Although this week’s (if I’m ever off-schedule here, please let me know — I am in Scotland…) lesson is focused on Noah and the Flood narrative, this post will concentrate more on “his house.” Not that the story of Noah isn’t important, or that I couldn’t find tons of things to say about it, but I wanted to focus on some aspects of these chapters in Genesis that aren’t so commonly covered, but that are nevertheless of some importance.

Genesis 6: The Marriage of the Sons of God with Daughters of Men and the “Giants”

I think there is a tendency among us to want to just skip over the initial verses of Genesis 6, because they really are difficult to understand and have a very “mythological” feel to them. Have a look:

Genesis 6:1-5 (KJV)

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 2 That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. 3 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. 4 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.

What in the world is this passage on about? Who are the sons of God who married the daughters of men? Who are these giants and these famous mighty men of old? Like I said, we usually tend to skip these verses instead of trying to sort out what’s going on here. But anciently, these verses were quite important, and we see them forming a more central part of larger narratives in some of the Jewish and Christian pseudepigraphal literature.

First of all, the expression “daughters of men/Adam” is straightforward. What kind of men these were will be addressed shortly.

The identity of the “sons of God” is a much more complicated issue. The Hebrew text has b’nei ha-Elohim, which is a title commonly used to refer to the class of beings known today as “angels”, but literally means just what it says “sons of (the) God” (or, alternatively, “sons of the gods”). The “angels” were originally conceived as divine beings or gods who were subordinate to the Father Deity, and members of the Divine Council. Later Jewish theology would not allow for multiple gods, so by the time the Septuagint was compiled, the sons of God became simply “messengers” (angel = malak = messenger).

Many ancient sources, most notably 1 Enoch 6-19, but also other texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Midrashim, and other Jewish literature associate the “sons of God” mentioned in Gen. 6 with the fallen angels (sometimes called “the Watchers”) that rebelled against God and brought, unauthorized, heavenly secrets to Earth. Following this tradition, it was these divine beings who married the dau(ghters of men (human women) and whose offspring were the giants.  This story, with its rebellious divine beings who are imprisoned and giant offspring, is reminiscent of the story of the Titans of Greek mythology (Richard Bauckham argues that 1 Enoch likely didn’t borrow from Greek mythology, but that both must have had a common source).1

An alternative to this tradition is one that many Christians later adopted, that the “sons of God” in the story refer to human beings of the line of Seth. In the Christian retelling of Genesis known as The Cave of Treasures (probably 6th cent.), while Cain and his family went further down the primordial cosmic mountain to dwell, Seth and his family remained further up, near the gates of the Garden of Eden. While the descendants of Cain were known as the “children of men”, the Sethites were referred to as the “children of God.”  From the text of The Cave of Treasures:

And lasciviousness and fornication increased among the children of Cain, and they had nothing to occupy them except fornication–now they had no obligation [to pay] tribute, and they had neither prince nor governor–and eating, and drinking, and lasciviousness, and drunkenness, and dancing and singing to instruments of music, and the wanton sportings of the devils, and the laughter which affordeth pleasure to the devils, and the sounds of the furious lust of men neighing after women. And Satan, finding [his] opportunity in this work of error, rejoiced greatly, because thereby he could compel the sons of Seth to come down from that holy mountain. There they had been made to occupy the place of that army [of angels] that fell [with Satan], there they were beloved by God, there they were held in honour by the angels, and were called “sons of God,” even as the blessed David saith in the psalm, “I have said [Fol. 12b, col. 1], Ye are gods, and all of you sons of the Most High.” (Ps. lxxxii. 6.)

Meanwhile fornication reigned among the daughters of Cain, and without shame [several] women would run after one man. And one man would attack another, and they committed fornication in the presence of each other shamelessly… And Satan had been made ruler (or prince) of that camp [Fol. 12b, col. 2]. And when the men and women were stirred up to lascivious frenzy by the devilish playing of the reeds which emitted musical sounds, and by the harps which the men played through the operation of the power of the devils, and by the sounds of the tambourines and of the sistra which were beaten and rattled through the agency of evil spirits, the sounds of their laughter were heard in the air above them, and ascended to that holy mountain.

