Noah: Who are the Watchers and Why the Panic?

Noah Brad Jersak

This post originally appeared on Brad’s blog, “Christianity Without the Religion”

The first weekend showings of Noah (the movie) starring Russell Crowe and Emma Watson were accompanied by some surprises and an utter lack thereof. I’ll start with the latter to get it out of the way.

No surprise: Evangelical panic

I don’t think anyone should be surprised at the usual course of Evangelical reactions decrying the movie for its ‘biblical inaccuracies.’ (Though I confess to wondering if the Westboro Baptists picketed anywhere). Of course, citing inaccuracies implies that the measure of faithfulness to Scripture is somehow photocopying Genesis 6-9 into the screenplay in a sort of word for word depiction. It’s this paint by numbers mentality that keeps many an Evangelical trapped within the lines of their own assumptions — as if taking the text literally was remotely akin to taking it seriously. Not so!

For those who are more serious about biblical investigation, I would highly recommend reading the interview by Paul Raushenbush with the movie’s writers.

In it, one finds that the Jewish writers are very familiar with the subtleties of the Scriptural story, but also well aware of and adept at using the well-attested form of Jewish interpretation known as ‘Midrash.’ The interviewer says,

In the end, Noah is best understood as midrash on the Genesis story in the Hebrew Bible. Midrash is a valuable part of the Jewish tradition and is a kind of storytelling that explores the ethics and values in the biblical text.

Ari Handel explains how they applied this to their movie version of the Flood epic:

We tried to read everything and talk to everything we could for guidance. Ultimately in the midrash tradition the text has purposeful lacuna; it has questions that are posed in the very words, so the closer we read it, the more questions arose from it.


At the heart of it is the big question — why is Noah spared? Why do we have wickedness punished at the beginning of the story and almost the very same words are used to say that wickedness will not be punished in the future? What does that change and how to understand it?

Now many Christian church-goers have never heard of midrash, but they will have seen many examples of it when reading the New Testament, because Jesus, Paul and Peter are were all especially fond of using midrash. Often they leave us scratching our heads about how they get away with taking verses so ‘out of context’ — when in fact, their ‘hermeneutical’ (interpretive) rules are simply not those of some modern Evangelicals who wear their ties too tight.

Related: The Christian Right’s Ironic Love for McConaughey’s Acceptance Speech

Anyway, for keeners who would like to pursue a scholarly approach to examples of midrash in the New Testament, you might start with Martin Pickup’s journal article, “New Testament Interpretation of the Old Testament: the Theological Rationale of Midrashic Exegesis” — or if you just want to skip to seeing an example of Jesus doing this, have a look at his running commentary on Exodus 16:4 and Psalm 78:24 in John 6:25-59 (cf. Jn 6:31).

Big surprise: ‘the Watchers’

Prepared as I was for some good Hollywood midrash, I was still in for a surprise: the inclusion of ‘Watchers’ in the story. As I was leaving the movie, I heard a mother ask her 20-something daughter if she liked the movie. The daughter grumped about the sci-fi element, referring to the Watchers as detracting from the story. Mom replied, ‘Hey, it’s a MOVIE!’ (I suspect she paid for the ticket). Still, the use of the Watcher tradition did take me by surprise. It showed a lot of guts and creativity (or was it folly?) to veer that far from the Genesis account. But at the same time, it also demonstrated how deeply Aronofsky and Handel had pursued their research — for the Watchers are indeed deeply embedded in the first century Jewish and Christian’ storyworld of creation and Noah. How so? And who are they?

To begin with, the Watchers are first mentioned in the Book of Daniel. For example, in Daniel 4:13 (cf. 23 also), we read:

“I saw in the visions of my head while on my bed, and there was a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven.”

And again in verse 17:

Brave New Films

“This sentence is by the decree of the angelic watchers. And the decision is a command of the holy ones, In order that the living may know That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes And sets over it the lowliest of men.”

In Daniel, then, the Watchers are a kind of angelic being that reports to God and makes decrees on behalf of God. But then they also become key players in connection to Noah in intertestamental Jewish apocalyptic literature–some as villainous spirits–such as the books of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees (among others).

On the one hand, 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilee aren’t formally part of the Jewish or Christian canons of Scripture — nor do they even belong to those apocryphal books of secondary authority found in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT used by NT authors) and the thicker Bibles of the historic (pre-Protestant) churches.

