Greetings, Voyagers! With The Gevaudan Project launch out of the way, I am at long last returning to my topical posts. Today, I’ll actually be revisiting some themes I touched on in my previous posts Human Horizons and Thoughts on Magic, Part 1 and Part 2. Like all of us, I continue to learn as I read, so I’m always ready to consider things from a new perspective. A book I recently finished was The Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael S. Heiser. I’ve written a full review which is available on Goodreads for anyone interested in checking out this book for themselves, which I highly recommend.
For my purposes here, I’ll touch on just one of the book’s main points: namely, the identity of the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6 who intermarried with the “daughters of men.” Biblical commentators have historical held to two schools of interpretative thought on this passage. The most common view today sees the “sons of God” as righteous men from the line of Seth and the “daughters of men” being wicked descendants of Cain. The other view identifies the “sons of God” as fallen angels (also called “Watchers”) who took human wives to produce hybrid offspring (the “Nephilim” or “giants” mentioned in Genesis as well as other passages in the Old Testament). As Heiser points out, the second interpretation was, in fact, the traditional one among Second Temple Jews and ante-Nicene Christians. The evidence he presents is too voluminous to be quoted in full, but I’ll take a moment to say that I found it quite convincing as someone who has done some previous reading on the Early Church.
In addition to fathering semi-divine offspring, the Watchers were also seen as having imparted “forbidden knowledge” or “heavenly secrets” to the men of the pre-Flood world. The exact nature of this knowledge is described in the most detail by apocryphal texts such as the Book of Enoch:
And Azâzêl taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. Semjâzâ taught enchantments, and root-cuttings, Armârôs the resolving of enchantments, Barâqîjâl, taught astrology, Kôkabêl the constellations, Ezêqêêl the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiêl the signs of the earth, Shamsiêl the signs of the sun, and Sariêl the course of the moon. And as men perished, they cried, and their cry went up to heaven . . . (1 Enoch 8:1-2)
I’ll take a moment here to emphasize that I do not regard the Book of Enoch as inspired Scripture nor, strictly speaking, an accurate record of events. There is a reason it was ultimately left out of the biblical canon. Those who have read my post Secrets of the Ancients also know that I envision pre-Flood humans as vastly intelligent and inherently innovative. If we accept this passage in a completely literally sense, almost all of the “arts” or “technologies” it mentions are things they would have been fully capable of creating or learning on their own. Indeed, a straightforward reading of Genesis indicates that individuals such as Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-Cain did just that and were not (as in Enoch) morally censured for doing so.
With that being said, I tend to take a more nuanced view of the Book of Enoch than the two usual Christian camps of uncritical acceptance on the one hand and just as absolute rejectionism on the other. The one ignores clear problems and contradictions within the text while the other completely ignores the high regard many early Church Fathers had for the book as well as its use by the biblical writers (see Heiser’s podcast on this topic here). So what would a truly reasoned approach to the book look like?
Background and Interpretation
Its original author or authors remain unknown, and it appears to be a composite document with material from several different time periods. Most scholars trace it, at the very earliest, to the Jews’ captivity in ancient Babylon. It could have begun at that time as an “artistic” work similar to John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” – something most contemporary Christians would consider good reading but hardly inspired Scripture. Milton’s work, incidentally, makes many poetical allusions to events and circumstances in his own time period – Lucifer’s War in Heaven is actually described with weapons immediately recognizable as 17th-century cannons. The list of “forbidden arts” in Enoch was probably a poetic way that its Jewish author, drawing on pre-existing oral traditions about the Watchers, indicated those aspects of Babylonian culture where demonic influence was most pervasive. In fact, scholarship tends to bear this out. One book I highly recommend is The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions, from which my own analysis is largely derived. In light of this, here’s how I would parse Enoch 8:
- Swords, knives… The metals of the earth and the art of working them:
To start off, it would be absurd to view “metalworking” itself as somehow inherently sinful, given that smiths existed in Ancient Israel are even spoken of positively in some Biblical passages (see an extended treatment of this subject here). Also, the use of bladed objects and tools would already have been a necessity as early as Cain and Abel. Animal sacrifice is mentioned very early on in Genesis, and later books describe in detail how an offering was slain and its remains cut in pieces. There’s a case to be made that Cain actually slew Abel with his own sacrificial blade.
So is this statement completely inaccurate and without value? Not quite. One interesting fact that escapes modern readers is that most ancient cultures viewed blacksmiths as sorcerers, particularly when forging swords (one fascinating historical overview is available here). This is how they would have been viewed in Babylon – and in all likelihood they would have gladly accepted the label. Their art involved spells, enchantments and incantations in addition to regular metallurgy. Contemporary readers of Enoch would have immediately grasped what it was referring to. It may even be a clue pointing to a “magical” occult practice that existed in the pre-Flood world. We are all familiar with the mythological archetype of an “enchanted sword.” One obviously has to be careful when using fiction as an interpretive tool, but could this perhaps describe something the like the “Sith swords” created by “Force alchemy” in the Star Wars Legends universe?