And when the children of Seth heard the noise, and uproar, and shouts of laughter in the camp of the children of Cain, about one hundred of them who were mighty men of war gathered together, and set their faces to go down to the camp of the children of Cain. When Yârêd heard their words and knew their intention, he became sorely afflicted, and he sent and called them to him, and said unto them, “By the holy blood of Abel, I will have you swear that not one of you shall go down from this holy mountain. Remember ye [Fol. 13a, col. 1] the oaths which our fathers Seth, and Ânôsh, and Kainân, and Mahlâlâîl made you to swear.” And Enoch also said unto them, “Hearken, O ye children of Seth, no man who shall transgress the commandment of Yârêd, and [break] the oaths of our fathers, and go down from this mountain, shall never again ascend it.” But the children of Seth would neither hearken to the commandment of Yârêd, nor to the words of Enoch, and they dared to transgress the commandment, and those hundred men, who were mighty men of war, went down [to the camp of Cain]. And when they saw that the daughters of Cain were beautiful in form and that they were naked and unashamed, the children of Seth became inflamed with the fire of lust. And when the daughters of Cain saw the goodliness of the children of Seth, they gripped them like ravening beasts and defiled their bodies. And the children of Seth slew their souls by fornication with the daughters of Cain. And when the children of Seth wished to go up [again] to that holy mountain [Fol. 13a, col. 2], after they had come down and fallen, the stones of that holy mountain became fire in their sight, and having defiled their souls with the fire of fomication, God did not permit them to ascend to that holy place. And, moreover, very many others made bold and went down after them, and they, too, fell.

I apologize for the rather graphic nature of that story, but it is a very interesting alternative to the fallen angels tradition. The “sons of God” in this narrative are not angels, but humans who, through their adherence to their oaths of righteousness have been exalted to the status of angels (sons of God). Those who decide to descend from that exalted place and break their covenants (by being unchaste, engaging in loud laughter, etc.), become fallen and are not permitted to ascend again to their previous blessed state.

While some argue that this second retelling of the story is very late and could not have been the original tradition, there are a number of aspects of it that are quite ancient, especially the use of the term “son of God” to refer to mortals. Just as an “angel” (malak) could refer to both divine and human messengers, the term “son of God” could refer to either a divine or human being. While the more modern theological perspective creates an unbridgeable gap between the divine and human, this division was not nearly so pronounced anciently.  It is likely that both heavenly and earthly beings could be seen as sons of God.

We know that the Davidic kings, as in other ancient cultures, were considered to be sons of God (Ps. 2:7; 109:3 LXX; 2 Sam. 7:14). Israel (the Israelites) as a whole are sometimes referred to as children of God (Deut. 14:1; Deut. 32:5-6, 19-20; Isa. 43:6-7; Isa. 64:8; Jer. 2:27; Mal. 2:10).  The idea that righteous humans are referred to as “sons of God” is not uncommon and is very ancient.  Similar ideas are perpetuated through the intertestamental period, and the usage, of course, is well known in the New Testament, where the righteous may become children of God through Christ (e.g. John 1:12; Philip. 2:15; Rom. 8:14;  1 Jn. 3:1-2). Compare this with similar ideas in LDS Scripture: Moro. 7:26, 48; Moses 8:13, 21; 3 Ne. 9:17; D&C 11:30; D&C 34:3; D&C 76:58.

So which story is the “true” one? I really don’t know. Theologically, I side with the Sethite story because I don’t believe that divine noncorporal beings could mate with humans. However, I am quite partial to the Enochic literature and am reluctant to discount its narrative so quickly.  The story of the Watchers in the book of 1 Enoch, as we now have it, on the other hand, is quite surely not the most ancient version of the story, and may have taken an older tradition regarding the fallen angels and reworked it to fit the context we read of in Genesis 6.  However, I think the story of the Watchers, the fallen angels, should belong to a different part of the history.

But what about the giant offspring? That certainly sounds like it would fit the mythological tone of the Enochic literature!  However, if we look at the ancient texts, we see that we should likely not understand the “giants” to have been beings of extraordinary size that could have resulted from the pairing of divine and human beings. While it was common anciently to view the gods as beings of extraordinary size (and their offspring could have had similar dimensions), that may not be what we are looking at here.  We get the term “giants” in this passage from the Latin rendering of the Greek Gigantes, which means “earthborn.” However, the Hebrew term used, Nephilim, has to do with their status as “fallen.” They could have been fallen because their fathers were the fallen angels, because of their great wickedness, or simply because they were already dead (being from a previous and ancient generation from the perspective of the author), which seems the most likely interpretation.

The passage goes on to say that these “fallen ones” were the mighty men (gibborim) of old. Gibborim is a term usually used to describe mighty warriors or famous hunters, like Nimrod (Gen. 10:8). So, while this all the subject of much dispute and is very obscure, the “giants” of Genesis 6 may have been much less “mythological” than the text and some traditions make them out to be.  In my current humble opinion, I would say that they were likely not enormous creatures that resulted from the marriages of angels to humans, but were the offspring of those human saints who married outside of the covenant. They were known for their great skills as warriors and hunters. Again, I could be wrong on this, but that is what makes most sense to me at this point.

Note how the version of the story in Moses 8 generally follows this view, reworking the Genesis account in important ways:

13 And Noah and his sons hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed, and they were called the sons of God.

14 And when these men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, the sons of men saw that those daughters were fair, and they took them wives, even as they chose.

15 And the Lord said unto Noah: The daughters of thy sons have sold themselves; for behold mine anger is kindled against the sons of men, for they will not hearken to my voice.

(Note how the troublesome “sons of God” is not used here, but it is made clear that both the men and women are mortals. Furthermore, the “daughters” are the daughters of Noah’s sons, who marry men of the world. The perspective here is quite different.)

18 And in those days there were giants on the earth, and they sought Noah to take away his life; but the Lord was with Noah, and the power of the Lord was upon him.

(Giants are mentioned here, but the emphasis is not on their size, but on their violent nature.)

19 And the Lord ordained Noah after his own order, and commanded him that he should go forth and declare his Gospel unto the children of men, even as it was given unto Enoch.

20 And it came to pass that Noah called upon the children of men that they should repent; but they hearkened not unto his words;

21 And also, after that they had heard him, they came up before him, saying: Behold, we are the sons of God; have we not taken unto ourselves the daughters of men? And are we not eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage? And our wives bear unto us children, and the same are mighty men, which are like unto men of old, men of great renown. And they hearkened not unto the words of Noah.

(The men who have married the “daughters” consider themselves to be sons of God, but it is nowhere indicated that they are anything but mortal. They claim that their children are mighty men (not giants), like them of old — perhaps this declaration is in response to warnings that they would be less so.)

The House of Noah

We saw above that Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, were called “sons of God” because of their righteousness. We read that Noah walked with God, as had Enoch. The biblical narrative seems to relate Enoch’s walking with God to his ascension/translation (Gen. 5:24).

As I said above, I don’t want to focus on the Flood story, but on the “house” of Noah. Noah became, essentially, a new Adam, the father of the human race after the Flood had destroyed all the rest of the human race.  As an aside, it is interesting to note that this is taking place, according to the biblical record, over 1500 years since the Fall of Adam. In 1500 years (especially if most people lived for hundreds of years before dying), there would likely have been many millions of people on the earth.  If some people worry about over-population now, just think how the world would be if the Flood hadn’t taken out 99.99% of that early population!  But if Noah and his sons “walked with God”, how did the world get so wicked again, so fast?

The first act of post-diluvian unrighteousness recorded in the Bible is the story of Ham uncovering the nakedness of his father Noah, which was followed, oddly, by Noah cursing Ham’s youngest son, Canaan. While the nature of the act (seeing his father “uncovered”) is rather obscure, there is no reason given for why Ham’s son is cursed and not Ham himself. This has been a source of debate for scholars.  The summary given in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (under “Canaan” is helpful:

The fourth son of Ham and the father of Sidon and ten other families of the Canaanites (Gen 10:6). When Noah learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done (seeing his father uncovered and telling his brothers of it); Noah cursed Canaan, the son of Ham (Gen 9:18-27). According to the curse, Canaan would be a slave to Ham's brothers, Shem and Japheth. For a discussion of the meaning of the name Canaan, and the peoples and lands encompassed by that term, see CANAAN (PLACE). Two problems emerge from the mention of Canaan in Genesis 9: why is Canaan cursed rather than the apparent perpetrator Ham; and what is the implication of the curse for Canaan and his descendants?

