The Dark Supernatural History Of The Nephilim
When John wrote down his vision of the 5th Trumpet in Revelation 9:1, the star that fell earlier in Revelation 8:10 was a heavenly body, but here the star is an angel. John identified seven stars with seven angels [recall Revelation 1:20], and Jewish tradition also referred to angels as stars [Judges 5:20; Job 38:7]. The disputed question is whether this star is a demonic being, whose fall is really an expulsion from heaven, or whether it is an angel of God, whose fall is simply a descent from heaven. Scholars are divided, and two main interpretations are held:
Satan [or a Demonic Being] The star is said to have “fallen to earth from the sky,” which could connote falling out of favor with God, like the devil and his angels being cast down from heaven to earth [later in Revelation 12:7–9]. A similar idea is evident in Isaiah 14:12, in which the king of Babylon comes under God’s judgment like the morning star that has “fallen from heaven,” and in Luke 10:18, in which the disciples of Jesus see Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Thus, many scholars have identified the fallen star here as Satan or a demonic angel, perhaps the angel of the abyss who is called “Apollyon” [later in v. 11]. Although it seems strange for an evil angel to be given the key to the abyss by God or one of God’s associates, later visions imply that the beast from the abyss is given divine permission to exercise authority on earth [later in Revelation 13:7].
Angel of God Another interpretation holds that the star’s fall simply refers to an angel’s descent from heaven. When stars fall [recall Revelation 6:13; 8:10], it does not signify God’s judgment against the stars, but against the earth. When an angel descends with the key to the abyss [later in Revelation 20:1], it is clear that the angel is from God. To be sure, the angel here opens the abyss to release demonic plagues, and the angel [later in Revelation 20:1] closes the abyss to confine Satan, but in both passages God is behind the action. Thus, scholars who hold this 2nd interpretation argue that it seems unlikely that the angel with the key here is the same as the demonic angel known as “Apollyon” [later in v. 11], since the 1st angel opens the abyss from outside, whereas the 2nd angel is king of the locusts that are inside the abyss. Some other scholars associate the angel here with the angel that was said to have charge of Tartarus [in Hades], but Hades and the abyss are two different parts of the underworld in this book. The angel could simply be one of many.
In regards to the 1st interpretation, a complex overview of who the “star that had fallen to earth” is needed here, starting with the Old Testament, that will then lead us into the 2nd Temple period, and finally into the New Testament. Starting with the 1st rebellion in Genesis 3, the story of the fall of humanity seems straightforward. However, the passage presents a lot of interpretive questions. Why was Eve not scared when the serpent spoke to her? The truth is that an ancient reader would not have expected Eve to be frightened. Given the context that she was in Eden, the realm of God and his divine council, she was conversing with a divine being. In the ancient Near East, animal speech is not uncommon. The context for such speaking is tied to the world of the gods, or direct divine intervention. For example, no Egyptian would have presumed that the animals they experienced in their normal lives could talk. But when the gods were in view, that was a different story. Animals were often the vehicle for manifesting a divine presence in a story. The kind of animal would often depend on characteristics associated with that animal, or on the status of that animal in a culture’s religion. Consequently, the point of Genesis 3 is not to inform us about ancient zoology. Instead, it communicates that:
The world you experience was created by an all–powerful God.
Humans are his created representatives.
Eden was his abode.
He was accompanied by a supernatural host.
One member of that divine entourage was not pleased by God’s decisions to create humanity and give them dominion.
All of this leads us to how humanity got into a mess of cosmic proportions. Thus, the serpent was not a member of the animal kingdom. Furthermore, when the New Testament refers to the serpent, it is really referring to a supernatural entity, not a mere member of the animal kingdom [2 Corinthians 11:3, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:5]. Here is the extensive context:
Thus, terms and motifs associated with the divine council, its members, its meeting place, and a divine rebellion, all overlap in Genesis 3, Isaiah 14, and Ezekiel 28. Every term in these passages have secure parallels about a member of the divine council who rebelled, and was then later expelled. Specifically with Ezekiel 28, it begins with God chastising “Tyre’s Commander–in–Chief” [v. 2]. God accuses him of being “arrogant,” because he considers himself as a “god” who is “seated in God’s seat right in the middle of the sea” [or the divine council]. The Hebrew word for “god” here is ʾēl [also paralleling the Hebrew word ʾĕlōhîm in v. 9]. The people of Ugarit called their high god El, as did the people of Tyre [a Phoenician city]. Thus, the Phoenician religion had a divine council led by El in their texts [also called ʿelyôn or “Most High”], and was considered the creator. Thus, those familiar with El, the notion that “Tyre’s Commander–in–Chief” would think of himself as fit to rule in El’s place [or to be a deity in the divine council] would be ludicrous. For biblical writers, this was offensive, since only God is ʿelyôn [Genesis 14:22]. Thus, God proceeds to acknowledge the great intelligence of this “Commander–in–Chief,” but reminds him that he is certainly not the “Most High” [vv. 2–9]. Then God says “you will die a death fit for the uncircumcised at the hand of foreigners” [v. 10]. In other words, since “Tyre’s Commander–in–Chief” was an uncircumcised gentile, the underworld realm of the dead is where the “uncircumcised” warrior–king enemies of Israel find themselves [Ezekiel 32:21, 24–30, 32; Isaiah 14:9].
This is the place of the dead Rephaim [quasi–divine giants]. Thus, God has Ezekiel raise a lament over “Tyre’s Commander–in–Chief,” whose arrogance led to his fall, not only to the earth, but also under the earth [from vv. 12–13]: “You served as my model, my example of complete wisdom and perfect beauty. You used to be in Eden—God’s paradise! You wore precious stones for clothing: ruby, topaz, diamond, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and carbuncle. Your settings were crafted in gold, along with your engravings. On the day of your creation they had been prepared!”
Note that “Tyre’s Commander–in–Chief” was not in Eden, since he was in Tyre! Thus, although Ezekiel 28 is about “Tyre’s Commander–in–Chief” [in describing his arrogance, downfall, and original state], Ezekiel utilizes an older tale of a downfall in Eden!
John of Damascus [7th century] writes: “One of the angel powers, the marshal of one host, bore in himself no trace of natural evil from his Maker’s hand but had been created for good, yet by his own free and deliberate choice he turned aside from good to evil and was stirred up by madness to the desire to take up arms against his Lord God.”
Tertullian [2nd century] likewise states: “If you turn to the prophecy of Ezekiel, you will at once perceive that this angel was both by creation good and by choice corrupt. For he speaks of the devil there in the person of the prince of Tyre.”
Jerome [4th century] nails it: “He who was nurtured in a paradise of delight as one of the twelve precious stones was wounded and went down to hell from the mount of God.”
Some scholars disagree with this approach, asserting that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are only about the kings of Babylon and Tyre, and cannot inform us about the divine rebellion in Genesis 3. In other words, Adam’s sin serves as an analogy for the downfall of these two kings. Thus, Adam becomes the focus of the hubris and fall described by these two prophets. In this case, these passages do not inform our understanding of the divine rebel in Eden. In other words, Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 portray a human king craving dominion over God to the point of considering himself a god. Thus, this is reflected in Adam’s expulsion and loss of immortality from Eden [not the serpent’s expulsion to the underworld]. Other scholars who hold to this interpretation take a slightly different approach, suggesting instead that Adam was the king of Eden and was considered to be divine [as God’s representative on earth]. Thus, the king of Tyre [Adam by analogy] transgressed by wanting more exaltation, and to be considered a god that rules the divine council. However, this notion presumes that biblical Israel viewed its kings as divine, which is a tenuous proposition, since it suffers from internal interpretive problems. The reason for this interpretive tension among scholars is due to the differences between the Masoretic Text [MT], and the Septuagint [LXX], in Ezekiel 28:11–19. There are several difficult Hebrew grammatical forms in the MT that the LXX translator tried to resolve. Thus, if we appeal to the LXX over the MT, then Adam appears in Ezekiel 28. Thus, there are three ways to approach the text of Ezekiel 28, along with the differences in bold:
Accept the consonants of the MT with the Masoretic vowels.
