Beginnings: The Story Of Flood (2)

My dear readers, since almost all the comments on my previous post declare that they don’t agree with me, I wanted to explain several things here.

First of all, I am not trying to convince anyone of anything. Have you heard the expression: “Seventy faces of Torah”? It actually represents a Jewish view of Scripture: we do believe that every word of this Scripture comes from God – however, we don’t believe that there is a single interpretation for every word. I am just presenting my own understanding – yours might be completely different, and I am absolutely fine with that.

Second, before you come to your own conclusion, I think it’s really important that you know how the first century Jewish audience understood these verses. I have to admit that my perception of Genesis 6 is largely influenced by the Jewish texts of Second Temple period, in particular, by 1 Enoch, so I find it important to share that here with you as well.

First Enoch

1 Enoch is a collection of Jewish apocalyptic texts dating from the last three centuries before the Common Era. Most scholars believe that 1 Enoch was originally written in Aramaic and that its oldest parts were written as early as the third century B.C.  Some scholars consider the rediscovery of Enochic Judaism to be one of the major achievements of contemporary research into Second Temple Judaism, and almost everyone recognizes the importance of Enochic Judaism in the development of ancient Jewish thought.

The First Book of Enoch, or Ethiopic Enoch, is in fact a compilation of five books, each of which appears with its own title and usually its own conclusion. These five books, known as the Book of the Watchers (chaps. 1-36), the Similitudes (also known as Parables, chaps. 37-71), the Book of the Luminaries (chaps.72-82), the Book of the Dreams (chaps. 83-90), and the Epistle of Enoch (chaps. 92-105), are combined into a single work in the Ethiopic version, in which alone, the whole is preserved. In addition to the Ethiopic text, extensive parts of the book have survived in Greek. Fragments of each section of the book, except the Similitudes, have also been found in Qumran (all in Aramaic). We will discuss here the first part of the Book of Enoch – the book of Watchers – which will help us understand the enigmatic beginning of Genesis 6.

There is a remarkably large portion of common content with the Hebrew Bible in this book: e.g. Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel; Flood. However, it is precisely the differences and the additions in the retelling of the well-known biblical narratives which draw our attention, and can possibly point to some specific patterns and concepts in Second Temple Jewish thought. The most striking example of this discrepancy we find in the infamous beginning of chapter 6 of the book of Genesis. While this story occupies just a few verses in Genesis, it becomes the main narrative in the Book of the Watchers, where Chapters 6-9 tell the story (in fact, two interwoven stories) about the fall of the evil angels. Let us read together a few verses from 1 Enoch 6-7, in order to see how the writer expands upon Genesis 6:1-4:

1 Enoch 6:1 And when the sons of men had multiplied, in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to them. 2 And the watchers, the sons of heaven, saw them and desired them. And they said to one another, “Come, let us choose for ourselves wives from the daughters of men, and let us beget for ourselves children.”… 5 Then they all swore together and bound one another with a curse. 6 And they were, all of them, two hundred, who descended in the days of Jared onto the peak of Mount Hermon.[53]… 1 Enoch 7:1 These and all the others with them took for themselves wives from among them such as they chose. And they began to go in to them, and to defile themselves through them, and to teach them sorcery and charms, and to reveal to them the cutting of roots and plants. 2 And they conceived from them and bore to them great giants. And the giants begat Nephilim…

The Sin of the Watchers

Before proceeding any further, I would like to mention a wonderful book by a brilliant scholar. I have recommended this book on these pages already, and am happy to recommend it once again.  It’s called, “Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ” by Dr. Michael Heiser. This particular article draws heavily on this book.

We already know that the supernatural interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 (that the “sons of God” were angels or some kind of divine beings) is not very popular in either modern Christianity or modern Judaism; however, it was very different in Second Temple Judaism. As you can see from the quotation above,  for the Second Temple audience the Watchers (“the sons of God” of Genesis) were “clearly celestial (nonhuman) beings” whose actions were “regarded not only as morally evil, but spiritually destructive”[1]. The Book of the Watchers describes the revolt of the heavenly Watchers, which leads to evil on the earth and foretells God’s judgment. We have to understand clearly: Second Temple Judaism saw in Genesis 6:1-4, not just a story of a supernatural rebellion, but one of the central passages in biblical theology and in understanding God’s plan in history. Here is a very important quotation from Michael Heiser’s introduction to his book, explaining why this topic is so important: “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.”[2]

Since the New Testament writers belonged to Second Temple Judaism, this understanding of the Watchers being responsible for the spread of evil on earth  had to be part of their theology. “Consequently, for New Testament writers, the coming of Jesus meant not only reversing the curse of death brought upon humanity by the sin of Adam”[3], but also “reversing Hermon”: reversing the evil deeds of the Watchers. Next time, before we go back to the Flood, we will see the traces of this concept on the pages of the New Testament.

[1] Heiser, Michael S. Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 302).

[2] Ibid., Kindle  location 101-107

[3] Ibid. Kindle location 931-933

If you like the  articles on this blog, you might enjoy also my books,  you can get them here. 

The insights you read on these pages, are typical of what we share with our students during DHB (Discovering the Hebrew Bible) or WTP (Weekly Torah Portion)  classes. If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, or studying  in-depth Parashat Shavua, along with New Testament insightsI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding  eTeacher courses[1] (juliab@eteachergroup.com) .

 

[1] At this point, we offer WTP course only in English, while DHB course is offered also in Spanish and Portuguese.

 

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

You might also be interested in:

High Holy Days: Gates Of...

By Julia Blum

Rosh Hashanah: Happy Birthday,...

By Julia Blum

Join the conversation (4 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Nick

    So these negative entities continued to have influence spiritually, and even exist physically, after the flood? Somehow?? So, elimination/correction of “the Watchers” is another yet to be fulfilled aspect of Christianity that is hoped for as part of Messianic reign??
    I realize Julia, we are all trying to get a handle on things, and this is not an exact science! Indeed, nobody sees all things clearly, but I am thankful for a peaceful soul as my intellect experiences a certain tension pondering these mysteries!
    Thanks,
    Nick

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Nick, I am very thankful indeed for you being still very interested and supportive – even though your “intellect experiences a certain tension pondering these mysteries!”. Hopefully, my next post will bring relief to this tension – so… stay tuned!

  2. Mark Stevens

    Dear Julia,
    i totally concur with your interpretation of Gen. 6:1-4. i had arrived at the same conclusion as you explained from reading the scripture passages related to this passage (let scripture interpret scripture), without any input from you or any other scholar. However, i read Dr. Heiser’s book last year and came away with a whole new appreciation of the Genesis 6 account and Jesus’ work of redemption through the Cross. Too many believers work to hard to separate the earthly domain from the heavenly domain and miss out on the ‘mysteries’ that exist, but will be fully revealed to us in the near future.
    Thank you for your boldness to proclaim what the scriptures reveal to us and not what man’s shortsightedness.
    Blessings,
    Mark Stevens

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your support Mark, it’s just precious! Not many people today are ready to accept these “supernatural mysteries”, and I am very grateful that you are.