Much of this week I have spent researching the myth of the Watchers as presented in the influential chronicle of Annianus, an Alexandrian Christian monk of the fourth century. Because his chronicle was used by Christian and Islamic writers alike for a millennium, it shaped the development of ideas about antediluvian history right down to the 1700s, when traditional myths and legends finally started to give way to a more scientific view of deep antiquity. But I did come across a little sticking point where scholars have very little to say.
The question revolves around how exactly the Biblical patriarch Enoch came to be identified with the pagan culture hero Hermes Trismegistus, himself an amalgamation of Hermes and the Egyptian wisdom god Thoth. The technical reasons for the identification are easy enough to identify. Thoth, Hermes, and Enoch were all revered figures associated with the invention of writing and the promulgation of sacred books and inscriptions. Both had astronomical connections—Hermes supposedly recorded 36,525 books or lived that many years, while Enoch lived 365 years, numbers recalling the number of days in the solar year or in the Sothic cycle. In later Judeo-Christian lore, Enoch and the other descendants of Seth were said to have built two pillars inscribed with prophetic wisdom “in the Siriadic land,” referring to Egypt, the land of Sirius, while the Christian forgery known as the Book of Sothis has the Egyptian priest Manetho declare that Hermes erected pillars inscribed with prophetic wisdom in “the Seriadic land,” again meaning Egypt.
It’s also fairly clear that the connection between Enoch and Hermes emerged among Christian in Egypt in the first centuries CE, presumably after Flavius Josephus recorded the legend of Enoch’s pillars in 96 CE and before Annianus and his contemporary Panodorus wrote around 400 CE. Zosimus of Panoplis, who wrote around 300 CE, makes Hermes the author of a book talking about the fall of the Watchers and their sins, just as Enoch was, suggesting that the conflation was already underway by then, but he doesn’t make that identification explicit.
According to the handful of modern scholars who have written at any length on the issue, the most likely candidate for the source of the conflation is the Book of Sothis. One reason for this is that the very few fragments of the Book of Sothis that survive—all in excerpts made by George Syncellus, probably copied from Annianus or Panodorus—conflate Egyptian figures with Biblical counterparts. So, for example, Menes, the first king of the first human dynasty according to the genuine Manetho becomes Mestraim, an alternate transliteration of Mizraim, the son of Ham in Genesis 10 and also the Semitic name for Egypt. Eusebius, in his Chronicle, similarly identifies Menes with Mizraim and declares Ham’s son to be the founder of Egypt.
If one Biblical figure could be substituted for a pagan one, the argument goes, it is likely that other legendary Egyptians were given Semitic counterparts in the full Book of Sothis.
It is also possible that Panodorus invented the idea himself and Annianus copied him, or that Annianus invented it. Basically, nobody knows because there are too few puzzle pieces. Abu Ma‘shar, who borrowed from Annianus, reported around 850 CE that the “Hebrews” identified Enoch with Hermes before launching into a story about how Hermes carved all wisdom into temple walls at Akhmim in order to save it from the Flood, in the manner of Enoch. Bar Hebraeus, who borrowed from Annianus for his antediluvian history, reverses the order and says that the “Greeks” identified Hermes with Enoch. Pesudo-Eupolemus, writing in 158 BCE and perhaps commenting on a part of the Book of Enoch, said that the Hellenistic Greeks identified Enoch with Atlas, because both invented astrology. Since Hermes Trismegistus took over the invention of astrology from Atlas in Late Antique myths, after, say, 150 or 200 CE, the swap of Hermes for Atlas seems natural enough.
All of this is circumstantial evidence that Enoch and Hermes had been conflated by the time of Annianus, but one might equally argue that they were seen as parallels and only brought together after the rise of Islam.
That leaves us to look at another odd bit of influence, presumably from Annianus, that argues for an early identification. According to the Book of Enoch, Annianus’s source, Enoch lived among the Watchers at the ends of the earth. According to the Book of Giants, this land was beyond the reaches of civilization, at the edge of a great desert. This description could conceivable accord with upper Egypt, located at the fringes of what was then the civilized Mediterranean world, and on the edge of the Egyptian and Saharan deserts. But did Annianus consider the first Egyptians to be evil Nephilim?
