Saturday, April 6, 2013

When angels fall: when? why? and where?

When I was a lot younger and more of a metal head, I really liked a song that had a phrase ‘when angels fall.’ Now, almost a decade later, this turned in to a pestering question ‘when DO angels fall?’  As it turned out trying to find out ‘when do the angels fall’ is just as impossible as telling the exact date for ‘once upon a time’. One of my favorite summaries of the most popular possibilities is given by  B.Murdoch in The Medieval Popular Bible: Expansions of Genesis in the Middle Ages (Suffolk, 2003) p 23

The Bible gives us very little help on precisely when the angels, including those destined to fall, were created. Most frequently in vernacular writings  in the west, the angels, including Lucifer, are viewed as having been created as part of heaven, either outside time, or specifically on the first day of the Creation. A text as early as Jubilees has them created on the first day. Though a separate tradition – with a reference in the longer version of the Slavonic II Enoch  - has them created on the second, a choice supported in rabbinic and also in Christian writings on the grounds that God is uniquely not reported in Genesis to have seen that things were good on the second day. Usually the fall of the angels comes on that day too, but rabbinic texts also have them falling on the third day , and the Greek and Slav Palaea Historica has the rebellion on the fourth day, linked with the creation of the stars. The Vita Adae tradition, which is the apocryphal work with the greatest resonance in vernacular texts, has Lucifer’s fall on the sixth day, after the creation of Adam, but this is linked with thematic differences in that work and with variant reason for this fall. 
 Thus they fell either before or after creation, and if after then on one of the 6 first days. Lucky for me artists usually went with day one or before creation, like in this illumination where you can just make out the angels falling through the blue void behind God creator
God Creator, Guyart des Moulins, Historia Scholastica, British Library, Royal 19 D.III, fol 3r, France, c.1411.
 Searching for the answer to 'When?' lead to the question of 'Why?' 
It turned out that the Miltonesque rebel was not how Lucifer was first imagined. Some 2 000 years before that the devil was a leader of the Watcher angels who fell in love (or lusted) after human women, and decided to have families and children with them. Unfortunately the two races were not meant to mix as the kids they bore were the monstrous Nephelim. Interestingly despite that the Book of Enoch still shows Satan and his fallen angels as good fathers and part of their punishment is to see their kids destroyed. 

In the Book of Enoch the angels first descent to Earth and then they are thrown in to the pit, so it was not a direct fall to hell it happened in stages. Thus the question of 'Why?' lead to 'Where?' and staying true to my Devil Poster habit  I made a mini poster:

So what can I conclude from all this? (besides that asking questions leads to more questions and more answers) That the fall of the angels has always been a changing narrative, considering it is not to be found in the Bible I am amazed it even came in to existence! And as brilliant as Paradise Lost is, part of me is sad that it overshadowed everything with its popularity as it would have been interesting to see how the narrative could have developed without the Miltonesque influence. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey, this is interesting stuff. I am going to start following your blog