Genesis 6 has a confusing reference to “when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them” and how this occurrence led to Yahweh flooding the earth. What does this mean?
Sometime around the 200s BC a Jewish document called “Book of Enoch” or 1 Enoch was produced. It gives all the details on how angelic beings copulated with human women and created a cosmic mess before the Flood. And here’s the interesting problem we have:
Saint Jude (Jude 1:14-15) directly quotes this non-biblical document known as “Book of Enoch” or 1 Enoch:
It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying:“Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his saints to execute judgment on all and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
|1 Enoch 1:9
Behold, he comes with ten thousand saints to execute judgment upon all, and he will destroy all the ungodly and convict all flesh of all the deeds of their ungodliness that they have ungodly committed in an ungodly way, and of all the arrogant and hard words which sinners have spoken against him.
It’s not only this direct quotation of 1 Enoch by Jude, but Jude (and 2 Peter) allude to the fantastical events of 1 Enoch, namely the sexual encounters of fallen angels with human women, which gives birth to the nephilim or “giants.” The birth of the giants, according to 1 Enoch, is the reason for the Noah’s Flood.
And this belief is also found in the canonical book of Wisdom:
“And from the beginning also when the proud giants (γιγάντων) perished, the hope of the world fleeing to a vessel, which was governed by thy hand, left to the world seed of generation.” (Wisdom 14:6)
The author of Wisdom clearly associates the flood to a divine genocide of the race of the giants (γιγάντων) to leave the world a “seed of generation.” (Saint Paul quotes from Wisdom about 7 times – so Saint Paul also likely hold this belief.)
Let me tell you the story of Angels and Giants that 1 Enoch tells:
In 1 Enoch, Yahweh sends 200 angels to guide and instruct humanity. These 200 angels are called “Irin” in Aramaic and “Egregoroi” in Greek. Both words mean “Watchers.” These Watchers corrupt humanity by teaching them evil arts such as cosmetology (sorry ladies), sorcery, astrology, and the arts of war.
These angels also seduce human women and copulate with them. The women give birth to nephilim or giants. God causes these giants to fight and die. Then the souls of the giants turn into demons that haunt and tempt humans for the rest of time.
- So Yahweh binds these 200 evil angelic Watchers into “Tartarus.”
- What is Tartarus? In the Homer’s Iliad, Zeus teaches that Tartarus is “as far beneath Hades as heaven is above earth.” Tartarus is the deepest part of the underworld, far below Hades.
- It’s noteworthy that the term “tartarus” is used by Enoch and 2 Peter. This signals the blending of Hebrew history with Greek mythology since Greek myth depict Zeus (after 10 years of battle or titanomachy) sending the older primordial deities called Titans into the deep dungeon abyss of “tartarus.”
Notably 2 Peter explicitly uses Enoch’s word “Tartarus” for the condemnation of fallen “angels.” Jude and 2 Peter use almost the same words, but 2 Peter uses “Tartarus”:
And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day.
|2 Peter 2:4a
For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartaros and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment;
It seems that 1 Enoch (and maybe Jude and 2 Peter) have assimilated the titanomachy legend of Zeus condemning the Titans into Tartaus into a legend about Yahweh condemning the 200 angelic Watchers into the chains of Tartarus. But in the 1 Enoch legend the crime is that of angels procreating mutant giants with human women.
“And when the angels, the sons of heaven, beheld them, they became enamored of them, saying to each other, Come, let us select for ourselves wives from the progeny of men, and let us beget children.” (1 Enoch 7:2)
The resulting children are called nephilim in Hebrew or gigantes (giants) in Latin and Greek. In 1 Enoch, the historical Enoch goes to God and seeks to make intercession for the forgiveness of the giants. God refuses and the giants are condemned. This part of the story is referred to in Sirach:
“He was not propitiated for the ancient giants who revolted in their might.” (Sirach 16:7)
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain 10 copies (!) of the Book of Giants – a work that describes in detail the conception of giants in Genesis 6 from the union of women and angelic watchers. The giants were warriors and cannibals. This theology was an important part of the theology of Second Temple Judaism.