But on the other hand Enoch, for example, was highly popular and influential in the first century. Not only did it rank alongside the Torah, Psalms and Isaiah as a ‘top-seller’ in Jewish libraries, but in the NT too, Peter’s epistles allude to Enoch’s mythology (1 Peter 3:19, 1 Peter 2:4) and St Jude cites 1 Enoch 14-15 directly (probably 1 Enoch 1:9), as if Enoch (the great-grandfather of Noah) himself had uttered these prophecies. Yet we know that, in fact, the first book of Enoch was pseudepigraphal — that is, a book written under a pseudonym — written sometime between 300 BC and 100 AD.

Who exactly were the ‘Watchers’?

Again, the movie includes the Watchers as key characters, but also uses a lot of creative license when incorporating them into the storyline. For interest sake, readers might like a brief primer on what the Jews of Jesus’ day might have actually read about them. After fact-checking the thorough research of D. S. Russell in The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, I gleaned the following:

In books like Enoch, Jubilee and the Testimonies of the Twelve Patriarchs, the angel orders are arranged in hierarchies. The Watchers seem to be part of the superior classes of angels (e.g. in 1 Enoch, there are 1. Seraphim, 2. Cherubim, 3. Opannim (‘the Wheels of Ezekiel personified) and 4. the Watchers). These varieties of mega-angels share several roles. They are first of all ministering angels who:

  • intercede for humans – 1 Enoch 15:2
  • mediate between God and man – Testimony of Dan 6:2
  • guide people in the right way of life – and report to God on what they see (good or evil) – Jubilee 4:6
  • reveal God’s secrets – 1 Enoch 60:11
  • prepare for the judgment of the righteous and wicked – 1 Enoch 103:2-3
  • teach men knowledge and crafts – 1 Enoch 7:1; 8:1ff

But the Watchers (or some of them) are also those identified as:

  • falling from heaven, led astray by the first 2 of 5 Satans – Similitudes of Enoch 69:4; 54:6 – Esp. Satanail entices the Watchers in the 5th heaven to revolt against God. This Satan will also later condemn and torture these same Watchers (54:3, 5).
  • some of the Watchers who fall are imprisoned in the 2nd heaven and others are cast to earth where they take human women (Enoch 7:3, 18:4) who bear giant offspring (the Nephalim of Genesis 6) – Jubilee 13:17-35; Testament of Reuben 5:6

Where do the Watchers fit into the story of Noah?

  • First, they teach men the technology that ultimately corrupts the earth with bloodshed – 1 Enoch 8-9
  • Second, because of the corruption of the world, Enoch passes on the secret wisdom of God via his descendents, via Methuselah, Lamech and on to Noah. This secret knowledge included healing (as seen in the movie) but also the coming flood and the need to build an ark – Jubilee 7, 10
  • Third, the children of the Watchers (the giants, who when they die, become evil spirits) work destruction in the world
  • Noah prays that God will destroy these spirits from off the earth in the flood – Jubilee 5, 10; 1 Enoch 7:2ff
  • These spirits become the demons (1 Enoch 16:1) – 90% of them are bound until the final judgement but 10% survive the flood and continue to roam the earth wreaking havoc (as demons) – Jubilee 5, 10

For those who don’t have time to go searching these quite fantastic legends (available online  here), I’d at least like to offer this teaser, from 1 Enoch 15:

1 And He answered and said to me, and I heard His voice: ‘Fear not, Enoch, thou righteous 2 man and scribe of righteousness: approach hither and hear my voice. And go, say to the Watchers of heaven, who have sent thee to intercede for them: “You should intercede” for men, and not men 3 for you: Wherefore have ye left the high, holy, and eternal heaven, and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men and taken to yourselves wives, and done like the children 4 of earth, and begotten giants (as your) sons? And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten (children) with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those also do who die 5 and perish. Therefore have I given them wives also that they might impregnate them, and beget 6 children by them, that thus nothing might be wanting to them on earth. But you were formerly 7 spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the world. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for as for the spiritual ones of the heaven, in heaven is their dwelling. 8 And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon 9 the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; 10 they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. [As for the spirits of heaven, in heaven shall be their dwelling, but as for the spirits of the earth which were born upon the earth, on the earth shall be their dwelling.] And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble: they take no food, but nevertheless 12 hunger and thirst, and cause offences. And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and against the women, because they have proceeded from them.

Accidental anti-Semitism?

After reading the Jewish intertestamental apocrypha in larger doses for myself, I can affirm the assessment of both the mother and daughter whom I overheard at the theatre: yes, this is Sci-fi! And yes, it is like a movie. While the movie broke away wildly from Enoch’s otherworldly script and took viewers in interesting new directions, I believe we can accede the following points.

  • The Jewish co-writers really did their homework, exploring the story of Noah as found both in the Bible and in the Jewish books the Bible uses in recalling Noah and the Watchers.
  • Thus, the writers are faithful to the story by using the full arsenal of Jewish narrative and apocalyptic to envision Noah’s storyworld.
  • The writers are also faithful in using the full arsenal of Jewish interpretive tools (especially midrash) to interpret the story, fill in the gaps and ponder the deeper meaning of the story.
  • The writers are also faithful in making the flood narrative an important prophetic word for today on several themes. First, they raise the question of how human violence corrupts civilization and ruins the world we’re meant to be stewarding. This is important because once again, we now have the power combined with the selfishness to literally destroy the whole world. Second, they explore how we might read God into our story–not merely as punisher, but as the One who allows us to destroy ourselves in an ugly end, even as God plans for new beginnings. Third, they highlight the awkward partnerships God makes with broken people to protect and preserve life in this precarious planet. In the end, God’s mercy triumphs over judgment IF we choose to be those willing partners.

Also by Brad: 7 Tips for Finding Your Vocation

Given these points–that Jewish writers are faithfully interpreting Jewish literature through Jewish methods in order to tell a Jewish story–I’m wondering when those who condemn them will realize their critiques are accidentally revealing a form of anti-Semitism. I hope this isn’t a subtle intention, but rather, a kind of ignorance to the fact that this story belonged to the Jews first, that it’s not confined to the Christian Bible, nor shackled to Evangelical hermeneutical rules developed by modernists. It might be better to stop panicking, start listening and perhaps avail ourselves of some of these same sources and methods … just like the New Testament models.

This post originally appeared on Brad’s blog, “Christianity Without the Religion”

Print Friendly

About the Author

Brad JersakBrad Jersak is an author and theologian based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves on faculty at Westminster Theological Centre (UK) and is the editor of He blogs regularly at Christianity Without the ReligionView all posts by Brad Jersak →

  • Vince

    You can call me an anti semite if you like but the story of Noah is about the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Gods judgement came Noah found grace from god (Gen 6:8, 7:1), while still a sinner because of his faith (Heb 11:7). In Mt 24, Jesus talks about Noah as a judgement story, that we need to be ready at all times for the judgement of God. The only way to be spared eternal destruction is to enter the ark that is Jesus Christ by faith and be saved from the righteous judgement of God.

    God is being patient today just like he held off judgement while the ark was being built (1 Pet 18-22), but Gods judgement is coming and unless your sins are forgiven by faith and trust in Jesus Christ you will be swept away by the flood of Gods wrath.

    • Imhiphop

      Well said Vince. That is the exact reason our Pastor explained to us before congregation went to see it together, just understand the finality of the Flood. There is no in between…don’t be left on the outside when the “ark that is Christ” returns

      • Vince


  • 22044

    I don’t think anyone’s panicking…but I don’t blame others if they see the movie as a Trojan horse, i.e. telling an entirely antibiblical story under the veneer of presenting a Bible story. The spirit of accepting errors and lacking discernment is strong these days.

    And for many people, it’s just not a very good movie, regardless of which story it’s telling.

    • meagan

      not a good movie? Then why is it rated Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. The only people giving this movie bad reviews are the ignorant fundamentalist Christians and militant atheists.

      • 22044

        I did check RT and usually find it helpful, but I’m making an exception in this case.

  • tanyam

    Are the watchers related to the nephilim, who are mentioned just before the story of Noah in Genesis?

    • Yes, the Nephilim are their offspring.

      Genesis 6:4 “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God” (angels) “came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.”

  • Rich Allcorn

    I’m sorry but the only word that comes to mind about this article … it’s “crap”. We can be as intellectual as we want to be, and turn and twist history into supporting what we want to support, but the fact is the man who produced this is an athiest. He does NOT believe in GOD. He even told one reported he asked to review the movie, “… well, you believe in a ‘sky god’!” Seriously? A “sky god”?

