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Are Demons Really Fallen Angels?

August 4, 2009

Most likely, if you asked any Christian about demons they would say that they were fallen angels. This position is probably mostly informed by a (mis?)reading of Revelation 12, Hollywood, tradition, and Frank Peretti more than something that is explicitly stated in the biblical text, and I think it is an idea that would have differed from many of the authors of the New Testament.

In understanding how some NT authors may have understood demons there are two extra-biblical texts that are pertinent: 1 Enoch and Jubilees. These texts are important as they heavily influenced Second Temple Judaism, and therefore, the thought world of the authors of the NT.

The important story for the present purpose is found in the first book of 1 Enoch, the Book of Watchers (BW). Some angels in heaven led by Shemihaza and Asael see how beautiful the daughters of men are, make a pact among themselves, come down from heaven, marry human women, impregnate the women, and have giant half-breed babies. Finally, God fed up with the havoc they have unleashed on the created order commands four angels to various tasks:

“And to Michael he said, “Go, Michael, bind Shemihazah and the others with him, who have mated with the daughters of men, so that they were defiled by them in their uncleanness. And when their sons perish and they see the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth, until the day of their judgment and consummation, until the everlasting judgment is consummated. Then they will be led to the fiery abyss, and to the torture, and to the prison where they will be confined forever.” (1 Enoch 10:11-13)

Now here’s the important part: The angels are imprisoned in a pit in the wilderness until the day of the Lord’s judgment. They are not left loose to roam around and do any more damage. You see in BW and other Enochic materials the angels are not just responsible for the impurity of improper sexuality, but for also teaching humans all sorts of forbidden knowledge. For instance Azazel teaches mankind about metallurgy which leads to war and killing. So these are some dangerous beings that God locks up forever.

The second part of the story is equally important. The giant offspring of the angels and humans are destroyed, except their parents were spirit and flesh, so while their bodies are destroyed their spirits live on as demons who cause sickness, fever, and hurling people to the ground. It is the disembodied spirits of the giants who are the demons.

“But now the giants who were begotten by the spirits and the flesh–they will call them evil spirits on the earth, for their dwelling will be on the earth. The spirits have gone forth from the body of their flesh and are evil spirits, for from humans they came into being, and from the holy watchers was the origin of their creation… And the spirits of the giants lead astray, do violence, make desolate, and attack and wrestle and hurl upon the earth and cause illnesses. They eat nothing, but abstain from food and are thirsty and smite… thus they will make desolate until the day of the consummation of the great judgment, when the great age will be consummated.” (1 Enoch 15:8-16:1)

The same story is told in Jubilees with a twist: the demons are starting to lead Noah’s grandchildren astray so he prays to God to put all the demons in the pit with the angels. God grants the request and the angels round up the evil spirits, but Mastema (another name for Satan) comes and requests ten-percent of the spirits to do his work among men (Jubilees 10).

A little different take on the story but the conclusion is the same: the fallen angels are buried in the wilderness awaiting judgment, and it is the disembodied spirits of their children who are the demons.

The primary thing that needs to be remembered is that both 1 Enoch and Jubilees appear to have been authoratative texts for some groups in Judaism and some early Christians, so their “angelology/demonology” appearing in the NT should not really be that surprising.

For instance:

For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of deepest darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).

And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).

Obviously, this is only the first half of the equation above: the angels are in deepest darkness bound in chains awaiting judgment. But what about the second half of the equation? Are demons the disembodied spirits of the giants?

Well, if it’s not the angels then by analogy I would say yes, but I am doing more tangible work on this for my MA thesis that requires I go into the Greek in another book that I believe demonstrably strengthens the connection between an NT author’s understanding of demons as the disembodied spirits of the giants and that description in BW.

34 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2009 11:40 am

    Are you saying Frank Peretti could be wrong? 🙂 Seriously, Scott, this sounds like a really cool thesis and I wonder if I could get a copy when you are done. My last question would be a theological one: since this elaborated story from Gen 6:1-4 is a mythical one, do you think modern Christians should leave the belief in demons as the spirits of “disembodied giants” back to a prescientific worldview or in what modern sense can Christians still accept the existence of demons?

    • August 4, 2009 12:56 pm

      Thanks Mike. Actually, this is not my “thesis” per se, but there should be a fair amount of interplay between Enoch and Jubilees in it. The material in this post won’t make it in but the part I mention will as it will make up a small but important aspect on the difference between apocalyptic literature and worldview and the lasting influence of the Watchers narrative.

      As to your theological question: I’m not sure entirely that Watchers is totally an embellishment on Gen 6, or if Gen six reflects a myth that was known to both authors, and its truncated version in Gen reflects the common assumptions of a low context society. Obviously, I would be thinking diachronically here.

