When Monsters Walked the Earth

Giants, Monster Theory, and the Reformulation of Textual Traditions in the Enochic Book of the Watchers


  • Matthew Goff Florida State University




Exegesis, Cannibalism, Giants, 1 Enoch, Book of the Watchers


This article examines an Early Jewish text entitled the Book of the Watchers that is part of a larger work known as 1 Enoch.  The Book of the Watchers offers a vivid and disturbing portrait of the excessive violence on earth that led to the flood, attributing the situation to destructive giants.  Watchers expands and interprets the account of the crisis that precipitated the flood in Gen 6:1-4.  Comparison of the two texts demonstrates that Watchers in particular expands the description in Genesis 6 of the giants (sons of the angels) and the violence they perpetrate.  Exegesis, however, alone cannot explain this phenomenon.  Appeal to monster studies can help us better understand the issue.  This article argues that the retelling of the flood story in the Book of the Watchers was popular in ancient Judaism because it offers a compelling construction of the known world, and social customs that are normative within it—including a prohibition against murder and the delineation of norms regarding of food—by offering a shocking description of the antediluvian world, before divine regulations regarding such behavior were promulgated.  The heinous and cannibalistic violence of the antediluvian era as presented in the Book of the Watchers helps justify the current (post-diluvian) order by presenting a coherent account of how it came into being in a way that legitimates God’s dominion over it.  The essay also explores how attending to the theme of the monstrous can provide insight into the Book of the Watchers in relation to older mythic traditions embedded in Genesis 1 and the Babylonian creation poem, the Enuma Elish.  The article also contends that Watchers’ reformulation of the flood story with its heightened monstrosity can be profitably explained against the backdrop of cultural anxieties that were pervasive during the  Hellenistic era during which it was written.