In Apocalyptic Writings. The conception of fallen angels—angels who, for wilful, rebellious conduct against God, or through weakness under temptation.thereby forfeiting their angelic dignity, were degraded and condemned to a life of mischief or shame on earth or in a place of punishment—is wide-spread. Indications of this belief, behind which probably lies the symbolizing of an astronomical phenomenon, the shooting stars, are met with in Isa. xiv. 12 (comp. Job xxxviii. 31, 32; see Constellations). But it is in apocalyptic writings that this notion assumes crystallized definiteness and is brought into relations with the theological problem of the origin and nature of evil and sin. That Satan fell from heaven with the velocity of lightning is a New Testament conception (Luke x. 18; Rev. xii. 7-10). Originally Satan was one of God’s angels, Lucifer, who, lusting for worldly power, was degraded. Samael (Yalk., Gen. 25), originally the chief of the angels around God’s throne, becomes the angel of death and the “chieftain of all the Satans” (Deut. R. xi. ; comp. Matt. xxv. 41).
But it is especially Samḥazai and Azael of whom the fall is narrated. In Targ. Pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. vi. 4 they appear as the “nefilim” (A. V. “giants”), undoubtedly in consequence of an incorrect interpretation of this word as “those that fell from heaven.” The story of these two angels is found in brief form in Yalḳ., Gen. 44; it has been published by Jellinek (“B. H.” iv. 127; originally in Midrash Abkir; comp. Rashi, Yoma 67b; Geiger, “Was Hat Mohammed aus dem Judenthume Aufgenommen?” p. 107).
As in the case of man, so in that of the angels woman was the cause of the lapse. Naamah, the wife of Noah (Gen. R. xxiii. 3), was one of the women whose great beauty tempted the angels to sin (Naḥmanides to Gen. iv. 22). As regards Azazel and Samḥazai, mentioned above, it was a young woman named (“Isṭar,” “Esther”) that proved fatal to their virtue. These angels, seeing God’s grief over the corruption of the sons of men (Gen. vi. 2-7), volunteered to descend to earth for the purpose of proving their contention that, as they had foretold at the creation of Adam, the weakness of man (Ps. viii. 5) was alone responsible for his immorality. In their new surroundings they themselves yielded to the blandishments of women. Samḥazai especially became passionately enamored of Isṭar. She, however, would yield to his importunities only on the condition that he tell her the name of Yhwh (see God, Names of), by virtue of which he was éo return to heaven. As soon as she was possessed of the secret, she rose to heaven herself, and God rewarded her constancy by assigning her a place in the constellation of Kimah. Samḥazai and his companion thereupon took to themselves wives and begat children (comp. the bene Elohim, Gen. vi. 4). Meṭaṭron soon after sends word to Samḥazai concerning the approaching flood. This announcement of the world’s and his own children’s impending doom brings Samḥazai to repentance, and he suspends himself midway between heaven and earth, in which penitent position he has remained ever since. Azazel, who deals in rich adornments and fine garments for women, continues in his evil ways, seducing men by his fanciful wares (hence the goat sent to Azazel on the Day of Atonement).
Variants of this story are not rare. According to Pirḳe R. El. xxii., “the angels that fell from heaven,” seeing the shameless attire of the men and women in Cain’s family, had intercourse with the women, and in consequence were deprived of their garment of flaming fire and were clothed in ordinary material of dust. They also lost their angelic strength and stature. Samael was the leader of a whole band of rebellious angels (ib. xiii.).
In the Book of Enoch eighteen angels are named (Enoch, vi. 7) as chief participators in the conspiracy to mate with women. Samiaza is the leader, and Azael is one of the number (but see Charles, “Book of Enoch,” p. 61, note to vi.-xi.). Azael, however, imparts to men all sorts of useful as well as secret knowledge and the art of beautifying eyes (Enoch, viii. 1; comp. Targ. Pseudo-Jon. to Gen. vi. 4). For other versions of the story or reminiscences thereof, see Book of Jubilees, v. 1, 6-11; vii. 21, 25; Test. Patr., Reuben, 5, and Naphtali, 31; Josephus, “Ant.” i. 3, § 1; Philo, “De Gigantibus.”
The later Jewish tradition, shocked at the notion of the angels’ fall, insisted upon interpreting the bene Elohim of Gen. vi. 1-4 as referring to men (Gen. R. xxvi.: “sons of judges”; comp. Tryphon in Justin, “Dial. cum Tryph.” p.79). The Samaritan version reads ; Onḳelos, . The “Sefer ha-Yashar” (“Bereshit,” end) ascribes the shameful conduct to magistrates and judges (see Charles, “Book of Jubilees,” p. 33, note).
The cabalists give the older view. In the Zohar (iii. 208, ed. Mantua) Aza and Azael fall and are punished by being chained to the mountains of darkness. According to another passage (i. 37), these two rebelled against God and were hurled from heaven, and they now teach men all kinds of sorcery (for other quotations from cabalistic commentaries on the Pentateuch see Grünbaum, “Gesammelte Aufsäze zur Sprach- und Sagenkunde,” p. 71).
Allusions to these fallen angels occur also in the Koran (sura ii. 96); but their names are there given as “Harut” and “Marut.” Their fate in Arabic tradition is identical with that of Samḥazai and Azael (Geiger, l.c. p. 109). The refusal to worship Adam (suras ii. 32, vii. 11, xv. 29, xxxviii. 73) brings on the Fall, just as it does in the Midrash Bereshit Rabbati of R. Moses ha-Darshan (see Grünbaum, l.c. p. 70).
- Grünbaum, Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Sprach- und Sagenkunde, Berlin, 1901.