Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from BN.com
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $102.64
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 6%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (9) from $102.64   
  • New (5) from $102.64   
  • Used (4) from $127.66   


In the Book of the Watchers, an Enochic apocalypse from the third century BCE, the "sons of God" of Gen 6:1-4 are accused of corrupting humankind through their teachings of metalworking, cosmetology, magic, and divination. By tracing the transformations of this motif in Second Temple, Rabbinic, and early medieval Judaism and early, late antique, and Byzantine Christianity, this book sheds light on the history of interpretation of Genesis, the changing status of Enochic literature, and the place of parabiblical texts and traditions in the interchange between Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Reed has written a superb piece of scholarship. In my experience it is rare for someone to be able to examine such a diversity of texts with such impressive skill and insight. ... It is really an excellent, impressive contribution." James C. VanderKam, The University of Notre Dame

"Excellent ... the difficult task of tracing the complex interaction between Judaism and Christianity over time is done with sophistication.... Anyone interested in the Book of Watchers, the development of the Enochic literature, or the complex development of Judaism and Christianity needs to interact with this significant study."
The Catholic Historical Review, Kevin Sullivan

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521853781
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2005
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,020,417
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

Annette Yoshiko Reed is presently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at McMaster University, where she teaches courses on the Hebrew Bible, early Judaism, and early Christianity. Her publications span the fields of Biblical Studies, Jewish Studies, and Patristics, and include articles in Journal of Biblical Literature, Jewish Studies Quarterly, Journal for the Study of Judaism, Vigiliae Christianae, and Journal of Early Christian Studies. She has co-edited two volumes, The Ways that Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (with Adam H. Becker, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003) and Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions (with Ra'anan S. Boustan; Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004). She is presently working on a book about 'Jewish-Christianity' and the diversity of late antique Judaism.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Cambridge University Press
0521853788 - Fallen angels and the history of Judaism and Christianity - the reception of Enochic literature - by Annette Yoshiko Reed


The book of genesis tells us precious little about the figure of Enoch. In the course of presenting a genealogical list of those who lived before the Flood, it notes his Sethian ancestry via Jared (5:19) and his fathering of Methusaleh (5:21). We find only hints of his special status: the other men in the genealogy merely live, propagate, and die, but Genesis states twice that Enoch “walked with God” (5:22, 24). And rather than tell his death in straightforward terms, it recounts that “he was no more, for God took him” (5:24).

   The brevity of the biblical comments stands in stark contrast with the wealth of traditions about Enoch in Judaism and Christianity.1 As early as the Second Temple period (536 BCE to 70 CE), Enoch attracts intensive interest within Judaism.2 He becomes a scribe, sage, and even scientist. As visionary, he is taken up to heaven and travels with angels to the ends of earth. As witness and prophet, he exhorts against sin, predicts Israel’s history, and even intercedes for wicked angels. Moreover, books begin to circulate under his name, purporting to record the visions and teachings that the antediluvian patriarch passed on to his progenyand bequeathed to the righteous of future generations.

   The present study tells the story of one of the earliest and most influential of these books, namely, the Book of the Watchers. Focusing on its distinctive traditions about the Watchers, or fallen angels,3 I will trace the long and winding fate of this apocalypse from its composition around the third century BCE and its widespread influence among pre-Rabbinic Jews (including members of the Jesus Movement), to its rejection by the Rabbinic movement, adoption by early Christians, suppression by later church leaders, and eventual loss to the West. In the process, the reception-history of the Book of the Watchers provides a lens through which to examine broader issues, such as the early history of Jewish and Christian reflection on the Problem of Evil, the relationship between “biblical” exegesis and “parabiblical” literature, the social dynamics of canonization, and the place of noncanonical texts and traditions in the interaction between Judaism and Christianity.


