Impressions of “A Companion to the Book of Enoch: A Reader’s Commentary, Vol. I — The Book of the Watchers,” by Michael S. Heiser

Michael Heiser’s commentary of 1 Enoch is fantastic. His commentary ties together scholarly criticism of the first part of Enoch, The Book of the Watchers, and reveals the context of the book’s composition. The closest I can compare it to is Gabriel Said Reynold’s commentary of the Qur’an. Central to the Book are the “Watchers,” fallen angelic beings who may be allegories of Temple Priests. In the book God condemns the Watchers and their sons as he condemned the House of Eli in the Hebrew Bible. But God also promises a renewed world, a Tree, a Throne, a the path of the Holy Mountain required to get there.

A Brief Note

I first read The Book of Enoch after exposure to Canaanite mythology and Robert Alter’s’ Biblical literary criticism.

Since then my reading has expanded to cover more of the allegorical sense of scripture. Augustine of Hippo and Jordan Peterson focused on experientially real meanings of concrete symbols, like with fish or snakes. I read Michael Heiser on the Second Temple supernatural context of the Bible, and N.T. Wright on the politico-religious context of Jesus and Paul. And I read works that derive from the Book of Enoch, like Jubilees and the Qur’an

This effected how I read Enoch. In my previous impressions I was basically lost, except for the “Animal Apocalypse” — an enjoyable retelling of the adventures of the Jewish people, but with all the characters being animals. What was going on, with “Watchers” and giants and the angelology? Now, I think I know.

Allegories and Angels

The rebellion of the sons of God is mentioned in Genesis:

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose.

And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants 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. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
Genesis 6:1-4

The Book of the Watchers takes this as a point of departure. And we immediately get characterization. In Hebrew scriptural literature] the first quoted line from a character indicates the character. And the collective character of them are of men seeking women:

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, 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.”
1 Enoch 6:1-2

But then, somewhat surprisingly for a divine being, we see the character of their leader. And it’s not lust-incarnate or even family-incarnate, but fearfulness mixed with consensus-seeking. He’s acting like a middle-level manager, or a mildly successful politician. Why?

And Samjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: “I fear ye will not indeed agree to this deed, and I alone shall have the pay the penalty of a great sin. 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.” Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundreds, 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.
1 Enoch 6:3-6

A clue is the number of theophoric names — names ending with “-el” (meaning “of God”) among this leadership of the falling angels. The names are Jewish, or at least Canaanite.

And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader: Arakiba, Rameel, Kokabiel, Tamiel, Ramiel, Danle, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaqiel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jamjael, Sariel.
1 Enoch 6:7

And why, after God commands Enoch (a human being!) to be a prophet to the watchers (angels!)…

Enoch, thou scribe of righteousness, go, declare to the Watchers of the heaven who have left the high heaven, the holy eternal place, and have defiled themselves with women, and have done as the children of earth do, and have taken unto themselves wives: Ye have wrought great destruction on the earth: and ye shall have no peace nor forgiveness of sin.
1 Enoch 12:4-5

… Do the Watchers ask him to intercede for them?

Then I went and spoke to them all together, and they were all afraid, and fear and trembling seized them. And they besought me to draw up a petition for them that they might find forgiveness, and to read their petition in the presence of the Lord of heaven. 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.
1 Enoch 13:3-5

The Watchers

Here’s why, at least according to scholars cited by Heiser: “Watcher” is a thin allegory for Temple Priests, who serve in the presence (literally, face) of God. Presuming the author meant the Temple Priests of his own era, then his target were Sadducees:

And He answered and said to me, I heard His voice: “Fear not, Enoch, though righteous man and scribe of righteousness; approach hither and hear my voice.

And go, say to the Watchers of heaven, who have sent thee to intercede for them: ‘You should intercede for men, and not men for you.Whereof you have you 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.

And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those who also do who die and perish..
1 Enoch 15:1-4

The Sadducee Temple priests were targeted by Zealots (as collaborators), Pharisees (for the lack of belief in angels and the resurrection), and early Christians (also for the lack of belief):

But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!”

And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, “We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.”
Acts 23:6-9

The “Watchers” focused on women and power instead of service to God, and used their skills and position for all sorts of schemes not properly focused on God (according to the Zealots, Pharisees, and early Christians):

And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells. Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. 1 Enoch 7:1-3

To emphasize the point, and bite a bit more, the Sanhedrin of the Sadducees claimed succession to the helpers of Moses, organized in line with advice from Moses’s father-in-law, from the most trusted (Moses and the Rulers of Thousands) to the lowest level of managers, the Rulers of Tens:

So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.
Exodus 18:24-26

The “Watchers” are the lowest, and presumably least competent, in this hierarchy:

These are their chiefs of tens.
1 Enoch 6:8

The fate of the “Watchers” is to see the children, who they raised without fear of God, die.

