By: Helen R. Jacobus
Angels are often associated with secret knowledge but not usually with authentic mathematics. In several of the Dead Sea Scrolls there is a complicated network of parallel stories in which angels impart secret knowledge of the calendar, astronomy, astrology and divination to humans before the Flood. These secrets were important for Jews and early Christians, among other things, to know about current scientific knowledge around them that had been developed to an advanced level by their neighbours in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean.
The myths are expansions of Genesis 5:23–24, the after-life of Enoch whose days ended at 365 years and Genesis 6:4, the appearance of Nephilim—or giants in The Septuagint—benign progeny of divine beings and the daughters of humans. In early Jewish writings these short passages have been woven into epic, ‘rewritten Bible’ sagas.
With the exception of the fragmentary Aramaic Genesis Apocryphon, an expanded retelling of parts of Genesis, discovered in Qumran Cave 1, these additional narratives from Second Temple Judaism were already known before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees were preserved in Ethiopic, and a portion of 1 Enoch in Greek. The Book of Jubilees and 1 Enoch had been preserved and canonised in the Ethiopic Orthodox Church and the Book of Enoch is cited in the New Testament (Jude 1:14–15= 1 En. 60:8). Fragments of these books were also found at Qumran Cave 4: I Enoch in Aramaic, and Jubilees in Hebrew.
But previously unknown texts found at Qumran, without full Ethiopic versions, include two astronomical and calendrical manuscripts in Aramaic: 4Q208 (4QAstronomical Enocha) and part of 4Q209 (4QAstronomical Enochb), a formulaically written calendar, some of which appears in a corrupted condition in the Ethiopic Astronomical Book of Enoch (1 En. 72-82).
At Qumran there is also the formerly completely unknown Aramaic 4QZodiac Calendar and Brontologion (4Q318). This comprises a schematic 360-day calendar that traces the zodiac sign that the moon traverses for every day of a year composed of twelve 30-day months. An appended thunder omen text, the Brontologion, gives a prediction according to the position of the moon in the zodiac when the thunder clap occurs.
Nothing in these manuscripts indicates they are part of mythological books. When reconstructed it can be seen that they contain real astronomical calendars, and actual mathematical material. But angels are at the forefront.
In both the Ethiopic and in the Qumran version of 1 Enoch and Jubilees, Enoch ascends to the heaven to receive divinely authorised knowledge. Conversely, angels known collectively as the Watchers descended to earth and married human women. They taught their wives the secrets of metalwork for making weapons and jewellery, using kohl, precious stones and dye, magical arts, omen reading and astronomy. In parallel stories the women gave birth to cannibalistic giants, and variously blood-thirsty Nephilim (see 1 Enoch, Genesis Apocryphon, Jubilees).
One detailed story about the descending angels’ secret arts is described in The Book of Watchers from 1 Enoch (1 En. 1-36) in Ethiopic, several substantial fragments of which were found in Cave 4. The fragments 4Q201, 4Q202 and 4Q204 contain the story of the rebellion of the Watchers, their names and their skills and the intervention of the four archangels, Michael, Sariel, Raphael and Gabriel, to punish them and bring about the Flood. The earliest fragment, 4Q201, was copied circa 200–150 BCE.
It is during his tour of heaven, where Enoch ascends to intercede on behalf of the Watchers, that he learns the secrets of astronomy and the calendar (in the Ethiopic version he is taught by Uriel. The archangel’s name is not extant in the fragments from Qumran).
Several scholars take the view that Enoch, the seventh man after Adam, is a Jewish adaptation of Enmeduranki, the seventh ruler in some versions of the antediluvian Sumerian King List, ruler of Sippar, city of the sun god Shamash. Enmeduranki received secrets of divination and mathematical calculations from the gods and became the ancestor of the bāru, diviners skilled in interpreting celestial omens.
Interestingly,the Brontologion is also composed in the style of Mesopotamian omen texts known from the Enūma Anu Enlil omen series but with a conditional clause involving the zodiac, unknown from the Babylonian texts.
The zodiac calendar of 4Q318, 4QZodiac Calendar, uses the Aramaic translations of the Babylonian month names that are used in the Hebrew calendar today. The months, Shevat, month 11, and Adar, month 12, are extant in the very fragmentary remains of this manuscript.
4QZodiac Calendar also helps us to understand the calendar of 4Q208-4Q209 that was identified by the Dead Sea Scrolls scholar J.T. Milik in 1976 as a so-called “synchronistic calendar.” The sun and moon in the Aramaic synchronistic calendar are harmonised through numbered “gates.” With respect to 1 Enoch 72–82, Assyriologist and mathematician Otto Neugebauer argued that the numbered “gates” corresponded to the sunrise and sunset positions on the horizon. He rejected the interpretation by Richard Laurence from 1821 that the “gates” in the Ethiopic Astronomical Book of Enoch are connected with the zodiac signs. Figure 5 shows the solar-lunar-stellar scheme in 1 Enoch Chapter 72, with the cognate zodiac signs added.
It may be argued that the largest Qumran fragment, 4Q209 (4QAstronomical Enochb) containing data that the sun enters Gate 1, corresponds to the winter solstice zodiac signs of Sagittarius and Capricorn and solar zodiacal months 9 and 10. The moon moves from Gate 4, corresponding to Aries, on the 8th and 9th of the month to Gate 5, corresponding to Taurus, on the 10th of the month. The manuscript also describes the waxing and waning phase of the moon day by day in fractions of sevenths of its shining and darkness.
In the zodiac calendar of 4Q318, the reconstructed text shows that in Month 10, Tevet, on the days 8 and 9, the moon is in the sign of Taurus (see Figure 7 for the position of the moon in the zodiac for the first nine days of the month).
It appears the year in 4Q318 is mathematically slightly ahead of 4Q209. In the luni-solar calendar, the lunar months have to be regulated by adding a 13th month every two to three years. It is possible that the Aramaic calendars are earlier versions of the ideal schematic, luni-solar calendar of the 19-year cycle known as the Metonic cycle. This is well-known from the Standard Mesopotamian calendar and the calendar of Athens. (When Hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving in 2013 it was an example of an additional month being due).
The teaching of the descending, rebellious angels or the revealed knowledge to Enoch by Uriel during his tour of the cosmos in 1 Enoch may be mythology with an educational purpose. The earliest copy of the Aramaic fragment concerning the Watchers who came to the earth, 4Q201, was, according to Milik, dictated by a master in a scribal school.
An understanding of astronomy and mathematics ensured that people prayed at the correct time with the angels, a theme in several of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The implication of this research is that the zodiac calendar was extremely important in Second Temple Judaism and probably in early Christianity. Had this continuous copying not taken place by Christians, we would not have had an ancient literary context in which to interpret these remarkable mathematical texts from Qumran.
Helen R. Jacobus is Honorary Research Associate in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. She has recently published Zodiac Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Their Reception: Ancient Astronomy and Astrology in Early Judaism (Leiden: Brill)
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For Further Reading
Brack-Bernsen, L. and J. M. Steele. 2004. “Babylonian Mathemagics: Two Astronomical-Astrological Texts.” Pages 95–121 in Studies in the History of the Exact Sciences in Honour of David Pingree. Edited by C. Burnett, et al. Leiden: Brill.
Collins, J. J. 1998. The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Drawnel, H. 2011. The Aramaic Astronomical Book (4Q208–4Q211) from Qumran. Oxford: Clarendon.
Jacobus, H. R. 2010. “A Jewish Zodiac Calendar at Qumran?” Pages 365–395 in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Texts and Context. Edited by C. Hempel. Leiden: Brill.
Laurence, R. 1821. The Book of Enoch the Prophet. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Milik, J.T. 1976. The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumrân Cave 4. With the collaboration of Matthew Black. Oxford: Clarendon.
Nickelsburg, G.W.E. and J. C. VanderKam. 2004. 1 Enoch. A New Translation. Minneapolis: Fortress.
Nickelsburg, G.W.E. and J. C. VanderKam. 2012. 1 Enoch 1. A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 1–36; 81–108. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress.
Nickelsburg, G.W.E. and J. C. VanderKam. 2012. 1 Enoch 2. A New Translation. A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch, Chapters 37–82. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress.
Neugebauer, O. 1985. The ‘Astronomical’ Chapters of the Ethiopic Book of Enoch (72 to 82): in The Book of Enoch or 1 Enoch: A New English Edition with additional notes on the Aramaic fragments by M. Black. SVTP 7; Leiden: Brill.
Reed, A.Y. 2005. Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature. New York: Cambridge University Press.