Accept the consonants of the MT discarding the Masoretic vowels.
Follow the LXX, by noticing that its translator was working with a Hebrew text different than the MT, or engaged in loose translation.
Since the LXX has God placing another figure in the garden “with” the “cherub,” scholars who prefer the LXX reading, naturally see this figure as Adam, and then align him with the human king of Tyre. But, scholars who prefer the MT reading reassure that these differences do not represent errors in the text, or that they are scribal anomalies. In other words, the morphological forms and grammatical difficulties that led the LXX translator to improvise the MT have been addressed extensively. Thus, there is no need to abandon the MT. In fact, there are other problems associated with the LXX reading than merely linguistic issues. The three main problems are:
A Methodological Problem If Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are dismissed as contributing to our understanding of the divine rebel, one wonders on what basis those two passages are permitted to comment on Adam. In other words, bias is involved to assert that these passages serve to enlighten our understanding of Adam, but not the serpent.
Assumptions about Adam’s Ontology Unlike the wording of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, Adam is never described as being part of the divine council, or desiring to be El. There is no hint that Adam fancied himself as a divine being. In other words, scholars cannot intelligibly argue that the human kings in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are analogous to Adam as a so–called divine king. Instead, it is clear that Adam and Eve would become “like gods” [Genesis 3:5], if they ate from the tree. This means they were not gods. Thus, the meaning of this phrase does not speak of divinity, because after they ate, they were “like gods” in one aspect: “knowing good and evil” [Genesis 3:22]. Thus, they were “like” the divine beings of the divine council in Eden, but they were not “gods.” In other words, being “like” a divine being in a new way is not equivalent to ontologically being “gods.”
Assumptions about Adam’s Transgression In Genesis 3, Adam does not express the type of extreme pride and hubris at the level of presuming to be a divine king in order to govern the divine council [Isaiah 14:13–14; Ezekiel 28:2, 6]. Furthermore, there is no suggestion that God remained in Eden on earth after the fall, or that Eden persisted as a unique place on earth after Adam and Eve were cast out of the divine presence. Thus, Adam’s transgression is never cast as a defiant act. Rather, he reacts to Eve’s enjoyment of the fruit and partakes in eating it with her. There is no hint he wanted to be a god of the divine council, or saw himself as divine. If this sort of thinking is lurking in his heart, the reader is never told. These details must be read into Ezekiel 28 by scholars who want it to describe Adam, but not the serpent.
Thus, the more coherent alternative is the serpent, a divine being who had forgotten his place in the divine council. Where do we see a serpent in Ezekiel 28? Notice the following two points:
The “king of Tyre” was “in Eden—God’s paradise” [v. 13].
He represented “perfect beauty,” since he “wore precious stones for clothing.” This language communicates something radiant.
Again, scholars who argue for Adam, see this is a literal jewel–encrusted garment, similar to the jewels on the breastplate of the Israelite high priest [Exodus 28:17–20; 39:10–13]. Thus, Adam is a priest–king of Eden. However, this is true! In other words, humanity is described as pre–existing Adam and Eve, because they are commanded to be “fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it” [Genesis 1:28], and anthropological research showcases that humans originate from North–East Africa ~150,000 years ago. Thus, Genesis 2 showcases God localizing himself in the midst of four rivers [Pishon, Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates] that align with the Persian Gulf [during the Pleistocene epoch ~70,000 years ago]. Thus, Adam and Eve were born within this human population, and became the archetypical high priests for God’s divine council abode in Eden.
Since the NT showcases Jesus as the 2nd Adam and a priest–king, this analogy fits. Hence the reason scholars argue that the backdrop to the arrogance of the “king of Tyre” is the rebellious Adam, not the serpent. Again all of this is reasonable until we read about how he is characterized in Ezekiel 28:14–17. Was Adam an “anointed cherub”? Was Adam “filled” with “violent intent”? Was Adam cast “to the ground in the presence of kings”? These are important questions that need answering. Thus, a final difficulty for the Adam view is in Ezekiel 28:12, where it reads: “you served as my model, my example of complete wisdom and perfect beauty.” The Hebrew word for “model” is ḥôtēm, and is the crux of this difficultly. The word is not a noun, but a participle that literally means “sealer.” Notice that it is addressed as “you.” The fact that this “sealer” is described as being “complete wisdom and perfect beauty” also makes it clear that an intelligent entity is in view. Furthermore, the “precious stones” [Ezekiel 28:13] that describe the appearance of the “sealer” is important. Thyatira was offered the “morning star,” and this was speaking about divinity [recall Revelation 2:28]. All of the “stones” here have one thing in common: they shine. Luminescence is a characteristic of divine beings or divine presence [Ezekiel 1:4–7, 27–28; 10:19–20; Daniel 10:6]. This description of the divine “cherub” in “Eden” is designed to convey divinity: a shining presence. Since he is cast out of Eden, out from “the midst of the fiery stones,” 2nd Temple authors associated these words with the supernatural mountainous dwelling of God and his divine council.
From the 2nd Temple Enochian text, we read: “I came and saw a place that was burning night and day, where there were seven mountains of precious stones—three lying to the east and three to the south. And of those to the east, one was of colored stone, and one was of pearl, and one was of jasper. And those to the south were of flame–colored stone. And the middle one of them reached to heaven like the throne of God—of antimony; and the top of the throne was of lapis lazuli. And I saw a burning fire. And beyond these mountains is a place, the edge of the great earth; there the heavens come to an end. And I saw a great chasm among pillars of heavenly fire. And I saw in it pillars of fire descending; and they were immeasurable toward the depth and toward the height. And he showed me mountains of fire that burned day and night. And I proceeded beyond them, and I saw seven glorious mountains, all differing each from the other, whose stones were precious in beauty. And all the mountains were precious and glorious and beautiful in appearance—three to the east were firmly set one on the other, and three to the south, one on the other, and deep and rugged ravines, one not approaching the other. The seventh mountain was in the middle of these, and it rose above them in height, like the seat of a throne. And fragrant trees encircled it. Among them was a tree such as I had never smelled, and among them was no other like it. It had a fragrance sweeter smelling than all spices, and its leaves and its blossom and the treef never wither. Its fruit is beautiful, like dates of the palm trees. Then I said, ‘How beautiful is this tree and fragrant, and its leaves are lovely, and its blossoms are lovely to look at.’ Then Michael answered me, one of the holy angels who was with me and was their leader, and he said to me, ‘Enoch, why do you inquire and why do you marvel about the fragrance of this tree, and why do you wish to learn the truth?’ Then I answered him—I, Enoch—and said, ‘Concerning all things I wish to know, but especially concerning this tree.’ And he answered me and said, ‘This high mountain that you saw, whose peak is like the throne of God, is the seat where the Great Holy One, the Lord of glory, the King of eternity, will sit, when he descends to visit the earth in goodness. And as for this fragrant tree, no flesh has the right to touch it until the great judgment, in which there will be vengeance on all and a consummation forever. Then it will be given to the righteous and the pious, and its fruit will be food for the chosen. And it will be transplanted to the holy place, by the house of God, the King of eternity. Then they will rejoice greatly and be glad, and they will enter into the sanctuary. Its fragrances will be in their bones, and they will live a long life on the earth, such as your fathers lived also in their days, and torments and plagues and suffering will not touch them.’ Then I blessed the God of glory, the King of eternity, who has prepared such things for people who are righteous, and has created them and promised to give them to them.” [1 Enoch 18:6–11; 24–25].