And inasmuch as they delight themselves in their children, the murder of their beloved ones shall they see, and over the destruction of their children shall they lament, and shall make supplication unto eternity, but mercy and peace shall ye not attain.
1 Enoch 12:6

This is the same fate that befell the High Priest Eli, an ancient days:

Then a man of God came to Eli and said to him,

“Thus says the LORD:

‘Did I not clearly reveal Myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt in Pharaoh’s house? Did I not choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be My priest, to offer upon My altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod before Me? And did I not give to the house of your father all the offerings of the children of Israel made by fire? Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?’

Therefore the LORD God of Israel says:

‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’

But now the LORD says:

‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed. Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your [u]arm and the arm of your father’s house, so that there will not be an old man in your house. And you will see an enemy in My dwelling place, despite all the good which God does for Israel. And there shall not be an old man in your house forever. But any of your men whom I do not cut off from My altar shall consume your eyes and grieve your heart. And all the descendants of your house shall die in the flower of their age. Now this shall be a sign to you that will come upon your two sons, on Hophni and Phinehas: in one day they shall die, both of them.'”
1 Samuel 2:27-34

And as Enoch’s petition for the “Watchers” would fail:

I wrote out your petition, and in my vision it appeared thus, that your petition will not be granted unto you throughout all the days of eternity, and that judgment has been finally passed upon you: yea your petition will not be granted to you. And from henceforth you will not ascend into heaven unto all eternity, and in bonds of the earth the decree has gone forth to bind you for all the days of the world.
1 Enoch 14:1-5

The High Priest Eli also believed the judgment was irrevocable:

Then Samuel told him everything, and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”
1 Samuel 3:18

The Future Priests

But God is the God of Hope. Even the condemnation of Eli’s sons came with a promise:

Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever.
1 Samuel 2:35

It is easy enough, when we read Scriptures, to see the priestly predilection for power and sin:

Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”
Matthew 26:2-5

Yet God will heal this. Both the To understand the Qur’anicand the Enochian authors promise this:

And heal the earth which the angels have corrupted, and proclaim the healing of the earth, that they may heal the plague, and that all the children of men may not perish through all the secret things that the Watchers have disclosed and have taught their sons. And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.
1 Enoch 10:7-8

While the Watchers, standing in for the Priests, seek a legalistic procedure of asking forgiveness through a formal petition, they don’t offer the repentance — the turn of the heart — advocated by the Prophet Isaiah:

But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.

For your hands are defiled with blood,
And your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken lies,
Your tongue has muttered perversity…

For our transgressions are multiplied before You,
And our sins testify against us;
For our transgressions are with us,
And as for our iniquities, we know them:

In transgressing and lying against the Lord,
And departing from our God,
Speaking oppression and revolt,
Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood.
Isaiah 59:2-3,12-13

This is also the meaning of the Qur’anic author: repentance is not a legalistic formula, but a turn of heart made manifest in works:

I indeed forgive those who repent, become faithful, act righteously, and thereafter follow guidance.
Qur’an 20 (Ta Ha):83

The Enochian writer sees this. The resolution to our story is not political games that can be won by Temple insiders, but a world free of oppression:

And cleanse though the earth from all oppression, and from all unrighteousness, and from all sin, and from all godlessness: and all the uncleanness that is wrought upon the earth destroy from off the earth. And the children of men shall become righteous, and all nations shall offer adoration and shall praise Me, and all shall worship Me. And the earth shall be cleansed from all defilement, and from all sin, and from all punishment, and from all torment, and and I will never again send them upon it form generation to generation and forever.
1 Enoch 10:20-22

And as the Letter to the Hebrews urge its audience to be (non-Sadducee!) priests for Jesus Christ

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16

So the author of Enoch urges continuous blessings of God by the (non-Sadducee!) righteous in his audience:

And as often as I saw blessed always the Lord of Glory, and I continued to bless the Lord of Glory who has wrought great and glorious wonders, to show the greatness of His work to the angels and to spirits and to men, that they might praise His work and all His creation: that they might see the works of His might and praise the work work of His hands and bless Him forever.
1 Enoch 36:4

The Mountains of the Lord

The way from the corrupted priesthood to to a renewed world leads up a mountain.