From the Middle Ages to early modern period, the early Enochic pseudepigrapha4 were largely lost to the West. To an even greater degree than in ages past, the mystery surrounding Enoch came to be associated with lost books and secret scrolls, wisdom suppressed and writings forgotten. Even as the books themselves were gone, the ancient allusions remained. It could not have escaped the attention of Christian Kabbalists that early Christian literature and Jewish mystical texts like the Zohar both mentioned “book(s) of Enoch”; Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494) even professed to have bought such a book at a very high price, to the amusement of his more skeptical colleague, Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522).5 Likewise, occultists such as John Dee (1527–1608) sought direct access to the secrets revealed to Enoch, appealing to the precedent of this ancient visionary when claiming to have received angelic revelations of their own.6

   Excerpts from the Book of the Watchers also survived in the chronographical literature of Syriac Christianity and Byzantium. When the Renaissance scholar Joseph Scaliger (1540–1609) first published portions of George Syncellus’ Ecloga Chronographica in 1606, some readers were struck by the passages that the ninth-century chronographer quotes “from the first book of Enoch concerning the Watchers.”7 Although dismissing its claim to antediluvian antiquity, scholars of the time soon recognized this “book of Enoch” as the source of the scattered allusions to Enoch’s prophecies about the fallen angels in the NT and early Christian literature.8

   Rumors about the continued preservation of Enochic literature in Ethiopia finally led, after several failures and false starts, to the Western rediscovery of the Book of the Watchers and other early Enochic pseudepigrapha in 1773, when three manuscripts containing Maṣḥafa Henok Nabiy were brought to Europe by James Bruce.9 The publication and translation of this work – later dubbed Ethiopic Enoch or 1 Enoch to distinguish it from an Enochic pseudepigraphon preserved in Slavonic (2 Enoch) – prompted further investigation into this intriguing book and its influence on early Christians,10 later facilitated by the discovery of a Greek manuscript containing 1 En. 1:1–32:6 in 1886–1887.11

   Thanks largely to the pioneering research of R. H. Charles (1855–1931), it was established that 1 Enoch is a collection of at least five separate writings and that Syncellus’quotations derive from the first one (thus dubbed the Book of the Watchers).12 Speculations about the date, provenance, and original language of these books varied until the discovery of Aramaic fragments of 1 Enoch among the Dead Sea Scrolls and their publication by J. T. Milik from 1951 to 1976.13 The distribution of material in the eleven fragments confirmed Charles’ theory that 1 Enoch is a collection of originally distinct documents. In addition, the paleographical evidence of the earliest fragments suggested that two of these documents, the Astronomical Book (1 En. 72–82) and the Book of the Watchers (1 En. 1–36), date from the third century BCE, making them our oldest known apocalypses and among our most ancient nonbiblical examples of Jewish literature.14

   The recognition of the antiquity of the Astronomical Book and the Book of the Watchers has revolutionized scholarship on the apocalyptic literature. Although the Astronomical Book may be older, the Book of the Watchers has proved most helpful in illuminating the emergence and development of the genre. Scholars who focus on formal literary features have studied its descriptions of Enoch’s ascent to heaven and his tours of heaven and earth,15 whereas those who seek to characterize an apocalyptic ideology have pointed to its interest in the Problem of Evil.16

   As modern research integrates the evidence of this apocalypse into our understanding of Second Temple Judaism, scholars have increasingly taken up the challenge of investigating the later reception-history of Enochic texts and traditions. An initial effort was made by Milik in the introduction to the editio princeps of the Aramaic fragments from Qumran.17 Although ambitious in scope and invaluable as a resource for further study, Milik’s account of the Nachleben of the writings in 1 Enoch suffered from his idiosyncratic ideas about the date and provenance of texts like the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En. 37–71), 2 Enoch, and 3 Enoch.18

   Nevertheless, it remains that Milik is one of the few scholars who have attempted to trace the reception-history of these texts fully in both Judaism and Christianity.19 Like their early modern counterparts, most scholars have focused on the influence of early Enochic texts and traditions on Christianity, while limiting their consideration of Judaism mainly to the pre-Christian period. Inquiries into the Nachleben of the Book of the Watchers have mostly centered on the quotation of 1 En. 1:9 in the NT Epistle of Jude and the allusions to 1 En. 6–16 in Jude, 1 Peter, and 2 Peter. From that point forward, the focus has fallen on the fate of these early Jewish texts in the church. Building on H. J. Lawlor’s 1897 article on “Early Citations from the Book of Enoch,” scholars such as James VanderKam, William Adler, Birger Pearson, and Sebastian Brock have discussed the use of “book(s) of Enoch” by late antique and early medieval Christians, ranging from proto-orthodox Church Fathers to Alexandrian, Syriac, and Byzantine chronographers.20 In light of the authoritative status of 1 Enoch in the Ethiopian church, there has also been much research on the prehistory of this specific collection.21

