Watchers, Giants, and forbidden lore: Some angelological/demonological prosopographies in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Annette Yoshiko Reed, McMaster University
41st Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins: Parabiblical Prosopography, March 25, 2004

I. Watchers and Giants as subjects of parabiblical prosopography

Although the Watchers and Giants are (generally) not pseudepigraphical authors like Enoch or Moses or Ezra, the body of lore surrounding them is “parabiblical” in almost every other sense of the term. First, we can identify a biblical lemma — Gen 6:1-4 — in reference to which the bulk of such traditions developed. As is well known, these figures play an important part in its exegesis, particularly in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, when its statements about the “sons of God” were still thought to refer to angels (and also again later, after a bit of a gap, in medieval Judaism, when this interpretation reemerged as one of several possible options).

Accordingly, many traditions about the Watchers and Giants can be read as answers to questions raised by the brief and allusive account in Genesis. If the “sons of God” are indeed angels, what are they doing on earth? Why, how, and when did they leave heaven? How can angels and women have sex and bear sons? Who were these Nephilim and Gibborim, and what does it mean that they were on the earth “in those days and also afterwards”?

Some traditions fill these gaps in ways that suggest their derivation and/or cultivation in the setting of biblical exegesis. Nevertheless, the exegetical impulse cannot account for a number of other themes, motifs, and trajectories, which are no less definitive for the body of Jewish and Christian lore surrounding the fallen angels and their sons. In some cases, we can point to other intertexts from the Torah, such as the reference to the Nephilim in Numbers 13 and the material about Azazel in Leviticus 16. But even these do not suffice. For, many of these traditions were clearly shaped by the early and persistent influence of now non-canonical books from Second Temple times, such as the Book of the Watchers and Jubilees. These include much more material about these figures and were, in turn, retold, reinterpreted, excerpted, and expanded by later Jews and Christians.

This is the second sense in which this body of lore can be called “parabiblical”: it is rooted not only in Genesis but also in parabiblical literature — or, in other words, in texts [1] which were written in a similar style, with similar authority claims, and with appeal to biblical heroes, [2] which date well before the closing of the biblical canon, and [3] which seem to have been granted a similar level of authority as biblical books in some communities. Indeed, one cannot understand the references to the fallen angels and Giants in Second Temple Jewish, NT, and early Christian literature, apart some discussion of the Book of the Watchers and Jubilees (and this may also hold true, to some degree, for medieval Judaism and, by extension, early Islam). The Book of the Watchers had a formative and abiding influence on traditions about the fallen angels in particular, as evident in Jubilees itself and in a broad range of other Jewish and Christian writings; for instance, as late as the third century, patristic authors like Origen and Tertullian explicitly cite this “book of Enoch” when discussing angelic descent. Likewise, some treatments of the fallen angels and Giants, as in Lactanius’ Divine Institutes and in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies, simply make much more sense when read as retellings of Jubilees than as retellings of Genesis. And, as with Genesis, the influence of both texts continued to reinfuse the tradition, in the different ways and different forms.

The body of lore surrounding these antediluvian figures is also “parabiblical” in the sense of running parallel to biblical literature and exegesis. If the totality of the tradition can be likened a river, then its waters do not flow forth only from Genesis; rather, we might better imagine a stream that encompasses Genesis to either side, and before and after, with other rivers winding around and across it too. Just as later traditions about the fallen angels and Giants are influenced by the parabiblical literature of Second Temple Judaism no less than by Genesis, so both may draw from Israelite lore, the ultimate origins of which likely lies before and outside of the Bible.

Although much is lost to us, it may be telling that the “sons of God,” Nephilim, and Gibborim of Genesis and the Watchers and Giants of the Book of the Watchers and Jubilees each resonate, in different ways, with the wayward culture-heroes, corrupting demigods and daimones, and the Giants and Titans of neighboring mythologies. And, even if we are wary to reduce these complex connections to simple arrows of influence, we might well imagine early Jews and Christians as talking in the tones of a shared cultural koine and as participating in a cross-cultural conversation. However much modern scholars may love to speculate about such connections, it is perhaps more significant that we are not the first to think along these lines. We might point, for instance, to Pseudo-Eupolemus’ efforts to correlate Enoch and the Giants with Greek and Babylonian mythology, or to the assimilation of Watchers and Giants to a Hesiodic scheme of primeval history in the first Sibylline Oracle, or to Clement of Alexandria’s use of Promethean metaphors to describe the tainted but true teachings of the fallen angels.

