Monday, April 5, 2010

Angels & Demons 2: The “Prometheus” Connection

One attempt at identifying fallen angels in the Old Testament centers on the Day of Atonement as discussed in Leviticus 16. The Berkeley Version of Leviticus 16:7-10 mentions a certain “Azazel,” which some have identified as a fallen angel:

“He shall take the two he-goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the Dwelling and Aaron shall cast lots over the two he-goats, one lot for the Lord and the other for Azazel. Aaron shall bring the goat on which the lot for the Lord fell and shall prepare it for a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot for Azazel fell shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement with it by sending it for a scapegoat into the desert.”

Notice that this scripture passage does not contain any mention of angels or demons. A footnote in the Berkeley Version states: “The name Azazel is derived from Azalzeh (dismissed one) thus properly thought of as a scapegoat.”

As I mentioned in a previous commentary, in those years following the completion of the Old Testament, there is a flood of literature containing information on the subject of Fallen Angels. Perhaps, the most important book on the subject from that period between the Old and New Testaments is the book of I Enoch. The book claims that the Genesis 6 passage referring to the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men” should be understood to mean that “angels” married “human women.” I will deal in a future commentary with the issue of who these “sons of God” in Genesis 6 actually were, but I recommend that you not leap too quickly to the interpretation found in I Enoch.

In I Enoch 15:3, Enoch preaches to the fallen angels—the spirits in prison: “Why have you given up heaven . . . and cohabited with women . . . the daughters of men, and taken wives for yourselves. . . .?” According to I Enoch 54:5, iron chains were being prepared for the host of Azazel. This host will be thrown into the abyss, with jagged stones. I Enoch 65:6-7 speaks of the angel’s secrets that were passed on to humans, including sorcery, incantations, and working with melted metals such as silver, lead, and tin. In other words, the fallen angels taught mankind to make tools and use fire. They brought culture to mankind.

Much of Enoch’s account of Fallen Angels sounds like the Greek story of Prometheus. German Jewish scholar Martin Hengel, in his book Judentum und Hellenismus, pages 347-348, says that the analogy to the Clash of the Titans of Greek mythology lies closer to the fallen angel story than does Persian dualism. He suggests that the fallen angels, like the Prometheus of Aeschylus, bring important cultural benefits and knowledge to man. Another German Jewish scholar, Paul Volz, in his book Die Eschatologie der Jṻdischen Gemeinde im Neutestamentlichen Zeitalter, page 311, says that the fallen angels brought to man all secrets of the heavens and gave to them the magic wand of world culture.

Greek mythology is drawn from multiple literary contributions. These pieces of literature often contradict other pieces of literature, but some elements of the Prometheus story (drawn from different accounts) sound familiar. In his Legends of the Jews (V.112), Louis Ginzberg mentions the fact that some Jews of the period following the writing of the New Testament knew about Prometheus and connected him with Adam. Consider the following elements, gleaned from Greek mythology:

Zeus punished several of the Titans for fighting against him in the “Clash of the Titans,” but since Prometheus had not sided with his aunts, uncles, and brother, Zeus spared him. Zeus then assigned Prometheus the role of working with man. Some literary sources even suggest that Zeus gave Prometheus the job of creating man out of the earth—hence, the Adam connection. Whether or not he created man, Prometheus developed a close friendship with men. Zeus didn't want men to have power, especially over fire. But, Prometheus, as a friend of man, stole fire from Zeus' lightning, hid it in a giant hollow stalk of fennel, and gave it to man. Prometheus also stole warfare and blacksmithing skills from the gods and gave them to man. He brought culture to mankind. As punishment, Zeus “bound” Prometheus and tormented him.

Enter the book of I Enoch. Since the book of I Enoch was actually written in Greek, it is clear that the author was capable of being influenced by Greek thought. It seems quite logical that his account of Azazel and the culture-bearing fallen angels borrowed its plot from the Prometheus motifs. In an attempt to show religious compatibility with Greek culture, the author of I Enoch was anxious to demonstrate that his own scriptures—specifically, Genesis and Leviticus—contained the same account, with slight variations. But did they?

Although Genesis has God creating man from the dust of the Earth, it is MUCH MORE THAN a “slight” variation to have man created by a being of the rank of Prometheus. While the story of “rebel fallen angels” (which I will discuss in a future commentary) is not mentioned in the I Enoch account, the story of “sexual fallen angels” (which I will discuss in a future commentary) is featured quite prominently there. Nevertheless, this sexual nature of Greek gods does not seem to figure prominently in the Prometheus story. There is, however, the common thread: both of these stories have a lower-in-the-hierarchy divine being(s) bringing the use of fire and culture to man and being subsequently punished by being bound.

Of course, missing from the Genesis account of man’s creation, the account of the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men,” and the Leviticus account of Azazel is any mention of these events involving the bringing of fire or culture to mankind. One exception might be God’s making clothes of skins for Adam and Eve (after they had made clothes of fig leaves), but God is neither faulted nor punished for such an act.

In English, the word Azazel may look like a possible angel’s name. Many angels’ names (such as Gabriel and Michael) end in “el” which is short for “Elohim” the Hebrew word for God. However, the spelling in Hebrew requires an aleph before the “l.” There is none in the word Azazel. In explaining the meaning of the term “Azazel,” the Talmud gives a definition that Leo Jung, on page 156 of his book Fallen Angels, clarifies:

“The cruel, rough Azel. This may have been the original meaning, before the fallen angels were brought into contact with it, changing the rock into a demon. Azel as a rock occurs in I Sam. 20.19. With this would agree Yoma 67b: The rabbis taught (the official view as against the individual ones which follow) Azazel: ‘That is the name of a rough and rocky mountain.’ . . . After the official explanation of Azazel, the one which lived as the right one in the consciousness alike of priest, teacher and layman, the Talmud in its usual broadness of mind gives access to the play of folklore.”

The New Testament NEVER mentions Azazel or any hint of fallen angels bring culture to mankind. Romans 5:11 mentions “atonement,” but there is no sense of anything being given to a demon or fallen angel. Instead, Jesus is mentioned in an allusion to the scapegoating that secures atonement (i.e., covering of sins) for Paul’s audience.

My conclusion: I Enoch is wrong. The notion of fallen angels who brought culture to mankind is not biblical. It is the invention of a Greek-speaking Jew who wanted to gain favor with his Greek masters. If I Enoch got it wrong about Azazel and the culture-bearing fallen angels, we should certainly be skeptical about his introduction of angels who marry human women—especially in a Greek culture that believed all gods had sexual relations. But, more on that in future commentaries.


  1. I reconized similitudes in biblical stories and Greek mythology. I had always suspected a symbolic meaning for Azazel and the atonement process reflecting Christ. Interesting Azazel is derived from Azalzeh (dismissed one). Christ being rejected by his own or dismissed?
    I agree with your conclusion that Enoch is wrong that fallen angels brought culture to mankind. It does not directly speak of this in Genesis but more so depects the lineage of Cain in chapter 4 verses 20-22 as Jabal being father of all that dwell in tents and have livestock, Jubal father of all who play harp and flutes, and Tubalcain instructer of every craftsmen in bronze and iron. It does not tell us where these men aquired this knowledge nor mention that angels were involved.
    Really enjoy your blogs and your efforts in sharing your research with us.

  2. What about Adapa from Mesopotamian Myth in relation to this?

  3. What of the Enochian writings in the Dead Sea Scrolls? How about Jude quoting Enoch? Prometheus is a "light bringer" and is ubiquitous throughout world cosmologies.

    1. I discuss Jude quoting Enoch in Stan.Point Angels & Demons 10: The Fallen Angels of Jude and 2nd Peter. I'm not sure what point you are making about Enochian writings in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but states: "Another book that was written during the period of the apocalyptic movement in which the Dead Sea sect came into existence is the Book of Enoch, or I Enoch. It was completely preserved in an Ethiopic translation from Greek, and large parts from the beginning and end of the Greek version have been published from two papyri. Aramaic fragments of many parts of the book were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, as were Hebrew fragments of the Book of Noah, either one of the sources of Enoch or a parallel elaboration of the same material. Passages of the Book of Noah were included in Enoch by its redactor (editor). Scholars generally agree that the somewhat haphazard redaction of the book was made in its Greek stage, when a redactor put together various treatises of the Enochic literature that were written at various times and reflected various trends of the movement." Again, 1 Enoch represents (though not exclusively) Hellenistic Greek thought in its explanation of fallen angels.