Thus, the “fiery stones” are divine entities in the terrestrial abode of Eden. Furthermore, in Genesis 3, the Hebrew word for “ground” is ʾereṣ and can be a word for the underworld [the realm of the dead; Jonah 2:6]. Thus, Adam was already on earth, so he could not be sentenced there, because we do not read of him being thrown to the “ground.” Thus, this is the sort of language we would expect about an expulsion of a divine being from the divine council. More fascinating is the fact that the Hebrew word ḥôtēm [for “model” in Ezekiel 28:12], can be translated “serpent,” because of a rare phenomenon in Semitic languages. In other words, the final letter m is silent [scholars call this an “enclitic mem”]. In English, this would be the silent e, so that the preceding vowel sound is long. Thus, the “enclitic mem” is considered a particle directing attention to the word for emphasis. If the m is silent, then the word can be translated “serpent.” Thus, Ezekiel 28:12 reads: “you, serpent of perfection, are full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” Thus, we are dealing with a divine being, described as a serpent [Genesis 3:1], and described as a “guardian cherub” [Ezekiel 28:16]. In other words, a “cherub” was a divine throne guardian in the ancient Near East, and the iconography showcases such creatures as composite animals. Thus, there is little coherence to viewing this “guardian cherub” as Adam. In other words, since the serpent was a divine being, his function was like the “seraphim” [Isaiah 6:2], to guard sacred space, and to guard sacred objects [Genesis 3:24]. But, his rebellion caused him to become “defiled.” All of these elements show up in Isaiah 14, where the king of Babylon is called an “oppressor” [v. 4] who ruthlessly persecuted the nations [vv. 5–6]. But, this “oppressor” will finally be “laid low” [vv. 7–8]. Then Isaiah writes: “The afterlife below is all astir to meet you when you arrive; it rouses up the spirits of the dead [Rephaim] to greet you—everyone who used to be world leaders. It has raised up from their thrones all who used to be kings of the nations. In answer, all of them will tell you, ‘You’ve also become as weak as we are! You have become just like us!’ Your pomp has been brought down to Sheol, along with the noise of your harps. Maggots are spread out beneath you, and worms are your covering” [vv. 9–11].
As in Ezekiel 28, this figure in Isaiah 14 goes to “Sheol” [the underworld]. The Rephaim [dead warrior–kings] are there. Thus, the king of Babylon will be one of these living dead, just like the king of Tyre. Thus, since Ezekiel 28 shifted from the king of Tyre to a divine being in Eden, this is likewise paralleled in Isaiah 14, showcasing clear links of a shift into a divine rebellion in Genesis 3, when Isaiah writes: “How you have fallen from heaven, Day Star, son of the Dawn! How you have been thrown down to earth, you who laid low the nation! You said in your heart, ‘I’ll ascend to heaven, above the stars of God. I’ll erect my throne; I’ll sit on the Mount of Assembly in the far reaches of the north; I’ll ascend above the tops of the clouds; I’ll make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to join the dead, to the far reaches of the Pit” [vv. 12–15].
The divine council context is clear. The king of Babylon is compared with a divine being “fallen from heaven” [v. 12]. Thus, he is called the “Day Star, son of the Dawn” [or literally in the Hebrew: “shining one, son of the dawn”]. Scholars initially thought that this was a reference to Venus [due to its brightness], but recent scholarship shows that the “shining one, son of the dawn” is better identified with the Sun. In other words, scholars were initially unaware that this is related to the chthonic sun [underworld deity] in Ugaritic texts, and that Isaiah was aware of these Ugaritic associations between the Sun and the underworld. Isaiah presents an image of the Sun soaring in the heavens before falling to the underworld. Thus, since the Ugaritic sun–god Šapšu has no authority over either territory, Isaiah descends the narrative into an ironic polemical lament for this pitiful human king, highlighting that he is totally subsumed under the power of God. In other words, the imagery of the Sun as a psychopomp [or a “guide of souls” for the human king], further affirms the fall of this hubristic oppressor [Isaiah 14:4–11]. Thus, as we saw in Ezekiel 28, we see here in Isaiah 14 a portrayal of a particular divine being hopelessly enamoured by his brilliance. So great was his arrogance that he declared himself above all the “stars of God,” the other members of the divine council [Job 38:7]. That this “shining one” sought superiority over the other members of the divine council is indicated by the phrase “erect my throne” and his desire to “sit” on “the Mount of Assembly.”
That this “Mount of Assembly” speaks of the divine council is clear from its location in “the far reaches of the north” [the Hebrew ṣāpôn] and “the tops of the clouds.” All of these details parallel with Ezekiel 28, and reads like an attempted coup in the divine council. This “shining one” wanted his seat in the divine council on the divine mountain to be above all others. He wanted to be “like the Most High.” Thus, it is not surprising that this “shining one” in Isaiah 14 will meet the same end as the divine “guardian cherub” in Ezekiel 28. The punishment is to live in “Sheol” [the underworld]. Thus, we are able to read Genesis 3 afresh! Starting with the Hebrew word nāḥāš [or “serpent”], we have always read it as a noun. However, it can also be read as a verb! Thus, it would translate as “diviner.” In other words, divination is communication with the supernatural world. A diviner in the ancient world was one who foretold omens, or gave out divine oracles. This is the case with Eve, when she received information from this divine being. But, it can also be read as an adjective! Thus, it would translate as “bronze” or “copper.” In fact, we see this type of description for divine beings [Daniel 10:6]. The English language also has such elasticity, where meaning depends on speech and context. For example, the word running can be used in three ways:
Noun: “Running is a good form of exercise.”
Verb: “The engine is running on diesel.”
Adjective: “Running paint is ugly.”
Thus, a skilled writer would want you to think about all the possible meanings and nuances. For example: “How has your reading been?” This question forces you to think about all three meanings for “reading” [a noun, verb, or adjective]. Does it mean the latest assignment [noun]? Does it mean you have the right glasses [adjective]? Is it referencing the process [verb]? Thus, the Hebrew word nāḥāš is describing a serpent [noun], dispensing divine knowledge [verb], while having luminescence [adjective]. Thus, Genesis 3:1 reads: “Now the Shining One was cleverer than any animal of the field that the Lord God had made.”
We should be sympathetic toward Eve. She is often seen here as naïve. Given the divine council context of her status as imager of God, and member of his family, what the “shining one” said to her had the ring of validity. Of course God wants us to be like “gods” [we are all one family]. This does not excuse Eve, or Adam. Their disobedience had consequences. Thus, it should be noted that neither Adam nor Eve are cursed, only the “shining one” [Genesis 3:14], and the earth [Genesis 3:17]. What happens to Adam and Eve is a disruption of their appointed roles [Genesis 3:17–19]. The expulsion of humans from Eden turned a glorious dominion mission into mundane drudgery [Genesis 3:22–25]. We know that God would take steps to restore his rule, and that one particular descendant of Adam would be critical to that kingdom [Genesis 3:15]. The human yearning for utopia is interesting in this light. We seem to have an inner sense of need to restore something that was lost, but Eden cannot return on purely human terms. Thus, a descendant of Eve would come forth who would someday undo the damage caused by the divine rebel. That this descendant is linked to Eve implies that the score will be settled through her bloodline. After the fall, the only way to extend the work of God’s human council–family was childbirth. Eve was redeemed through childbearing [1 Timothy 2:15]. So were the rest of us, since it is the only way God’s original plan remained viable. If there is no offspring, there can be no human imaging, and hence no kingdom. But, notice that the judgment on Eve highlights that the “shining one” will also have offspring! Thus, the rest of the biblical story does not consist of humans battling snakes. Instead, it describes an ongoing conflict between followers of God and followers of the “shining one.” He was cursed to “crawl” on his “belly,” and to “eat dust,” clearly a metaphorical reference [since snakes do not eat dirt as food]. The point being made by the curse is that the “shining one” [who wanted to be “most high”] will soon be most low, cast away from God and the divine council. In the underworld, he is hidden from view and from life in God’s world. In other words, his domain is death. After the fall, the plan of God was not extinguished. Genesis 3 tells us why we die, why we need redemption and salvation, and why we cannot save ourselves. It also tells us that God’s plan has only been delayed [not defeated], and that the human story will be both a tragic struggle and a miraculous providential saga. But the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
Thus, we reach the 2nd rebellion in Genesis 6:1–4, where we read: “Now after the population of human beings had increased throughout the earth, and daughters had been born to them, some divine beings noticed how attractive human women were, so they took wives for themselves from a selection that pleased them. So the Lord said, ‘My Spirit won’t remain with human beings forever, because they’re truly mortal. Their lifespan will be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth at that time (and also immediately afterward), when those divine beings were having sexual relations with those human women, who gave birth to children for them. These children became the heroes and legendary figures of ancient times.”