A composite text, in which the narrative and the curse were originally distinct (the "youngest son" of 9:24 would then refer to Canaan, rather than Ham, and would be connected with the curse which follows) and preserved in two separate traditions, might explain origins (Neiman 1966: 133; Westermann Genesis 1-11 BKAT, 650-51), but does not explain the present text. Some have attempted to solve the problem of why Canaan was cursed by eliminating two Hebrew words in vv 18 and 22 ("Ham, the father of"), so that Canaan, rather than Ham, becomes the principal actor in the narrative (Gunkel Genesis HKAT 3: 69-70; Skinner Genesis ICC, 182; Schottroff WMANT 30: 148 n. 3; von Rad Genesis OTL, 135). But this lacks textual support. The same is true of attempts to portray Ham as involved in incestuous relationships with his mother (Bassett 1971: 235) or with his father (Phillips 1980: 41). Commentators have noted how these (and other similar explanations of sexual misconduct) were intended to symbolize the sinful practices of the Canaanites (Cassuto 1964: 154-55; Wenham Genesis 1-15 WBC, 201). The emphasis upon the identification of Ham as the father of Canaan has led to the suggestion that Ham learned how to do the evil deed from Canaan (Jacob 1934: 262-65).

Older explanations which observe Noah's blessing upon his sons (Gen 9:1) as irreversible have been used to explain Noah's inability to curse Ham. It has further been suggested that since Ham was the youngest of Noah's sons, the curse would be transferred to the youngest of Ham's sons, Canaan (cf. Cassuto 1964: 153).2

While this doesn’t sound especially ethical or appropriate, it seems that perhaps Canaan was cursed with regards to the priesthood because Ham already had the priesthood, so it was denied to his offspring.  From other sources we see Ham as not merely (and apparently innocently) seeing his father’s “nakedness”, but as trying to take from him his priesthood authority, as represented by his special priestly garment, said to be the garment that God made for Adam after the Fall.  You have probably read or heard of this story from Hugh Nibley or other LDS authors. I realize that I just posted something on this from Jeff Bradshaw’s book, but just recently I also came across this tradition again while reading a book by a non-LDS author. In his section on “The Garments of Adam and Eve”, Howard Schwartz in Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, retells the Jewish traditions about the passing on of Adam’s priestly garment:

When Adam and Eve were first created, they were clothed, body and soul, with garments of light. Some say those garments of light were made entirely of clouds of glory. Others say they were made of holy luminous letters that God had given them, which shed radiance like a torch, broad at the bottom and narrow at the top. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the garments of light were replaced by garments of skins, as it is said,”And the Lord God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). It is said that these garments were created during twilight on the sixth day of Creation, just before the first Sabbath. Some say that they consisted of a hornlike substance, smooth as a fingernail and as beautiful as a jewel, while others say that they were made of goats’ skin or the wool of camels. Still others insist that they were made of the hide of the serpent who led them astray in the Garden of Eden.

Adam handed down the garments to Seth, and Seth to Methuselah, and Methuselah to Noah, who took them with him on the ark. And when they left the ark, Ham, the son of Noah, bequeathed them to Nimrod, although others say that Nimrod stole them. When Nimrod wore Adam's garments, his outward appearance was that of Adam, and the creatures were humbled before him and would bow down, thinking he was their king.

The garments came into the possession of Esau when he defeated Nimrod, and it was this garment that Jacob wore when he went to his father, Isaac. For that day Esau had not put them on, so that they remained in the house. Rebecca then took the best clothes of her older son Esau, which were there in the house, and had her younger son Jacob put them on (Gen. 27:15). Isaac smelled the smell of Esau's garments, and therefore he blessed Jacob.

Some say that the repentance of Adam and Eve earned a different set of garments for them, garments of light. At the End of Days, God will dress the Messiah in such a garment, which will shine from one end of the world to the other. And the Jews will draw upon its light and say to the Messiah, “blessed is the hour in which the Messiah was created."

