The Fallen Watchers and the Disciples of Mark

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Mount Hermon
Image via Wikipedia

With this post I come closer to completing the series I began two months ago to share the contents of an article by Rick Strelan in the Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha 20 (1999), titled The Fallen Watchers and the Disciples in Mark. Strelan argues that the Gospel of Mark’s disciples were based on the legend of the Fallen Watchers in the Book of Enoch. Both disciples and watchers were called to have special spiritual responsibilities and callings in the presence of God or the Son of God, and that both fell through attachment to the things and ways of this world. Strelan finds a number of details in common to associate Mark’s disciples, especially Peter, with the Fallen Watchers of Enoch.

(The rest of the posts are in the Fallen Watchers category.)

My reason for posting this is simply that I found the article of interest. As I began to type notes from it to share here, a few questions about the strength of the arguments arose in my mind. I wondered if Strelan was attempting to oversell his case. Maybe that’s one reason I slowed up the pace of note-sharing. But I certainly don’t quickly discount the arguments. On a recent review of the article I noticed a few details that might be worth following up more seriously.

For example, Strelan interpreted the disciples “seeking” for Jesus (Mark 1:36) after he had gone AWOL the morning after healing Peter’s mother-in-law as “seeking with hostile intent”. I did not like this interpretation, but have since noted that the word Mark uses could well be read with ambiguity. It certainly can in other places be translated “persecute” (as well as eagerly seeking after a coveted prize.) This would justify at least the possibility that the disciples could have been seeking Jesus to “bring him back into their own house/ways/domesticity”. Now that surely sits well with what we find elsewhere throughout Mark — ambiguities. So maybe I was over hasty in dismissing Strelan’s interpretation after all.

So I am posting this now as something I find of interest, and presuming at least one or two others think of it the same way, and as an idea to be further explored and, if possible, tested.

In my last post I left off with this point:

At the foothills of Mount Hermon

The above confrontation between Jesus and Peter took place at Caesarea Philippi, which is near the foothills of Mount Hermon. An audience familiar with the book of Enoch would know that it was on Mount Hermon that the chief Watcher, Azazel, swore an oath with his 200 followers to descend to earth and marry the daughters of men.

1 Enoch 6:6

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

Continuing . . . .

Leadership and Service

The primary duty of angels is to serve through doing the will of God:

Hebrews 1:14

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?

Strelan also cites 1QH 5.21 and 1 QSb 4.25, but I don’t have access to the translations for these at the moment.

Service was also the lesson Jesus taught his disciples, as we read in Mark 9:35 and 10:42-45. This message was intended for those Jesus chose to be leaders, Peter in particular, and all the twelve.

One might say that the disciples are taught to rule, not like the gentiles, but like the angels, or watchers.

Denying procreation and the natural order

The disciples are called to leave all social security and status and fall in behind Jesus. Strelan writes:

In his Jewish culture, as in many others, such status and security were strongly enhanced by procreation. . .  In a culture that survived and prided itself on family and descendants, to deny one’s family, home and children would indeed mean denying one’s self, denying having one’s self live on in one’s children.

The angels, as we learn in the Book of Enoch, sin by leaving God and their proper status by choosing rather to procreate with women.

1 Enoch 15:3-7

3. Wherefore have ye left the high, holy, and eternal heaven, and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men and taken to yourselves wives, and done like the children of earth, and begotten giants (as your) sons?

4. And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten (children) with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those ⌈also⌉ do who die and perish.

5. Therefore have I given them wives also that they might impregnate them, and beget children by them, that thus nothing might be wanting to them on earth.

6. But you were ⌈formerly⌉ spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the world.

7. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for as for the spiritual ones of the heaven, in heaven is their dwelling.

So in Enoch the act of taking wives and bearing children is a pursuit “of men”, and as such defies the spiritual status of one who has eternal life in heaven.

In the Testament of Naphtali 3:5 this act of the angels — seeking procreation of children through wives — is described as “changing the order of nature”:

In like manner also the Watchers changed the order of nature . . .

We know that the same understanding is found in Mark:

Mark 12:25

For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.

Jesus calls his disciples to deny themselves by leaving their houses, wives, children. They are not to seek to live on in their children, but to seek true eternal life.