It is in the context of this very wide and long river of tradition, encompassing prebiblical, biblical, extrabiblical, and parabiblical elements, that we might best understand the continued survival of traditions about the Watchers and Giants, even much later, in contexts far removed from biblical exegesis. On the one hand, the major themes and motifs thrive even in communities that do not accept the authority of the Torah, such that Jewish and Christian ideas about Watchers and Giants take on new life in the hands of Manichees and Muslims.

On the other hand, certain trace elements survive in Judaism and Christianity even when and where the “sons of God” are no longer identified as angels. In both Judaism and Christianity, there seem to have been active efforts at suppressing this interpretation, accompanied by the rejection of certain parabiblical texts such as the Book of the Watchers. This happens in classical Rabbinic Judaism beginning around the second century and in most forms of Christianity beginning around the fourth century. Nevertheless, Watchers continue to pop in surprising places, and the two main Watchers of the Book of the Watchers — Asael and Shemihazah — live on in name, even where the connection between the angelic descent myth and the exegesis of Genesis has been severed, and even where the Book of the Watchers is largely lost.

When traditions about the Watchers eventually reemerge and reconnect with biblical interpretation in certain medieval Jewish texts, the traditions are more diffuse and more diversified. There are also notable departures and new developments; in these materials, for instance, we find confusion between Watchers and Nephilim of a sort that has no precedent in earlier Jewish or Christian sources.

Today, however, I’ll stress the similarities across times and traditions, focusing on what is common and what abides. For, in my view, the multiple “parabiblical” settings of the origination, development, and continued circulation of these traditions is what makes this topic particularly rich for our present purposes. As we now turn to survey some of the most prominent and persistent traditions, I would thus like to draw attention to the dynamic interaction between [1] the exegesis and expansion of retrospectively “biblical” texts, on the one hand, and [2] the exegesis and expansion of parabiblical literature, on the other — but also [3] the displacement, recontextualization, and development of ideas from both kinds of books [a] in Jewish and Christian writings (such as histories, chronicles, and Sibylline oracles) with close links to Near Eastern and Greco-Roman traditions, [b] in texts from other religious contexts, such as Islam, in which the books of the Hebrew Bible never had the same status as privileged objects of interpretation, and finally [c] in so-called “magical” materials which might cross or blur creedal boundaries.

These different sources and discourses combine and contribute in different ways to the traditions surrounding the Watchers and to the traditions surrounding the Giants. For the sake of time, I will focus on the former, bringing in the latter mostly for the sake of comparison. For, as we shall see, the angelic fathers and their hybrid sons end up traveling on different paths — although, in the end, the contrast between them may tell us something important about the dynamics of parabiblical traditions.

II. Watchers, women, and the dangers of sexual desire

We begin with the traditions with the closest connections to Gen 6:1-4, namely, those concerning the Watchers’ descent and sexual misdeeds. Our earliest example, the Book of the Watchers, dramatizes their descent to earth in a scene in which 200 of them, led by their chief Shemihazah, take an oath and come down onto Mount Hermon, motivated both by the sight of the women and by the desire to bear children (e.g., 1 En 6:2). Rather poignantly, the text depicts God as condemning the Watchers, not only for defiling themselves with women, but also for giving up their immortality for the chance to reproduce (esp. 1 En 15:3-6).

Most sources, however, focus solely on the sexual. The Watchers are treated as paradigms of human beings led astray by lust and longing, and the angelic descent myth becomes an opportunity to warn men about feminine wiles. Perhaps not surprisingly, such concerns can be found in a very broad range of sources, including Second Temple Jewish texts like the Damascus Document, early Christian writings by Tertullian, Cyprian, and Commodian, and a number of gaonic and medieval midrashim, including Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, Pesikta Rabbati, and the so-called “Midrash of Shemhazai and Azael” (the last being set of parallel traditions found in Bereshit Rabbati, Yalqut Shimoni, and the Chronicle of Yerahmeel, which some scholars trace to the non-extant Midrash Abkir).

Interestingly, they all make much the same point: If lust can cause angels to stray, then how much more so humans? And if human women can make angels sin, then how more of a threat do they pose to human men? In some texts, such as the Testament of Reuben, the Watchers are drawn to earth by sexual desire, such that women are actually responsible for their fall from heaven. In other sources, such as Jubilees, God sends the Watchers to earth on a positive mission, and they only become corrupted while living among women and men.

