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Fickle Muses an online journal of myth and legend

The Origin of Evil and the End of the World
By Lloyd D. Graham

Judaeo-Christian beliefs have shaped the values and morals of the Western world. It is therefore somewhat surprising to find that the Old Testament lacks a proper account of the origin of evil, other than attributing it to God (Isa 45:7), and that neither it nor the New Testament provides a convincing reason for the fall of Satan and his cohorts from heaven. So is there, then, no explanation of evil dating back to Old Testament times? There is, and yet—despite its prominence in apocryphal literature—the story remains little known today. The earliest reference to it, which may date back to the 8-9th centuries BCE, reads as follows:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose ... There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God looked upon the earth ... [and said:] The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them ... (Gen 6:1-13)

These profoundly important events are described in much greater detail in Old Testament pseudepigrapha and apocrypha, such as the Book of Enoch (1 En, 200-200 BCE) and the Book of Jubilees (Jub, 153-105 BCE). Such sources describe how two hundred heavenly beings, all drawn from the angelic order known as Watchers (Heb. ’irin, ‘those who are awake’), ensured their own damnation by forsaking their heavenly estate in favour of sexual liaisons with mortal women:

And it came to pass, when the children of men had multiplied, that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: “Come, let us choose wives from among the children of men, and beget us children.” And Semjaza, who was their leader ... and all the others together with [him] took unto themselves wives, 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 they made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants ... who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones. (1 En 6:1-7:6)

The immediate consequences of this forbidden intercourse were twofold. The first outcome was that the fallen angels imparted their heavenly knowledge of the sciences and the arts to mortals:

And Azazel taught men ... the metals of the earth and the art of working them ... Semjaza taught enchantments, and root-cuttings ... Kokabel the constellations, Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds... (1 En 8:1-3); ...[they] revealed the eternal secrets which were in heaven, which men were striving to learn (1 En 9:6-7). And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin. (1 En 10:8-9).

Such enlightenment parallels the outcome of the well-known Genesis story (Gen 3:1-7) where Adam and Eve were induced to eat from the Tree of Knowledge by the Serpent (an entity later identified with Satan, as in Rev 12:9). In fact, the story of Eve succumbing to the temptations of the diabolical—and phallic—snake can be viewed as a prudish encryption of the Watcher legend that was moved to an earlier position in the Genesis chronology in order to emphasize its singular importance. If this view is accepted, and it is supported by a passage (1 En 69:6) in which one of the fallen Watchers is credited with leading Eve astray, then the fall of the angels and the fall of man become two aspects of a single event.

The second outcome of the fall of the angels was the giant and monstrous offspring (Heb. nephilim, ‘fallen ones’) born to Watcher fathers by human mothers, monsters that turned against humanity and the other creatures of the Earth. A passage in Jubilees (Jub 7:21-25) identifies the nephilim with the mighty men of renown (Heb. gibborim) of Genesis 6:4. One of God’s avenging archangels arranged the destruction of the nephilim by inciting them to battle each other; when the giants perished, their souls became the evil spirits and demons that have afflicted mankind ever since (1 En 15:8-16:1; Jub 10:5). The fallen Watchers—now the princes of evil—were imprisoned in torment until the Day of Judgment, and God instigated the Flood in order to purge and purify the earth.

Shorn of its lurid details, the mythic content of the Watcher story is a strong and perhaps surprising statement of the relationship between illicit desire, hidden knowledge, and evil. Above all, though, the Watchers’ crime constitutes disobedience to God. To some, such defiance constitutes a laudable act of self-determination. The Satanists’ Covenant of Samyaza says that the gibborim, known to the fearful as evil spirits or demons, are also known to the wise as ‘guardian geniuses of the great of Earth, who shall inspire the best among Man to great heights, to beautiful works of art, and to further discoveries of Earth and cosmos.’ Of course this stance comes at the considerable cost of burdening us with an evil Creator, although one does have to wonder about the divinity of a God who feels threatened by the art of writing (1 En 69:10-12). There is in fact a fundamental tension in the myth between the works of man, as encouraged by the Watchers, and the works of God, an opposition that is not alleviated by reversing the moral polarity of the account. It is noteworthy that one version (Jub 10:10-14) has been revised to defuse this tension. In the sanitized account, useful arts such as medicine were imparted to mankind by God’s loyal angels to afford us protection against the demons.

Perhaps the tension inherent in the authentic Watcher legend is felt most keenly today in the conflict between environmental conservation (preservation of the divine creation) and urban-industrial development (civilization and technology). Although initiated by lust, the Watchers’ actions led also to great human advancement, just as today the selfish ambitions of those with ability or authority underpin so many of the material advances that benefit our species. However, it is important to remember that the actions of the Watchers led not only to expanded human capabilities but also to uncontrollable consequences that ultimately laid waste to the Earth. In this interpretation, the ancient myth sounds a clear warning about the potentially cataclysmic consequences of using our genius to interfere with nature, a warning that is more valid now than ever before. Perhaps it is to us that Enoch refers in the opening words of his book, when he writes: ‘from [the heavenly angels] I heard everything, and from them I understood as I saw, but not for this generation, but for a remote one which is to come’ (1 En 1:2-3).

A longer version of this essay was published in Lamhfada: An Online Magazine of Myth and Story, Vol. III, Issue 2 (Summer 2002) and currently can be found on the author’s webpage at http://lloydg.deviantart.com/art/The-Origin-of-Evil-31179580