Th Paschal Chronicle, written two centuries after Annianus, tells us that the first kings of Babylon before the Flood were giants: “Among the Chaldeans, their first king was Aloros, whom Alagoros succeeded, and the other leaders, to whom the Scripture seems to refer (when it says) ‘the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown’ (Gen. 6:4).” The Christian forgery passing under the name of the Sibylline Oracles assumes that those who came after were giants as well. Pseudo-Eupolemus confirms that there was a tradition that the post-diluvian kings of Babylon were giants who escaped the Flood. Therefore, it is not entirely difficult to imagine that the Egyptians were envisioned the same way. But is there proof of this?
Indirectly, it seems the answer is yes.
In Pseudo-Eupolemus, Abraham is depicted as traveling to Egypt from “the temple of the city called Argarizin, which being interpreted is ‘Mount of the Most High,’ an odd phrase created by what scholars say is a complicated series of interlinguistic confusion. The short form is that at times “Argarizin” itself was the name of the temple and other times the designator of a mountain. This is of no interest to us except that Abu Ma‘shar offered the odd claim that Hermes built the temple of Akhmim which was also “a veritable mountain,” and the Byzantines seemed to believe that the pillars of wisdom stood on Egyptian mountains—all claims that seem to derive from Annianus.
More importantly, the Akhbar al-zaman, that great compilation of medieval Islamic lore, was written around 1000 but drew on earlier material. The author is censorious and took pains to suppress a good deal of the Hermetic lore about Egypt. He is also a good Muslim, so he does not subscribe to the myth of the Watchers with anything like the fervor of Jews and Christians. The Qur’an speaks of giants (5:22) as inhabiting parts of Canaan, but it doesn’t emphasize them nearly as much as the Christian apocrypha. Nevertheless, the Akhbar author can’t help but preserve Christian legends that the Egyptian kings were Nephilim. He speaks of Ham’s son Kenan as the first idolator, saying that “the giants and the Canaanites who lived in Syria were his descendants. They also associate them with the Pharaohs of Egypt and Goliath, whom David slew, as well as the Amalekites, because the Amalekites were sons of Ham.” The first king of Egypt, before the Flood, according to our author, was himself a Nephilim: “Then Naqrāūs the Giant, the son of Miṣraīm, the son of Marākil, the son of Dāwil, the son of ‘Arbāq, the son of Adam, along with seventy horsemen and some of the descendants of ‘Arbāq, all giants, sought a place to live apart from other men.” He was credited with building the first Cairo and the legendary capital of Amsus. Many of the other kinds were explicitly said to be giants or implied to be.
Now, this might seem to be unrelated, but we know that the bizarre list of postdiluvian pharaohs preserved in the various Arabic authors under a bewildering variety of names, descend, in roundabout fashion, from Manetho’s list of pharaohs, albeit with many corruptions and much confusion. While the antediluvian kings seem to bear little resemblance to Manetho’s list, but the legendary pharaohs who reigned before Menes were not preserved in most Late Antique and medieval lists, so this is in some measure to be expected. The important fact is that the Arabic king lists had an underlying Greek source. It would be fascinating to discover whether Naqraus (also transliterated as Nekraws, or any number of variants) is itself a massively corrupt version of Enoch, since both are credited with the same set of accomplishments—preserving knowledge on pillars, inscribing tablets, founding cities, developing science, etc. Naqraus is even said to be the “master of the race of djinn,” just as Enoch was the keeper of the Watchers—and the djinn were identified with the Watchers in Islamic lore. The “nok” syllable is suggestive, I guess, but I lack the Arabic expertise to determine how suggestive it is—but the comparison of known pharaonic corruptions between Greek and Arabic shows vowel switching similar to what might have occurred here. If I were speculating wildly, I could imagine a parody of Enoch—who, per Genesis 5, never died—being satirized or diabolized by a hostile Greek writer as Necros, the “Dead One.”
The Akhbar author had purposely created a sort of purified narrative purged of Hermetic and Enochian material as much as was practicable, notably removing the pyramids from Hermes and assigning them to Surid and giving Enoch’s dream-vision to Philemon. He even asserted that Enoch never bothered to open the book of divine wisdom given to Adam and passed to him by Jared! So, this must remain a possibility, but one that can likely never be proven.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter, The Skeptical Xenoarchaeologist, for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.