Heaven also remains pure of even impure thoughts in a variation of this theme found in the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies and a number of medieval midrashim, whereby the angels themselves ask God to travel down to earth. They are convinced that they can live piously and thereby teach a lesson to us ungrateful and weak-willed humans. In the later Jewish versions, this tradition becomes developed into a full-fledged variation of the common Rabbinic trope of rivalry between angels and humans. Like the angels who contest Adam’s creation and God’s giving of the Torah to Israel in the classical Rabbinic literature, these angels quote Ps 8:5, and they seek to replace humankind. Consistent with the earlier versions of this trope, humanity win out in the end. For all their arrogance, the angels fail their self-made test immediately upon their arrival on the earth, and for all their shortcomings, men are ironically shown to be more capable of resisting the evil inclination.

Even as the speculation about the motivations and modes of angelic descent developed along a number of lines, we thus see a recurrent set of themes and interests. So too with the different descriptions of the actual mating of “sons of God” with “daughters of men.” Particularly as time went on, exegetes seem troubled by the idea of sexual intercourse between angels and humans — whether because they were perplexed by the logistics of mingling fire and flesh, or because they were offended by the idea of God’s own angels as sinning in such an explicitly physical fashion. Some sources get around the problem by stressing the transformative power of sexual desire. Either the angels’ decision to descend led to their devolution into human form, or lust itself caused spirit and fire to transmute into flesh. Alternately, efforts were made to ensure no physical contact at all; in the Testament of Reuben, for instance, the act of mutual seeing is enough to birth Giants.

One thing, however, remains relatively constant. Whether drawn from heaven by lust or captivated by women while on earth, whether sinning through touch or thought or sight, the Watchers’ deed is irreversible. A broad variety of texts make efforts to stress that they can never return home to heaven. Some sources, in fact, treat this as part of their punishment for abandoning their heavenly posts and defiling themselves through desire. The Pseudo-Clementine Homilies describe them as bound in impure bodies after their sin. Likewise, in a tradition found within the prologue to Aggadat Bereshit, the story ends with the angels begging to return home and God telling them that it is too late.

III. The imprisonment and punishment of the Watchers

Of course, a whole host of other texts speak of their binding in more than mere flesh. Discussions of the imprisonment and punishment of the fallen angels represent a significant component in the tradition as a whole, particular in Second Temple Judaism. In the Book of the Watchers, God is depicted as sending his archangels to imprison Asael in darkness and to bind Shemihazah and his hosts in the valleys of the earth until the days of judgment (10:4-8, 11-15); moreover, consistent with their desire to reproduce, they are also forced to watch the death of the Giants born of their impure union with women. Later in the same text, however, Enoch travels to a place where there is neither heaven above nor earth below, to what is called the “end of heaven and earth,” and there he sees “the prison for the stars and the host of heaven,” and he sees a place where “the heavens come to an end” where stand the “angels who mingled with women” (18:10, 12; 19:1).

Accordingly, some later sources depict as the Watchers as bound below, while others show them as suspended above — although in both cases they tend to await future judgment in fire. The Epistle of Jude, which clearly knows and uses the Book of the Watchers, states that these angels are “kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Most of the relevant Christian sources, starting already with 2 Peter and Irenaeus, follow Jude in this regard. We also find versions of this trope within medieval Judaism; in the Zohar, for instance, the fallen angels are bound in “the mountains of Kedem” of Numbers 23, to which men now travel to learn sorcery.

Examples of punishment in realms above include 2 Enoch, in which Enoch meets the Watchers sad and silent in the fifth heaven (2 En 18). Likewise in the medieval material about the death of Moses appended to the end of Deuteronomy Rabbah, Moses refers to them as suspended between the earth and the Firmament. And, interestingly, Shemhazai himself chooses this punishment as penance in the so-called “Midrash of Shemhazai and Azael.”

In contrast to traditions about the descent and sexual sins of the Watchers, these traditions have no clear biblical basis. Ideas about the Watchers’ punishments seem to follow from the conflicting options set forth in the Book of the Watchers, each of which developed in different directions. The lack of any biblical referent proves especially important to note insofar as these ideas are no less widespread than those surrounding their sexual misdeeds. In fact, in Second Temple and New Testament literature, they play just as important a part in the treatment of the Watchers as paradigms of the human wicked. Just as the traditions about their sexual sins show that even angels could fall prey to lust, so traditions about their imprisonment and future destruction underline the inevitability of fair retribution. In the process of filling in the punishment missing from the biblical description of sin, these sources show that not even God’s own angels are exempt from divine justice.

