Understanding Sin and Evil #7: The Watchers in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Later Jewish Tradition

Learn how the Watchers are portrayed in the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they are “used” to explain sin. And where are the Watchers in the Talmud? Discover the echoes of the Watchers story in later Jewish tradition.

In this episode, we explore:

  1.  Where the Watchers appear in the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  2.  Where we see hints of the Watchers in later Jewish tradition

In case you want to read along, I am including the English translation of the relevant passages of the Dead Sea Scrolls below.  Note how the Damascus Document uses the Watchers as simply an example of the first creatures to sin through their own evil inclination, while the Songs of the Sage use the Watchers’ descendants in the description of the speaker’s own struggle with the desire to sin. Finally, in the incantation that we find in 11Q Apocryphal Psalms, the descendant of the Watchers is an external (though deceptive) threat to the speaker, who is attempting to protect himself by expressing this creature’s false nature.

Damascus Document (CD) II.14-III

vacat And now, O sons, hearken to me and I will uncover your eyes so you may see and understand the works of God and choose that which he wants and despise that which he hates: to walk perfectly in all his ways and not to go about in the thoughts of an inclination of guilt and lecherous eyes. For many have strayed due to them; mighty men of valor have stumbled due to them, from their earliest times and until today. Walking after the stubbornness of their heart(s), the Watchers of heaven fell. They were held by it, for they did not keep God’s commandments; and (so too) their sons, who were as high as lofty cedars and whose bodies were like mountains. For all flesh which was on dry land fell, for they died and were as if they had not been, for they had done their (own) will and had not kept the commandments of their maker, until his wrath was kindled against them.  vacat Through it strayed the sons of Noah and their families; through it they were cut off. Abraham did not walk in it and he was accepted as a lover, for he kept God’s commandments and did not choose to follow the will of his (own) spirit. And he transmitted (his way) to Isaac and Jacob; and they observed (them) and were recorded as lovers of God and parties to (his) covenant forever. … The first ones who entered the covenant became guilty through it; and they were given up to the sword, having abandoned God’s covenant, and they chose their (own) will, and strayed after the stubbornness of their heart, for each one to do his (own) will. vacat

“Songs of the Sage” 4Q510-511

… His knowledge he put [in my] hear[t…] the praises of His righteousness, and […]‘h and by His mouth he frightens [all the spirits] of the bastards to subdue […]ṭ y impurity. For in the innards of my flesh is the foundation of d[…and in] my body are battles. The statutes of God are in my heart, and I prof[it] for all the wonders of man. (4Q511 48–49 +51 )

vacat And I, the Maskil, proclaim His glorious splendor so as to frighten and to te[rrify] all the spirits of the destructive angels, bastard spirits, demons, Lilith, howlers and […] and those who strike suddenly to lead a spirit of understanding astray and to make their heart and their […] desolate during the present dominion of wickedness and predetermined time of afflictions for the children of lig[ht], by the guilt of the ages of [those] smitten by iniquity—not for eternal destruction, […]m for an era of affliction of transgression.…(4Q510 1 4b–8a)

(6) And I practice the fear of God through the periods of my generations, to exalt the name dbr[…] (7) by his strength al[l] the spirits of the bastards, to subdue them by [His] fear […] (8) [fe]stivals […]period of their rule […] (4Q511 35 6–8)

11Q Apocryphal Psalms

…[When ]he comes to you in the nig[ht,] you will [s]ay to him: ‘Who are you, [oh offspring of] man and of the seed of the ho[ly one]s? Your face is a face of [delu]sion and your horns/rays are horns/rays of ill[us]ion, you are darkness and not light,  [injust]ice and not justice…(11Q11 V.5b–8a)

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