Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Magical knowledge in 1 Enoch

At the end of this week I'll be attending the Society of Biblical Literature conference, where I will be presenting a paper at the Wisdom and Apocalypticism section and participating in a discussion for the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section. My paper is called "They Revealed Secrets to the Their Wives: The Transmission of Magical Knowledge in 1 Enoch." What follows is an abstract of the paper:
The Book of the Watchers expands upon the enigmatic story in Genesis 6:1-4 that tells of the "sons of God" (בְּנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים) taking human women for themselves. Gen. 6:1-4 describes the illegitimate crossing of boundaries between the divine and the human, enacted upon the bodies of human women. This paper focuses on how the Book of Watchers, later Enochic booklets, and the book of Jubilees reinterpret the biblical story so that the sin of the "sons of God" or Watchers (עירין) also includes the transmission of knowledge forbidden to human beings, especially to women. In particular, the Watchers teach women the heavenly mysteries of "sorcery and spells," among them methods of divination by observance of heavenly and earthly phenomena. These, however, are not the true secrets of heaven – they are the "rejected mysteries," which the Watchers ought not to have taught human beings. The Book of the Watchers sets up a gendered dichotomy between the Watchers' human wives and Enoch; women are recipients only of rejected mysteries, while Enoch learns the true secrets of heaven from the revealing angels when he ascends to heaven alive.

Two second century B.C.E. Enochic books, the Dream Visions of Enoch and the Epistle of Enoch, omit mention altogether of the notion that the angels teach human beings rejected heavenly wisdom. Jubilees, also from the second century B.C.E., initially treats the Watchers’ descent to earth positively, maintaining that their mission was to teach human beings. They sinned with women, however, and their positive mission was forgotten. The first century C.E. Similitudes of Enoch takes up the tradition of angelic teaching once again, but the human wives of the Watchers are not singled out as recipients of this knowledge. The key question is, therefore, why would the Book of the Watchers report that women in particular are recipients of magical knowledge from their angelic husbands? One possible framework for understanding may be found in earlier biblical traditions that associate magic with women, in particular the prophetic tradition that holds foreign women, especially foreign cities imagined as women, guilty of sorcery and divination. The scribal context of composition for the Book of the Watchers must also be considered, in particular the comparison with the Wisdom of Ben Sira, which posits a unique connection between women and evil.

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