Last month Intrepid magazine delivered another of Scott A. Roberts’s characteristically wordy articles, this time blasting Christian conservatives for failing to understand that the recent Noah movie took a significant part of its story from the variant forms of the Flood narrative given in the Book of Enoch, particularly its references to the sins of the Watchers, and the Book of Jasher, a very late apocryphal text in which Noah blames atheism for the Flood (6:19).
The Book of Jasher is referenced in Joshua 10:13 and 2 Samuel 1:18, but the Hebrew text commonly published under its name is a much later work, first printed in 1625, though referencing a lost edition of 1552. (And that is CE, not BCE.) Scholars believe it was composed in the early 1500s based on textual evidence. Jasher also lent its name to a medieval book of ethics and an eighteenth century forgery, neither of which are the book Roberts has in mind.
According to Roberts, the book of Jahser discusses the Watchers at great length. This is all quite confusing because the 1625 Book of Jasher narrative is very specific about denying the reality of the Watchers. In fact, the parallel text to Genesis 6:1-4 in Jasher (2:2-4) recasts the narrative in terms of a lapse into idolatry, not a fall from heaven:
2 And Seth lived one hundred and five years, and he begat a son; and Seth called the name of his son Enosh, saying, Because in that time the sons of men began to multiply, and to afflict their souls and hearts by transgressing and rebelling against God.
This is the late rabbinical Sethite interpretation of the Watchers myth (where the sons of God are the children of Seth), familiar from its adoption into Christian sources after the third century CE, replacing the previous Fallen Angels explanation for the enigmatic lines from Genesis.
So where does the idea that Jasher was about the Watchers come from? Oh, right, from Zecharia Sitchin, who according to Chris Ward claimed to have learned from Jasher 9:19 that Yahweh was one of the Sumerian gods. That passage is part of a larger section in which Abraham tries to determine the nature of God by discovering what God is not. After determining God is not the sun, the moon, or nature, he says “Surely these are not gods that made the earth and all mankind, but these are the servants of God…” On its own the sentence sounds like he is talking to the pagan gods, but he is actually noting from 9:17-18 that his efforts to identify God and the angels with the moon and stars had failed because they vanished with the coming of the day. Sitchin decided to ignore all of this and state that in the “true” translation, Yahweh (God) is identified as the chief of the “gods,” who are Enki and Enlil.
Roberts next claims that Jesus quoted the Book of Enoch and that it was frequently cited by the New Testament writers. I have no idea where this claim came from; the Book of Enoch is cited by name in Jude 14-15, and it is believed to underlie 2 Peter 2:4-5 and 1 Peter 3:19-20, both referring to the punishment of the Fallen Angels. But as for Jesus quoting it, well that’s not really true. Some have tried to find similarities of language between the words of Jesus and the Book of Enoch, but the comparisons are so vague and general that “quotation” is really much too generous. For example, the alleged parallel between “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5) and “The elect shall possess light, joy and peace, and they shall inherit the earth” (Enoch 5:7) isn’t particularly illuminating, or even much the same. The fact that Psalm 37:11 gives the line—“the meek will inherit the land”—shows that the claims for Enochian influence on Jesus are grossly overstated. This isn’t to say that the Gospel writers weren’t influenced by the same apocalyptic Judaism that manifests in Enoch, but that claims for specific quotations by Jesus from Enoch don’t really hold water.
Roberts next assumes that the movie took liberties in depicting Noah as an animal rights advocate and a vegetarian (“This would certainly be stretch of imagination…”), apparently missing the fact that in the film Noah, as the last obedient descendant of Seth, was trying to preserve the lifestyle of Eden, which before the Fall involved vegetarianism, as God reports in Genesis 1:29-30:
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
But having forgotten this, Roberts speculates that the movie wants to suggest Noah is pure and therefore he moves on to address the issue of whether Noah had a pure bloodline because Roberts subscribes to a deeply disturbing theory that Eve was impregnated once by Adam, producing pure-blooded humans, and once by the Serpent, producing corrupt hybrid children. This theory is disturbing because historically it has been used to suggest that the Jews are not fully human, particularly among Christian Identity writers. Here, however, Roberts tries a new tack, arguing that the Watchers produced “impure” Watcher-human hybrids, which had to be destroyed.