Many questions are generated by this passage. Who are the “divine beings”? Who were the “Nephilim”? Why were they “the heroes and legendary figures of ancient times”? To answer these questions involves deep Mesopotamian roots. In fact, 2nd Temple texts like 1 Enoch show a keen awareness of that Mesopotamian context. This awareness shows us that Jewish thinkers of the 2nd Temple period correctly understood the story of divine beings and giant offspring. Thus, this passage is a polemic. In other words, it is a literary and theological effort to undermine the credibility of Mesopotamian gods and other aspects of that culture’s worldview. Biblical writers do this frequently. The strategy often involves borrowing lines and motifs from the literature of the target civilization to articulate correct theology about God and to show contempt for other gods. Mesopotamia had several versions of the story of a catastrophic flood, complete with a large boat that saves animals and humans.
They include mention of a group of sages [the apkallu], possessors of great knowledge, in the period before the flood. These apkallu were divine beings, and were considered evil and integral to Mesopotamian demonology. After the flood, offspring of the apkallu were said to be “one–third human” and “two–thirds apkallu.” In other words, the apkallu mated with human women and produced quasi–divine offspring. The “two–thirds” phrase is noteworthy, since it matches the description of the Mesopotamian hero Gilgamesh. Scholarly work on the cuneiform tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh has revealed that Gilgamesh was considered a giant who retained knowledge from before the flood. In the Mesopotamian flood story [found in a text now known as the Erra Epic], the Babylonian high god Marduk punishes the evil apkallu with banishment to the subterranean waters deep inside the earth [also known as the Apsu]. It was also considered part of the underworld. Marduk commanded that they never come up again. The parallels are clear and unmistakable. The banishment of these sinister divine beings to beneath the earth is significant, since the New Testament highlights this [2 Peter 2:1–10; Jude 5–7]. But how did Peter and Jude make such connections if these details are not explicit in the Old Testament? It is because of 2nd Temple texts.
Thus, 2nd Temple Jewish writers were aware of the Mesopotamian context of Genesis 6:1–4, as we read from 1 Enoch: “When the sons of men had multiplied, in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to them. 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 children for ourselves.’ And Shemihazah, their chief, said to them, ‘I fear that you will not want to do this deed, and I alone shall be guilty of a great sin.’ And they all answered him and said, ‘Let us all swear an oath, and let us all bind one another with a curse, that none of us turn back from this counsel until we fulfill it and do this deed.’ Then they all swore together and bound one another with a curse. And they were, all of them, two hundred, who descended in the days of Jared onto the peak of Mount Hermon. And they called the mountain ‘Hermon’ because they swore and bound one another with a curse on it. And these are the names of their chiefs: Shemihazah—this one was their leader; Arteqoph, second to him; Remashel, third to him; Kokabel, fourth to him; Armumahel, fifth to him; Ramel, sixth to him; Daniel, seventh to him; Ziqel, eighth to him; Baraqel, ninth to him; Asael, tenth to him; Hermani, eleventh to him; Matarel, twelfth to him; Ananel, thirteenth to him; Setawel, fourteenth to him; Samshiel, fifteenth to him; Sahriel, sixteenth to him; Tummiel, seventeenth to him; Turiel, eighteenth to him; Yamiel, nineteenth to him; Yehadiel, twentieth to him. These are their chiefs of tens. 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. And they conceived from them and bore to them great giants. And the giants begot Nephilim, and to the Nephilim were born Elioud. And they were growing in accordance with their greatness. They were devouring the labor of all the sons of men, and men were not able to supply them. And the giants began to kill men and to devour them. And they began to sin against the birds and beasts and creeping things and the fish, and to devour one another’s flesh. And they drank the blood. Then the earth brought accusation against the lawless ones. Asael taught men to make swords of iron and weapons and shields and breastplates and every instrument of war. He showed them metals of the earth and how they should work gold to fashion it suitably, and concerning silver, to fashion it for bracelets and ornaments for women. And he showed them concerning antimony and eye paint and all manner of precious stones and dyes. And the sons of men made them for themselves and for their daughters, and they transgressed and led the holy ones astray. And there was much godlessness on the earth, and they made their ways desolate. Shemihazah taught spells and the cutting of roots. Hermani taught sorcery for the loosing of spells and magic and skill. Baraqel taught the signs of the lightning flashes. Kokabel taught the signs of the stars. Ziqel taught the signs of the shooting stars. Arteqoph taught the signs of the earth. Shamsiel taught the signs of the sun. Sahriel taught the signs of the moon. And they all began to reveal mysteries to their wives and to their children. And as men were perishing, the cry went up to heaven. Then Michael and Sariel and Raphael and Gabriel looked down from the sanctuary of heaven upon the earth and saw much bloodshed on the earth. All the earth was filled with the godlessness and violence that had befallen it. And entering in, they said to one another, ‘The earth, devoid of inhabitants, raises the voice of their cries to the gates of heaven. And now to us, the holy ones of heaven, the souls of men make suit, saying, ‘Bring in our judgment to the Most High, and our destruction before the glory of the majesty, before the Lord of all lords in majesty.’’ And approaching, they said to the Lord of the Ages, ‘You are the God of gods and Lord of lords and King of kings and God of the ages. And the throne of your glory exists for every generation of the generations that are from of old. And your name is holy and great and blessed for all the ages. For you have made all things and have authority over all. And all things are manifest and uncovered before you, and you see all things, and there is nothing that can be hidden from you. You see what Asael has done, who has taught all iniquity on the earth, and has revealed the eternal mysteries that are in heaven, which the sons of men were striving to learn. And what Shemihazah has done to whom you gave authority to rule over them who are with him. They have gone in to the daughters of the men of earth, and they have lain with them, and have defiled themselves with the women. And they have revealed to them all sins, and have taught them to make hate–inducing charms. And now look, the daughters of men have borne sons from them, giants, half–breeds. And the blood of men is shed on the earth, and the whole earth is filled with iniquity. And now look, the spirits of the souls of the men who have died make suit, and their groan has come up to the gates of heaven, and it does not cease to come forth from the presence of the iniquities that have come upon the earth. You know all things before they happen, and you see these things and you permit them, and you do not tell us what we ought to do to them with regard to these things.’ Then the Most High declared, and the Great Holy One spoke. And he sent Sariel to the son of Lamech, saying, ‘Go to Noah and say to him in my name, ‘Hide yourself.’ And reveal to him that the end is coming, that the whole earth will perish; and tell him that a deluge is about to come on the whole earth and destroy everything on the earth. Teach the righteous one what he should do, the son of Lamech how he may preserve himself alive and escape forever. From him a plant will be planted, and his seed will endure for all the generations of eternity.’ To Raphael he said, ‘Go, Raphael, and bind Asael hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness; and make an opening in the wilderness that is in Doudael. Throw him there, and lay beneath him sharp and jagged stones. And cover him with darkness, and let him dwell there for an exceedingly long time. Cover up his face, and let him not see the light. And on the day of the great judgment, he will be led away to the burning conflagration. And heal the earth, which the watchers have desolated; and announce the healing of the earth, that the plague may be healed, and all the sons of men may not perish because of the mystery that the watchers told and taught their sons. And all the earth was made desolate by the deeds of the teaching of Asael, and over him write all the sins.’ And to Gabriel he said, ‘Go, Gabriel, to the bastards, to the half–breeds, to the sons of miscegenation; and destroy the sons of the watchers from among the sons of men; send them against one another in a war of destruction. Length of days they will not have; and no petition will be granted to their fathers in their behalf, that they should expect to live an everlasting life, nor even that each of them should live five hundred years.’ And to Michael he said, ‘Go, Michael, bind Shemihazah and the others with him, who have mated with the daughters of men, so that they were defiled by them in their uncleanness. And when their sons perish and they see the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, until the day of their judgment and consummation, until the everlasting judgment is consummated. Then they will be led away to the fiery abyss, and to the torture, and to the prison where they will be confined forever. And everyone who is condemned and destroyed henceforth will be bound together with them until the consummation of their generation. And at the time of the judgment, which I shall judge, they will perish for all generations. Destroy all the spirits of the half–breeds and the sons of the watchers, because they have wronged men. Destroy all perversity from the face of the earth, and let every wicked deed be gone; and let the plant of righteousness and truth appear, and it will become a blessing, and the deeds of righteousness and truth will be planted forever with joy. And now all the righteous will escape, and they will live until they beget thousands, and all the days of their youth and their old age will be completed in peace. Then all the earth will be tilled in righteousness, and all of it will be planted with trees and filled with blessing; and all the trees of joy will be planted on it. They will plant vines on it, and every vine that will be planted on it will yield a thousand jugs of wine, and of every seed that is sown on it, each measure will yield a thousand measures, and each measure of olives will yield ten baths of oil. Cleanse the earth from all impurity and from all wrong and from all lawlessness and from all sin, and godlessness and all impurities that have come upon the earth, remove. And all the sons of men will become righteous, and all the peoples will worship me, and all will bless me and prostrate themselves. And all the earth will be cleansed from all defilement and from all uncleanness, and I shall not again send upon them any wrath or scourge for all the generations of eternity. Then I shall open the storehouses of blessing that are in heaven, and make them descend upon the earth, upon the works and the labor of the sons of men. And then truth and peace will be united together for all the days of eternity and for all the generations of humanity. Before these things, Enoch was taken; and no human being knew where he had been taken, or where he was, or what had happened to him. His works were with the watchers, and with the holy ones were his days. I, Enoch, was standing, blessing the Lord of majesty, the King of the ages. And look, the watchers of the Great Holy One called me, Enoch the scribe, and said to me, ‘Enoch, righteous scribe, go and say to the watchers of heaven—who forsook the highest heaven, the sanctuary of their eternal station, and defiled themselves with women. As the sons of earth do, so they did and took wives for themselves. And they worked great desolation on the earth—you will have no peace or forgiveness. And concerning their sons, in whom they rejoice—the slaughter of their beloved ones they will see, and over the destruction of their sons they will lament and make perpetual petition, and they will have no mercy or peace. And, Enoch, go and say to Asael, ‘You will have no peace. A great sentence has gone forth against you, to bind you. You will have no relief or petition, because of the unrighteous deeds that you revealed, and because of all the godless deeds and the unrighteousness and the sin that you revealed to humans.’’ Then I went and spoke to all of them together. And they were all afraid, and trembling and fear seized them. And they asked that I write a memorandum of petition for them, that they might have forgiveness, and that I recite the memorandum of petition for them in the presence of the Lord of heaven. For they were no longer able to speak or to lift their eyes to heaven out of shame for the deeds through which they had sinned and for which they had been condemned. Then I wrote out the memorandum of their petition, and the requests concerning themselves, with regard to their deeds individually, and concerning their sons for whom they were making request, that they might have forgiveness and longevity. And I went off and sat by the waters of Dan in the land of Dan, which is south of Hermon, to the west. I recited to God the memorandum of their petition until I fell asleep. And look, dreams came upon me, and visions fell upon me. And I saw visions of wrath, and there came a voice, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of heaven to reprimand them.’ And when I had awakened, I went to them. And all of them were assembled together, and they were sitting and weeping at Abel–Main, which is between Lebanon and Senir, covering their faces. And I recited in their presence all the visions that I had seen in the dream, and I began to speak the words of truth and the vision and reprimand to the watchers of heaven. The Book of the Words of Truth and the Reprimand of the Watchers Who Were from of Old, according to the command of the Great Holy One in the dream that I dreamed. In this vision I saw in my dream what I now speak with a human tongue and with the breath of my mouth, which the Great One has given to humans, to speak with them and to understand with the heart. As he created and destined humans to understand the words of knowledge, so he created and destined me to reprimand the watchers, the sons of heaven. I wrote up your petition, and in the vision it was shown to me thus, that you will not obtain your petition for all the days of eternity; but judgment has been consummated in the decree against you, that from now on you will not ascend into heaven for all the ages; and it has been decreed to bind you in bonds in the earth for all the days of eternity. And that before these things, you will see the destruction of your sons, your beloved ones, and that you will have no pleasure in them, but they will fall before you by the sword. Accordingly, you will not obtain your petition concerning them, nor concerning yourselves. You will be petitioning and making supplication; but you will not be speaking any word from the writing that I have written. In the vision it was shown to me thus: Look, clouds in the vision were summoning me, and mists were crying out to me; and shooting stars and lightning flashes were hastening me and speeding me along, and winds in my vision made me fly up and lifted me upward and brought me to heaven. And I went in until I drew near to a wall built of hailstones; and tongues of fire were encircling them all around, and they began to frighten me. And I went into the tongues of fire, and I drew near to a great house built of hailstones; and the walls of this house were like stone slabs, and they were all of snow, and the floor was of snow. And the ceiling was like shooting stars and lightning flashes; and among them were fiery cherubim, and their heaven was water, and a flaming fire encircled all their walls, and the doors blazed with fire. And I went into that house—hot as fire and cold as snow, and no delight of life was in it. Fear enveloped me, and trembling seized me, and I was quaking and trembling, and I fell upon my face. And I saw in my vision, and look, another open door before me: and a house greater than the former one, and it was all built of tongues of fire. All of it so excelled in glory and splendor and majesty that I am unable to describe for you its glory and majesty. Its floor was of fire, and its upper part was flashes of lightning and shooting stars, and its ceiling was a flaming fire. And I was looking and I saw a lofty throne; and its appearance was like ice, and its wheels were like the shining sun, and the voice or sound of the cherubim, and from beneath the throne issued rivers of flaming fire. And I was unable to see. The Great Glory sat upon it; his apparel was like the appearance of the sun and whiter than much snow. No angel could enter into this house and look at his face because of the splendor and glory, and no human could look at him. Flaming fire encircled him and a great fire stood by him, and none of those about him approached him. Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him, but he needed no counselor; his every word was deed. And the holy ones of the watchers who approached him did not depart by night, nor by day did they leave him. Until now I had been on my face, prostrate and trembling. And the Lord called me with his mouth and said to me, ‘Come here, Enoch, and hear my words.’ And one of the holy ones came to me and raised me up and stood me on my feet and brought me up to the door. But I had my face bowed down. But he answered and said to me—and I heard his voice—‘Fear not, Enoch, righteous man and scribe of truth; come here, and hear my voice. Go and say to the watchers of heaven, who sent you to petition in their behalf, ‘You should petition in behalf of humans, and not humans in behalf of you. Why have you forsaken the high heaven, the eternal sanctuary; and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men; and taken for yourselves wives, and done as the sons of earth; and begotten for yourselves sons, giants? You were holy ones and spirits, living forever. With the blood of women you have defiled yourselves, and with the blood of flesh you have begotten, and with the blood of men you have lusted, and you have done as they do—flesh and blood, who die and perish. Therefore I gave them women, that they might cast seed into them, and thus beget children by them, that nothing fails them on the earth. But you originally existed as spirits, living forever, and not dying for all the generations of eternity; therefore I did not make women among you.’ The spirits of heaven, in heaven is their dwelling; but now the giants who were begotten by the spirits and flesh—they will call them evil spirits on the earth, for their dwelling will be on the earth. The spirits that have gone forth from the body of their flesh are evil spirits, for from humans they came into being, and from the holy watchers was the origin of their creation. Evil spirits they will be on the earth, and evil spirits they will be called. The spirits of heaven, in heaven is their dwelling; but the spirits begotten on the earth, on the earth is their dwelling. And the spirits of the giants lead astray, do violence, make desolate, and attack and wrestle and hurl upon the earth and cause illnesses. They eat nothing, but abstain from food and are thirsty and smite. These spirits will rise up against the sons of men and against the women, for they have come forth from them. From the day of the slaughter and destruction and death of the giants, from the soul of whose flesh the spirits are proceeding, they are making desolate without incurring judgment. Thus they will make desolate until the day of the consummation of the great judgment, when the great age will be consummated. It will be consummated all at once. And now say to the watchers who sent you to petition in their behalf, who formerly were in heaven, ‘You were in heaven, and no mystery was revealed to you; but a stolen mystery you learned; and this you made known to the women in your hardness of heart; and through this mystery the women and men are multiplying evils on the earth.’ Say to them, ‘You will have no peace.’’”
