THE JEWISH SCENE IN THE TIME OF JESUS
Those readers who have followed my blog for a while, know that I love series. There have been many series on this blog already: As Though Hiding His Face (The Hidden Messiah), Biblical Portraits (of Rebecca and of Judah), The Bible Stories You Did Not Know, The Torah Portion in Real Time, etc. Today we begin a new series, and the title of this series is inspired by a short sentence from the well-known Jewish-American scholar, Daniel Boyarin: “The Jesus folk were not alone on the Jewish scene.” Hence the title of this new series: “The Jewish Scene in the time of Jesus”. We will try to understand who else was on this scene besides the followers of Jesus, and what was going on there.
The “Jesus folk” were definitely not alone: there were many different directions and teachings in Judaism before the destruction of the Temple. All these streams differed significantly, both in theology and practice, but they all firmly believed that the Torah was given by God to Moses at Mt. Sinai, and the Torah was an unshakable and unquestionable foundation for all these directions and teachings, without exception. Many of the Second Temple Jewish texts present an expanded retelling of the Torah. However, even though those texts or teachings were built on the Torah and around the Torah, they had very different understandings and different interpretations of the Torah. Thus, our point in studying such texts is to grasp the ideas and the interpretations that were alive on the Jewish scene in the times of Jesus—to get a feel for this Jewish scene. “The New Testament writers, being predominantly Jewish and products of the Second Temple Period,” were definitely influenced by these ideas. “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 choose a more academic designation, we want to understand the historical and cultural context of the New Testament. Our first text, will be the First Book of Enoch—undoubtedly the most important apocalyptic work outside the canonical Scriptures.
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).
Many scholars of early Christianity see the main value of this book in providing additional insights into the New Testament: thanks to the Book of Enoch, we can see “to what extent the ideas surrounding what we call Christology, the story of Jesus as the divine-human Messiah, were also part (if not parcel) of Jewish diversity at this time”. Of course, later we will discuss these insights and these ideas as well. However, we will begin with the first part of the Book of Enoch which will help us understand one of the most enigmatic passages in the Torah: the Book of Watchers.
WHO WERE THE SONS OF GOD?
Not many Bible passages raise as many questions as the infamous beginning of chapter 6 of the book of Genesis:
1 Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose… 4 There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
These verses in Genesis 6 have been the subject of discussions for a long time. For centuries, people have debated whether the “sons of God” expression refers to angels or to men, and who these Nephilim/giants were. Many respected scholars have commented on this topic over the years, and the identity of the Nephilim and the sons of God is still being debated today.
The Hebrew words translated “the sons of God” are b’nai ha Elohim, בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙. Does the Torah mean angels, or just “the sons of rulers,” or “the sons of the nobles,” as some Jewish translations translate b’nai ha Elohim here? Many of you probably know that the noun הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ (Elohim) is in a plural form, and it can be read not only as “God”, but also as “gods” or even “lords, rulers”, and this is exactly how the Jewish commentaries choose to read this word in this particular verse. We have “the sons of the princes” in Targumim, and “the sons of the Judges” in Midrashim—in fact the “angelic interpretation” (that they were angels, or some kind of divine beings), while not very popular in modern Christianity, is almost non-existent in modern Judaism. However, it was completely different in Second Temple Judaism. Second Temple Judaism saw in Genesis 6:1-4, not only the story of a supernatural rebellion, but one of the most important passages in biblical theology. While in Genesis it occupies just a few verses, during the Second Temple Period it receives great attention, as we can see from the Watchers story of 1 Enoch, which is just an expansion of this episode. Next time, we will see how the Book of Watchers understood and interpreted this story, and also how the Enochian understanding of this story finds its way into the New Testament, in the letters of Peter and Jude.
 Boyarin, Daniel. The Jewish Gospels (Kindle Location 1103). The New Press. Kindle Edition.
 Heiser, Michael S. Reversing Hermon: Enoch, the Watchers, and the Forgotten Mission of Jesus Christ (Kindle Locations 110-112).
 Boyarin, Daniel. The Jewish Gospels (Kindle Locations 487-489). The New Press. Kindle Edition
 Some translations have here Nephilim instead of Giants.
“Watchers” is the Enochian term for the “sons of God.”
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Join the conversation (15 comments)
I find this very interesting.. want to really learn more on the book of Enoch
Wonderful Janice! This is exactly the point of these articles – to make the readers want to learn more! Blessings!
This is my 1st time to read your blog. It is good to have the Jewish belief regarding the book of the watchers. I love anythingnephilim and I enjoy Trey God I a nutshell. Thank you
Welcome to the blog Lorna! I hope you will keep following it and will find the articles here interesting and helpful!
Julia, I love your blog articles! They are so informative. You are a gifted writer, and you are not timid about subjects that may be controversial as this one. Thank you for your honest and straight-forward articles.
Thank you Marcia! I am so glad you enjoy these articles!
A very interesting topic Julia. You say that: “Second Temple Judaism saw in Genesis 6:1-4, not only the story of a supernatural rebellion, but one of the most important passages in biblical theology.” Of course, this means that the NT writers also understood the importance of this, as Michael Heiser brings out in the book you reference, “Reversing Hermon”. (I am reading this at the moment and thoroughly recommend it to your readers) I look forward very much to this new series.
Thank you Dorothy! I find it extremely important for a modern reader to be able to read the New Testament through the Second Temple Jewish eyes. The book of Dr. Michael Heiser provides an excellent insight into the worldview of the Jews in Jesus’ time, and I also highly recommend this book to all my readers.
The answer to who where the sons of God is found in Romans 8:14 ” For all o are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Those who are led by the Spirit of God are certainly very blessed to be called “sons of God”, Julia, though clearly these are not the “sons of God’ referenced in Genesis 6. I recommend you download “Reversing Hermon” if you want to look seriously into this subject.
I agree with Dorothy , Julia, and I guess you would also agree: clearly, the “sons of God” that Paul is talking about are not the evil “sons of God” of Genesis 6.
I agree with Julia Ellis. The sons of God in the old testament are not referring to fallen Angels, they are refering to those that are followers of the one true God(Romans 8:14) verses the followers of Idols. No fallen super natural being would ever be referred to as a son of God, if not merely for the fact that in hebrew thought “son” means builder of the family. Men of God were subject to fall all the time at the hands of heathen women it is one of greatest down falls mentioned over and over of the Nation of hebrew people. See Adam, Abraham, David, Solomon, The Benjamiies, the levites. All considered sons of God fallen to women not not serving God
It’s vital that we approach all biblical questions from the the viewpoint of wanting to know the truth and not to prove our points. It’s very clear that Genesis 6:4 is speaking about angels as the sons of God. It was noted as a strange and unusual thing for them to come into the daughters of men.
Job 1:6 Satan Attacks Job’s Character
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 And the Lord said to [f]Satan, “From where do you come?”
Job 2:1 Satan Attacks Job’s Health
2 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord.
I have the Book of Enoch and have been searching for further evidence either way if it is good or bad. From my research its a vital book to understand Genesis in greater detail, also the books of Jubilees and Jasher. All of the the arguments against the book of Enoch don’t stand up to close scrutiny.
From London, England
I forgot to add yes they are the same evil sons of God, only in the New Testament they are covered in the blood with power of the Spirit to stand against the wiles of a woman. The only thing that keeps us as sons of God when we commit that same sin as sons of God in Genesis 6 is the Blood of Christ and the washing of the water of the Word
Thanks Julia! Looking forward!