participle ʿı̄r means ‘(to be) awake, watch’. Hence the Aramaic term means ‘wakeful one’. The expression ʿyryn came to denote angelic beings, whether they are good or rebellious, or could be used neutrally to refer to angels in general (Stuckenbruck 1997: 84). The cognate verb in Akkadian is êru, ‘to be awake’ (CAD E 326).” Annus attributes some of this to Stuckenbruck, Book of Giants, 84. The CAD = The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary.