Ralph Lee

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church is the only tradition that has preserved 1Enoch in full, and so the extent to which this text has influenced biblical interpretation and theology in Ethiopia has been of interest. In 1Enoch, the Book of Watchers is an elaboration of Genesis 6, with its long account of the fallen angels’ and their giant progeny’s influence on humanity. Related to the Book of Watchers is a tradition developed in the Book of Giants, a Second Temple text that has fragments preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and more extensively in Manichean traditions, which have more details accounts of violent giants who are which appears to have connections also with the Ancient Near Eastern Gilgamesh Epic. Recently an Ethiopian giant’s tale, the first known of this kind, was identified in a series of homilies probably composed in the late 14th century, possibly by the renowned Ethiopian theologian Giyorgis of Sägla, in a homily for Pentecost. In this story, a boastful giant runs faster than the rising sun, crushing mountains that get in his way. He arrives at a great lake, which he drinks to satiate his enormous thirst and becomes ill. He pleads with God in a conversation which leads him to a futile act of penance, which fails when other giants come to relieve his suffering. These giants pierce his stomach, and water pours out drowning all the giants, an event which appears to inspire God to tell Noah to build the Ark as he plans a flood to destroy all the giants. This unusual story is connected eventually with Pentecost through the building of the Tower of Babel, which apparently the people build so high so that they won’t be destroyed should God send another flood. The familiar connection is then made between the act of confusing languages at Babel which is undone at Pentecost. This story is a work of creative imagination within the Ethiopian tradition that draws on 1Enoch in a way that resembles but is not dependent on the Book of Giants, and points to a need further to explore creative approaches in Ethiopian Orthodox teaching.

This chapter is part of a set of studies on the representation of Angels in early Jewish and Christian traditions: