Friday, April 30, 2010

Angels & Demons 6: An “Innocent” Fallen Angel Story

Remember that the Fallen Angel Story invented by the Greek-speaking Jewish author of I Enoch relied on his interpretation of the Genesis 6 passage referring to the “sons of God” marrying the “daughters of men.” He thought the passage should be understood to mean that “angels” married “human women.” These unions between angels and humans produced as children “mighty men of old who made a name.” This is somewhat strange. First, to assume that angels have DNA is fairly far-fetched, since angels, according to Psalm 104:4, are “spirits” and “flames of fire.” One would think DNA would be necessary in order to produce offspring. Second, if the offspring shared the DNA of angels and humans, one would suspect that some of these offspring would be men, but others would actually be angels. Why is it that the offspring of these unions produced ONLY MEN—albeit, MIGHTY men of old who made a name?

Returning to the book of Genesis, only one other passage even remotely suggests that angels could engage in sexual behavior—let alone be reproductive. Genesis 19 tells of two angels visiting Lot in Sodom before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. In 19:5, the men of the city, the Sodomites, surrounded Lot’s house and demanded the right to rape these angels—who, they presumably thought, were men. We will never know if such behavior would have been possible, because Lot, in an attempt to protect the angels, offered the mob his own virgin daughters, instead. The Sodomites rejected the offer and threatened to rape Lot. The angels, of course, did not really need Lot’s protection. They pulled Lot inside his house and struck the Sodomites with blindness. No one has ever accused these angels of being guilty or fallen angels, even though there was a “hint” that they could have been raped. It occurs to me that the angels in the Sodom account might have offered the inspiration for the following approach to the Fallen Angel Story from Jewish culture at around the time of the New Testament. Here, we also have a “hint” that angels may have been capable of sexual encounter, but—like the angels in Sodom—such an encounter never occurred.

This seems to be a distinct attempt to reform the Fallen Angel Story into something compatible with the strongly Jewish, non-Hellenistic attitudes of the New Testament period and following. This is not the only attempt to produce a Sinless Fallen Angel Story from this period, but it demonstrates the point that Jews were trying to reshape the Fallen Angel Story into something that would be less offensive to their theology.


From the medieval commentary Hadar Zekenim (in its exposition of Genesis 6:2) comes a small account of the “revised” Fallen Angel Story. It is the story of a woman who was transformed into a star (or group of stars). When the angels descended to Earth, they propositioned a certain virgin. They wanted to “marry” her. Wise young lady that she was, she tricked them. She promised to agree to their proposition on one condition: they must give her their wings. Upon receiving the wings, AND PRIOR TO THE CONSUMMATION OF THE SEXUAL UNION, she flapped her wings and flew away to God’s throne. According to a slightly different version of this story, she made no deal whatsoever. She just asked them what they would give her, if she obeyed them. They offered to give her their wings and to teach her to pronounce the (unpronounceable) name of the Lord (YHWH, as I discussed in the previous commentary). Without an explicit agreement, the angels did both of these things. She then flew to Heaven—presumably, pronouncing God’s name and flapping her wings. God rewarded her for her innocence and her resisting the transgression. Either she was made into the constellation Virgo or the constellation Virgo was named for her.

The following is my translation from these two Mishnaic Hebrew texts, which so far as I know, are not available elsewhere in English translation:


“‘For they were beautiful.’ (Gen. 6:2): In the Midrash Tobath [apparently, a lost midrashic fragment on Genesis 6:2 in which the word ‘TOBATH,’ meaning ‘beautiful,’ occurs] it is written: There was once a pious virgin lass. And when the ‘sons of God’ (Gen. 6:2) descended, they said to her, ‘Obey us!’ She said to them, ‘I shall not obey you unless you do this thing—that is, that you give me your wings; as it [Isaiah 6:2] says, “six wings for each one.”’ They gave her their wings. Immediately, she flew to Heaven and escaped from the transgression, and she touched (the surface of) the Throne. And the Holy One—Blessed be He—spread his cloud over her and received her, and he fixed her among the constellations: namely, the constellation Virgo. The angels remained on Earth and were not able to ascend until they found the ladder of which Jacob our ancestor dreamed; then, they ascended. This is of which it is written: ‘the angels of God ascending and descending upon it’ (Gen. 28:12).”


“‘The angels of God ascending and descending upon it’ (Gen. 28:12): Those angels who descended, when they saw the daughters of man that they were beautiful, did not ascend until this time; for [at the time] when they went down, they found a certain virgin. They said to her, ‘Obey us!’ She said to them, ‘And what will you give to me?’ They said to her, ‘Our wings. And we will teach you the Explicit Name.’ And they taught her the Explicit Name and they gave her the wings. Immediately, she flew into the Heavens. The Holy One—Blessed be He—said to her, ‘Since you fled from the transgression, I will appoint for you a name among the constellations; namely the constellation Virgo.’ And the angels that gave to her their wings were not able to ascend until this time, when they found the ladder to ascend.”

These two versions of the same account present fallen angels to whom no sin is attributed. Hence, they may be termed Sinless Fallen Angels. In the next few commentaries, I will elucidate the details of the relationship between this account and the prevailing doctrines concerning angels in the early Christian era. There are definite BIBLICAL doctrinal motives for reforming the Fallen Angel Story into one in which the angels DID NOT SIN. We will begin, next time, with the very doctrine of sin and whether angels are capable of it.

1 comment:

  1. People being placed in the heavens as constellations is surely a very Greek myth trope. Do we find it in the Hebrew Scriptures?