Who Were the Watchers?

The Ziggurat of Ur

Over the past century a variety of theories have evolved to suggest that extraterrestrial beings helped shape our civilization.

There are many incidents of unexplained phenomenon throughout history which have led people to believe that mankind has, at the very least, been visited by astronauts from another world. One group of alleged alien visitors who appear in some ancient texts are known as the “watchers.” The watchers have also been regarded as a type of angel rather than an extraterrestrial entity. However a careful study of these texts shows the watchers to in fact be representative of earthly beings.

The Watchers In The Bible

The term “watcher” is used a few times in the Torah/Hebrew Bible to refer to a mysterious apparition. The Hebrew word for watcher, Îyr, which has older Aramaic roots, could be interpreted as representing a guardian angel. However the related verb ‘ûwr, “to be bare,” has a clear relation to wakefulness in the sense that the truth will be exposed through vigilant watching.

The name watcher has gained a mystical connotation since the three times it is used in the Bible are during the prophetic dream of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. In one instance the allusion to a heavenly being seems apparent, “a watcher and a holy one came down from heaven.” (Dan. 4:13) A revelation of troubling events to come is made to the dreaming king by the watchers as if in warning. However a few verses later new meaning is added “The matter is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones.” (Dan. 4:17) Here it becomes clear that the watchers and the accompanying holy ones are arbiters of the fates rather than messengers.

Instead of seeing the watchers in this context as mystical or extraterrestrial beings it may be easier to imagine them as representative of the once great Babylonian culture of soothsayers, diviners and astrologers which was in competition with ancient Judaism. The watchers/astrologers decree would be the reading of the omens in the skies which were interpreted by the holy one who was likely an affiliated priest.

The Babylonian Captivity

It is almost certain that some of the writers of the Torah were heavily influenced by Babylonian culture. During the time period of the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews (597-538 BCE) much of the Torah was being put into its final form. The Jewish people were only a minority in the Babylonian world that held great value on the type of magic and sorcery that the Jewish faith would condemn. In the Book of Daniel this mention of such forbidden magic is couched in a dream.

During the Captivity many Jews would witness first hand the monuments and rituals of Babylonian gods and it would leave a lasting impression. In fact the last king of Babylon, before the invasion of the Persians under Cyrus the Great which ended the Captivity, was Nabonidus who was renowned for his reconstruction of the Great Ziggurat of Ur. It may be that the Ziggurat is the key to understanding the watchers and bringing them back to earth.

Watchers In The Book Of Enoch

The term watcher is found more extensively in the extra-biblical Book of Enoch. The book of Enoch was not included in the Hebrew Bible but it was known to ancient Hebrew scholars. The only complete copies of the Book of Enoch have survived in the liturgical Ge’ez language of Ethiopia.

In the Book of Enoch the watchers are part of the main storyline. They are said to be the “Watchers of the heaven who have left the high heaven, the holy eternal place.” (Book of Enoch Chapter 12)The watchers then went among the people and took wives and had children. This act of commingling was the apparent cause of a great deal of misfortune and Enoch, the grandson of Noah, was called upon by God to reprimand them.

While such ancient texts are often ambiguous about there original intent the leap from “Watchers of the Heaven” to extraterrestrial life form appears unwarranted. From a historical perspective watchers are much more likely to have been representative of members of the ancient Babylonian cults.


The watchers are said to have watched the heavens and to have left the “high heaven,” this can more readily be seen as a reference to the priests who watched the heavens for omens from atop the Ziggurats of Babylonia than as a reference to space travel. The term Ziggurat derives from the Akkadian root zaqâru, “to build high.” Therefore a sacred building that was built high and used to watch the heavens can be seen as “the high heaven, the holy eternal place”, much more readily than as another planet.

As for the crimes the watchers committed by going amongst the women of the general populace and having children; one need look no farther than contemporary news to understand that members of the clergy are held to high standards that they often fail to uphold. During ancient times, Egyptian priests who were carrying out their duties within the temple were often prohibited from sexual relations as well as a variety of other activities such as eating fish. In Sumer the prohibition against a priestess given birth was well known from at least the Early Dynastic Period.

It can be surmised that the historical memory of the Jewish people was enhanced by the attempts at a Babylonian Renaissance and Ziggurat reconstruction under King Nabonidus. The powerful Sumerian temple establishments that had once dominated the lands of southern Mesopotamia were indeed greatly reduced after centuries of subservience to a long list of kings. Yet, for the Jews, who reviled idol worshipers and divination, the image cast by a fading world at the mercy of priests who foretold the future from their Ziggurats was potent enough to inspire mentioning.

In this context it becomes easier to see the watchers as astronomer priests who somehow crossed the bounds of propriety rather than as visitors who crossed over from another world.