   By contrast, the Jewish Nachleben of the Enochic literature has remained largely unexplored. Prior to the discoveries at Qumran, Gershom Scholem highlighted the affinities between 1 Enoch and later Merkavah mysticism (i.e., chariot mysticism), treating both as products of the same esoteric stream of Judaism.22 Scholars such as Ithmar Gruenwald further explored the possible connections between early Jewish apocalypses and the late antique Jewish traditions in the Hekhalot literature, making special reference to Enoch’s heavenly ascent and Throne-vision in the Book of the Watchers (1 En. 14). Yet, aside from the appeal to phenomenological parallels and the recourse to “secret” (and, hence, unrecoverable and invisible) channels of transmission,23 there have been few efforts to deal with the Nachleben of early Enochic texts and traditions in post-70 Judaism.

   Despite ample evidence for their influence, there has yet to be a synthesis that considers developments in Second Temple, Rabbinic, and early medieval Judaism alongside early, late antique, and Byzantine Christianity. Towards this goal, this study will trace the reception-history of the Book of the Watchers from its composition in the third century BCE until the early Middle Ages, by focusing on its distinctive treatment of the fallen angels as corrupting teachers of humankind.


While describing the proliferation of human wickedness that prompted God to cleanse the earth with the Flood, Genesis recounts:

When humans began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God [בני האלהים] saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took wives from them as they chose. . . . The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the Gibborim of old, men of renown. (Gen 6:1–4)24

The Book of the Watchers provides our earliest extant evidence for the exegesis and expansion of this tantalizing terse passage.25 Before recounting Enoch’s heavenly ascent and otherworldly journeys, the apocalypse describes the descent of angelic Watchers from heaven, their impure relations with human women, and the bloodthirsty violence of their progeny. Throughout these chapters, the biblically based theme of sexual mingling is interwoven with an extrabiblical tradition that levels a far more dire accusation against Asael and other Watchers: according to the Book of the Watchers, their revelation of secret knowledge caused “all manner of wickedness” to be adopted by humankind, thereby accounting for the antediluvian proliferation of sin.26

   The motif of illicit angelic instruction is central to the Book of the Watchers, shaping its unique approach to issues such as the origins of evil and the limits of human knowledge. Insofar as this motif represents a distinctive feature of the apocalypse, it also provides an heuristic focus for research into its reception-history. Jewish and Christian references to the fallen angels abound, but the tradition that their teachings corrupted humankind is relatively rare. In contrast to the Watchers’ sexual misdeeds, their pedagogical transgressions are not readily derived from Genesis. Unlike traditions about their binding and imprisonment, this motif occurs rarely in other pre-Rabbinic texts.27 Moreover, even despite the popularity of the Book of the Watchers in the first centuries after its composition, the instruction motif is absent or suppressed in almost all Second Temple Jewish sources and in the NT. As we shall see, even authors who are otherwise dependent on this apocalypse seem reticent to accept its assertion that sinfulness has a supernatural origin, arising neither from a primeval act of human disobedience, nor from an evil inclination in the human heart, but from a breach of heavenly harmony.

   An investigation of this motif has the potential to illumine the history of interpretation of Gen 6:1–4 as well as the history of the transmission and reception of early Enochic texts and traditions. Accordingly, this study surveys the occurrences of this motif in Jewish sources, ranging from the Book of the Watchers to medieval midrashic collections, and in Christian sources, ranging from the Apologies of Justin Martyr to Syncellus’ Ecloga Chronographica. For each source, I will attempt to determine the relationship to the Book of the Watchers on internal literary grounds and also with reference to external evidence for its circulation in specific groups, communities, and geographical locales. By triangulating different types of evidence, I will chart the various channels through which the Book of the Watchers was transmitted, both before and after its exclusion, first from the biblical canon of the Rabbis, and later from the OT of the Western Christian orthodoxy.

