Sons of God
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.— Genesis 6:1–4, KJV
The first mention of “sons of God” in the Hebrew Bible occurs at Genesis 6:1–4. In terms of literary-historical origin, this phrase is typically associated with the Jahwist tradition.
This passage has had two interpretations in Judaism,
- Offspring of Seth: The first references to the offspring of Seth rebelling from God and mingling with the daughters of Cain are found in Christian and rabbinic literature from the second century CE onwards e.g. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Augustine of Hippo, Julius Africanus, and the Letters attributed to St. Clement. It is also the view expressed in the modern canonical Amharic Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. In Judaism “Sons of God” usually refers to the righteous, i.e. the children of Seth.
- Angels: All of the earliest sources interpret the “sons of God” as angels. From the third century BCE onwards, references are found in the Enochic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls the (Genesis Apocryphon, the Damascus Document, 4Q180), Jubilees, the Testament of Reuben, 2 Baruch, Josephus, and the book of Jude (compare with 2 Peter 2). This is also the meaning of the only two identical occurrences of bene ha elohim in the Hebrew Bible (Job 1:6 and 2:1), and of the most closely related expressions (refer to the list above). In the Septuagint, the interpretive reading “angels” is found in Codex Alexandrinus, one of four main witnesses to the Greek text.
Rabbinic Judaism traditionally adheres to the first interpretation, with some exceptions, and modern Jewish translations may translate bnei elohim as “sons of rulers” rather than “sons of God”. Regardless, the second interpretation (sons of angels or other divine beings) is nonexistent in modern Judaism. This is reflected by the rejection of Enoch and other Apocrypha supporting the second interpretation from the Hebrew Bible Canon.
Claus Westermann claims that the text of Genesis 6 is based on an Ugaritic urtext. In Ugaritic, a cognate phrase is bn ‘il. This may occur in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle.
- KTU² 1.40 demonstrates the use of bn il to mean “sons of gods”.
- KTU² 1.65 (which may be a scribal exercise) uses bn il three times in succession: il bn il / dr bn il / mphrt bn il “El, the sons of gods, the circle of the sons of gods / the totality of the sons of gods.”
The phrase bn ilm (“sons of the gods”) is also attested in Ugaritic texts, as is the phrase phr bn ilm (“assembly of the sons of the gods”).
Elsewhere in the Ugarit corpus it is suggested that the bn ilm were the 70 sons of Asherah and El, who were the titulary deities of the people of the known world, and their “hieros gamos” marriage with the daughters of men gave rise to their rulers. There is evidence in 2 Samuel 7 that this may have been the case also in Israel.
J. Scharbert associates Genesis 6:1–4 with the Priestly source and the final redaction of the Pentateuch. On this basis, he assigns the text to later editorial activity. Rüdiger Bartelmus sees only Genesis 6:3 as a late insertion.
Józef Milik and Matthew Black advanced the view of a late text addition to a text dependent on post-exilic, non-canonical tradition, such as the legend of the Watchers from the pseudepigraphic Book of Enoch.
Different source versions of Genesis 6:1–4 vary in their use of “sons of God”. Some manuscripts of the Septuagint have emendations to read “sons of God” as “angels”. Codex Vaticanus contains “angels” originally.In Codex Alexandrinus “sons of God” has been omitted and replaced by “angels”. This reading of Angels is further confirmed by Augustine in his work City of God where he speaks of both variants in book 15 chapter 23. The Peshittareads “sons of God”. Furthermore the Vulgate goes for the literal filii Dei meaning Sons of God. Most modern translations of Christian bibles retain this whereas Jewish ones tend to deviate to such as ‘Sons of Rulers’ which may in part be down to the Curse of Simeon Ben Yohai who cursed anyone who translated this as ‘Sons of God’ (Genesis Rabbah 26:7).
Beyond this in both the Codices Job 1:6 and Deuteronomy 32:8 when the phrase ‘Angels of God’ is used in place of where the Hebrew says ‘Sons of God’. For the verse in Deuteronomy the Masoretic Text does not say ‘Sons of God’ but ‘Sons of Israel’ however in 4Q37 the term ‘Sons of God’ is used. This is probably the root reading for the reading we see in the Septuagint.
The phrase “sons of the Elohim” also occurs in:
- Job 1:6 bənê hāʼĕlōhîm (בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים) the sons of Elohim.
- Job 2:1 bənê hāʼĕlōhîm (בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים) the sons of Elohim.
- Job 38:7 bənê ĕlōhîm (בְּנֵי אֱלֹהִֽים) without the definite article – sons of Elohim
- Deuteronomy 32:8 both bənê ĕlōhîm (בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים) and bənê ĕl (בני אל) the sons of Elohim or sons of El in two Dead Sea Scrolls (4QDtj and 4QDtq); mostly “angels of God” (αγγελων θεου) in the LXX (sometimes “sons of God” or “sons of Israel”); “sons of Israel” in the MT.:147
Closely related phrases include:
- Psalms 29:1 bənê ēlîm (בְּנֵי אֵלִים) without the definite article – sons of elim (a similar expression).
- Psalms 82:6 bənê elîon (בְּנֵי עֶלְיוֹן) without the definite article and using ‘Most high’ instead of ēl.
- Psalms 89:6 bənê ēlîm (בְּנֵי אֵלִים) – sons of elim
- A closely related Aramaic expression occurs in Daniel 3:25: bar elahin – בַר אֱלָהִֽין – son of the gods.
Second Temple Judaism (c. 500 BCE – 70 CE)
The Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees refer to the Watchers who are paralleled to the “sons of God” in Genesis 6. The Epistle of Barnabas is considered by some to acknowledge the Enochian version.
Early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Commodianus believed that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6:1–4 were fallen angels who engaged in unnatural union with human women, resulting in the begetting of the Nephilim. Modern Christians have argued against this view by reasoning on Jesus’ comment in Matthew 22:30 that angels do not marry, although it only refers to angels in heaven. Others saw them as descendants of Seth.
Augustine of Hippo subscribed to this view, based on the orations of Julius Africanus in his book City of God, which refer to the “sons of God” as being descendants of Seth (or Sethites), the pure line of Adam. The “daughters of men” are viewed as the descendants of Cain (or Cainites). Variations of this view were also received by Jewish philosophers.
Traditionalists and philosophers of Judaism in the Middle Ages typically practiced rational theology. They rejected any belief in rebel or fallen angels since evil was considered abstract. Rabbinic sources, most notably the Targum, state that the “sons of God” who married the daughters of men were merely human beings of exalted social station. They have also been considered as pagan royalty or members of nobility who, out of lust, married women from the general population. Other variations of this interpretation define these “sons of God” as tyrannical Ancient Near Eastern kings who were honored as divine rulers, engaging in polygamous behavior. No matter the variation in views, the primary concept by Jewish rationalists is that the “sons of God” were of human origin.
Most notable Jewish writers in support for the view of human “sons of God” were Saadia, Rashi, Lekah Tob, Midrash Aggada, Joseph Bekor Shor, Abraham ibn Ezra, Maimonides, David Kimhi, Nahmanides, Hizkuni, Bahya Ashur. Gersonides, Shimeon ben Yochai and Hillel ben Samuel.
Ibn Ezra reasoned that the “sons of God” were men who possessed divine power, by means of astrological knowledge, able to beget children of unusual size and strength.
Jewish commentator Isaac Abrabanel considered the aggadot on Genesis 6 to have referred to some secret doctrine and was not to be taken literally. Abrabanel later joined Nahmanides and Levi ben Gerson in promoting the concept that the “sons of God” were the older generations who were closer to physical perfection, as Adam and Eve were perfect. Though there are variations of this view, the primary idea was that Adam and Eve’s perfect attributes were passed down from generation to generation. However, as each generation passed, their perfect physical attributes diminished. Thus, the early generations were mightier than the succeeding ones. The physical decline of the younger generations continued until the Flood, to the point that their days were numbered as stated in Genesis 6:3. It was immoral for the older generations to consort with the younger generations, whereby puny women begot unusually large children. Nephilim was even considered a stature.