[1 Enoch 6–16]
Thus, the 2nd Temple context of the “watchers” is about their descent onto Mount Hermon [a site that will factor into the biblical epic]. The term “watchers” appears in Daniel 4, and is the only biblical passage to specifically use the term to describe the “holy ones” of God’s divine council. The geographical context of Daniel is Babylon, in Mesopotamia [Daniel 1]. The offspring of the “watchers” were giants. The birth of the giants is explored in terms of the mingling of “spirits and flesh.” Angels properly dwell in heaven, and humans properly dwell on earth, but the nature of the giants is mixed. This transgression of categories brings terrible results. In other words, after their physical death, the demonic spirits of the giants “have gone forth from the body of their flesh” to plague humanity. 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. In other words, their revelation of this knowledge to the inhabitants of the earth was categorically improper and morally destructive. Thus, the “watchers” are celestial non–human 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, and occult practices. The sins of the “watchers” not only informed 2nd Temple Jews about the meaning and significance of Genesis 6:1–4, but it also informed New Testament writers. Thus, now we can fully understand the ancient Mesopotamian backstory to Genesis 6:1–4.
Jonas Greenfield [20th century ancient Near Eastern scholar] summarizes: “In Mesopotamian religion, the term apkallu 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.”
Thus, the apkallu were divine beings bestowing special knowledge to humanity [precisely what the “watchers” were blamed for in 1 Enoch]. But, other specific links to Genesis 6:1–4 is that 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. This watery abode was located under the earth, and was part of the abyss [the Apsu]. This is the same conception for the realm of the dead in biblical material [Job 26:5–6]. Thus, for Mesopotamians, the apkallu came from the abyss and were responsible for maintaining the correct balance between heaven and earth, and this was the will of the greater gods. Because of this, the apkallu were thought to possess knowledge from the divine world about how the universe functioned, and over time, the apkallu had dealings with humanity. Thus, Mesopotamian literature presents them as the great antediluvian sages and culture–heroes who brought the arts of civilization to the land. During the time that follows this period, nothing new is invented, since the original revelation is only transmitted and unfolded. This process of civilizing the world of men is viewed positively in Mesopotamian thought, even the belief that physical ancestry and equality to these antediluvian figures were important for Mesopotamian kings and scholars. 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]. Thus, it is important to realize that the knowledge that made the Mesopotamian civilization great, came from a divine source, and has immediate ties to Genesis 6:1–4.
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] summarizes: “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 Genesis 5:23–24 and subsequently the apocalyptic authority in Enochic literature, lies in the seventh Mesopotamian antediluvian king Enmeduranki.”
Thus, Jude 14 notes that Enoch was the 7th from Adam, and the father of Methuselah, and the great–grandfather of Noah [Genesis 5:21–30]. He was taken to heaven, joining God and the divine council [Genesis 5:24]. The correlation with Enmeduranki is interesting because of how the Mesopotamian stories regard the transmission of divine knowledge from before Noah’s flood to those who survived Noah’s flood. This is the role of the apkallu. Thus, the scribes of Babylon living after Noah’s flood took great pains to establish the notion that their knowledge [and the greatness of Babylon] was directly inherited from the divine realm.
Alan Lenzi [21st century ancient Near Eastern scholar] clarifies: “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.”
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “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 1st millennium Mesopotamia, references occur to royal craftsmen (umma nu), ‘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.”
Francesca Rochberg [21st century Assyriologist] also 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.”
In other words, all the indispensable knowledge learned in Mesopotamian civilization, was for their greatness, and was traced to the wisdom of the apkallu. This role is a precise parallel to the “watchers” of 1 Enoch, who taught humanity forbidden knowledge by which they became wicked and depraved. But, how did the knowledge of the apkallu survive after Noah’s flood? The tablet Apkullu–list W.20030.7 [from Uruk dating to the Seleucid period] plots out this transmission of divine knowledge on both sides of Noah’s flood. It lists seven antediluvian 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 right and the king on the left [in the cuneiform text the signs for the apkallu are part of the names on the left]:
It reads: “During the reign of Ayalu, the king, Adapa was sage. During the reign of Alalgar, the king, Uanduga was sage. During the reign of Ameluana, the king, Enmeduga was sage. During the reign of Amegalana, the king, Enmegalama was sage. During the reign of Enmeusumgalana, the king, Enmebuluga was sage. During the reign of Dumuzi, the shepherd, the king, Anenlilda was sage. During the reign of Enmeduranki, the king, Utuabzu was sage. After the flood, during the reign of Enmerkar, the king, Nungalpirigal was sage, whom Istar brought down from heaven to Eana. He made the bronze lyre, whose were lapis lazuli, according to the technique of Ninagal. The lyre was placed before Anu, the dwelling of his personal god. During the reign of Gilgamesh, the king, Sin–leqi–unnini was scholar. During the reign of Ibbi–Sin, the king, Kabti–ili–Marduk was scholar. During the reign of Isbi–Erra, the king, Sidu was scholar.”
Thus, following these names, one postdulivian apkallu is mentioned with his corresponding king: Nungalpirigal. Other Mesopotamian texts actually provide evidence for four postdulivian apkallu [Nungalpiriggaldim, Piriggalnungal, Piriggalabsu, and Lu–Nanna]. These individuals are the key players in understanding Genesis 6:1–4, since these four postdulivian apkallu are said to be of “human descent.” The 4th postdulivian apkallu is further described as being only “two–thirds apkallu.” The implication of these sources is that the postdulivian apkallu were the result of sexual intercourse with human women.
Anne Kilmer [20th century Assyriologist] clarifies: “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.”
Thus, antediluvian apkallu were divine. But, postdulivian apkallu were hybrid beings. In other words, the word apkallu represents divine beings before Noah’s flood and quasi–divine hybrid beings after Noah’s flood. This is why 2nd Temple texts use the term “watchers” for the “divine beings” who cohabited with “human women” [Genesis 6:4], and the spirits of the giant offspring produced by this forbidden union. The former is readily understandable, since the “watchers” who descended to earth were divine. But, the latter is due to the immaterial nature of the giants, since their spirits were not of human origin.