Mark 10:29

And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s

So Jesus is expecting his disciples to reject the normal social customs of family unions and households, and to become his watchers.

Peter and his companions found this difficult. Peter had indeed originally left everything to follow Jesus:

Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. (Mark 10:28)

Peter, we read earlier, did have a house in Capernaum (1:29), and Jesus abandoned that house. Strelan sees indications here that the house was unclean, since it contained a woman with a fever and in need of healing (1.30).

Peter expresses difficulty with this calling in 8:32 when he rebuked Jesus for forsaking the way that is natural for men, and in 10:28 when he pleaded with Jesus that he had already left all to follow him. Peter demonstrates here that his mind is thinking on the things of humans and not those of God.

Jesus also accuses the disciples of hardness of heart for failing to understand the new community he has introduced with his miracle of feeding his followers in the wilderness (6:52).

“Those with him” are given access to the mysteries

Three times before the Passion Narrative Jesus took Peter, James and John “with him” in order to give these chief watchers access to the mysteries not available to all.

1. The Raising of Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5:35-43).

These three disciples are repeatedly designated as “those with him” in this scene, emphasizing their special status as they, alone, are permitted to follow him to the room where the mystery is to be revealed. It is further emphasized that no-one else was allowed to follow them. “The mystery is that of death and that of a 12-year-old girl who was unclean socially and ritually and highly ‘dangerous’. “As the legendary watcher-angels are in the presence of the Holy One, so the appointed watchers of Jesus are granted permission to be in Jesus’ presence.”

2. The Tranfiguration (Mark 9:2-8)

As indicated above, Mark’s audience may well have understood this scene to be Mount Hermon of the Watcher legend.

G. Nickelsburg (‘Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee’, JBL 100 (1981), pp. 575-600) discusses in depth the associations of Mt Hermon with Jacob’s ladder and the Enoch Watcher legend of the fallen angels, and its associations with priest-angels and the gateway to the heavenly sanctuary. It is the sacred place of revelation and direct access to God’s throne. The Testament of Levi associates Mt Hermon in very similar ways with Levi, the patriarch of the priests. The details of Nickelsburg’s article are fascinating, but they require another post to share.

The special significance here is the privileged status of Peter, James and John, who are with Jesus “alone”. When Mark says they were “led” or “taken up” to the mountain by Jesus (9:2), he uses a word that is normally associated with “sacrifice” — anaphero — and sacrifice is the way to access God’s blessings through the holy priesthood. The imagery is of Jesus taken up the three watchers with him to the mountain, not for sacrifice, but to open the way for them into the heavenly sanctuary.

Likewise in the Testament of Levi, heavens are opened and angels are present in region of Mt Hermon.

Significant, also, is the account of the disciples not being able to speak coherently, and their looking around rather than upward — since this is the depiction of the Watchers when they felt their shame for their sin. As cited in my first post in this series:

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.

I would never have connected the incoherent words of Peter, or the “looking around” (9:8) by the three disciples, with feelings of shame over mortal sinfulness. On the other hand, one cannot help but be so often struck by Mark’s ironies and ambiguities in unexpected places, that it is only prudent to be open to the possibility elsewhere in his gospel, too. What would an audience familiar with the legends of Enoch have noticed in Mark’s gospel?

3. Revelation (Mark 13)

This time a fourth, Andrew, is included. Strelan sees the foursome being like the four Enochian archangels: Gabriel, Raphael, Michael and Uriel. Once again these chief watchers are given a “private” “alone” moment with Jesus who is to reveal to them the secrets of the signs. They sit on the eschatological Mount of Olives opposite the Temple, the symbol of God’s presence.

1 Enoch (again see the first post of this series for the references) says the watchers were likewise given a revelation of the secrets of heaven.

The command to watch

Again like the angelic watchers of 1 Enoch, these four chief watchers are given specific authority. They are four servants who have been given the command to watch for “that day”. The parable of the doorkeeper reinforces the message: Watch! (13:34). These four “doorkeepers” are given special authority to watch, but the command is to all who would “come behind” Jesus.

Next section . . . .

This completes the final discussion of Rick Strelan on the disciples as (Enochian) watchers up to the moment of the Passion Narrative. This requires a special post of its own. So later. . . .

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

3 thoughts on “The Fallen Watchers and the Disciples of Mark”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading