“Sirens” in the Book of Enoch
James Scott Trimm
In the Book of Enoch we read:
“And the women also of the angels who went astray shall become sirens.”
And then in 1Enoch 96:1-2 we are told that "in the day of the tribulation of the sinners... the sirens shall sigh before you- and weep."
Although the Ethiopic text has (in 19:2) “salamaweyan” (“peaceful”) which is widely regarded as a corruption with the original reading being that found in the Greek εις σειρηνας “into sirens.” This is certainly a passage which we would like to see in the Aramaic, much less the lost original Hebrew, but unfortunately the Aramaic for this passage has not survived.
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were beautiful yet dangerous creatures, who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. So why would the Book of Enoch refer to “sirens”. Why would an ancient Hebrew text refer to “sirens” and what was the original Hebrew word(s) behind “sirens”?
“Sirens” in the LXX
In the Greek Septuagint the Greek word σειρηνας (sirens) does in fact appear several times where the Hebrew has the phrase בת יענה. There is debate as to what this phrase means, some arguing that it refers to a female owl and others a female ostrich. The word יענה always appear with the prefix בת (literally “daughter of”).
But wildcats shall lie there, and their houses shall be full of ferrets: and ostriches shall
dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there.
And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged.
Therefore the wildcats with the jackals shall dwell there, and the ostriches shall dwell
therein. And it shall be no more inhabited forever, neither shall it be dwelt in from
generation to generation.
(Jeremiah 50:39 (27:39)
For this will I wail and howl, I will go stripped and naked; I will make a wailing like
the jackals, and a mourning like the ostriches.
The context is that of female creatures who cry and wail.
Peshitta Tanak and Targum
In two of these examples from the Septuagint (Is. 13:21 and Jeremiah 30:39) the Hebrew phrase בת יענה is translated בנת נעמא in the Aramaic Peshitta Tanak. The Targum Jonathan for Isaiah 13:21 has בנת נעמיין in the Aramaic.
Lamsa renders this phrase in the Peshitta as “ostriches” however it is literally “daughters of Naamah.” The Aramaic of the Targum could mean “daughters of loveliness” but could also be a plural form derived from Naamah. Namaah was the sister of Tubal Cain, as we read in the Torah:
And Zillah, she also bare Tubal-cain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron: and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
Naamah in the Zohar
According to the Zohar Naamah seduced the fallen angels led by Shemikhazah and Azzazel (Uzza and Azael as they are called throughout the Zohar). She is the mother of demons and lives to this day having her abode among the waves of the great sea. She is said to seduce men and make sport with them:
These two chiefs were named ’Afrira and Kastimon. They, moreover, bear the likeness of holy angels, having six wings. One of them had the face of an ox and the other that of an eagle. But when they became united they assumed the image of a man. In time of darkness they change into the form of a two-headed serpent, and crawl like a serpent, and swoop into the abyss, and bathe in the great sea. When they reach the abode of Uzza and Azael they stir them up and rouse them. These then leap into the “dark mountains”, thinking that their day of judgement has come before the Holy One, blessed be His Name. The two chiefs then swim about in the great sea, and when night comes they fly off to Na'amah, the mother of the demons (shedim), by whom the first saints were seduced; but when they think to approach her she leaps away six thousand parasangs, and assumes all shapes and forms in the midst of the sons of men, so that the sons of men may be led astray after her.
She [Naamah] by her beauty led astray the “sons of God”, Uzza and Azael, and she bore them children, and so from her went forth evil spirits and demons into the world. She wanders about at night time, vexing the sons of men and causing them to defile themselves. Wherever these spirits find people sleeping alone in a house, they hover over them, lay hold of them and cleave to them, inspire desire in them and beget from them.
AND THE SISTER OF TUBAL CAIN WAS NAAMAH. R. Hiya said: ‘Why does the Scripture particularly mention Naamah? The reason is that she was the great seducer not only of men, but also of spirits and demons.’ R. Isaac said: ‘The “sons of God” mentioned in the Scripture (Gen. 6:4), who were Uzza and Azael, were seduced by her.’ R. Simeon said: ‘She was the mother of the demons, being of the side of Cain, and it is she who in company with Lilith brings epilepsy on children.’ Said R. Abba to him: ‘Did you not say before that her function is to seduce men? ‘ He replied: ‘That is so; she disports herself with men, and sometimes bears spirits from them. And she still exists to seduce men.’ Said R. Abba to him: ‘But do these demons not die like human beings? How then comes she to exist to the present day? ‘ He replied: ‘It is so. Lilith and Naamah and Iggereth, the daughter of Mahlath, who originated from their side, will all continue to exist until the Holy One, blessed be He, sweeps away the unclean spirit, as it is written, “I will cause the unclean spirit to pass out of the land” (Zech. 13:2).’ Said R. Simeon: ‘Alas for the blindness of the sons of men, all unaware as they are how full the earth is of strange and invisible beings and hidden dangers, which could they but see, they would marvel how they themselves can exist on the earth. This Naamah was the mother of the demons, and from her originate all those evil spirits which mix with men and arouse in them concupiscence, which leads them to defilement. It is because such a hap comes from the side of the unclean spirit that it entails the need of purification by ablution, as our colleagues have explained.’
One male came into the world from the side of the spirit of the side of Cain, and they called him Tubal Cain. A female came with him who was called Naamah, from whom issued other spirits and demons; these hover in the air and tell things to those others below. This Tubal Cain produced weapons of war, and this Naamah clung to her own side, and she still exists, having her abode among the waves of the great sea. She goes forth and makes sport with men and conceives from them through their lustful dreams. From that lust she becomes pregnant and brings forth further species in the world. The sons whom she bears from human beings show themselves to the females of mankind, who become pregnant from them and bring forth spirits, and they all go to the ancient Lilith, who brings them up. She goes out into the world and seeks her little ones, and when she sees little children she cleaves to them in order to kill them and to insinuate herself into their spirits. There are, however, three holy spirits which fly in front of her and take that spirit from her and set it before the Holy One, blessed be He, and there they seare taught before Him. Thus they guard that child and she cannot hurt him. But if a man is not holy, and draws upon himself a spirit from the unclean side, she comes and makes sport with that child, and if she kills him she enters into his spirit and never leaves it. You may say: What about those others whom she has killed, although the three angels confronted her and took from her their spirits? Since they were not on the side of uncleanness, why had she power to kill them? This happens when a man does not sanctify himself, but yet does not purposely try to defile himself nor actually do so. In such cases she has power over the body but not the spirit. Sometimes it happens that Naamah goes forth to have intercourse with men and a man is linked with her in lust, and then suddenly wakes and clasps his wife though his mind is still full of the lust of his dream. In that case the son so born is of the side of Naamah, and when Lilith goes forth she sees him and knows what has happened, and brings him up like the other children of Naamah, and he is often with her, and she does not kill him. This is the man who receives a blemish on every New Moon.
Thus the term σειρηνας (siren) in the Greek of 1Enoch 19:2 points us to an underlying Aramaic of בנת נעמא and the tradition recorded in the Zohar that Naamah seduced the fallen angels, is a mother of demons and was a chief among their wives, lives to this day, abides among the waves of the great sea and seduces men. Once again the Zohar demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of the Book of Enoch and becomes an invaluable tool to understanding the Book of Enoch. (If the Zohar were a product of the middle ages as many skeptics claim, it could not express knowledge of the Book of Enoch which was lost by the middle ages).
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