IV. The Watchers as teachers of skills and secrets

There is also no biblical basis for another major cluster of traditions about the Watchers, namely, those about their teachings. As with traditions about their punishment, a diverse set of views about their teachings seems to sprout from the seeds first planted by the Book of the Watchers. In the Book of the Watchers, sorcery, spells, and root-cutting are associated with the Watchers as a group and with Shemihazah and Hermoni in particular. To Asael is attributed instruction in metalworking for making weapons of war and jewelry, the means to mine and work precious stones, and the creation of dyes and cosmetics. And, finally, divination from different celestial bodies is traced to the teachings of a list of angels with names like Kokabel, Shamsiel, and Sahriel.

The only element without a rich afterlife of its very own is metalworking for the sake of making weapons. The others are each developed, and their implications explored. As we might expect from the general interest in Watchers and women, their association with feminine finery is as common as it is enduring. Depending on how we reconstruct 1 Enoch 8:1, the Book of the Watchers may even imply that it was Asael’s instruction in artificial beautification that empowered women to tempt the other angels down from heaven. In any case, this connection lies behind the references to angelic temptation and descent in the Book of Dreams, Testament of Reuben, and 2 Baruch. Cosmetics, in other words, become both cause and result of angelic sin. Likewise, later authors such as Tertullian and Cyprian would eagerly build upon the association of these arts with the fallen angels in order to discourage women from falsely enhancing their appearance. They readily expand the list of teachings to include types of womanly ostentation current in their own day — as well as citing the Watchers’ wives, alongside the tempted temptress Eve, to expound upon what they saw as the natural connection between women, deception, and the demonic.

The popularity of this particular set of traditions is also clear from the fact that elements endure even when and where the “sons of God” of Genesis have been demoted from angels to men. For instance: in those Syriac Christian and Rabbinic Jewish sources that take the “sons of God” to be sons of Seth and the “daughters of men” to be daughters of Cain, we still find Cainite women condemned for using cosmetics to attract the Sethite men. Sometimes, as in the Cave of the Treasures, the sight of the Cainite women causes the Sethite men to descend from a high mountain like the Watchers in the Book of the Watchers; and, moreover, like the fallen angels of later tradition, these men are unable to ascend again after lust contaminates their purity.

When angelic readings of Gen 6:1-4 reemerge again in medieval Judaism, we find combinations whereby angels are tempted by Cainite women with “eyes painted like harlots.” Perhaps more surprisingly, sources associated with the so-called “Midrash of Shemhazai and Azael” even preserve a lingering trace of Asael’s ancient association with these arts; Azael is there described as the “chief of dyes and the ornaments of women, by which they entice men to unclean thoughts of sin.”

No less widespread is the association of the Watchers with “magical” and divinatory practices — and particularly with the revelation of secret knowledge about the stars and other celestial phenomona. In Second Temple Judaism, this line of tradition is less prominent than one might expect, such that the main examples are the Book of Watchers and two texts that are very closely aligned to it, namely, Jubilees and the Similitudes. Other examples, however, can be found throughout early Christianity as well as within medieval Judaism, and this connection seems to live on in early Islamic traditions about Harut and Marut.

Just as the material about the temptation of fallen angels resonates with a broader discourse about women’s wiles, women’s lies, and the intersections of feminine and demonic power, so the ideas about fallen angels as teachers of sorcery and divination were shaped in various ways by Greco-Roman associations between daimones and magic, on the one hand, and cross-cultural connections between angels and stars, on the other.

A number of authors hold the Watchers directly responsible for introducing everything deemed “magical” in their particular times and places. Thus, the Watchers’ curriculum grows to include practices such as necromancy, soothsaying, and witchcraft. Likewise, we find statements asserting their continued link with sorcerers and Magi, even long after the Flood. We noted already how the Zohar depicts them teaching even in the place of their imprisonment. The Similitudes and Lactanius go even further. Consistent with the assimilation of the fallen angels to daimones and demons, they placing these figures at the very source of the power that makes “magic” work.

Insofar as cosmetics emblematize the gap between appearance and reality, the association of those arts with the fallen angels does not really raise any epistemological questions. By contrast, revelations about sorceries and divination beg the question of whether the Watchers’ fallen status necessarily renders their teachings as false or sinful. What is the precise relationship, in other words, between their angelic and heavenly past and the value, truth, and efficacy of what they reveal on earth?