Roberts cites his purity claims to the Book of Jashur, arguing for widespread miscegenation as the primal sin of humanity. This is very strange since, as I noted above, Jashur contains nothing about the Watchers, and in fact even rejects the Sethite-Cainite distinction and essentially makes all humans equally impure. Nevertheless, Roberts is convinced that the English versions of Genesis 6:9 have been wrongly translated to make Noah seem righteous rather than genetically pure:
This has been grossly misinterpreted in English to mean that Noah was a “good, righteous man.” In fact, in the Hebrew language of the Book of Genesis, “righteous” meant “pure blooded.” In actuality, when you examine the linguistics of the Genesis text, it clearly states that Noah was a man who was “pure blooded in all his generations,” meaning that his family line was “of pure human blood,” as opposed to the mixed blood of the rest of the population of the known world at that time. According to the Genesis account.
I am not able to think of another way to read “pure blooded” in a world of miscegenation than in terms of positing that certain lineages or races are more fully human (pure) than others, and therefore that some people are not fully human (racially impure).
This is very disturbing, not least because the traditional understanding of the passage—that it referred to Noah as a “just and righteous man in his generations” goes back as far as I can find it. It is present in the Vulgate and in the Septuagint. The Hebrew is rendered literally in Young’s Literal Translation this way: “These [are] births of Noah: Noah [is] a righteous man; perfect he hath been among his generations; with God hath Noah walked habitually.” There is no indication at all in the Hebrew that bloodlines or racial purity are indicated, only the mass of extant humanity.
In fact, the authors of commentaries on the Babylonian Talmud and the Bereshit Rabbah argued about whether the passage meant that Noah was merely the least bad among all corrupt people, or whether he was the only perfect man among all then living. One rabbi even said Noah was born circumcised because he was so perfect! They who read Hebrew saw nothing about racial purity here, only a discussion of righteousness.
Now, this hasn’t always been the case. Albert Barnes’s Notes on the Bible (1834) seems to be the direct source for the claim of Noah’s pure bloodline, though since I am no expert I am not sure whether there is an earlier argument he is building upon. There, in explicating Genesis 6:9, he write, “It is probable, moreover, that he was of pure descent, and in that respect also distinguished from his contemporaries who were the offspring of promiscuous intermarriage between the godly and the ungodly.” But he does so because he has read Genesis 6:1-4 as referring to miscegenation between the Cainite daughters of men and the Sethite sons of God, apparently expanding the offspring of the mixed marriage from its textual limitation to “the mighty men of old, the men of renown” to all humans except Noah. This is, let us note, not the natural consequence of reading the text literally as an account of divine beings spawning a (limited) race of heroes but rather an attempt to rationalize the text by positing it as a symbolic account of widespread intermarriage between the ungodly women and godly men. Barnes, of course, wasn’t referring to racial purity but rather that he was the son of Sethites uncorrupted by idolatry and sin, not genetic flaws from the serpent.
The consequences of the reading Roberts imposes on the text are dire. If his reading is correct, then Noah is racially pure while other humans were racially impure in the most literal sense: they contain foreign, alien DNA. As a result, depending on how you assign pure or impure wives to Noah and his sons, some modern humans are consequently racially pure and others are racially impure. Presumably, since Noah is described as righteous before his sons are born, they share in his racial purity. The non-canonical book of Jubilees tells us that Noah’s wife was Methuselah’s granddaughter, so she would have been pure enough. Arabic tradition assigns her as the granddaughter of Enoch, but again close enough in family relationship to share in the aura of purity. Traditionally, corrupt seed is thought to have traveled with Ham’s wife, for Ham himself was blessed by God (Gen. 9:1) yet his son Canaan was cursed. At any rate, from at least the seventh century this curse has been associated with black skin and used to support the notion that Africans are racially inferior to other peoples. Here, Roberts seems to want us to read a genetic, not just a spiritual, component to racial impurity, one traceable to the Watchers and their miscegenation.
The most extreme reading—and the one that is closest to that Roberts imposes on the Genesis text—is that of Christian Identity, which believes in the dual descent of Cain and Seth from the Serpent and Adam respectively and therefore claims that the (modern) Jews are the accursed offspring of Cain while white Europeans are racially pure Sethites.
Given that Roberts has made several basic errors in his review, not least of which is following Sitchin in making the Epic of Gilgamesh Sumerian (in its oldest form, it is an Old Babylonian epic written in Akkadian), I am assuming that he is not quite aware of the causes or consequences of the views he imposes on ancient texts. But pure bloodlines defining who is truly human and who is an alien other? This is disturbing stuff.
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.
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