Technically, this would fall under the category above, but I’ll take a moment to point out that the use of shields has historically been just as much ritual as practical. Just one example would be the ceremonial shields used by Celts for religious ceremonies (see this Wikipedia article on the Battersea shield). Perhaps this could harken back to a pre-Flood artifact used in occult religious ceremonies or that provided supernatural means of protection as opposed to strictly physical?
Breastplates have also historically had occult and ceremonial uses just as significant as their use in combat. One prominent example would be as part of the attire of Egyptian pharaohs as seen below:
And, of course, most readers here will be familiar with the “ephod” breastplates of Levite priests. It’s not too hard to picture the Watchers giving them to their followers for use in a false religious system.
- The fabrication of mirrors:
Mirrors have a strictly practical use, but have also been used throughout history as a means of divination. See this Wikipedia article on scrying.
- The workmanship of bracelets and ornaments… The use of stones of every valuable and select kind:
Jewels in Ancient Babylon were used as magical amulets ensuring good fortune or giving power. All the Mesopotamian gods are described as using amulets in battle.
- The use of paint, the beautifying of the eyebrows…all sorts of dyes:
We may be inclined to think strictly in terms of carnal sexuality, but even this has supernatural implications. Cosmetics were believed to have magical properties within Babylonian culture, and the goddess Ishtar is mentioned as wearing makeup specifically imbued with the power of sexual attraction.
- Enchantments and root-cuttings:
This corresponds to the occult-based practices of ancient Babylonian medicine (asutu) as well as herbal ingredients for magic and amulets containing herbs and roots. Perhaps it could even imply the use of spells to alter the substance of herbs and give them unnatural and dangerous properties. To put it in other terms, “magic potions.”
- The resolving of enchantments:
This likely refers to exorcism techniques with Babylonian religion (asiputu).
- Astrology… the constellations:
This corresponds to planetary omens mentioned on tablets 50-70 of “Enuma Anu Enlil”, and ancient Babylonian astrological text widely used by the priestly caste.
- The knowledge of the clouds:
This corresponds to Babylonian meteorological omens, or the “signs of Adad” on tablets 37-49 of Enuma Anu Enlil.
- The signs of the earth:
This corresponds to terrestrial omens mentioned in the “Summa alu” another Babylonian religious text.
- The signs of the sun:
This corresponds to celestial omens (the “signs of Sin”) on tablets 1-22 of Enuma Anu Enlil.
- The course of the moon:
Yet another set of celestial omens (“signs of Shamash”) found on tablets 23-36 of Enuma Anu Enlil.
There are a few points I’m making in all of this. One is the very strong historical, textual and traditional evidence that the “sons of God” passages in Genesis 6 literally describes fallen angels descending to intermarry with humanity and teach them forbidden knowledge. The Book of Enoch contains the most detailed account of what this could have consisted of, but is primarily based on practices that existed in Babylon (the closest thing its author – almost certainly not Enoch himself – could have observed to what he was attempting to describe). Furthermore, this knowledge was specifically occult knowledge as opposed to civilizational or technological. I emphasize this last point in order to reemphasize one I’ve already made in Human Horizons. God created humans specifically with the ability to create, to innovate and to explore – pre-Flood man would not have needed fallen angels to teach him any of these things. In fact, that was almost exactly the opposite of what the Watchers were doing. One of the early Church Fathers, Justin Martyr (100-165 AD), offered his own summary of how they interacted with mankind:
But if this idea take possession of some one, that if we acknowledge God as our helper, we should not, as we say, be oppressed and persecuted by the wicked; this, too, I will solve. God, when He had made the whole world, and subjected things earthly to man, and arranged the heavenly elements for the increase of fruits and rotation of the seasons, and appointed this divine law — for these things also He evidently made for man — committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begot children who are those that are called demons; and besides, they afterwards subdued the human race to themselves, partly by magical writings, and partly by fears and the punishments they occasioned, and partly by teaching them to offer sacrifices, and incense, and libations, of which things they stood in need after they were enslaved by lustful passions; and among men they sowed murders, wars, adulteries, intemperate deeds, and all wickedness. Whence also the poets and mythologists, not knowing that it was the angels and those demons who had been begotten by them that did these things to men, and women, and cities, and nations, which they related, ascribed them to god himself, and to those who were accounted to be his very offspring, and to the offspring of those who were called his brothers, Neptune and Pluto, and to the children again of these their offspring. For whatever name each of the angels had given to himself and his children, by that name they called them. [See Second Apology, Chapter 5, “How the angels transgressed”]
Join me next week as we continue this topic in Part 2.