Some, such as Justin Martyr and the Pseudo-Clementines, make clear that their revelations contain nothing true or divine. They explicitly deem them as demonic and even associate them with false worship. In each case, the fallen angels and their sons are linked to idolatry and polytheism, as both teachers and subjects of false worship, such that these practices are conflated with sorcery. Consistent with polemics against idolatry, the apparent efficacy of divination and the dark arts is here dismissed as an illusion — a trick or test intended to tempt gullible men away from true salvation.

Other sources, however, betray some ambivalence on this point. Even as they depict the Watchers as sinful and their teachings as corrupting, they simultaneously seem to revel in the idea of this forbidden knowledge as true secrets, wrongly revealed, which retain something of the power of their heavenly point of origin. This tension, for instance, may help to explain the strange list of teachings in the Similitudes, which ends with a revelation to the reader of the hidden Name that governs the very order of the cosmos. The Zohar, at a much later time, can explicitly embrace this tension. Even as sorcery is there treated as improper, the fallen angels’ teachings of these skills are described with the image of them as discussing “celestial matters of which they had previously gained knowledge in the world above” and as “talk(ing) about the holy world in which they used to live.”

This general logic may lie latent in earlier discussions of the fallen angels, and their knowledge about the stars in particular. It makes sense that these former inhabitants of heaven might know and teach about the physical contents of the skies in which they once dwelt. Accordingly, astrology, cosmology, and even calendrical astronomy can be commonly found in lists of their teachings, ranging from the Book of the Watchers and Jubilees to the Christian chronographical sources preserved by George Syncellus.

Even more intriguing are some later Jewish sources, in which we find the same connection articulated in terms of the twin interest in adjuration and ascent within early Jewish mysticism: In 3 Enoch, the fallen angels teach knowledge about how to bring the sun, moon, and stars down to earth. And, in the so-called “Midrash of Shemhazai and Azael,” they have knowledge about how to send people up to heaven. In each case, the knowledge may be tainted by its mode of transmission, but it is obviously efficacious. In fact, in the latter, Shemhazai is tricked into teaching a woman named Esterah how to ascent to heaven, only to have her use this knowledge to escape from his own grasp.

In some cases, the instruction motif is used simply to posit the heavenly origins of certain types of knowledge. When Zosimus associates the fallen angels with Alchemy, the implications are purely positive. Fallen or not, what matters here is that the inventors of this art are angelic. Although Clement of Alexander mounts a lengthy argument to explain how it can be that evil teachers sometimes teach true things, he also makes much the same point. Apparently answering certain opponents who condemned pagan philosophy as the teachings of the fallen angels, he appropriates the trope and turns it into a proof for philosophy’s heavenly pedigree. As in Greek mythology, bad culture-heroes can teach good things, just as good ones can teach bad things. Likewise, the association of certain arts with the fallen angels is far from univalent, allowing for negative and positive connotations, as well as a very powerful and poignant ambivalence.

V. The names of the Watchers

Consistent with the theme of prosopography, we should also note how the names of certain Watchers travel across different traditions. Most notable in this regard are the two main figures in the Book of the Watchers, namely, Asael and Shemihazah. In the bulk of Second Temple Jewish sources, the fallen angels remain unnamed; likewise, they are almost always anonymous in early Christian literature. They reemerge, however, in later materials, in ways that demonstrate the persistence of parabiblical traditions, even when displaced from their original settings and contexts, but also their flexibility. In some Syriac Christian traditions, for instance, Shemihazah retains his status as the leader of the “sons of God,” even as these “sons of God” have become mere humans. In the Talmud and medieval Jewish literature, he is remembered as a father of the Giants, even as traditions about these figures have shifted their center from Genesis 6 to the discussion of Nephilim, Anakim, and other large yet human inhabitants of the Promised Land in Numbers and Deuteronomy.

No less surprising is the fact that we find a number of variations of the name of Asael in later Jewish texts, including midrashic but also magical and mystical materials. In the magical and mystical materials, figures with variations of the name Asael become heavenly angels complaining about humans, as well as archangels who protect the owners of certain magical bowls and amulets. Some association between Watchers, magic, and sorcery still remains — even as Asael is let back into heaven. In medieval midrashim, this figure is still fallen, but he is split into pairs or triplets of angels with similar names. Whereas Second Temple Jewish and early Christian traditions see the fallen angels as a really big group, all of the medieval Jewish traditions about angelic descent are attached to small sets of angels like [1] Azza, Uzza, and Azael in 3 Enoch, [2] Uzza and Uzael in Aggadat Bereshit, and [3] Uzza and Azael in the Zohar. In some sources, including Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Azael is even paired again with his old friend Shemihazah.

