Genesis 6:1–4: The Origin of Evil Spirits

The research presented here is concerned with the reception history of Genesis 6.1–4 in early Enochic Judaism during the Second Temple Period. I suggest that the non-specificity inherent in the biblical text of Genesis 6.1–4 allowed for one possibility of interpreting the passage by later Jewish authors who engaged with the text, the emergence of an aetiology of evil spirits. As a result, Genesis 6.1–4, particularly its interpretation in 1 Enoch 6–16, appeared to play an important part in the development of demonology during the 2TP.

Accordingly, by the turn of the Common Era there was in place a worldview within Judaism in which the activity of autonomous or semi-autonomous evil spirits was regarded as a reality. This view is exemplified, for example, in the ministry of Jesus as described in the Synoptic Gospels of the New Testament. By contrast, there is little evidence in Jewish literature during the earlier biblical period for such evil spirits as are seen in the Gospels. The understanding of demonic affliction found in the Jewish Scriptures (both Hebrew and Greek traditions) does not appear to contain any references to autonomous or semi-autonomous evil spirits that are able to afflict humanity at will. When evil spirits are mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, they are seen as beings sent by God to accomplish God’s plan in the lives of individuals and the nation. The LXX translates various Hebrew terms related to some type of wild beast that lurks about in the night or in the wilderness as a demonic creature.

This raises the question of how the presence of categorically evil spirits could have emerged in the writings of the first century C.E. Since no material comparable to an episode such as, for example, Mark 5.1–20 exists in the HB, we must look elsewhere. It is in this search that we encounter the Book of Watchers (1 En 1–36 = BW). This third-century B.C.E. pseudepigraphic composite work offers the earliest documentary evidence of the belief in evil spirits in Judaism. As suggested above, the non-specificity inherent in Genesis 6.1–4 provided the authors of BW the opportunity and the biblical authority, to further develop a demonology in the 2TP. Such a view is substantiated through an examination of the continued development of the tradition around the turn of the era. In what follows, this study will attempt to reveal how the reception of Genesis 6.1–4 encouraged the development of the demonology and anthropology in the 2TP. I will endeavour to ascertain what Jews of the 2TP understood with regard to the origin and activity of evil spirits by examining the development of the concept of evil spirits alongside a developing understanding of human nature (anthropology) in early Jewish literature. Along with BW, I will address the interpretation of Genesis 6.1–4 in the Book of Jubilees, and other Pseudepigrapha. In addition, I will discuss the taking up of the concept of evil spirits from the Watcher tradition by the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Each of these texts sheds a particular light on the investigation and reflects significant developments of demonology and anthropology in this period.