   The Book of the Watchers provides an ideal subject for such an inquiry. We possess codicological evidence from more than one stage and language of its transmission as well as from different geographical areas and religious communities. The discoveries at Qumran yielded at least five separate manuscripts that contain fragments of the Aramaic original, ranging in date from the middle of the second century BCE to the first century CE.28 Not only do these fragments help us to recover the original text, but they provide us with invaluable evidence for the social settings of its early reception. Even as the evidence of later Enochic pseudepigrapha (e.g., 2 Enoch, Similitudes) attests the Book of the Watchers’ circulation in other settings, the Qumran fragments allow us to locate the use of this book within the life of a specific community of Jews in the Second Temple period.

   In addition, two witnesses preserve parts of the Book of the Watchers in Greek translation. Erik Larson has persuasively argued that this and other Enochic writings were translated into Greek by Jews in the first century BCE.29 Both of our extant witnesses, however, are of Christian provenance. Not only do our Greek witnesses preserve almost all of the Book of the Watchers, with duplications both within and between them,30 but they evince a surprisingly lively interest in Enoch and the fallen angels among different Christian groups in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. An Egyptian manuscript from the fifth or sixth century CE, Codex Panopolitanus, contains two incomplete manuscripts of the Book of the Watchers, bound together with apocryphal Petrine writings (also incomplete). Like the Chester Beatty–Michigan Papyrus Ⅻ, which contains the Epistle of Enoch, Pseudo-Ezekielian writings, and passages from Melito of Sardis, this manuscript attests the practice of collecting Enochic books together with material of Christian authorship. These manuscripts thus provide important material and contextual evidence for the Christian reception-history of this work. As Michael Knibb notes, “the fact that extracts from the Enochic corpus were copied with other Christian works shows that they were thought to be consonant with Christian beliefs and were part of the Christian tradition.”31

   In addition, as noted above, the Byzantine chronographer Syncellus preserves lengthy quotations from the Book of the Watchers. Although he warns the reader that this work is spurious, he nevertheless preserves it, as a traditional prooftext in the chronographical discussion of early human history. His quotations from the Book of the Watchers shed light on its use in yet another setting, in which doubts about its authenticity were outweighed by its value for supplementing the information about primeval times in the Hebrew Bible and Hellenistic historiography.32

   We also have numerous manuscripts of the Ge‘ez (ancient Ethiopic) translation of the Book of the Watchers. In contrast to the Greek version, this translation was made by Christians for Christians. The Ge‘ez version reflects the use of Greek sources and alone preserves the entirety of the Book of the Watchers.33 This apocalypse here comprises the first thirty-six chapters of a larger compilation of Enochic pseudepigrapha, called Maṣḥafa Henok Nabiy in the Ethiopian Church and 1 Enoch within modern Western scholarship.34 Although our earliest catalogued Ge‘ez manuscripts date from the 15th century, the translation has its origins in the period between the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Aksumite Kingdom in Ethiopia in the mid–fourth century CE and the decline of the Aksumite power in the sixth.35 The fact that the rendering of Enochic writings into Ge‘ez was part of a larger, state-sponsored project of scriptural translation may hint at their continued authority in other, geographically proximate Christian circles even at a time when Enochic pseudepigrapha were being excluded from the biblical canons created by ecclesiarchs in the Roman Empire.

   There are also a number of references to the Book of the Watchers in Jewish and Christian literature, as well as explicit comments about Enochic books and discussions about their authority and authenticity. Such statements cluster in the writings of Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity but occur in later sources too. Examples can be found in texts composed in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Syriac, showing that Enochic texts and traditions circulated across a surprisingly broad geographical range.

   Our evidence, moreover, suggests that many Jews and Christians accepted the book’s attribution to Enoch and that some granted the Book of the Watchers a degree of authority akin to biblical texts. Readers in the modern West may encounter this apocalypse as an “extracanonical” work, but much of its ancient audience appears to have felt otherwise. Consequently, the fascinating fate of this apocalypse also provides us with an opportunity to explore issues pertaining to Scripture, canon, and authority in Judaism and Christianity, such as the formation of Jewish and Christian biblical canons, the continued influence of parabiblical texts on biblical exegesis, and the role of text-selection in the delineation of community boundaries, both between and within religious traditions.


