Saturday, March 10, 2007

Angels and Saints: Part 4

[see also parts 1, 2, and 3]

Maria was absent for a while (perhaps to ponder what we have discussed so far), but, she is back now with more questions. Apparently, she has "two pages worth," so this should be fun (seriously!).
In Gen 6:1-4 the sons of heaven married the daughters of man. What does that mean?
First, the passage in question (with the added context of the flood):

Gen 6:1-8 When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. 3 Then the LORD said, "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown. 5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7 So the LORD said, "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

As you can see, this is a very difficult passage, and much ink has been spilt trying to establish its meaning. Basically, there are three unknowns in this passage: the "sons of God", the "daughters of men" and the "Nephilim." Likewise, there are three suggested solutions for the identity of these unknowns. Walter C. Kaiser (cf. Hard Sayings of the Bible, p. 106) refers to them as:
  1. the "cosmologically mixed races" view
  2. the "religiously mixed races" view, and
  3. the "sociologically mixed races" view
#1 says that the "sons of God" are angels and the "daughters of men" are humans. #2 says that the "sons of God" are godly men from the line of Seth (Sethites) and the "daughters of men" are worldly women from the line of Cain (Cainites). #3 says that the "sons of God" are despotic male rulers and the "daughters of men" are beautiful female commoners.

Now, it is perhaps beyond the scope of this post to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each solution. Hopefully, it will suffice to present the solution that I find, based on my limited research, to be the most convincing. That solution would be #3, the "sociologically mixed races" view.

Kaiser provides a summary of this position:
In their thirst for recognition and reputation, they despotically usurped constrol of the states they governed as if they were accountable to no one but themselves. Thus they perverted the whole concept of the state and the provision that God had made for some immediate amelioration of earth's injustices and inequities (Gen 6:5-6; see also Gen 10:8-12). They also became polygamous, taking and marrying "any of [the women] they chose" (Gen 6:2).
When I first read that, I thought to myself: How in the world do you get that from the passage? The "concept of the state" existed in Noah's time? While the word "state" may be used anachronistically here, the basic idea has some convincing evidence.

For one, Scripture occasionally refers to judges and rulers as "gods" (cf. Ex 21:6; 22:8; Psa 82:1,6; Jn 10:34). The Aramaic Targums of Onkelos even render "sons of God ('elohiym)" as "sons of nobles," and the Greek translation of Symachus reads "the sons of the kings or lords." We also know that the ancient governments of Egypt and Mesopotamia used to take on the names of pagan gods so as to increase their clout and prestige. This title may have come from that practice.

Secondly, there is a similarity between the account of the Cainite Lamech (Gen 4:19-24) and that of the "sons of God" in Gen 6:1-4. Kaiser explains:
In each there is the taking of wives, the bearing of children and the dynastic exploits. The former passage ends with a boast of judgment by Lamech, and the other ends with God's decree of judgment. Lamech practiced bigamy (Gen 4:19), and he enforced his policies by using tyranny. The portraits are parallel and depict states of tyranny, corruption and polygamy.
So, it's likely that what we know about Lamech applies to the "sons of God" as well, and he was a man like what we have previously described: a despotic, polygamous ruler.

The mysterious Nephilim provide the last line of evidence. "Nephilim" is a hebrew word that is maintained in the RSV, but translated as "giants" in most over versions. Now, does this mean that they were actually men of extraordinary stature, or could this refer to their character? Kaiser points out that, in Gen 6:4, the Nephilim, or "giants" are associated with the gibborim, which comes from the word gibbowr, or "mighy men":

Gen 6:4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men (gibbowr) that were of old, the men of renown.

Furthermore, Nimrod was a gibbowr and he was a great king. Thus, the Nephilim are thought to be something more like "princes," "aristocrats," or "great men" instead of "giants."

But, my question is this: When Gen 6:4 says "these were the mighty men" does "these" refer to the Nephilim, the sons of God who came into the daughters of men, or does it refer to the children that the daughters bore? It seems to me to refer to the children, in which case the Nephilim and the gibborim would not be the same. But, I could be wrong.

If Kaiser is right, then the identification of the Nephilim as "great men" along with the similarity of the story with that of Lamech and the fact that judges and rulers were often called "gods" would all work to support the sociologically-mixed races view that the "sons of God" are despotic male rulers and the "daughters of men" are beautiful female commoners.