This is an example of what might be called a “chain midrash”, because it links together the chain of the generations, from Adam until the Messiah. Other similar midrashic traditions are found about the staff of Moses, the book that the angel Raziel is said to have given Adam, and the glowing stone known as the Tzohar. Sometimes there are contradictory lines of descent, as in the case of Adam’s garment. According to one account in Midrash Tanhuma, the garment was diverted into the hands of the evil king Nimrod, while in an opposing account, it was transferred from Noah to Shem to Abraham, who passed it down to Isaac. Isaac is said to have given it to Esau, his firstborn, but Esau entrusted it to his mother, Rebecca, when he saw his own wives practiced idolatry. And, as is reported in the biblical account, Rebecca took the beloved garments of her son Esau and gave them to Jacob, at the time he received the stolen blessing.

According to Sefer ha-Zikhronot, the garments of Adam and Eve were among eight things created on the first day of creation. Other sources describe them as being created at twilight on the sixth day of Creation. As is apparent, there were alternate explanations about the nature of the garments of Adam and Eve. Genesis 3:21 seems to clearly state that they were made of the skins of animals, while in the midrash they are also described as consisting of a hornlike substance. The notion that their original garments were made of light derives from the word or, which when spelled with an aleph means "light," while when spelled with an ayin means "skin" as well as “leather." It is spelled with an ayin in Genesis 3:21, but Genesis Rabbah 20:12 states that in the Torah scroll of Rabbi Meir, the or in the biblical verse was written with an aleph. Zohar 2:229b explains that they were originally garments of light, not of skin, for when Adam was about to enter the Garden of Eden for the first time, God dressed him in garments of light, of the sort used by the angels in paradise. Indeed, the light of Adam’s garments was more elevated than their own. Had he not been wearing those garments, Adam could not have entered the garden. And when he was driven out of Eden, he required different garments, so the Lord made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed them (Gen. 3:21).

A variant of this myth has Noah’s son, Shem [Melchizedek], giving the garments to Abraham, who wears them when he takes Isaac to Mount Moriah to be sacrificed. Later they were inherited by Isaac, who gave them to his Firstborn son, Esau. These were the garments Jacob put on when he pretended to be Esau in order to receive his father's blessing. Thus when Jacob entered the room, Isaac smelled the fragrance that he had smelled when he was tied upon the altar.

Rabbi Tzadok ha-Kohen of Lublin (1823-1900) proposes that the sin of Adam and Eve, followed by their repentance, brought them to a more exalted state than before the sin, symbolized by their receiving new garments, replacing the garments of skin with garments of light. This is a surprising view of the role of sin and repentance in stimulating spiritual growth. Rabbi Yosef Hayim of Baghdad, known as Ben Ish Hai, asserts in Ben Yehoyada that Torah study has the power to reverse the process, changing the garments of skins back into garments of light.3

Sorry for that huge and rather repetitive diversion. My point, I guess, in sharing that (besides the fact that it is really cool) is to show that there was a tradition that the sin of Ham was that of stealing the garment of the priesthood. This unauthorized usurping of priesthood authority apparently led to Ham’s descendants assuming that they had the priesthood when they, in reality, did not.

Click for Larger Image

It is interesting that in some traditions Nimrod becomes the possessor of the garment, and that because of its influence he is recognized as king. Nimrod considers himself to be a god and becomes the king of Babylon, where he sponsors probably the greatest post-Flood sin up to that point, the building of the tower of Babel, a great ziggurat temple, with which he hoped to steal further authority from God (that’s my understanding of it, anyways).

To put in a finishing thought, we see that God blesses those who who are faithful to their covenants with him. They are the children of God — exalted, held in a blessed state, and permitted to bear the priesthood authority of God to enhance their lives. However, when they insist on breaking those covenants, exercising unrighteous dominion and usurping the authority of God, they will lose their blessings and be left to falter in their fallen state.

  1. Although elements of Greek Titan mythology have been identified here and in Gen 6:1-4 (Kraeling 1947, who separates the gibbōrı̂m from the Nephilim), the presence of a common source for the traditions of 1 Enoch and those of the Greek world is more likely (Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter WBC, 50-53, 248-49). Speiser (Genesis AB, 46) identifies this source as Hurrian. Kilmer (1987) has sought to identify the Nephilim with the apkallu of Mesopotamian tradition. Freedman, D. N. (1996). The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.
  2. Freedman, D. N. (1996). The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday.
  3. Howard Schwartz, Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, 437-438

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