There are many scholarly studies that trace the interpretation of a single passage or motif.36 For the most part, however, histories of exegesis focus on biblical passages, and scholars assume oral tradition as the main conduit for the transmission of extrabiblical lore. The latter tendency is particularly prominent in treatments of so-called legends such as the story of the fallen angels; the relevant texts are commonly approached as imperfect reflections of pure, oral forms of myths or stories, such that literary evidence from widely divergent eras can be readily conflated.37 By contrast, the present study focuses on a tradition first found in a now noncanonical apocalypse and tries to trace the trajectories of its influence in more concrete terms. In the process, I seek to locate the Jewish and Christian use of parabiblical texts within the production, redaction, and collection of religious literature in specific social, cultural, and political contexts.

   Since the days of A. Dillman and R. H. Charles, scholarship on the “OT Pseudepigrapha” has been patterned on biblical criticism. The search for the oral myths that shaped the Book of the Watchers has deep roots in the form-critical quest to recover the ancient “legends” behind the Hebrew Bible. The presumed priority of oral tradition has been no less influential in research on the continuities between Second Temple Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism, albeit for different reasons: internalizing the classical Rabbinic concept of the Oral Torah as an unbroken tradition paralleling the literary transmission of the Written Torah (e.g., b.Shabb. 31a; b.Eruv. 54b), researchers often base their inquiries into parabiblical texts and traditions on the assumption that midrashim and aggadot, by their very nature, circulate orally.38

   Scholarship on Second Temple Judaism rightly draws from both the study of the Hebrew Bible and the study of Rabbinic Judaism. Any interdisciplinary approach, however, inevitably risks dependence on outdated or inadequate models. Biblical scholarship has increasingly highlighted the shortcomings of Textual Criticism, Source Criticism, and Form Criticism when pursued in isolation from efforts to understand the final literary product; inasmuch as the older approaches privilege the Ur-text and the underlying “legend,” they can inculcate a dismissive attitude towards the text as text, tacitly dismissing its redactors as artless tradents. Thanks in part to fresh insights from the field of Literary Criticism, research on the Hebrew Bible has begun to focus more on the final forms of texts and to explore the role of redaction in the literary production of meaning.39 At the same time, the Rabbinic concept of the Oral Torah has been the subject of sophisticated studies that have drawn important distinctions between the rhetorical function of this trope in the legitimization of Rabbinic authority, on the one hand, and the social realities of Rabbinic culture, on the other.40

   That is not to say, of course, that we should dismiss the importance of orality in Judaism (or, for that matter, Christianity). Recent research, however, has exposed the naïveté of scholars who treat the oral tradition only as a storehouse of common motifs from which ancient authors drew and/or approach texts as merely calcified deposits of oral traditions. The relationship between orality and textuality was often so fraught in premodern times, precisely because the two spheres were so tightly intertwined.41 The composition and transmission of texts necessitated the skills of the scribe. Accordingly, some of the texts in our survey emerged from strictly scribal milieux. Others were more likely authored by oral dictation, reflecting a certain degree of wealth on the part of the “writer” but not literacy per se.

© Cambridge University Press
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Preface; List of abbreviations; Introduction; 1. Angelic descent and apocalyptic epistemology: the teachings of Enoch and the Fallen Angels in the Book of Watchers; 2. From scribalism to sectarianism: the angelic descent myth and the social settings of Enochic pseudepigraphy; 3. Primordial history and the problem of evil: Genesis, the Book of Watchers, and the fallen angels in pre-Rabbinic Judaism; 4. The parting of the ways? Enoch and the Fallen Angels in Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity; 5. Demonology and the construction of Christian identity: approaches to illicit angelic instruction among proto-Orthodox Christians; 6. The interpenetration of Jewish and Christian traditions in late antiquity: the exegesis of genesis and the marginalization of Enochic literature; 7. The apocalyptic roots of Merkabah Mysticism? The reemergence of Enochic traditions in post-Talmudic Judaism; Epilogue; Bibliography.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)