      As to what modern Christians “should” believe I am certainly not the decider of that. On the one hand, I think there is evidence in the canonical text that the “devil” does not have some super highly organized angel army, so perhaps people’s ideas about demons need some modification, especially, if they end up in devil and demon worship ala Peretti and his ilk. Modern henotheists.

      On the other, when one looks around the world and history and sees evils like the Holocaust, genocide, child molestation, rape, murder, Alzheimer’s, etc., there is certainly a good case for evil to be made that may be classified as spiritual and ‘demonic’.

      • August 4, 2009 4:20 pm

        This last paragraph of yours seems to be a departure from your usual “total depravity” explication, Scott. I don’t think we need some outside force to spur us to “diabolical” actions or intentions; each of the things you list here–to me–seems well within the scope of baseline human nature.

        I tend to agree with your usual assessment that “the devil made me do it” is bunk.

        As to the meat of your post: neat!

        • Chris E permalink
          August 5, 2009 2:41 am

          I don’t think total depravity (the flesh) is intended to rule out struggles against the world and the devil.

      • Jennifer Brien permalink
        August 5, 2009 10:19 am

        Just my opinion, but ISTM that these particular myths are connected with the development of full-blown monotheism, and were designed to answer the question – if their is only one God, who or what does everyone else worship? Compare the the angels and their offspring to the gods and titans of Greece and Persia.

        This narrative does not attempt to argue that they never existed, but that they were subservient and contrary to the True God, and have already been totally defeated. They are still worshipped,but all that appears is their ghosts, which have no objective power, except to delude and deceive.

        • August 5, 2009 10:30 am

          I can tell that I’m getting old. I had to look up what ISTM meant.

          The Greek parallel would be the titans being thrown into Tartarus after being defeated by Zeus I suppose.

          • Jennifer Brien permalink
            August 6, 2009 12:14 pm

            Actuallly, the first thought that came to mind was Azazel and Prometheus. The Titans, as children of Heaven and Earth, might be compared to the Nephilm, but more profitably to the fallen angels. In both mythologies they are defeated by the current God(s), but for the Greeks the gods were their children wheras in Enoch the children were even less divine, and were destroyed. He.does not deny that there were once mighty men who were children of what were called “gods”, but that age is gone forever, and anyone who makes such a claim now (e.g. Caesar?) is at best deluded, for such ‘gods’ are now disembodied spirits, mere ghosts.

            Perhaps I am taking too modern a view of an ancient story, but I think of spirits in a non-supernatural way. There are good and evil spirits that can be encouraged or dispelled by how we behave, but they are not personalities and, like ghosts, have no power apart from the emotions they arouse. “The devil made me do it” is no more of an excuse than “the drink made me do it.”

  2. Blingo permalink
    August 4, 2009 1:19 pm

    Are fairies really at the bottom of your garden?

  3. Jake permalink
    August 4, 2009 1:26 pm

    “On the other, when one looks around the world and history and sees evils like the Holocaust, genocide, child molestation, rape, murder, Alzheimer’s, etc., there is certainly a good case for evil to be made that may be classified as spiritual and ‘demonic’.”

    I think the stronger case is the one made for our own depravity that we come by of our own accord in a fallen natural world. I have great difficulty with the attribution of physical illness and (especially) mental illness to the realm of spiritual dysfunction (and Scott, I know you certainly have quite the personal vendetta against notions like this yourself). My own dissonance with the topic comes from the manner in which I hear many people qualify and quantify human ailments to spiritual functioning. For example, a small group discussion I was privy to attributed a child’s oppositional defiancy disorder (aka: shitty parent syndrome) to bad parenting but paediatric schizophrenia to demonic intervention.

    Now, there’s just whole pages of rebuttals that I can throw down regarding that particular example but my question is: If in fact you are going to attribute human ailments and deficits to spiritual and/or demonic interaction, do you do so in one big lump sum (attribute all of it to the spiritual) or do you do so on some sort of gradient (Hitler was demonic but Milosevic was just a very naughty boy)? And how do you pick and chose?

    Scott, I’m not directing this question at you particularly but rather to anyone and everyone who reads this who has some thoughts on the matter.

    • August 4, 2009 2:15 pm

      I just roll with there is evil; my answer was more attempting an answer within Mike’s framework, i.e., how to do you state it in a sense that would be sensible and palatable to evangelicals (that’s why I used the wording “may be classified”). But ultimately, trying to connect evil and sickness with some evil in the spiritual realm is always speculation, and can’t be made assuredly on a one to one correlation, e.g., someone gets cancer from the “spirit of cancer’. That’s just silliness.

      Most importantly, this post is not about modern demons, or anything of that nature, but about what some Second Temple Jews believed.

    • August 4, 2009 5:33 pm

      This’ll teach me to speak up before I read all the previous comments.

      aka: shitty parent syndrome

      Lol, dude. Way to put it out there!

      There very well may be some sort of spiritual dimension to various ailments, but to my engineer’s mind, since it is something we can in no way quantify or even verify, it’s–like you said, Scott–“silliness.”

      Should we pray for sick/disturbed/even “evil” people’s deliverance? Sure. But using “demonic attacks” as the refuge of first resort makes Christians look absurd. Also, as you have well chronicled, it contributes to the lack of personal responsibility that is so rampant nowadays.

      • Mike Koke permalink
        August 4, 2009 7:37 pm

        Just to clear something up, I recognize that the post was first and foremost on Second Temple views and another example of the influence of 1 Enoch on early Christian literature which is fascinating in itself. My question was more one of curiousity about the possible theological implications of this might be and my framework is pretty open on this question. I agree with Jake and Brian that people who use the devil as a crutch (“the devil made me do it”) or who always correlate illness with demonic influence often amounts to “silliness.”

  4. August 4, 2009 1:40 pm

    Scott, very nice work. Isn’t it strange that the Watchers play such a pivotal roll in theodicy for the Second Temple period, but get brushed over in common era theodicy-ing?

    Sounds really interesting!

  5. Blingo permalink
    August 4, 2009 1:40 pm

    Sorry, what a dumb question. What I meant to ask was, ‘Are the fairies at the bottom of your garden related to the gremlins that hide under your bed?’

    • August 4, 2009 2:07 pm

      I don’t know if they are related, but I have been reading The Jewel Fairies Collection with my daughter every night about India the Moonstone Fairy, Scarlett the Garnet Fairy, Emily, the Emerald Fairy, and Chloe the Topaz Fairy and their adventures fighting the Goblin King, and I think I believe…

  6. Jake permalink
    August 4, 2009 2:35 pm

    You forgot “Scott, the just plain fairy”

  7. Jake permalink
    August 4, 2009 10:01 pm

    Brian, since you liked my new syndrome terminology, I think you should also know that at my place of work (which often times deals with children who have, or parents who are seeking ODD diagnoses) that I told one particular set of (separated) parents that I didn’t believe in the ODD diagnosis and wouldn’t give one to their child but if they reeeeeaalllly wanted I could recommend a diagnosis for Munchausen Syndrome for themselves if they wished…

    Further questioning regarding more relevant topics:

    In my ignorance of all things Genesis 6, could you please enlighten a lowly “artiste” such as myself regarding the mythological nature of the passage? Because this:

    “I’m not sure entirely that Watchers is totally an embellishment on Gen 6, or if Gen six reflects a myth that was known to both authors, and its truncated version in Gen reflects the common assumptions of a low context society. Obviously, I would be thinking diachronically here.”

    … might as well be written in Swahili. (if there happens to be anyone here who speaks Swahili, don’t be a smartass and type it out, it’s late and I’m legitimately curious).

    • August 5, 2009 8:53 am

      One of the reasons I found “SPS” so funny is that my ne’er-do-well brother-in-law was diagnosed with it, among other things. My wife says your terminology is probably more accurate in his case. 🙂 (Probably a touch of Munchausen, as well)

    • August 5, 2009 10:40 am

      Why can’t you call me with these questions, but instead make me type out an answer?

      I’ll give you the nutshell version in plain English (maybe):

      diachronically speaking (as developed through time) the argument would be that there was a common Watchers tradition that both Genesis and 1 Enoch drew from. Gen 6 would be a shortened, edited version that could reference the myth without having to spell it all out for a low context society.

      In the same way i could say to you that Absolution is my favorite Muse album without having to tell you every song on every album and who the band members are. We have a shared context for Muse that rejects me explaining it to you in high context terms. The same could be plausibly suggested for Gen’s audience: they simply did not need the whole story as they already knew it and it would have been insulting and patronizing to relay it all for them.

      I believe the consensus in scholarship is that Genesis was written well before any Enochic material, so an argument that was more synchronic (a specific period in time) would suggest that the author of Watchers merely took the Gen narrative and expanded it for his purpose(s).

      I suspect the myth is older, and that the Book of Watchers itself bears the hallmarks of development and redaction that may point to a more diachronic understanding and a common myth for both texts.

      So the next question would naturally become: why does the author of Genesis choose to present the story truncated in his fashion, but still introducing the flood narrative?

      I have a guess; anyone else?

      • August 5, 2009 11:27 am

        Why can’t you call me with these questions, but instead make me type out an answer?