Consequently, this is why the spirits of dead giants in the Enochian story were considered evil. Thus, this leads us to the origin of demons.
Archie Wright [21st century 2nd Temple scholar] summarizes: “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 and a physical, and a somewhat spiritually undefined human. The resulting entities are identified in 1 Enoch 15:8 as ‘strong spirits,’ ‘evil spirits,’ which come out of their bodies at their death. The 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.”
Since the antediluvian apkallu were heroes to Mesopotamians, is there evidence that postdulivian apkallu of Mesopotamia were perceived to be giants and evil spirits? The answer is: yes!
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “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.”
Thus, the characterization of the apkallu as fish–men points to their origin in the watery abyss in Mesopotamian religion. They are also characterized as bird–men, associated with their divine [or heavenly] nature. In the Babylonian version of Noah’s flood [of which the apkallu were important characters], the great god Marduk is not kindly disposed toward either the humans or the apkallu who cohabit with them, thereby preserving human civilization. Thus, Marduk speaks about what he had done with the apkallu after Noah’s 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 tools? Where are the choice stones, created by the vast sea, to ornament my diadem? Where are the seven sages of the depths, those sacred fish, who, like Ea their lord, are perfect in sublime wisdom, the ones who cleansed my body?” [Erra Epic 1:147–162]
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “The craftsmen were apparently done away by Marduk during the flood, just as God punished the Watchers with the deluge. Thus, like the Watchers, the Mesopotamian apkallus were punished by a flood.”
The apkallu were meant to maintain order, but their transgression caused Marduk to change the location of the “mēsu–tree and elmešu stone.”
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “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. 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, with the trees bearing jewels and precious stones.”
The “elmešu stone” was a precious gemstone of quasi–mythical quality, and the “mēsu–tree” was a cosmic tree that reached from the lowest part of the earth to the heavens. Scholars recognize both items as cosmic geographical markers of the dwelling place of the gods. In other words, the apkallu are barred from Marduk’s home and presence for their crime. Notice, this is precisely Ezekiel’s language of Eden, the original earthly garden where heaven met earth. Ezekiel’s literary context is Babylon [Ezekiel 1:13]. Thus, 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 [the location of the tree of life]. Furthermore, Ezekiel 31:8 is also famous for its enigmatic description of “God’s garden” with massive trees. The point here is that the imagery from Marduk’s comments about what he had done to the apkallu points to the banishment of the apkallu from his presence [the place of his council where cosmic order was maintained]. This is precisely how the “watchers” were punished. They were cast away from God and forsaken. They no longer have a role in the divine council to participate in God’s affairs with creation. The parallels to 1 Enoch are unmistakable.
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “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 Enoch 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. The Aramaic fragment 4Q530 from Qumran, which belongs to the Book of Giants contains in a broken context the reference to ‘gardeners’ at work, nurturing and protecting the trees, which connotes the Watchers prior to their apostasy. This reference to ‘gardeners’ is to be compared to Jubilees 5:6, where God sent the angels to earth, and Jubilees 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.’”
Thus, after Noah’s flood, the apkallu are judged. But, their knowledge lived on among humans through their hybrid offspring. However, Marduk was not pleased. Thus, the most telling parallel to the “watchers” [and to Genesis 6:1–4], is that the hybrid postdulivian apkallu are giants. Recall that the 4th postdulivian apkallu was described as only being “two–thirds apkallu.” This comes from the cuneiform bı̄t mēseri texts [on incantations for protecting a building against invading evil spirits].
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “This exactly matches the status of Gilgamesh in the post–diluvian world, as he also was ‘two–thirds divine, and one–third human.’ Gilgamesh was remotely related to antediluvian apkallus, as he ‘brought back a message from the antediluvian age.’ 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, is now confirmed by the newest published evidence from Ugarit. The passage describing the physical appearance of Gilgamesh can be reconstructed in five lines as follows: ‘A giant in stature, 11 cubits was his height, 4 cubits was the width of his chest, a triple cubit his foot, half a rod his leg, 6 cubits was the length of his stride.’”
In summary, what does all this Mesopotamian data provide for us? Nothing less than direct ancient literary evidence that:
All the elements of Genesis 6:1–4 can be accounted for in Mesopotamian material relating to Noah’s flood.
These parallels were preserved in 2nd Temple texts like 1 Enoch.
The elements in the 1 Enoch story of the sin of the “watchers” [that are fully expressed in Genesis 6:1–4], are consistent. In other words, Genesis 6:1–4 telescopes the overall story.
The New Testament writers Peter and Jude should not be criticized for their attention to 1 Enoch in their own theological thinking.
In other words, the Mesopotamian apkallu saga provides a rationale and explanation for the data in Genesis 6:1–4, that it was to target the deeply held religious beliefs of Mesopotamia, and most pointedly the myth of Babylonian superiority. This is the nature of polemic argumentation.
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “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.”
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 those 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, God’s portion and people [Deuteronomy 32:8–9].
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “The Mesopotamian apkallus were demonized as the ‘sons of God,’ and their sons Nephilim, who in later Enochic literature appear as Watchers and giants, illegitimate teachers of humankind before the flood. 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.”
The “wisdom” of the apkallu was not the only target. Their sexual activity with human women was also in the crosshairs of biblical writers.
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “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. 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.”
Thus, 2nd 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 “watchers” to do so [or at least used it to be explicit]. But, for Mesopotamians, the apkallu could be good or evil.
Amar Annus [21st century cuneiform scholar] continues: “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’).”
This leads us to the meaning of the word “Nephilim.” Scholars initially argued that this should be understood as “fallen ones” [from a battle expression], based on the idea that the word derives from the Hebrew verb nāpal [or “to fall”]. If understood this way, then we lose the context of the quasi–divine nature of the “Nephilim” via the apkallu polemic. Thus, Hebrew morphology is needed to understand it. The word occurs twice:
Nephilim [Genesis 6:4]
Nephiylim [Numbers 13:33]
The difference between them is the y letter. Hebrew originally had no vowels [only consonants]. However, scribes started to use some of the consonants to mark long vowel sounds [English does this with the y consonant to sometimes make it a vowel]. Hebrew does that with its y letter too. Thus, the 2nd spelling showcases that the root behind the term had a long–i [or y] in it before the plural ending [–im] was added. This helps us determine that the word does not mean “those who fall.” If that were the case, the word would have been spelled nophelim. Furthermore, a translation of “fallen” from the verb nāpal is also weakened by the y letter, because we would expect a spelling of nephulim. Thus, instead of coming from the verb nāpal, the word comes from a noun that has a long–i vowel in the 2nd syllable [like naphiyl]. This kind of noun is called a qatil noun. But, though there is no such noun as naphiyl in the Old Testament, the hypothetical plural form would be nephiylim, which is precisely the long spelling we see in Numbers 13:33. Thus, this option solves the spelling problem, but we need to also connect this with:
The Mesopotamian context.
The 2nd Temple recognition of that context.
The fact that the LXX translators interpreted the word as “giants.”