Jacob Anatoli and Isaac Arama viewed the groups and events in Genesis 6:1–4 as an allegory, primarily for the sin of lust that declined man’s higher nature.
- Douglas, Tenney & Silva 2011, p. 1384
- The lexical item in Hebrew: אלהים, romanized: ʼĕlōhîm, means “God” but uses the Hebrew plural morpheme -im. Although ʼĕlōhîm is plural in form, it is understood in the singular sense. Therefore the English translation is “God” rather than “Gods”.
- Davies 1995, p. 22
- C. Westermann, Genesis, BKAT 1/3. (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1982), 42
- DDD 1998, p. 795
- Mark S. Smith The Ugaritic Baal cycle 1994 p249 “all the divine sons” (or “all the sons of God”). ESA sources may support this point.”
- M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, J. Sanmartin Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit2d ed. (Munster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995)
- Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, Juan-Pablo Vita, A concordance of Ugaritic words2003 p389
- Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, Juan-Pablo Vita, The texts of the Ugaritic data bank2003 p82
- Marvin H. Pope El in the Ugaritic texts 1955 p49
- Rahmouni, A. Divine epithets in the Ugaritic alphabetic texts 2008 p91
- Young G. D. Concordance of Ugaritic 1956 Page 13
- G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren Theological dictionary of the Old Testament 2000 p130
- Parker, Simon B. (2000). “Ugaritic Literature and the Bible”. Near Eastern Archaeology. 63 (4): 228–31. doi:10.2307/3210794. JSTOR3210794.
- Cooke, Gerald (1961). “The Israelite King As Son of God”. Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft. 73 (2): 202–25. doi:10.1515/zatw.19184.108.40.206.
- Davies 1995, p. 23
- Scharbert, J. Traditions- und Redaktionsgeschichte von Gn 6 1967
- Jackson 2004, p. 75, “Rahlfs (1971) reports that Alexandrinus was emended by another hand at 6.2 crossing out the word uioi and writing the word aggeloi.”
- “CHURCH FATHERS: City of God, Book XV (St. Augustine)”. www.newadvent.org. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
- Biblia Peshitta en español: traducción de los antiguos manuscritos arameos.. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers. 2006. ISBN9789704100001.
- “Genesis 6 – VUL Bible”. Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
- “Nephilim: Fallen Angels, Giants or Men? – The mystery of Genesis 6:1–4”. www.chabad.org. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
- “Job 1 – LXX Bible”. Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
- “Biblical Dead Sea Scrolls – 4Q37 Deuteronomy”. dssenglishbible.com. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
- “Deuteronomy 32 – LXX Bible”. Bible Study Tools. Retrieved 2019-03-17.
- “Job 1:6 (KJV)”. Blue Letter Bible.
- Michael S. Heiser. “Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God”(PDF).
- Riemer Roukema (2010). Jesus, Gnosis and Dogma. T&T Clark International. p. 147. ISBN9780567466426. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- Michael S. Heiser (2001). “DEUTERONOMY 32:8 AND THE SONS OF GOD”. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
- Wright 2004, p. 20
- James Carleton Paget, The Epistle of Barnabas: outlook and background1994 – p10 “The quotation finds no precise equivalent in Enoch, which is probably explicable on the grounds that B. is inspired by something he remembers from Enoch at this point (see for a parallel to I Enoch 89:61-64; 90:17f.)”
- Douglas 2011, p. 1384
- Bamberger 2006, pp. 150, 151
- Bamberger 2006, p. 148
- Bamberger 2006, p. 147
- Bamberger 2006, p. 149
- Bamberger 2006, p. 150
- Bamberger 2006, pp. 149, 150
- Jung & 2004 Reprint, pp. 66, 67
- Bamberger 2006, p. 151
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