The concept of “watch hours” in the Bible originates from ancient methods of keeping time, especially during the night. These “watches” were periods during which guards or sentries were on duty, and they were used as general references to time.

In ancient Israel, the night was divided into multiple watches. Here are the biblical mentions:

  1. Old Testament: Initially, the night was divided into three watches:
    • First watch: From evening until midnight.Middle watch: From midnight until the crowing of the rooster, which was around 3 a.m.Morning watch: From the crowing of the rooster until sunrise.
    This three-fold division can be observed in passages such as Judges 7:19, which says, “So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands.”

  1. New Testament: By the time of the Roman Empire, the night was divided into four watches, following the Roman system:
    • Evening watch: 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
    • Midnight watch: 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.
    • Cock-crowing watch: 12 a.m. to 3 a.m.
    • Morning watch: 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.
    This division is evident in the Gospels, such as in Matthew 14:25: “Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea.”

The concept of “watches” was not limited to the night; however, the daytime was generally divided according to hours rather than watches.

The “watch hours” also had spiritual significance in some biblical contexts. For example, Jesus told his disciples to “watch and pray” in the Garden of Gethsemane, indicating a need for vigilance and spiritual preparedness. In this sense, “watching” extends beyond the literal guarding or timekeeping and moves into the realm of spiritual alertness.

this is from the Sumerian Malq’u exorcism/ anti witchcraft tablet.

But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. – Ezekiel 33:6

  1. Judge my case and grant me an (oracular) decision!
  2. I have made a figurine of my warlock and witch,
  3. Of my sorcerer and the woman who instigates sorcery against me,
  4. I set (it) at your feet and am now pleading my case:
  • Because she has performed evil against me and has constantly conjured up baseless charges against me,

19      May she die, but I live.

20      May her witchcraft, her spittle, her enchainment be released.

21      May the tamarisk that is copious of crown clear me,

22      May the date palm that withstands all winds release me,

23      May the soapwort that fills the earth cleanse me,

24      May the cone that is full of seeds release me.

  • In your presence I have (now) become pure like grass,
  • Clean and innocent like nard.
  • Her spell being that of an evil witch,
  • Her word has been turned back into her mouth and her tongue con- stricted.
  • On a(c)count of her witchcraft, may the Gods of the Night strike her,

30      May the three Watches of the Night release her evil spell.

  • Her mouth be tallow, her tongue be salt:
  • May that which uttered an evil word against me drip ever away like tallow,
  • May that which performed witchcraft against me dissolve like salt.
  • Her bonds are broken, her deeds nullified;
  • All of her words fill the steppe—
  • By the command pronounced by the Gods of the Night.

Text Box: SBL PressThis opening incantation draws together magical and legal imagery; it is an indictment of the witches.14 The incantation is a speech that accompanies a ritual act and gives expression to a dynamic situation; the text thus reflects the changes in state undergone by the patient and the witches from the begin- ning of the incantation to its end.

The incantation is in the form of a first person speech made by the patient, who invokes heavenly powers of the night, the gods of Anu (1–3). He first presents his plaint in the form of a description of the acts that the witch performed against him and of his resultant state (4–12). These facts clearly establish that he has suffered injuries at the hand of the witch and therefore that he has a right to a court hearing. Consequently, he asks the gods to take up his case (13–14). Then, having caused the accused witches to be pres- ent at the judgment in the form of figurines (15–17), he asks that they be punished because they have sought (perhaps by means of accusations) unmo-

  1. In its present context as the opening incantation of Maqlû, I 1–36 is to be understood as a preliminary hearing, though an earlier form of the incantation might well have represented a stand-alone hearing.

tivated evil against him, and that their bewitchment be released (18–20). He asks to be cleared (of bewitchment and any guilt imputed to him) by means of a standard set of plants—these plants usually serve to purify, but here they function also as a form of juridical ordeal (21–24). Having proved his inno- cence and having been cleared (25–26), he rightfully asserts that since the witch’s utterance belongs to an evil witch, her accusation has been refuted (27–28). He is now able to request that the Gods of the Night bring the witch to justice and indict her and that the Night Watches release the witchcraft (29–30). By means of magical associations and acts, the patient now destroys the organs of speech of the witch (31–33). Finally, he asserts that the witch’s actions and accusations have been wholly nullified (34–35) by the Gods of the Night (36).15

If there are watch hours and one must stand guard and watch, then who are the Watchmen or Watchers?

Who Are The Watchers?



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