What follows is a short summary of the Book of the Watchers, the section in the larger book of First Enoch which contains the expanded version of the Genesis 6:1-4 story.
I also include some background information on the book of First Enoch itself. I wrote the summary and the background as part of my dissertation and thought it might be of interest to some who wishes to delve a bit deeper into the subject matter. It underpins some of the points made in the Giants blog series, in particular part 3.
Lastly, I share my views on the use of non-canonical works in the understanding of the biblical text.
Synopsis of the Descent of the Watchers
First Enoch 6 begins with a direct quotation of Genesis 6:1, and continues with a modified rendition of Genesis 6:2. Semjaza is mentioned as the leader of the rebellious angels, also called Watchers, and to ensure he does not leave Heaven on his own and pay the anticipated penalty for this “great sin” by himself, made 199 other angels swore an oath to follow him in his pursuit. They did so and descended to Mount Hermon during the time of Jared, where the names of 18 other “chiefs of 10” are recorded. Azazel is listed among them, significant because the scape goat in Leviticus 16:8 is named after him.
After the Watchers have chosen their wives, they started to teach them about magic, chemistry, astrology, metallurgy, “beautifying of the eyelids” (1 Enoch 8:1) and war craft. Azazel is a leading figure when it comes to the revealing of these secrets to mankind. Their children were giants, the Nephilim, who “consumed all the acquisitions of men” (1 Enoch 7:3), and when this could no longer sustain them, started to devour mankind itself. Enoch also records that they “sinned” against birds, beasts, reptiles and fish (1 Enoch 7:4). The giants eventually turned on each other, devouring each others’ flesh and drinking their blood. Much godlessness like fornication and violence arose, humankind was led astray and became more corrupt in their ways. The souls of those who have died in this chaos cried and “made their suit to the gates of heaven” (1 Enoch 8:4). The arch angels Michael, Uriel, Raphael and Gabriel then made a petition to God, where after God send Uriel to go to Lamech (the grand father of Noah) so that he can inform Noah to start building the ark in preparation for the coming of the deluge.
Further instructions are then given to the other arch angels as well. Raphael was to bind Azazel “hand and foot” (1 Enoch 10:4), to be cast into an opening in the desert in the area of Dudael, where Raphael had to “cover him with darkness” (1 Enoch 10:5). Azazel will remain there until judgment day, when he will be cast “into the fire” (1 Enoch 10:6).
Gabriel’s instruction from God was to “proceed against the bastards and the reprobates, and against the children of fornication” (1 Enoch 10:9) and the children of the Watchers from amongst men. Gabriel was to “send them one against the other” (1 Enoch 10:9) so that they could destroy each other and that they should not have “length of days” (1 Enoch 10:9).
Michael was to go and bind Semjaza and his associates who have “united themselves with women” (1 Enoch 10:11) and so defiled themselves. After witnessing the destructions of their loved ones, they are to be bound for 70 generations in “the valleys of the earth” (1 Enoch 10:12). There they shall await their fate on judgement day, when they too will be led to the “abyss of fire: to the torment and the prison in which they shall be confined for ever” (1 Enoch 10:13). Those humans who are condemned will be bound together with them to the end of all generations.
Michael is also commanded to destroy the spirits of the children of reprobate because they have wronged mankind. All wrong should be destroyed off the face of the earth, the plant of righteousness and truth shall appear, and then there will follow a period of blessing described in language that resembles the Biblical passages relating to the new Heavens and the New Earth.
Background to the Book of Enoch
First Enoch is part of the collection of writings known as the Pseudopigrapha, and is itself a composite work of at least 6 parts produced by different authors. The only full copy of the document is in the Ge’ez language and was found in Ethiopia in 1773. It was introduced to Western Civilisation by R. Laurence’s translation into English in 1883.
Some Greek and Aramaic fragments were also found as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery in the 1940s.
The part of 1 Enoch relevant to the current topic is the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch chapters 1 – 36). It contains an expanded version of the Genesis 6:1-4 account and concerns the angels who left heaven, the influence they had on humankind whilst on earth, and the final judgment.
The document has greatly influenced both Hellenistic Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, and has been hailed as the most important Jewish text of that period. It is even possible that the Qumran community regarded the Book of Enoch as scripture, judging by the number of copies which have been preserved.
The use of non-canonical books in understanding the Bible
To what extent should we allow the content of Enoch to influence the interpretation of Gen. 6:1-4 then? Can it be seen as an authoritative source of information on what happened “during the times of Jared”?
Personally I believe the canon in its current form was done by Christ followers lead by the Holy Spirit, and I accept it as such.
1 Enoch is not part of the canon and does not carry the same authority as the books contained in the Biblical text. However, the Bible alludes to, quotes or mentions a number of books not part of our canon, and so they don’t have to be part of the canon to be useful. For example, we frequently read sentences like
And the rest of the acts of Jeroboam, how he warred, and how he reigned, behold, they are written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel. – 1 Kings 14:19.
It shows that a fuller account of the histories of Israel and Judah were kept by the scribes, and that in some cases only the summaries were included in our Bible. Most of them are not available to us anymore, but they were available during the times when Scripture was written, and to Jewish historians like Josephus who uses material like that to give us fuller accounts behind certain passages in the Bible.
Some important points to consider as far as it pertains to 1 Enoch, though, is the direct quotations of the book by Jude and the strong allusions made by Peter. 1 Enoch is the only extra biblical book which is quoted word for word by a biblical author (Jude 14 – 15).
It could be that Enoch was a “prophet” in the same way as the Cretan poet who “prophesied” (Titus 1:12) in Paul’s letters, or it might be that Jude was using the common knowledge of the times in which he lived to support his warnings to the original readers. Be that as it may, both Jude and Peter’s writings gains fuller meaning and perspective if we consider the same works which they have considered when they wrote New Testament Scripture.
Understanding the minds of the New Testament writers is pivotal in hermeneutics. So is the principle of using Scripture to interpret Scripture. If we keep these in mind, Enoch becomes highly beneficial to give us a more rounded understanding of what happened in Genesis 6.