Reading the Book of Giants in Literary and Historical Context

In: Dead Sea Discoveries
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  • 1 Yeshiva University, New York

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This article offers some new suggestions regarding the background and purpose of theBook of Giants in the light of recent scholarship emphasizing (1) the shared features andinterrelatedness of the Aramaic works discovered at Qumran and (2) the need to groundour understanding of early Jewish apocalyptic literature within the socio-political contextof Hellenistic imperial domination. While this intriguing composition has beenlocated correctly within the orbit of early Enochic tradition, the present study broadensthe lens in order to consider the significance of its striking parallels with Danielic tradition,beyond the well-known shared tradition of the throne theophany (4Q530 2 ii 16–20and Dan 7:9–10). Due attention is given both to the Danielic parallels and the transformationsin Giants vis-à-vis the Enochic tradition upon which it depends (the Book ofWatchers), which are interpreted in relation to recent research emphasizing that theearly Enochic and Danielic writings constituted expressions of resistance to imperialrule. In line with this literary and historical contextualization, the study argues for aparadigmatic interpretation of Giants, according to which the monstrous sons of thewatchers symbolize the violent, arrogant Hellenistic rulers of the author’s day.

  • 8

    See, e.g., E. J. C. Tigchelaar, “Aramaic Texts from Qumran and the Authoritativeness of Hebrew Scriptures: Preliminary Observations,” in Authoritative Scriptures in Ancient Judaism (ed. M. Popović; jsjSup 141; Leiden: Brill, 2010), 155–71, esp. 160.

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  • 18

    Perrin, “Dream-Visions in the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls,” 96–97.

  • 21

    Stuckenbruck, “Daniel and Early Enoch Traditions,” 376; cf. Collins and Flint, djd 22:134–36.

  • 22

    See, e.g., R. A. Horsley, Revolt of the Scribes: Resistance and Apocalyptic Origins(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010); A. Portier-Young, Apocalypse against Empire: Theologies of Resistance in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

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  • 24

    Portier-Young, Apocalypse against Empire, 383–84.

  • 29

    See Portier-Young, Apocalypse against Empire, 313–81.

  • 31

    Reeves, Jewish Lore, 126. Cf. H. Drawnel, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Enochic Giants and Evil Spirits,” dsd 21 (2014): 14–38 at n. 93.

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  • 33

    D. Jackson, “Demonising Gilgameš,” Gilgameš and the World of Assyria: Proceedings of the Conference held at Mandelbaum House, The University of Sydney, 21–23 July 2004 (ed. J. Azize and N. Weeks; anes 21; Leuven: Peeters, 2007), 107–14. In contrast with the opinions of Jackson, Puech, and Reeves, Goff argues that the author did not appropriate Mesopotamian motifs in the service of some programmatic polemic. Rather, “the core goal of the composition is to portray the ante-diluvian giants as evil and recount their exploits and punishment” (“Gilgamesh the Giant,” 253). While he is certainly correct about the core goal of the composition within its narrative setting, the Sitz im Leben and motivating factors underlying this goal remain to be explained. For the possibility that Giants drew elements from the Epic of Gilgamesh without polemical intent, cf. L. T. Stuckenbruck, “Giant Mythology and Demonology: From the Ancient Near East to the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Die Dämonen: The Demonology of Israelite-Jewish and Early Christian Literature in Context of their Environment (ed. A. Lange et al.; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2003), 313–38 (esp. 332). Note, however, his conclusion that through Giants “a demonizing polemic was waged against non-Jewish traditions which were circulating in antiquity” (337).

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  • 36

    Stuckenbruck, The Book of Giants, 26.

  • 46

    Stuckenbruck, The Book of Giants, 39–40. He cites for comparison several nt passages that indicate the demons’ self-awareness of their frailty before the power of God (e.g., Mark 1:4; 5:7).

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  • 48

    Suter, “Fallen Angel, Fallen Priest,” 116.

  • 51

    See, e.g., M. Himmelfarb, Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 20–23; R. Albertz, History of Israelite Religion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 579; E. J. C. Tigchelaar, Prophets of Old and the Day of the End: Zechariah, the Book of Watchers and Apocalyptic (Oudtestamentische Studiën 35; Leiden: Brill, 1996), 195–203; W. Loader, Enoch, Levi, and Jubilees on Sexuality: Attitudes Towards Sexuality in the Early Enoch Literature, the Aramaic Levi Document, and the Book of Jubilees (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 39–49; P. Tiller, “The Sociological Settings of the Components of 1 Enoch,” in The Early Enoch Literature (ed. G. Boccaccini and J. J. Collins; jsjSup 121; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2007), 237–55.

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  • 52

    J. J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 50–51. Cf. the fuller discussion of these methodological issues in idem, “The Apocalyptic Technique: Setting and Function in the Book of Watchers,” cbq 44 (1982): 91–111.

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  • 54

    G. W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 173.

  • 55

    See S. A. Stephens, Seeing Double: Intercultural Poetics in Ptolemaic Alexandria (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 63–64; E. Hall, Inventing the Barbarian: Greek Self-Definition Through Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 53, 68, 102. Cf. D. Castriota, Myth, Ethos, and Actuality: Official Art in Fifth Century Athens (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 138–43, who argues that the gigantomachy depicted on the east metopes of the Parthenon would have been conceived by Greeks of the fifth century as a paradigm for the defeat of the hubristic “gigantic ambitions” of the Persian Empire: “The gigantomachy, more than any other theme, could bring home the message that the Olympians had always supported and inspired the Athenians in their righteous struggles against arrogant lawlessness and disorder” (142).

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  • 62

    See Reeves, Jewish Lore, 95. This reading is according to Milik’s “M” manuscript (Midrash Bereshit Rabbati ex libro R. Mosis Haddarshan collectus e codice Pragensi by Ch. Albek, Jerusalem, 1940, pp. 29, 14–31, 8 [fol. 10–11]). In the Oxford Bodleian manuscript version (Milik’s “B” manuscript), the trees are destroyed by a single angel. For the texts, see Milik, The Books of Enoch, 325.

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  • 68

    Goff, “Gilgamesh the Giant,” 245–46. Cf. H. S. Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic, An Intertextual Reading (jsjSup 149; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 413–26. He argues that the giants of Enochic mythology correspond to the antediluvian warrior-kings mentioned in Akkadian sources.

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  • 69

    Reeves, Jewish Lore, 118.

  • 70

    Goff, “Gilgamesh the Giant,” 242.

  • 76

    So Stuckenbruck, The Book of Giants, 164. Puech’s reading (“[Then Gi]lgamesh said, “Your [d]ream is . . .”) is also possible. See djd 31:75, 77–78.

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  • 79

    C. A. Newsom, “Why Nabonidus? Excavating Traditions from Qumran, the Hebrew Bible, and Neo-Babylonian Sources,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Transmission of Traditions and Production of Texts (ed. S. Metso, H. Najman, and E. Schuller; stdj 92; Leiden: Brill, 2010), 57–80. Cf. Henze, The Madness of King Nebuchadnezzar, 204, who observes that the differing versions of this story in the mt and the Old Greek display “signs of deliberate reworkings and willful alterations. The tale of the raving Babylonian monarch has been subjected to a continuous process of rewriting and reediting.”

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  • 90

    See, e.g., A. R. George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts (2 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 1:93–94.

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  • 91

    Da Riva, The Twin Inscriptions, 10.

  • 92

    Da Riva, “A Lion in the Cedar Forest,” 169–71. The quotation appears on p. 171.

  • 93

    Newsom, “Why Nabonidus?” 67–76.

  • 95

    See Da Riva, The Twin Inscriptions, 83–93.

  • 97

    Portier-Young, “Symbolic Resistance,” 39.

  • 105

    See esp. R. H. Sack, Images of Nebuchadnezzar: The Emergence of a Legend (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press, 2004).

  • 106

    N. W. Porteous, Daniel: A Commentary (Old Testament Library; Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 71. See also H. H. Rowley, “The Unity of the Book of Daniel,” in The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Testament (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1965), 249–80 at 277. Cf. the comment of D. Dimant on 4Q388a 7 ii 3 in djd 30:210–11.

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  • 109

    Smith-Christopher, “Daniel,” 30.

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