On one of my recent posts about young earth creationists and Noah’s Ark, reader Kathleen noted that she’d always wondered why God chose then to commit near-genocide, and not at other points in the world’s history. Another reader, Jenn H, responded in her own comment as follows:
There are some myths where God sent the flood to kill off all the angel/human hybrids that were eating the regular humans, Noah and his family being the few that were left. I like that myth better.
Kathleen responded with:
Please tell me someone is making that first myth into a movie….angel/human hybrids eating humans….like WW Z but Biblical…..
Half of you may be wondering what in the world Jenn and Kathleen are talking about. The other half of you probably knew right off, as I did. It’s an odd and fairly obscure passage of the Bible that you’d think organizations like Answers in Genesis, with their laser-like focus on Noah’s Flood, would spend more time talking about than they do.
The passage reads as follows:
When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.
The term Nephilim is related to the Hebrew verb “to fall,” but has traditionally been translated “giants” in English. The Nephilim reappear later in Numbers 13, long after the flood, when Joshua leads the Israelites into Canaan. There, they are definitively referred to as giants.
(How did the Nephilim survive the flood, you ask? Wasn’t it supposed to kill all of living beings? Golly, what a good question! I’ll get back to you on that!)
So—what in the world is going on here?
The traditional view is that the “sons of god” were angels who came down to earth, took on fleshly bodies, and had sex with human women. These were fallen angels in Christian interpretations, or regular angels in certain Midrash. Regardless, the result was half-angel/half-human offspring who were giants—demigods, in a sense—and were referred to as the Nephilim.
The Book of Enoch describes this incident in greater detail, suggesting that the view that the Nephilim were angel/human hybrids was at least somewhat common in the centuries prior to Jesus’ birth. (The Book of Enoch was attributed to Enoch, Noah’s great-grandson, but was likely actually written from 300-100 BCE; it was not included when the Bible canon was assembled.)
The relevant passage reads as follows:
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: ‘I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.’ And they all answered him and said: ‘Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.’ Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And these are the names of their leaders: Samlazaz, their leader, Araklba, Rameel, Kokablel, Tamlel, Ramlel, Danel, Ezeqeel, Baraqijal, Asael, Armaros, Batarel, Ananel, Zaqiel, Samsapeel, Satarel, Turel, Jomjael, Sariel. These are their chiefs of tens.
And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.
The Book of Enoch posits angel/human unions and their offspring as the reason for the flood. God isn’t wiping out human wickedness so much as he is wiping out a race of angel/human hybrids.
The Book of Enoch goes on to make this explicit:
And Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. Semjaza taught enchantments, and root-cuttings, ‘Armaros the resolving of enchantments, Baraqijal (taught) astrology, Kokabel the constellations, Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiel the signs of the earth, Shamsiel the signs of the sun, and Sariel the course of the moon. And as men perished, they cried, and their cry went up to heaven.
And then Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel looked down from heaven and saw much blood being shed upon the earth, and all lawlessness being wrought upon the earth. And they said one to another: ‘The earth made without inhabitant cries the voice of their cryingst up to the gates of heaven. And now to you, the holy ones of heaven, the souls of men make their suit, saying, “Bring our cause before the Most High.”‘ And they said to the Lord of the ages: ‘Lord of lords, God of gods, King of kings, and God of the ages, the throne of Thy glory (standeth) unto all the generations of the ages, and Thy name holy and glorious and blessed unto all the ages! Thou hast made all things, and power over all things hast Thou: and all things are naked and open in Thy sight, and Thou seest all things, and nothing can hide itself from Thee. Thou seest what Azazel hath done, who hath taught all unrighteousness on earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were (preserved) in heaven, which men were striving to learn: And Semjaza, to whom Thou hast given authority to bear rule over his associates. And they have gone to the daughters of men upon the earth, and have slept with the women, and have defiled themselves, and revealed to them all kinds of sins. And the women have borne giants, and the whole earth has thereby been filled with blood and unrighteousness. And now, behold, the souls of those who have died are crying and making their suit to the gates of heaven, and their lamentations have ascended: and cannot cease because of the lawless deeds which are wrought on the earth. And Thou knowest all things before they come to pass, and Thou seest these things and Thou dost suffer them, and Thou dost not say to us what we are to do to them in regard to these.’
Then said the Most High, the Holy and Great One spake, and sent Uriel to the son of Lamech, and said to him: ‘Go to Noah and tell him in my name “Hide thyself!” and reveal to him the end that is approaching: that the whole earth will be destroyed, and a deluge is about to come upon the whole earth, and will destroy all that is on it. And now instruct him that he may escape and his seed may be preserved for all the generations of the world.’
The angels not only breed with human women and give rise to a race of giants, they also teach humans industry and war, enchantments and herbalism. It sounds a bit like the story of Prometheus and Epimetheus, in Greek mythology. I’m with Kathleen—I would see this movie.
What about the angels’ giant offspring “devouring” mankind and committing “sin against” birds, beast, reptiles, and fish? This could mean destruction of ecosystems; or, because people were supposed to be vegetarian before the Flood, this may simply mean meat-eating. In the same way, “devouring” mankind could be a metaphor, or it could simply mean cannibalism.
The Book of Enoch, it should be noted, was not only not included in either the Catholic or Protestant biblical canons, it was also not included in the Jewish Septuagint. It’s enough to make clear, though, that there is a longstanding tradition of interpreting Genesis 6 as describing the union of angels and human women. And it’s not just Enoch; there is other Jewish Midrash as well.
One problem with this theory is that the Nephilim are described in Genesis 6 as “heroes of old, men of renown,” and when they crop up later, in Numbers 13, they’re described as giants. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure extreme height and heroic acts aren’t associated with having a godly father and an ungodly mother.
I should note that Jewish sources are in as much disagreement as Christian sources over what these verses mean. The predominant views appear to be either that the “sons of god” were angels—and the Nephilim were angel/human hybrids—or that the “sons of god” were the descendants of the godly Seth while the “daughters of man” were the descendants of the godless Cain.
The Seth/Cain explanation could make make some sense of God’s decision to destroy the earth; wickedness spreads because godly people begin marrying ungodly people, leading to an overall decline in godliness. It ends up looking like godliness is dying out, so God picks Noah, one of the few godly patriarchs remaining, and orders up a flood. But then, it’s not like this has never happened since, and God hasn’t turned to Genocide again—so, why then?
The whole giants and heroes thing, though, makes no sense at all in a Seth/Cain interpretation. The whole giants and heroes thing lends credence to the angel/human hybrid interpretation, but that may be because it feels so familiar to the world of Greek mythology, with heroes and individuals with superhuman strength who are part human, part god. Of course, the Greeks aren’t the only ancient religion to have stories of heroic deeds carried out by demigods.
There are many mythologies and ancient religious texts that leave open interesting possibilities and interpretations; in a very real sense, this is just one more. What makes this different is that young earth creationists are intent on approaching the first chapters of Genesis as literal, infallible history. If they’re going to approach it this way, the Nephilim passages pose a problem for them—particularly given that the Nephilim is mentioned again in Numbers.
While I hadn’t thought about the Nephilim for years, I remember being fascinated by these verses as an evangelical teen. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to Answers in Genesis so interested in writing off the possibility that the Nephilim were angel/human hybrids; whatever literature I was reading as a teen was clearly open to the possibility, because at the time, I felt the existence of angel/human hybrids explained God settling on near-genocide.
After all, there have been plenty of times when godly humans intermingled with “ungodly” humans, leading to a decline in whatever Christianity the viewer considers true and real. Not only were the results of these unions not giants, God also hasn’t ever stepped in again to wipe people out.
Even Answers in Genesis, it should be noted, did not write off the possibility that the Nephilim were angel/human hybrids. Instead, they argued that it was an area with multiple good interpretations, each with its own evidence and flaws. In evangelical-speak, then, whether you believe angels once bred with humans or not is not a salvation issue; it can be left to personal interpretation.
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