Watchers are a specific type of angel referred to in the Bible, apocryphal literature, Christian lore, pagan mysticism, and in various ancient records. The following article provides a look into the some of the ideas surrounding them, beginning with how they have recently been portrayed by Hollywood. BTW – I’ve embedded lots of links. Feel free to explore!
Noah, the epic!
Recently, interest in the Watchers was renewed with Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 biblical epic Noah. In the movie, they are depicted as gigantic fallen angels encased in stone (picture below). After defending Noah and his family from the violent mob led by Tubal-cain, all of the Watchers were killed. As they died, their angelic forms were released from their stone bodies and returned to heaven, having been forgiven by the Creator.
The director definitely took creative license with the well-known Bible story; nonetheless, he received general approval from the Christian and Jewish communities. Several organizations expressed support for the Noah film, i.e. American Bible Society, Focus on the Family, and more. Even Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, found it “interesting and thought provoking,” while Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an orthodox Jewish rabbi leader, hailed Noah as “a valuable film, especially for our times.”
Though Noah is revered as a prophet in Islam, Muslim support was virtually non-existent. In many Islamic juristic schools, the portrayal of prophets is forbidden. Therefore, the film was banned in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Indonesia prior to its release.
Who were the Watchers?
Besides being mentioned briefly in the Bible, the idea of the Watchers has been found in the ancient religious records of Sumeria, Peru, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. Most people are familiar with the Sumerian Anunnaki due to the History Channel’s popular hit series Ancient Aliens. These beings were believed to have come to earth from the sky, and the Sumerians revered them as four enormous gods, known as:
- An – (“Sky”), the source of rain and most powerful of the gods
- Enlil – (“Lord Wind”), the power in “Growing Weather”
- Ninhursaga – (“Lady of the Stony Ground”), mother of wildlife
- Enki – rival of Ninhursaga
The term Anunnaki literally means “of the sky.” Many scholars believe this term is also used in the Bible as Anakim, Anak, or Nefilim (nephilum). In Hebrew nephilim has been interpreted to mean “giants” or “those who have fallen.” Incidentally, the first major enemies that the liberated Israelis faced were the Canaanites, sometimes referred to as children of Anak – meaning tall, strong, and long neck. The Israelites described them as being a fierce race of giants dwelling in massive fortified cities. Later, during the days of King David, the most famous son of Anak was killed, his name being Goliath.
The Egyptian Execration texts of the Middle Kingdom (2055-1650 BC) mention a list of political enemies in Canaan, and among this list are a group called the ly Anaq or people of Anaq. The three rulers of ly Anaq were Erum, Abiyamimu, and Akirum. It was believed that these rulers were related to the Sumerian gods, namely Enki. Robert Graves, considered the relationship between the Anakites and Philistines (Joshua 11:21, Jeremiah 47:5), identifing the Anakim with Anax, the giant ruler of the Anactorians in Greek mythology.
For the Egyptians, the children of Anak were related to the original Watchers, who they revered as Ptah, Anubis, Osiris, and Horus. It was believed they came to Egypt from Ta-Ur, the “Far/Foreign Land.” The Egyptian term used for the Watchers was Neteru (“guardians”).
Ancient beliefs vary from one culture to another, but all seem to agree that Watchers were a specific race of heavenly beings. In Hebrew they were referred to as nun resh ayin, or irinim – meaning “those who watch” or “Wakeful Ones.” When translated into Greek, the same terms appear as grigori – simply meaning “watchers.”
The early books of the Bible speak of some vague heavenly beings called malochim (singular, malach). Although malach is usually translated “angel,” its literal meaning is “messenger.” Therefore, it was used to describe both angelic beings and human beings. As far as the Hebrew term irinim goes, it was only used to describe a high class of angels, sometimes characterized as “archangels,” first mentioned in the book of Daniel (4:10-14).
In apocryphal literature…
Watchers are the fallen angels who took mortal women as wives (1 Enoch 6, 19, 64, 69; Jubilees 4, 7). Their union produced a ravenous race of hybrid offspring (nephilum/giants) who devoured copious amounts of flesh and drank “rivers of blood.” And to make matters even worse, it is written that they corrupted humans with the forbidden arts of weaponry, herb craft, astrology, divination, and sorcery.
In the books of Enoch, God sends the archangel Uriel to warn Noah of a coming deluge… the archangel Raphael captures the rebel leader of the Watchers and thrusts him into eternal darkness… the archangel Gabriel deals with the bloodthirsty hybrids… and the archangel Michael deals with the remaining Watchers and their surviving offspring prior to Noah’s Great Deluge. For all of this, there appears to be only one New Testament reference found in Jude 1:6.
There are many other references to Watchers found in the Jewish/Christian non-canonical writings identifying their numbers to be 200, and residing in the sixth heaven where they perform celestial music (Gedulat Moshe). Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, they are central figures in the mythic-gnostic theology of the Qumran priests. Within the modern Wiccan tradition, some of these gnostic views are combined with Jewish mysticism and British mythology, assigning the four leading archangels to the four directions of the heavens, and marking them with the Winter/Summer Solstices, and Spring/Autumn Equinoxes.
So, there you have it in a nutshell. Darren Aronofsky’s movie portrayal of the Watchers as “rock-monster/Transformer-types” seems a bit tame in comparison, doesn’t it? Definitely, more could be said on the subject. Though our understanding of the Watchers may still remain partial, it’s not for a lack of descriptive material!
I guess one thing is for certain: to learn who or what the Watchers were or are, really depends on who you ask. Could they have once been a large group of archangels that split and fought with one another? Is it possible that only four survived – Uriel, Raphael, Gabriel & Michael? Or, maybe only two survived – Gabriel & Michael? Or, have all the leading civilizations, from antiquity to modern days, conspired to keep the truth hidden in ecclesiastical musings, imaginative writings, and Hollywood special effects? What do you think?