Non-Sadducee Jewish writing during the Roman empire saw an explosion of messianic writing, foreseeing the Lord enthroned on the Holy Mountain:

I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude, which I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, “Who are these, my lord?” He answered and said to me, “These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and they have confessed the name of God; now they are being crowned, and receive palms.” Then I said to the angel, “Who is that young man who places crowns on them and puts palms in their hands?” He answered and said to me, “He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.” So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said to me, “Go, tell my people how great and many are the wonders of the Lord God which you have seen.”
2 Esdras 2:42-48

Likewise, Enoch looks forward, to the Tree, and to the Throne of the Lord, on the High Mountain

And he said unto me: “Enoch, why dost thou ask me regarding the fragrance of the tree, and why dost though wish to learn the truth?”

Then I answered, saying: “I wish to know about everything, but especially about this tree.”

And he answered saying: “This high mountain which thou hast seen, whose summit is like the throne of God, is His throne, where the Holy Great One, the Lord of Glory, the Eternal King, will sit, when he shall come down to visit the earth with goodness.”
1 Enoch 25:1-3

This is a prophecy looking back, towards Eden, and forwards, toward Golgotha. Thinkers from the Qur’anic author to Thomas Merton have seen the path to paradise going through the a mountain.

Between Eden and Paradise, the beginning and the end, is Purgatory:

The inhabitants of paradise will call out to the inmates of the fire. ‘We found what our Lord promised us to be true; did you find what your Lord promised you to be true?’ ‘Yes,’ they will say. Then a caller will announce in their midst, ‘May God’s curse be on the wrongdoers!’ — Those who bar from the way of God, and seek to make it crooked, and disbelieve in the Hereafter.

There will be a veil between them. On on the Elevations will be certain men who recognize each of them by their mark. They will call out to the inhabitants of paradise, ‘Peace be to you!’ They will not have entered it, though they would be eager to do so. When their look is turned toward the inmates of the Fire, they will say, ‘Our Lord, do not put us among the wrongdoing lot!

The occupants of the Elevations will call out to certain men who they recognize by their marks, ‘Your rallying did not avail you, nor what you used to disdain. Are these the ones concerning whom you swore that God will not extend them any mercy?’ Enter paradise! You shall have no fear, nor shall you grieve.
Qur’an 7 (The Elevations):47-49

Between Eden and Paradise is Jerusalem, the vision predicted by the Prophet Zechariah:

Thus says the LORD:

‘I will return to Zion,
And dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth,
The Mountain of the LORD of hosts,
The Holy Mountain.’

“Thus says the LORD of hosts:

‘Old men and old women shall again sit
In the streets of Jerusalem,
Each one with his staff in his hand
Because of great age.

The streets of the city
Shall be full of boys and girls
Playing in its streets.’
Zechariah 8:3-5

Te Enochian writer describes the geography of Jerusalem, a location with such significance (Mount Zion, Gehenna) that it transcends the merely topographical…

And there I saw a holy mountain, and underneath the mountain to the east there was a stream and it flowed towards the south. And I saw towards the east another mountain higher than this, and between them a deep a narrow ravine: in it also ran a stream underneath the mountain. And to the west thereof there was another mountain, lower than the former and a ravine between them,: and another deep and dry ravine was at the extremities of the three mountains.
1 Enoch 26:1-5

Within this cosmos geography is the Throne Room of God

And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.
Revelations 22:1-5

A geography that is in fact a cosmology — fire, lighting, and stars:

And the floor was of fire, and above it were lightnings and the path of stars, and its ceiling also was flaming fire. And I looked and saw therein a lofty throne: its appearance was of crystal, and the wheels thereof as the shining sun, and there was a vision of cherubim. And from underneath the throne came streams of flaming fire so that I could not look thereon. And the Great Glory sat thereon, and His raiment shone more brightly than the sun and was whiter than any snow.
1 Enoch 14:17-20

And the promise of New Earth:

Then shall they rejoice with joy and be glad, And into the holy place shall they enter; And its fragrance shall be in their bones, And they shall live a long life on earth, Such as thy fathers lived: And in their days shall no sorrow or plague Or torment or calamity touch them.
1 Enoch 25:6

Conclusion

The Book of the Watchers, the beginning of 1 Enoch, seems to be an allegory of the Sadducee priesthood. The “Watchers” have access to the presence of God and have Jewish-style names, but intentionally choose to band together and ignore God. Whatever personal virtue they had during their rebellion is lost on their children, who become even worse. The Enochian author promises the Watchers / Sadducees are not the end of the story though, but promises all things (including, presumably, the priesthood) are cleansed. In this Watchers echoes both the Old Testament renewal of the priesthood after Eli, and foreshadows the Qur’anic call to Catholic religious centuries later.

I read A Companion to the Book of Enoch: Reader’s Commentary Vol. 1 — The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36) in the paperback edition.

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