Much like early Christians, Jewish writers were often obsessed with the idea of angels: primordial creations of God, perfect beings whose only purpose was to help Him create Man, the woefully imperfect crown of creation.
According to a very popular Midrash (=an exegetic text based on a verse from the Bible), the angels weren’t as willing to help as you might have thought. Some artful persuasion was required.
On the sixth day…. [the Lord] gathered all the angels according their clans and said, “Let Us make man” etc. (gen. 1:26). They told him, “Oh Lord, what is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalms 8:4) – that was said by Michael’s clan. God immediately burned them in His great fire, all but Michael. He called forth Gabriel’s clan, and they said likewise. He burned them in His great fire, all but Gabriel. He called Leviel’s clan, and they said to him, “Oh Lord, who can tell you what do? Do as you will in your world, as it suits you well”.
But the surviving angels, being immortal, definitely held a long and lasting grudge against God’s new pets. In the beginning of the sixth chapter in the book of Genesis, we find a cryptic phrase that inspired much of the Jewish and Christian demonology:
“…when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men [Nephilim] which were of old, men of renown”. (Gen 6:4)
The stories of the Angels’ grudge and the interbreeding of angels and humans serves as a background to the following intriguing Midrash about the two Angels who descended to Earth, sinned and gave birth to the giants.
God was saddened by the generation of the Flood, who worshipped false gods. The two angels, Shemhazai and Azael stood before him and said: “Oh Lord, did we not tell you when you created your world, What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalms 8:4).
He said, “and what should be of the world?”
“Oh Lord”, they replied, “it should have been created for us”.
He said, “I know that if you were to live upon the Earth, you would have succumbed to evil and been more difficult the the humans”.
They replied, “give us your permission to dwell with the humans, and you will see how we glorify your name”.
He said to them, “go down and live with them.”
There, they immediately began to fornicate with the daughters of Man, who were beautiful and lustful.
Here the author presents a surprising observation. According to Christian angelology, the angels are not God’s favoured creation because they lack free will. Here, the angels are described as having free will, but their judgement is even crappier that that of humans. In the next passage, we find out more fun facts about angels. For example, not only do angels have a penis, but they also seem to be more loyal to their penis than to their Creator.
Shemhazai saw a maiden by the name of Istahar, and gazed upon her, and asked her to be his. She said, I will not be yours until you teach me the full name [of God] which you chant to ascend to the Heavens. She learned that name and chanted it, and ascended to the Heavens without fornicating. The Lord said, since she rescued herself from the evil deed, give her a place between these seven stars so that she will be forever remembered by them, and she was set into the Pleiades.
After this short digression, The two angles start to get busy with women, jewels and cosmetics.
After Shemhazai and Azael saw this, they went on to marry wives and have children, Heva and Heya. And Azael labored on cosmetics and all sorts of women’s jewelry that seduces man to be sinful.
The giant’s names, Heva and Heya, can be freely translated as “Heave” and “Woe”. Note how their description is reminiscent of Rabelais’ Gargantua.
The angel Matatron then sent a messenger to Shemhazai, and told him that the Lord intends to destroy his world and bring the flood unto it.
Shemhazai then began to cry: what shall his sons do and what shall they eat if the world is destroyed? Each of them would eat every day a thousand camels and a thousand horses and a thousand oxen. This night, both Heva and Heya had dreams. One saw a large rock that is laid upon the earth like a table, and the earth was written in many lines [of text]. And an angel descended from the heavens, holding some sort of a knife, and erased all those lines, leaving nothing but four words. The other saw a large and handsome garden, in which all manners of trees were planted. And there he saw angels holding hatchets, cutting down all the trees, leaving nothing but a single tree with three branches.
As they woke up, they were frightened and came to their father. He told them that the Lord is about to bring a flood, leaving nothing but Noah and his sons. When they heard his, they cried and yelled. He told them, do not be sorry, for your names will not be forgotten: whenever harsh laws are passed or rocks are heaved or ships are rowed, the humans would cry “Hova” and “Heya”. When they heard his words, they were satisfied.
The Nephilim appear to have perished in the flood, but the angels, being immortal, are still around. At the end of the Midrash, the author mentions what these two are up to right now.
Shemhazai repented, and hanged himself between the heavens, with his head down and his legs up. And he still hangs in penance between Heaven and Earth. Azael did not repent, and he is still as wicked as before, seducing men to sins of the flesh with women’s perfumes and cosmetics. And therfore the Jews used to sacrifice during the fast of Yom Kippur one steer for God, so that He would forgive their sins, and one steer for Azael [or Azazel], so that he would suffer the punishments for their sins.
More than anything, Azael and especially Shemhazai are tragic characters. They are much more powerful than humans but morally they are no less frail. They are denied any sort of divine grace, and are doomed to remain forever in their fallen state, as second-class citizens in the world they helped to build, bossed around by the puny creatures they helped to create.
Pictured above: A scapegoat (literaly: a goat for Azazel), woodcut by William James Webb.