I read the footnotes in my New American Bible and it says their superhuman strength was attributed to semi-divine origin. What is semi-divine? Is it half angel and half human? Therefore, what were their children?
What you have discovered are the weaknesses in the "cosmologically-mixed races" view. If the sons of God are angels, then we have them engaging in sexual intercourse with humans, that simply does not work on many levels. For one, angels are not physical beings, they are spirits. Secondly, there is the very question that you raise: "What would this make their children? Half-angel, half-human?" It's just ludicrous.

What the NAB commentary is saying is that this story was taken from mythology popular at the time:
[1-4] This is apparently a fragment of an old legend that had borrowed much from ancient mythology. The sacred author incorporates it here, not only in order to account for the prehistoric giants of Palestine, whom the Israelites called the Nephilim, but also to introduce the story of the flood with a moral orientation--the constantly increasing wickedness of mankind.

[2] The sons of heaven: literally "the sons of the gods" or "the sons of God," i.e., the celestial beings of mythology.

[3] My spirit: the breath of life referred to in Genesis 2:7. His days . . . years: probably the time God would still let men live on earth before destroying them with the flood, rather than the maximum span of life God would allot to individual men in the future.

[4] As well as later: According to Numbers 13:33, when the Israelites invaded Palestine and found there the tall aboriginal Anakim, they likened them to the Nephilim; cf Deut 2:10-11. Perhaps the huge megalithic structures in Palestine were thought to have been built by a race of giants, whose superhuman strength was attributed to semi-divine origin. The heroes of old: the legendary worthies of ancient mythology.
Of course, this type of commentary causes us to ask a new question: Is this story an account of something that actually happened, or is the inspired author simply borrowing a mythological story of his day and using it to make a point? I don't know the answer to that question.

So far, we have been assuming that this relationship between the sons of God and the daughters of men actually took place, in which case it was important to discover their identity. But, if this is simply a story from mythology used, perhaps, to introduce the flood, then their identities are not as important because they would only bear on the mythology from which the story came. This is Fr. Raymond Brown's stance. In the Jerome Biblical Commentary, he writes:
The lack of any narrative connection with the preceeding accounts (P or J) shows that this ancient legend has been adapted only in a most general way to the theology of prehistory. Details cannot be pressed. The inspired author's contribution (mainly the introduction of Yahweh in vs. 3) stresses the growing estrangement of man from God. Whatever the precise meaning of the primitive story (a common mythological theme), it is unlikely that the author intended any special meaning for the sons of God (e.g., angels, men in general, line of Seth), the daughters of men (e.g., women in general, line of Cain), or for the Nephilim (referred to in Nm 13:33?).
What bothers me about Brown's commentary here is that, if the inspired author only contributed God's name, Yahweh, to the story, then that seems to suggest that Gen 6:1-4 is only inspired in part. Unfortunately, this problem is found throughout his commentary.

All of my other Catholic commentaries (Navarre, Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture) take the "religiously-mixed races" view that the "sons of God" are godly Sethites and the "daughters of men" are worldly Cainites. Sts. Augustine, John Chrysostom, and Cyril of Alexandria hold this view, as well as many other Fathers.

Also, I understand the Lord being upset with man's wickedness, but what was wrong about the Nephilim? Will you please explain it to me, at your earliest convenience.
Well, I think polygamy is implied in vs. 2 when it says "they took to wife such of them as they chose" and this is more apparent if the sons of God are like Lamech. Also, if the Nephilim are to be associated with the "mighty men" then their sin is also one of pride in wanting to be "men of renown." This, added to the fact that "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (vs. 5) convinced God that it was necessary to wipe out humanity with a flood, save Noah and his companions.

I don't know if all of this was helpful or not. I'm afraid I have simply added to the confusion. I think the bottom line is that there at least 3 ways of understanding this passage, and all three have their strengths and weaknesses. The only thing we know for sure is that humanity quickly became so sinful that God desired to give humanity a new start. In baptism, we get a new start, and, as Peter shows us (cf. 1 Pet 3:18-22) there is a striking similarity between the new start given to the ancient world and the new start given to us today.

Pax Christi,

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