Church Fathers who explicitly teach that angels copulated with women and bred giants in Genesis 6:
Justin Martyr, Tatian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Commodianus, Ambrose of Milan.
In the City of God, Saint Augustine taught that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 were simply human ancestors of Seth and that they bred with the evil daughters of men/Cain. This became the received tradition in the post Augustinian Christian West. It’s notable, however, that his mentor Saint Ambrose believed that the “sons of God” were in fact angels that copulated with humans.
What’s going on here in the Hebrew tradition?
The “Legend of the Watchers” in 1 Enoch was written in the Maccabean period before Christ. It’s could be a Jewish appropriation of a Greek myth but it’s likely explaining how the Hellenistic invaders are:
- The Gentile invaders of the Holy Land (312-63 BC)
- Greeks teaching and requiring Jews to follow pagan customs
- Greeks marrying and copulating with Jewish women
- The production of “hybrid” Greek/Jewish children that are considered “monstrous”
- The need to destroy and drive out the Greeks by means of the Maccabean Revolt (167-160 BC)
The titanomachy of Enoch is not historically “Zeus vs. Titans” or “Yahweh vs. Watchers,” but Judah Maccabeus vs. Greeks.
How does Catholic Christianity understand the “angels and tartarus” sections?
Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas (both had not read 1 Enoch) interpretted the passages in Jude and 2 Peter in this way:
- Before the flood, the “sons of God” were the righteous humans and the “daughters of men” were the female daughters of evil humans from Cain. These women were evil and and they seduced the noble and righteous sons of Seth.
- They interbred and this lead to the moral corruption of humanity.
- God sent a flood to kill everyone since they were all now a mixture of sons of Seth and daughters of Cain.
The solution here is to read “sons of God” not as “angelic beings” but as holy humans. It’s plausible and it has become the accepted tradition in Catholicism. However, ever since the Flood, good people have been interbreeding with evil people. And we know that the child of a holy mother and an evil father can turn out either good or bad. There are not “evil genetics.”
We can see here that the problem of intermarrying between the righteous and the wicked didn’t suddenly stop because water covered the land.
So it seems that Genesis describes a “water genocide” of a corrupted angel-human species. And certainly 1 Enoch is following the idea. If Jude (and 2 Peter) considered 1 Enoch as theological true, this would mean that at least one (or two) Apostle(s) believed the Enochic legend of the Watcher angels being sent to “Tartarus” because they had deceived humans and copulated with them.
The Enochic Legend as a theological device in Jude and 2 Peter:
Regardless of whether Jude and 2 Peter believed the Enochic “Watcher-Angel legend,” we know for a fact that they applied it as a teaching paradigm for their contemporary Apostolic Church:
- There are false heretical teachers that were once part of the Apostolic Church
- These have fallen away from Christ and are teaching Christians false doctrine and sin
- These heretics are having illicit sex with Christians (their lust here and in Revelation is highlighted)
- These heretics will be judged in the same way as the Watchers: they will be locked up in the dark tartarus forever.
If Jude and 2 Peter did not quote and/or reference 1 Enoch, we could cast off 1 Enoch forever as a Jewish oddity. But since there is a theological reference of 1 Enoch within Jude and 2 Peter, it provides a challenge.
I’m curious, how do you read the canonical passages of Genesis 6, Jude, 2 Peter (as well as Wisdom, Sirach and several Dead Sea Scrolls that promote the idea of giants as children of human women and demonic angels) in light of 1 Enoch? Secondly, do you think Jude and 2 Peter take the Enochic Watcher-Legend literally or are they simply using it to make an contemporary application against lustful heretics?
Dr Taylor Marshall
PS: I recorded a podcast on the role of 1 Enoch in the Noah film that came out a few years ago starring Russell Crowe as Noah. You can listen to it by clicking here: Podcast on Noah (2014 Film) and 1 Enoch.