These twins or triplets are, in turn, associated with the figure of Azazel from Leviticus 16. Already in the Second Temple period, we find variations on the name Asael whereby he becomes assimilated to this mysterious figure to whom was sent the scapegoat sacrifice. Likewise, they are grouped in an enigmatic and unexplained reference in the Talmud, which explains the name of Azazel in terms of him atoning for the deeds of Uza and Azael. After the reemergence of the angelic reading of Gen 6:1-4 in medieval Judaism, we also find explicit efforts to identify Azael and Azazel.

Interestingly, the conflation of the two seems to underlie Islamic traditions about Azazil, often identified as one of the names of Iblis (i.e., Satan). Particularly striking are traditions that specify “Azazil” as the name of Iblis prior to his fall — thereby attesting an interesting harmonization of the heavenly Azael of Jewish magic and the fallen Azael of Jewish midrash. Likewise, just as Christian authors like Augustine made efforts to transfer traditions about the anonymous apostate angels of the antediluvian age onto Lucifer and other angels at Creation, so we find much the same move, albeit much later, in Islam.

VI. Watchers vs. Giants

Until now, we haven’t really discussed the other major feature of the Watchers, namely, their fathering of Giants. This feature does have a biblical basis, and (as should be clear from the handout and suggested readings) the Giants also inspired a wealth of parabiblical lore. For our limited time and purposes, however, what proves most relevant is the fact that the body of lore about the Giants reflects a somewhat different relationship between biblical exegesis and parabiblical traditions. A contrast between the two thus provides an apt means for us to wrap up our survey, with an eye to the broader issue of parabiblical prosopography.

Biblical and parabiblical traditions about the Watchers are rather unified during the Second Temple and early Christianity, supplementing one another and filling each other’s gaps. They later split in Rabbinic Judaism and late antique Christianity, only to rejoin again in certain later Jewish contexts, albeit in different and more diffuse forms. This reemergence of these traditions is part of a broader resurgence of interest in the parabiblical literature of Second Temple times within certain medieval Jewish circles and is likely connected to the “back-borrowing” of some so-called “pseudepigrapha” from Christians. In addition, the resurgence of interest in the Watchers seems somehow connected with an interest in fallen angels in early Islam — although the connections are surely complex, and the arrows of influence and causality surely travel in both directions.

With the Giants, we find a different pattern. Beginning already in the early period, there are two separate streams of tradition, and only one of them is closely aligned to traditions about the Watchers. The differences between the two center on different ways to understand the Gibborim as being on the earth “in those days, and also afterwards.” One answer is provided by the Book of the Watchers and Jubilees. Here, the spirits of the Giants became the demons that now roam the earth, tempting humankind and even, at the behest of their fathers, taking on the forms of false gods to whom idols are raised and sacrifices offered. Although once quite popular among Christian authors, these traditions seem to have become gradually absorbed into a more general and generic demonology, such that the precise identity and pedigree of these particular demons was largely lost.

The other stream is shaped by Numbers 13, which gives a very different account of the fate of the Nephilim after the Flood, associating them with the Anakim. Thus the sons of the “sons of God” become one of a number of different kinds of superhumanly big men who inhabit the Promised Land. This option has the benefit of interpreting Scripture from Scripture, which became more important as time went on.

Moreover, it may be due to this stream of traditions that the growth of traditions about the Giants does not seem to have been slowed by the adoption of the euhemeristic interpretations of Gen 6:1-4. Indeed, even in the Torah, figures like the Anakim were already somewhere in between the natural and the supernatural. This, in fact, this seems to be part of the point. These figures are marvelous and monstrous, but they are still made of flesh, and live on earth, and dwell in the realm of history — and they are, moreover, capable of dying at the hands of men. Accordingly, their ranks readily grew to include more stories and more figures, even at times when traditions about their angelic fathers survived in disparate traces. But, just as different elements of the evolving image of Asael are combined in the idea of Azazil as Iblis, so the alternate views of the Giants also reemerge in unexpected places, even far later than we might expect. In the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, for instance, we even find them with their doubled nature as demons and marvelous men almost in tact. Grendel, the famous monster of this tale, traces his genealogy back to Cain. Hence, here too, we find a strange twist on euhemeristic and supernatural approaches to the “sons of God” and their hybrid progeny, attesting yet again to the continued fertility and surprising complexity of parabiblical texts and traditions.

© 2004 Annette Yoshiko Reed. All Rights Reserved.

  • Handout
  • PSCO 2004