On the advice of Mike Heiser, I read Amar Annus’ “On the Origin of Watchers” from the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 19 (2010), and it was a fascinating look at the deep background of the Watchers’ myth in the Seven Sages, or apkallu, of Mesopotamia, best known to most readers from the myth of Oannes (Uan-Adapa) in Berosus—the amphibious fish-man Robert Temple said was a space alien from Sirius. These sages, like the Watchers, descended from heaven to bequeath civilization, angered the gods with their sins, begat gigantic semi-divine apkallu on human women (Gilgamesh being one of their last giant descendants), and were condemned to the underworld. Also interesting was Annus’ footnotes, which noted the similarity with Ugaritic and Phoenician sources (Sanchuniathon) and noted at transfer of motifs between Syria and Mesopotamia to the extent that the mountains of Anti-Lebanon, where Sanchuniathon places the giant sons of the gods and 1 Enoch houses the Watchers, were also the domain of the Anunnaki in the Old Babylonian version of Gilgamesh.
I know I’ve been talking a lot about the most ancient versions of the Watchers myth over the last week, but after Byron DeLear called to my attention a fascinating reflection of the Watchers story in medieval times, it seems like it would a good idea to take a look at how the story found its way into Freemasonry and thus contributed to anti-Masonic conspiracy theories.
First, in order to understand what you’re about to read, it’s important to remember that the myth of the Watchers had two important variants. The most famous is the so-called “Enochian” version in which the protagonists are fallen angels who teach the arts of civilization to humanity before the Flood and are punished with Flood for their lack of chastity. The second version, the one preserved by Flavius Josephus (Antiquities 1.2.3 in Whiston trans. = 1.69-71 modern ed.), the so-called “Sethite” tradition, held that the Flood had been prophesied by Adam, Eve, or an angel and that the children of Seth had developed the scientific arts and preserved them on tablets or pillars to protect them from the Flood. This was a semi-rationalized version of the Enochian tradition whereby the supernatural fallen angels became the godly sons of Seth, who nevertheless lost their grace when they consorted with the whorish daughters of Cain.
The Sethite tradition became incorporated into the Apocalypse of Moses, which is the ancestor of the somewhat different Latin version of the Life of Adam and Eve, in which Eve receives the prophecy of Flood and issues orders to make the tablets:
On account of your transgression, Our Lord will bring upon your race the anger of his judgement, first by water, the second time by fire; by these two, will the Lord judge the whole human race. But hearken unto me, my children. Make ye then tables of stone and others of clay, and write on them, all my life and your father’s (all) that ye have heard and seen from us. If by water the Lord judge our race, the tables of clay will be dissolved and the tables of stone will remain; but if by fire, the tables of stone will be broken up and the tables of clay will be baked (hard). (49.3-50.2, trans. R. H. Charles)
The Latin Life differs from other sources in making Eve deliver this prophecy to all her children, which in this version of the narrative presumably includes Cain as well as Seth, since the Latin Life does not specify that Cain had left the family before the death of Adam, only that Seth was born to replace the slain Abel. The Latin Life also differs from the Apocalypse of Moses in that several manuscripts include a very long appendix (not translated in most English versions) in which Solomon discovers the tablets of wisdom which Seth had made.
It is from this that we see the Matthew Cooke Manuscript, an early Masonic text dated to around 1450, takes its discussion of the tablets of wisdom. The Cooke MS. Is a copy of an earlier text, but it is not likely to have been significantly older than the surviving copy, according to most historians. The text opens by providing an origin myth for the arts and sciences in terms remarkably similar to the myth of the Watchers, but comes from the list of industrial arts invented by the sons of Cain in Genesis 4:17-22. I wonder if there isn’t cross-contamination in the Watchers myth from Enoch the seventh patriarch to Enoch the son of Cain, for the Cooke MS. says that the sons of Cain invented civilization in the “7th age of Adam before Noah’s flood,” just as Enoch, the seventh patriarch, is sent to preach to the Watchers.
