When I was researching the way Nephilim theorists have decided to embrace the Book of Enoch, I looked into some of the ancient attitudes toward the non-canonical text. It’s rather a complex story, but the general trend is that before 1 CE, many Jews embraced the myth of fallen angels having relations with human women to spawn giants, but over time, attitudes changed and the new theology that the “Sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6 were actually the human descendants of Seth took hold. Christians, however, were divided between those who favored the old view and those that preferred the new. The Church Fathers struggled with this for centuries, and you can see the differing opinions in their various writings.
As part of this controversy, Justin Martyr, who was himself a believer in fallen angels as the fathers of the Nephilim, produced his Dialogue with Trypho in the second century. This dialogue takes the form of a conversation between Justin and a fictitious Jew named Trypho in which Justin explains why Jesus is truly the Jewish Messiah. In chapter 79, he explains why the Jews are wrong to believe that the Sons of God in Genesis 6:4 are not fallen angels:
Trypho, who was somewhat angry, but respected the Scriptures, as was manifest from his countenance, said to me:
There’s a lot packed into that chapter, notably the assertion that the pagan gods are in fact demons who are identical with fallen angels. But for our purposes, it is most interesting to note that Justin believes that the fallen angels were even then living the city of Tanis in Egypt!
That’s a rather astonishing statement, and a conflusing one. When Justin quotes Isaiah, he seems to be doing so incorrectly. Here, he says “for the princes in Tanis are evil angels” and attributes the line to Isaiah. And yet, when we look at the parallel passage in Isaiah, we find that he said “For his princes were at Zoan, and his ambassadors came to Hanes” (KJV). Zoan is the Hebrew transcription of Djanet, the Egyptian name for Tanis. Tanis is the Greek transcription of the same Egyptian word for a city that was briefly the capital of Egypt. How Justin turned the ambassadors from Hanes into evil angels is a wonderful question and based ultimately on Justin’s misreading of the Septuagint, and the Septuagint’s own error.
The Greek version of Isaiah 30:4 reads (in Lancelot C. L. Brenton’s translation): “For there are princes in Tanes, evil messengers” (ὅτι εἰσὶν ἐν Τάνει ἀρχηγοὶ ἄγγελοι πονηροί). This seems to be due to a typo in the Hebrew used by the translators, where Hanes is mistakenly rendered in characters meaning “in vain.” As a result, the Septuagint translators attached those words grammatically to Isaiah 30:5, leaving only a truncated phrase in 30:4. To that end, they mistook the Hebrew word for princes, śā·rāw (שָׂרָ֑יו), as sharar (שֹׁרְרֵי), meaning “hostile” or “evil,” perhaps due to a transcription error. (Forgive the differing transliterations—I copied them from a Bible dictionary since I don’t know Hebrew.)
The short version is that the word for ambassadors or messengers is the same as that of angels because the word for “angel” in Greek is literally a “messenger.” Justin, accepting the Septuagint’s use of “evil” but misreading “messengers” as “angels,” therefore asserts, preposterously, that the fallen angels were even then alive and living in the defunct capital of Egypt! Justin wrote of what he did not understand.
I don’t suppose it surprises you to learn that some fringe history writers, like Chris Relitz in Antichrist Osiris, taking Justin at his word, have alleged that fallen angels were living in Tanis.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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