Fallen Watchers of Enoch and the 12 Disciples in Mark’s Gospel

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by Neil Godfrey

I found this article by Rick Strelan interesting reading:

The Fallen Watchers and the Disciples in Mark, Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha, 20 (1999) 73-92

Rick Strelan begins by showing the likelihood that the gospel authors knew and drew upon Enochian legends and themes.

The legend of the Fallen Watchers — those angels who left the high heaven and descended to marry the daughters of humans — is one of the myths most often cited in the Jewish-Christian literature of the period 200 BCE to 300 CE.

The ‘Book of Watchers’ of 1 Enoch is referred to in

  1. Jubilees
  2. 2 Enoch
  3. 3 Enoch
  4. 2 Baruch
  5. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs
  6. Philo’s ‘On Giants’
  7. Josephus in Antiquities 1.3.1
  8. Qumran documents
  9. Jude 6
  10. 2 Peter 2:4
  11. 1 Peter 3:19-20
  12. Justin Martyr (2 Apology 5)
  13. Athenagoras (Plea 24-26)
  14. Irenaeus (Against Heresies 1.10.1; 1.15.6; 4.16.2; 4.36.4)
  15. Pseudo-Clementine Homilies (8.12-18)
  16. Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions (4.26)
  17. Manichaean writings (The Kephalaia of the Teacher 92, 93, 117, 171)
  18. Nag Hammadi documents (e.g. Ap John 19:16-20:11)

Strelan writes that in nearly all of these references, the myth of the Fallen Watchers is told to illustrate the lesson that the present generation is sinful and is facing a test of faithfulness to the law of God.

A related theme that comes through, especially in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Reuben) is the evil of women. Women are lying schemers and seducers of men. They brought about the fall of the Watcher angels, and the faithful are warned to guard against sexual lust, and women.

Strelan refers to an article by George Nickelsburg in which he sees the Gospel of Mark’s Passion Narrative drawing on Jewish stories of Joseph, Ahikar, Esther, Daniel and Susanna. Strelan sees Mark as also constructing the disciples of Jesus according to the fallen Watchers legend of Enoch. And again, it is to present the same lesson: the unfaithfulness of his own generation.

The Watchers in Jewish Literature

Strelan says that the Aramaic term “Watchers” is “peculiar to apocalyptic literature”.

Daniel 4:13

“I saw in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and behold, a watcher, a holy one, came down from heaven.

Greek translations of 1 Enoch translate it with a word very similar to that used in Mark’s gospel for “watch”, as in the exhortation to the disciples in Mark 13:37

What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!'”

In 1 Enoch the Watchers

  • are ‘holy angels who watch’ (20:1)
  • are of the higher class of angels like the archangels, cherubim and seraphim,
  • are ‘the eternal watchers’ (41:1) in the presence of God
  • belong to the Great Holy One (12:3)
  • do not sleep but stand before the glory of God (39:12, 61:12, 71:7)
  • never depart from the Great One (14:23)
  • are known as “sons of heaven” (6:2; 13:8; 14:3)
  • have been given the secrets of the heavens (9:6; 16:3)
  • are appointed to fulfil certain duties (20:1-8)

There are usually (but not always) 4 leader watchers: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael.

Watchers refers to many angels, but only some of them fell. These were a group of 200 led by Shemihazah/Semyaz (6:3) or by Azael/Azazel (8:1; 10:4; 13:1).

These who fell bound themselves by an oath to leave heaven and descend to earth to marry the daughters of earth (6:3-5).

1 Enoch 6:1-6

1. And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters.

2. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’

3. And Semjâzâ, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’

4. And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’

5. Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it.

6. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it.

Giants are born to them, and these giants transgress the dietary laws by eating certain “birds, wild beasts, reptiles and fish” without removing the blood (7:5). The Watchers also breach trust by teaching people on earth the “eternal secrets that are performed in heaven” (9:6), teach the making of weapons, arts, crafts, incantations, astrology, cosmetics and bracelets (8:1-4).

For all their Promethean efforts they bring ruin to the earth (9:10), and all their spirit offspring from their unlawful relations with women will be punished (10:12-15). The archangels will have the job of binding up Azazel and the Watchers and destroying their offspring.

Till that judgment day comes, the Watchers are so filled with shame that they cannot speak or raise their eyes to heaven. 1 Enoch 13:5

For from thenceforward they could not speak (with Him) nor lift up their eyes to heaven for shame of their sins for which they had been condemned.

Their sin was not exalting themselves to reach a higher status on heaven than to which they were entitled. It was the opposite. They sought the “things of men”, they craved to live “in the world”, on earth, “like the children of the earth” (15:3). In this way they defiled themselves, and when they had sex with human women. Strelan writes:

The sin of the Watchers in the literature is nearly always identified as their alliance with the daughters of humans. Their alliances with such women are regarded as [porneia] and the offspring of such unions are described in terms of [porneia]. So ‘the sons of the watchers’ are . . . ‘the sons of fornication’ (10:9)

Strelan cites where Justin, Athenagoras, the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs also link the sin of the Watchers with illicit sexual unions and idolatry. They are said to be the cause of all the evil that entered the world.

The Damascus Covenant of Qumran describes a two-fold sin of the Watchers of heaven:

  1. they follow the “eyes of whoredom” (2:16)
  2. they “walked in the stubbornness of their hearts”, following their own ways and rejecting God’s commandments (2:17-18)

I Enoch also speaks of “the hardness of the heart” of the Watchers when they taught the mysteries of heaven to women on earth (16:3).

Strelan compares these sins of the Watchers with Jesus’ warnings to his disciples, and Peter in particular:

  1. hardness of heart (Mark 6:52)
  2. thinking the things of men, not of God (8:33)

Hardness of heart, thinking the things of humans, and the weakness of the eyes are three aspects in the fall of the legendary Watchers and in the fall of Peter and the disciples in Mark.

The Qumran community (if there was one) appears to have objected to the mixed marriages of the Temple priests. In Jewish angelology the angels in heaven mirror the priests in the earthly Temple, and some scholars have suggested that the Watcher legend in Enoch was told as a parable about the Jerusalem priests who married outside their correct circle.

This post is taking longer than anticipated. Will be too long to read in one go. Will stop here, post this and continue in a follow-up.

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Neil Godfrey

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