        Wow, dude. You’d really miss out on this golden opportunity to shower all of us mundanes with your inspired wisdom, just to avoid getting calluses on your index fingers? Weak, bro. Weak.

        Of course, you could just stay logged in to WP and let your kids field the pedestrian questions. I’m sure, weaned on Daddy’s keen insight as they are, they wouldn’t embarrass you. Writing quality might take a hit… but then again, maybe not. 😉

  8. Dave Down Under permalink
    August 5, 2009 3:55 am

    Scott: Nice work…
    Jake: How do you keep your job????? (very, very, very funny, though!)
    Shitty Parent Syndrome: wow, I think I may have had a touch of that during my parenting years… 🙂

  9. Allen W permalink
    August 5, 2009 9:53 am

    Sorry to jump in here…
    So if the Watchers were responsible for “giant” offspring, do you think their descendants were the same giants that supposedly dwelt in Canaan, or do you think the claims of Goliath’s height were exaggerated over time? If the two “giant” references are related, do you think this was the reason why the author of Exodus made it clear that God was adamant about Israel completely wiping out the entire population of Canaan, possibly to rid the earth of the remnants of angel/woman offspring?

    • Mic permalink
      January 18, 2010 5:07 pm

      HOw big do you have to be to be considered a giant?? Have you seen some of those college/pro basketball players?

  10. August 5, 2009 11:13 am

    I believe that would be Michael Heiser’s conclusion. I think he is preparing a manuscript on it called “The Myth That Is True” for publication in the near future.

    • August 5, 2009 1:27 pm

      Allen W. might find this discussion between Michael Heiser and Greg Boyd interesting:

      • August 6, 2009 7:57 am


        Wow, reading Boyd–who is a fairly decent theologian and pastor from the sounds of things–trying to work through some biblical studies issues is actually a little painful.

        I wonder if Heiser deals with the dating of these texts, as treating Genesis, Isaiah, and Ezekiel as un-redacted texts dealing with the same issue seems a little tenuous to me…

        • Chris E permalink
          August 13, 2009 5:41 am

          Would you hold to Heiser’s view that Ezekiel 28 refers to the nachash rather than Adam?

          • August 13, 2009 7:09 am


            I’ve only read the one chapter from Heiser and I’m working off of memory here, so…

            From what I remember it is linguistically possible; my knee jerk reaction would be trying to find some synchronic resolution between the two books. I’m not sure the Zadokite priest(s) that wrote down Ezekiel’s words were all that concerned or were alluding to the nacash, or understood the nacash that way. Is it possible? Maybe, but I would certainly have to do some research before I opened that door.

            • Chris E permalink
              August 13, 2009 8:32 am

              It’s interesting to me that this swings back in the direction of those who have – perhaps as a side effect also been dispensational (and Satan in a ‘mineral’ garden of Eden is seen as part of one of the earlier dispensations).

              Whereas in the reformed world people such as GK Beale have been quite emphatic in asserting that Ezekiel 28 is a referring to Adam.

  11. Jeremiah Lawson permalink
    August 24, 2009 5:12 pm

    agathos, have you read Richard Bauckham’s commentary on Jude/2 Peter? What about Susan R Garrett’s work on demonology in the writings of Luke or the temptation narrative in Mark? Garrett seems to be one of the few NT scholars I’ve ever come across who decided to make demonology a focus in her work as a scholar. Bauckham seems to specialist in apocryphal literature and in my limited study of this topic both have been helpful. I think a lot of evangelicals try to skate over the apocryphal material needed to exegete the allusions to “strange flesh”. Clearly the invocation of homosexuality in Sodom is more popular than the implied mirroring of angel on human then human on angel intercourse accepted by reference to 1 Enoch. The question of whether Jude was affirming the whole kit and kaboodle or using apocryphal literature in a polemic against false teachers without affirming their truthfulness goes far afield of what you look like you’re working on.

    Appropos of nothing, throwing more books at you, you’ve read Jeffrey Burton Russell’s works?

  12. August 25, 2009 9:33 am

    I have read Bauckham’s commentary but not Garrett; however, thanks for pointing it out. I’ll be seeing if it is in our library here.

    As to Enoch: I think it is important that the author of Jude uses the Enoch text as the key element in his midrash against Christian false teachers this would lead me to suggest that he most likely viewed an Enoch text or some of the Enochic corpus as “divinely revealed”.

  13. February 8, 2012 4:33 pm

    That is the right weblog for anybody who wants to find out about this topic. You understand so much its nearly onerous to argue with you (not that I truly would needHaHa). You definitely put a brand new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Great stuff, simply great!

  14. onfiregodrock permalink
    June 15, 2013 8:02 pm

    demons are fallen emoti.


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