So where does the spelling nephiylim come from? The solution is remarkably simple. Since the Israelites were taken to Babylon during the exile, during those ~70 years they learned to speak Aramaic. They later brought it back to Judah [and this is how Aramaic became the primary language in Judea by the time of Jesus]. The point of Genesis 6:1–4 was to express contempt for the divine Mesopotamian apkallu and their giant offspring. The Israelites needed a good word to describe the giant offspring as “evil.” Thus, “fallen ones” is insufficient to communicate the “giant” nature of these beings. Thus, the Jewish scribes adopted an Aramaic noun naphiyla [or “giant”]. When you import that word and pluralize it in Hebrew, you get nephiylim! Now that the word is solved, the theological message of Genesis 6:1–4 becomes crystal clear, because it has many deep specific touch–points with Mesopotamian literary works. Since Genesis 1–11 had a final redactional edit during the exile in Babylon [from an original composition by Moses], faithful Jewish scribes wanted to make it clear that certain religious ideas about other gods were misguided and false, because they were in Babylon, deported against their will by the greatest empire at the time. Though they were captives, prophets like Ezekiel [and Jeremiah before him] had told the people that their situation was temporary, that God remained sovereign. They would be set free and Babylon would crumble. Thus, the work of these Jewish scribes during the exile was an opportunity to set the record straight for posterity. Those who were non–Israelite presumed that civilization in Mesopotamia had been handed down by their gods, including their intellectual achievements and knowledge. It was their way of claiming that their knowledge and skills were divine and superior to those of the nations they had conquered. That in turn meant that the gods of those other nations were inferior to the gods of Babylon! Hence, the apkallu were the great culture–heroes of antediluvian knowledge. They were the divine sages of a glorious bygone era. Babylonian kings claimed to be descended from the apkallu and other divine figures from before Noah’s flood. The collective claim was that Babylon was the sole possessor of divine knowledge, and the empire’s rule had the approval of the gods. The biblical writers disagreed. They saw Babylonian knowledge as having demonic origins, because the apkallu themselves were intertwined with Mesopotamian demonology. The Babylonian elite taught that the divine knowledge of the apkallu had survived the flood through a succeeding postdiluvian generation of apkallu.
But, the biblical writers took what Babylonians thought was proof of their own divine heritage and told a different story. Yes, there were giants, renowned men, both before and after the flood [Genesis 6:4]. But those offspring and their knowledge were not of the true God. Instead, they were the result of rebellion against God by fallen divine beings. Thus, Genesis 6:1–4 portrays Babylon’s boast as a horrific transgression and the catalyst that spread corruption throughout humankind [Genesis 6:5]. Since the Babylonian apkallu were considered demonic, it is no mystery why Peter and Jude link the events of Genesis 6:1–4 to false teachers. While attacking their aberrant knowledge, Peter and Jude evoke the imagery of Genesis 6, showing that they are licentious men who indulge in defiling lusts [2 Peter 2:2, 10; Jude 8]. Like the divine beings of Genesis 6 who “did not keep their own position” [Jude 6], these false teachers “despise authority” and “slander glorious beings” whom good angels dare not rebuke, because only God can do that [2 Peter 2:9–11; Jude 8–10].
Nemesius [4th century Bishop of Emesa] notes: “Of the incorporeal beings, only angels fell away, and not all of them, but some only, that inclined to things below and set their desire on things of earth, withdrawing themselves from their relations with things above, even from God.”
Oecumenius [6th century] likewise offers a chilling perspective: “If God did not spare the rebellious angels, who had stood in honour before him because of the immortality of their nature, how much less will he spare mere humans, whom he has created out of perishable matter!”
At this point, the obvious reaction by Christians is the weirdness of the reality that angels are able to procreate with human women. However, the ancient reader did not have this problem. For example, here is another 2nd Temple text that says: “For it was thus that women charmed the Watchers, who were before the Flood. As they continued looking at the women, they were filled with desire for them and perpetrated the act in their minds. Then they were transformed into human males, and while the women were cohabiting with their husbands they appeared to them. Since the women’s minds were filled with lust for these apparitions, they gave birth to giants. For the Watchers were disclosed to them as being as high as the heavens.” [Testament of Reuben 5:6–7]
For us today, it seems impossible that a divine being could assume human flesh and do what this passage describes. But, this objection itself is odd, since this interpretation is less dramatic than the incarnation of God in Jesus! How is the virgin birth of God more acceptable? It is mind–blowing that Jesus had both a divine and human nature fused together. Think about it. God had to experience going through a woman’s birth canal, and then to endure life, having to learn how to talk, walk, eat, and go through puberty. This is far more shocking than the events in Genesis 6:1–4. The notion that the fallen angels came to earth in fleshly form ought to be more palatable than the incarnation, since it is less supernaturally spectacular. The supernatural approach to Genesis 6:1–4 derives from other passages that plainly have divine beings in embodied human form. For example, Genesis 18–19 is quite clear that God himself and two other divine beings met with Abraham in physical flesh. They ate a meal together [Genesis 18:1–8]. Then, Genesis 19:10 informs us that the two angels had to physically grab Lot and pull him back into his house to avoid harm in Sodom, something that would be hard to do if the two beings were not truly physical. Another example is Genesis 32:22–32, where we read that Jacob wrestled with a “man” [v. 24], whom the text also describes as “God” [vv. 30–31]. Thus, Hosea 12:3–4 refers to this incident and describes the being who wrestled with Jacob as both “God” and an “angel.” This was a physical struggle, and one that left Jacob injured [vv. 31–32]. While visual appearances in human form are more common [Matthew 2:19; Acts 10:3; 11:13], the New Testament also describes episodes where angels are best understood as corporeal. In Matthew 4:11, angels came to Jesus after he was tempted by the devil and “began ministering to him.” Angels appear and speak [Matthew 28:5; Luke 1:11–21, 30–38], instances that presume actual sound waves being created. If a merely auditory experience was meant, one would expect the communication to be described as a dream–vision [Acts 10:3]. Angels open doors [Acts 5:19] and hit disciples to wake them up [Acts 12:7]. This is interesting, because the text has Peter mistakenly thinking the angel was only a vision! The next thing to note about the Nephilim is that Genesis 6:4 says that they were on earth before the flood “and also immediately afterward.” The phrase looks forward to Numbers 13:33, which says that “the Nephilim” are “the descendants of Anak.” The sons of Anak [the Anakim], were one of the giant clans described in the conquest narratives [Deuteronomy 2:10–11, 21; Joshua 11:21–22; 14:12, 15]. Two options on how the Nephilim descendants exist after the flood are:
The flood was local in the Persian Gulf ~13,000 years ago.
The behaviour of Genesis 6:1–4 happened again after the flood, producing other Nephilim, from whom the giant clans descended.
With respect to the 1st option about a localized flood, biblical and scientific scholarship has marshalled evidence for the authenticity of Genesis 6–8. The conclusion of this research is that the geographical extent of Noah’s flood occurred within the Persian Gulf ~13,000 years ago [the end of the last Ice Age during the advent of our Holocene epoch], in a region that was occupied by early humans during the late Pleistocene ~70,000 years ago. From a concordist perspective, Genesis 1 details the natural history of Earth chronologically, and recent geological research has marshalled a detailed tectonic profile showcasing relatively fixed shorelines, that the ocean waters will never again cover the entire Earth [as was initially the case in the early stages of the planet’s formation from 4.5662 ± 0.0001 billion years ago to ~3.8 billion years ago]. Evidence for this is via osmium isotope analysis where landmasses occur in pulsed states, affirming that the Earth will never become a water–world again, as was once the case, where the Earth first had a ~1 km deep global ocean [Genesis 1:2; Psalm 104:6–9]. Next is the migration patterns of humans, because in what location are the events of Genesis 6–9? If Noah’s flood was global, then that would not account for the fact that we already have established in Genesis 2 a specific location for these particular humans located in the Persian Gulf. Thus, Genesis 1 is speaking about pre–Adamic humans that procreate into a large enough population of ~10,000 to “fill the Earth.” These humans migrate North–East out of Africa, and as seen in Genesis 2, they arrive into the Arabian peninsula, where specific geographical details are given with the mention that a “river flows from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides, becoming four branches.” The latest anthropological and archaeological studies, along with current geological data [to pinpoint the rivers Pishon and Gihon], show that Eden is located at the head of the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, Noah’s “reed boat” lands in the region of Mount Judi [or “Urartu” in Genesis 8:4], close to this Edenic geography.