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The Watchers are Judged
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by George W. E. Nicklesburg and James C. VanderKam
1 Enoch:  A New Translation (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2004.  170p.)

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This was a very interesting document.  This is a new translation and commentary, with excellent textual critical notes by the translators.  The document is very important for historical and cultural studies of the Jews up to the time of Christ.

Though this work never became part of the holy writings of either Christians or Jews, it seems to be quoted or referred to in the New Testament books of Jude (verses 14-15) and 2 Peter (2:4).  See my review of another book dealing with this: A New Testament Window into First Century Jewish Literature.  The work called 1 Enoch is actually a compilation of what appear to originally have been three texts, originally written in the 300s BC and later.

This was a very widely-circulated document in the Jewish community of the Roman Empire, originally written in Aramaic, and four copies of the Aramaic manuscript have been found at Qumran.  The translators have performed extensive comparative critical work on versions in Aramaic, Ge`ez (ancient Ethiopic, the ancestor of modern Amharic and Tigrinya), Syriac and Greek.  The wide circulation of the document and its high use is indicated by the many variations of the text.

Pre-Roman Era
First Enoch is important because it fills in several gaps in previous knowledge of the era of Palestine leading up to the Roman period.  It contains an astronomical section describing the synchronization of lunar and solar calendars.  More important it contains details of the extensive Jewish folklore that had developed over the centuries after the Babylonian Exile that attempt to fill out the vague and intriguing references in the Torah to ancient figures.

One important story concerns the "Watchers," the race or class of beings quickly referred to in passing in Genesis 6 as "The Sons of God."  This passage states the Sons of God liked the Daughters of Humans and took them as wives.  This and a couple of other off-hand references in the Old Testament indicate that a mixed-race class of beings was thought to have developed from this, who were semi-gods or super-humans, such as the Greeks called "heroes."  This was a race of Giants, referred to sometimes by an ethnic name, such as the Sons of Anak (Hebrew Anakim = the Anak people).

Some translations prefer to use the Hebrew word Nephilim, since this is a special class of beings, not just human giants. Thus, the Contemporary English Version (CEV) and the American Standard Version (ASV) in Genesis 6:4 read:

They were called Nephilim and lived on the earth at that time and even later.

Various legends grew up to fill out this story.  The document of Enoch 1 is a full-fledged story that identifies the Watchers as fallen angels, who were not supposed to have sexual union with humans.  I find it interesting that these legends never explain why angels were made with human male bodies, and even fully capable of having sexual intercourse with human females, yet for some reason they were prohibited from doing so.  It is not explained why they were made sexually able but prohibited, or why it would be detrimental for them to breed with humans.

The Ancient Giants
It seems to be associated with the ancient fear of the race of giants, attested in various pre-historic memories of various human cultures, including the Semites.  This is reflected in the ancient references in Jewish lore simply hinted at in the text of the Torah.  The mixed offspring of the angels and humans were a dangerous abomination.  There seem to be a few of these giant tribes still around in the story of the Hebrew invasion of Canaan, as a reference says:

Num 13:33 In fact, we saw the Nephilim who are the ancestors of the Anakim. They were so big that we felt as small as grasshoppers. (CEV, Likewise American Standard Version)

Other references occur (KJV):
Deu 2:11 Which also were accounted giants, as the Anakims; but the Moabites call them Emims.
Deu 3:11 For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant, of giants; [proceeds to give measurements of his huge iron bed].
    [Many other references to Og and his land]
Jos 15:8 ...the mountain that lieth before the valley of Hinnom westward, which is at the end of the valley of the giants northward.
Jos 17:15 ...get thee up to the wood country, and cut down for thyself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants...

The way the story of the Flood is told, however, it would otherwise seem that they should have died out in the Flood.  This and other niggling details are the reason many think the flood in the story, if it was meant to recount a historical event, was a regional flood, and some humans survived.  But the flood story seems to be virtually universal among human cultures, though with variations.  So this is a mystery.  (Some cultures' flood stories specifically indicate the Flood, while devastating, was local and did not in fact cover all land areas.  So in these variations there were survivors.)

Apocalyptic View
At any rate, this fascinating composition is a tightly woven story of the apocalyptic ending of the world, with a judgement bringing final vindication for the righteous and victory for God's plan, with judgement coming on the rebellious angels.  It is not clear why God would wait till the end of the world to judge them if their activities are so detrimental.  Another of the gaps in the Jewish, and even biblical, references.  Phrases from this document appear in certain passages of the New Testament writers.  It is enlightening and helpful to give a picture of the views of one group of Jews.

This viewpoint was certainly not universal, as attested by other literature, and the New Testament itself.  It sheds light, however, on some references not filled out in the New Testament, because they are already well-established in the cultural thought of the day.  So it was not necessary to spell them out.

Everyone knew what they meant.  So when Jude simply makes a reference to the judgement of angels and the abyss of darkness into which they will be cast, he does not need to spell it out - everyone automatically knew what he was talking about.

Powerful Symbols
These and other symbolic figures were a common way of referring to the great justice of God that would finally be manifest in the final judgement. After the resurrection, when all would be made right again.  It was an encouragement to the righteous who were being persecuted.  The symbolic coded languages of Revelation uses some of these same pictures to encourage the Jewish Christians under Roman persecution.

The most obvious is the powerful symbols of Jewish numerology to refer to Emperor Nero (666) without overtly indicating it for the unknowing Roman authorities who might incidentally hear the reading of the visual symbology of the apocalyptic message.

First Enoch is an important book in our religious and cultural history.  It fills in many gaps of the worldview and popular religious folklore of the Jews, which affected the general context within which the new Christian faith arose.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] An Adventure in Christian Science Fiction
[TXT] The Book of Enoch the Prophet, translated by Richard Laurence
[Review] The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity
[review] Demonic Metaphysics
[Text] God and the Problem of Evil
[review] A Gnostic View of Jesus
[review] Jesus and the Jewish Resurrection
[review] Justice and Vengeance in Dante's Medieval World
[TXT] A New Testament Window into First Century Jewish Literature
[Review] Principalities and Powers:  Notes On Demonic Hierarchies
[TXT] Reading List Notes on Hebrew Myths:  The Book of Genesis, by Robert Graves and Raphael Patai
[review] The Revelation of Comfort and Hope
[TXT] Review of Legends of the Bible, by Louis Ginzberg
[review] Split-Rapture Recent Origins Exposed
[review] Thessalonica, Qumran and the Cult of the Emperor

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Written 16 December 2006
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 18 December 2006
Revised 3 November 2007
Reviewed on Amazon 2 March 2009

Last edited 4 January 2018

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright 2006, 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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