    Brad, I’m all for giving someone the benefit of the doubt, but this Noah, and the Noah of the Bible are two entirely different characters and stories.

    • Joe

      “I’m all for giving someone the benefit of the doubt, but this Noah, and the Noah of the Bible are two entirely different characters and stories.”

      If I may, on what exactly are you basing that conclusion? Is it based entirely on the fact that the producer is an atheist? Because that’s the only point mentioned in your comment, but considering the fact that the writers are Jewish, it doesn’t seem to be a very compelling point. Or do you perhaps have some criticisms of the story’s content?

      • Rich Allcorn

        Joe, if you’ve studied the Bible at all on the story of Noah, it’s not hard to see where this goes awry. Noah wanted to reach the people and even preached to them – he didn’t hide from them. And trying to kill his family? This sounds like the story of Abraham gone wild! And “rock people”, seriously?

        I can’t believe you had to ask me this …

        • Joe

          I had to ask because you hadn’t given any reasons, Rich. Having not seen the movie, all I have to go on is what people tell me, and all you told me in your first comment was “the producer is an atheist.” That doesn’t support the statement that “this Noah is different from the Biblical Noah.” What you’ve said now, though, works. Saying this out of love, if you lead with those reasons next time, people won’t have to ask you this sort of thing.

          • Rich Allcorn

            The scripture speaks for itself, and I frankly find that arguing about this is pointless and will have no fruitful outcome. I believe what I believe, and you as well have your convictions. Joe, you have to hold true to what you believe. In my relationship with GOD, and we talk often, this just doesn’t line up. I’ve got no other way to say it. “Proving” it is a fleshly thing, which will take countless hours and painstaking arguments, and when it’s all said and done, the results will not be the truth, but an opinion.

            I appreciate your feedback.
            Thanks for having the guts to stand up and say something.
            I respect that.

          • jordan

            Maybe it’s a little more “utnapushtim” than “Noah”, but the biblical account is so dry (pardon the pun) compared to the mesopotamian version. They should have told it as Noah telling a story way after the fact and end it with Noah finding the flower of eternal life. Would have been cool.

        • meagan

          did you even read the article?

          • Rich Allcorn


          • scott

            Just another holier than thou idiot who believes in all the craziness of the bible but can not open their mind to rock people.

          • ijustgottasay

            If you don’t believe in all the “craziness of the Bible”, why would you have any interest in watching a Biblical epic?

          • scott

            Have you seen Harry Potter, X-Men, Zombieland? To me its pretty easy to tell in history where someone’s imagination ran away with them, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make a good story. I have nothing against what you want to believe though, I only chimed in because that guy was being a dick.

  • Vince

    RLC never seems to pass up a chance to defend the culture and beat the sheep.

    • jim

      Vince….right on. Just the name RLC should throw up a red flag even before opening the web site. Were Jesus words, those in red ink, more important than those of Micah or Paul or David or Moses? Chime in.

      • Vince

        Jesus wrote all of the words in the bible or else he is not God.

        • CindyK-Grace

          God INSPIRED the writers of the Bible. And yes, what we understand to be the true words of Christ, because when these books were written there were those alive that could have contested them if they weren’t true, I do adhere to more than those of any other. Men “inspired by” still does not equal the Son of God for me. You must follow your own heart. Again, why come to this site at all if it angers you so?

          • Vince

            Jesus indicated the bible was written by god. When Jesus quoted Gen 2:24 in Mt 19:4-5 he said God said not that Moses said.

            Why do you equate disagreement with anger?

          • Vince

            I guess you really did not want an answer, you just needed to condemn.

        • Traci

          No, he did not, and yes He IS God.

          • Vince

            Then why do you disagree with the Bible that says all scripture is God breathed?

          • Traci

            The authors were inspired by God, but they did not take blind dictation from God.

    • CindyK-Grace

      How unworthy of you. Why do you even come to this site if it makes you so unhappy?

      • Vince

        Probably for some of the same reasons you thought you needed to respond to me.

      • Vince

        CindyK, Can I ask what you think a persons greatest need is?

    • Traci

      Awww. You poor, poor persecuted put upon lamb.

      *strokes offended sensibilities*

      • Vince

        I have never claimed to be persecuted.

        • Traci

          This comment made you seem put upon.

          “RLC never seems to pass up a chance to defend the culture and beat the sheep.”