It’s interesting that in Genesis 4:17-18 this early Enoch is made the ancestor of Lamech while in Genesis 5, the line from Adam to Noah is traced through Seth, with Enoch taking his place as the father of Methuselah and grandfather of Lamech in the Sethite line. It is perhaps striking that in the line of Cain we have Cain, Enoch, Irad, Mehujael, Methushael, and Lamech while in the line of Seth we have the parallel names (in different order) of Kenan, Enoch (and Enosh), Jared, Mahalalel, Methuselah, and Lamech. Now, traditionally these are seen as completely different people (and much ink has been spilled to defend this notion), but I wonder if the Cainite version of Genesis 4 isn’t a euhemerized version of the Watchers myth (or the underlying Mesopotamian apkallu myth of the Seven Sages who bequeathed civilization and their Phoenician parallel in Sanchuniathon), with the (human) Cain’s sin and mark condemning his children’s arts as removed from God. If that be the case, then the two Enochs aren’t really different but rather different reflexes of an earlier myth. Indeed, scholars like K. A. Matthews and D. T. Bryan have made many of these same comparisons. Matthews believes that two lists are independent accounts of the same story, one diabolized and the other given as righteous. He, too, sees in the descendants of Cain the same reflection of the apkallu that others see in the Watchers. It strikes me as beyond coincidental that the story of the Watchers as given in 1 Enoch is recapitulated in the sin of the line of Cain, operating outside of the warrant of God.
Such a reading could have occurred to the medieval author of the Cook MS., though more likely he simply attempted to reclaim honor for the earliest supposed mason, for he places the prophecy otherwise given to the line of Seth into the line of Cain. Here the author is speaking of Tubal-Cain and his brethren:
…and these 3 brethren, aforesaid, had knowledge that God would take vengeance for sin, either by fire, or water, and they had greater care how they might do to save the sciences that they [had] found, and they took their counsel together and, by all their wits, they said that [there] were 2 manner of stone[s] of such virtue that the one would never burn, and that stone is called marble, and that the other stone that will not sink in water and that stone is named latres, and so they devised to write all the sciences that they had found in these 2 stones, [so that] if that God would take vengeance, by fire, that the marble should not burn.
And, yea, verily was the myth of the Watchers visited anew upon the line of Cain. For the Masons (speaking here of the guild, not the later fraternal group), the story has now been entirely decoupled from the fallen angels, the Sethites, and all of the developments occurring in Greek, Armenian, Jewish, and Arabic discussions of the story. Instead, the same fragment of myth becomes associated with the first mason, Jabal, and the first smith, Tubal-Cain, almost certainly to serve as a precursor to the two pillars of Solomon’s Temple so beloved of masons and thus later of Freemasons. All of this material comes to the Cooke MS. nearly verbatim from the fourteenth-century Polychronicon of Ranulf Higden (2.18), where the story from Josephus is given nearly entire but without the direct reference to Seth in the original. The masonic author, not knowing the original, therefore either misread the Higden version or purposely applied it to Tubal-Cain and his brothers.
At this point, we can either go with the conspiracy theorists and see the Masons as preserving antediluvian knowledge and a cult founded by Cain, or we can recognized that the fragments of the Enoch-Watchers-Tablets/Pillars myth kept combining and recombining in new and surprising ways, always recognizable but never quite the same in each iteration.
I know that discussing the myth of the Watchers and the tablets and/or pillars of wisdom has been a little confusing due to the sheer number of texts involved. I thought it might be helpful to show their relationship in the form of a chart, but when I listed everything, it didn’t really make things much clearer. There are probably some mistakes and some missed connections, but I think it gives some idea of the complexity of the issue. The lines represent connections between ideas, people, and texts, but it seems like we really need a three- or even four-dimensional chart to really make sense of it. You can download a full-sized copy of the jpeg using the link below.
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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