          You don’t like RLC, but you keep coming back.

          • Vince

            No. My comment is more of a general comment. I find that progressive types usually have great things to say about the culture in relation to non Christians, but have harsh things to say to fellow Christians without much grace. There is a time for bluntness or harsh words but I think most of he time it should be presented in an encouraging manner, to lift up the church to do better not just beat them down and hope they will change. I do not equate that with christian persecution. Disagreement is not persecution.

  • As far as a movie for entertainment goes, I did really enjoy this movie; and, although I believe they didn’t interpret the Watchers accurately (as in, there’s no way the fallen ones could have begat children through women if they didn’t have the bodies and necessary things to do so), I liked the fact they included them nonetheless. Not many Bible-stemmed movies even mention these guys, yet they’re a big piece of history that are cause for a lot of the problems in the world today.

    I also didn’t appreciate the fact that Noah plotted to kill his descendants. I know that even the Bible still describes Noah as a sinner (something that was reflected in the movie perfectly by him realizing that they all have darkness within themselves), they did go a bit far on that. Thinking about it now, it’s probably because the producers wanted to make a bold statement: love is greater than evil.

    Bringing in the fact that Methuselah was in there – I appreciated it. To say that it’s ridiculous that he played such a large part in the movie simply because the Bible doesn’t mention him often doesn’t change the fact that he was the grandfather to the fatherless Noah. I’m sure you like hanging out with your grandparents, right? I do…anyway, according to the Bible, the age of Methuselah in comparison to the age of Noah, by the time the ark was built, certainly suggests that Methuselah died just before the flood, and was alive during the majority of its’ construction. Which is more directly stated in the book of Enoch. The more significant fact is that the name Methuselah means: “His death shall bring”. His death shall bring the judgement. That’s what I get out of that…so of course I couldn’t bring myself to believe he died in the flood.

    but here’s something even more significant (that really has nothing to do with this movie, but it’s a fun fact, so I’ll include it!) The name meanings of the individuals from Adam to Noah actually summarize New Testament scripture. It’s pretty cool!
    Adam: Man
    Seth: Appointed
    Enosh: Mortal
    Kenan: Sorrow;
    Mahalalel: The Blessed God
    Jared: Shall come down
    Enoch: Teaching
    Methuselah: His death shall bring
    Lamech: The despairing
    Noah: Rest, Comfort

    I give this movie a 8/10 for entertainment and good acting, and a 3/10 for historical accuracy.

    • Brett

      The possibility of Noah taking position as the reluctant yet obedient annihilator of mankind echoes Abraham’s binding of Isaac. I have neither the access or desire to study obscure ancient Hebrew texts so I don’t know if they provide any historical precedent for Noah The Annihilator, but the allegorical precedent is bona fide.

      This movie is excellent. It’s themes and plot are almost acoustic in that they echo and resonate off of and reinforce one another in perfect harmony. Aaronofsky never claimed that it was a literal retelling of the King James account.

  • WFU86

    Thanks for a well written piece. I’ll admit that I hadn’t given much thought to the Jewish lens that this film was run through. In any event, folks need to lighten up – it’s just a movie. Even if one thinks it’s historically/Biblically inaccurate, it can still be an effective conversation starter.

  • confettifoot

    Sad comments. Deeply interesting article. Thanks.

  • Gwen Thomas

    Thanks for the information. As a Christian, was confused about The Watchers. Now understand their presence and can talk intelligently about it.

  • Jimnash Buffalodiesendmoneymoz

    Read the Book of Enoch


    This movie is a mockery of the account of the flood in the Bible with all sorts of modern perspectives and impositions inserted throughout.

  • D Taylor

    Rock People yeah! What the hell?

  • anreeta

    Who exactly is Yahweh…because this judgement thing…believing Jesus by FAITH…condemning a bunch of luni nephilims to be bound on Earth…to let them destroy…cause chaos in our lives all because the women of Earth were mpregnated by their fathers (the fallen watchers)…common people…this is no better than what they do to women who are raped in Yemen for instance…daughters of man were sexually abused and raped…how can any god or GOD blame her when she was a victim…Now the brain washed religio pips will storm at such a comment…and not rationalise first!!

Read previous post:
Pain of a Gay Man
The Pain of a Gay Man

APRIL 2, 2014 | BY: ANONYMOUS -- For twenty-four hours my friend breathed a little easier and thought   “There...