One confusing story, two stories confused, and three versions of 10 commandments

One confusing story, two stories confused, and three versions of 10 commandments September 26, 2012

Richard Beck is teaching through the book of Genesis and, like most readers, trips over the very weird bit at the beginning of chapter 6 on “the Nephilim.”

Nifty photoshop fake via

I’ve never figured out what to make of that, or how this odd fragment from the Silmarillion wound up in the Hebrew scriptures. But it is one of the big flashing signals that these early chapters of Genesis do not invite or allow a “literal” reading in the style of modern-day American fundies.

I don’t just mean because giants and talk of “heroes of old” are huge screaming clues that this is a bit of legendary narrative. There’s also the problem that this bit defies the anachronistic journalistic reading that is referred to as “literalism.” Consider that these inexplicable “Nephilim” show up again later, in Numbers 13, when the Hebrew spies returning from Canaan say, “We saw Nephilim there” and the text says, parenthetically, “the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim.”

A creationist-style “literal” reading says that’s impossible — the Nephilim all died in Noah’s flood. (Somewhere, I’m sure, some “scientific creationist” crypto-archaeologist — Ron Wyatt, perhaps — is collecting money for an expedition to search for Nephilim fossils.)

If you want to take a trip through the looking glass, Google around to read some of the more imaginative things written by those who insist that this story is a “literal,” historical account. It’s entertaining, and somehow appropriate, to see folks like Ken Ham and Henry M. Morris cited alongside Erich von Daniken and Zecharia Sitchin.

So what does this weird little passage mean? I have no idea. Beck guesses that “this strange text” expresses some early “concern over illicit mixing” — going on to note that such concern is something later prophets, Jesus and Paul took pains to condemn.

Beck is teaching through Genesis at a prison Bible study. The next book is Exodus. The idea of studying Exodus in a prison reminds me of that scene from Shawshank where they’re sorting books for the prison library and come across The Count of Monte Cristo:

ANDY: You know what it’s about? You’ll like it, it’s about a prison break.

RED: We oughta file that under “Educational” too, oughten we?

* * * * * * * * *

In another discussion of the early chapters of Genesis, Scot McKnight writes: “I heard Tom Wright say election is at work in God choosing Adam and Eve from others to be the ones with the image of God.”

Wright seems to have his chapters mixed up. The bit about the “image of God” is not part of the story of Adam and Eve, it’s from the previous story and applies to all of humanity — to adam but not to “Adam.”

“God choosing Adam and Eve from others to be the ones with the image of God” is something that never happens in the Bible. That’s the opposite of what happens in the Bible. The first story says that all of humanity is made in the image of God, and we can apply that to the second story to infer that, because Adam and Eve are humans, that is also true of them. But these two stories cannot be made to say that Adam and Eve bear the image never attributed to them in their story while “others” do not bear the image attributed to them in theirs.

Any attempt to explain why “God [chose] Adam and Eve from others to be the ones with the image of God” is bound to be as helpful and insightful as trying to explain why God chose Adam and Eve to build an ark, or why God chose Adam and Eve to face Goliath armed only with a sling. Wrong story.

* * * * * * * * *

At Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike looks at the three main different ways of numbering the Ten Commandments. He picks a favorite, preferring the Talmudic approach of regarding the Decalog as the “Ten Words.”

That’s a different numbering than the one used by Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and it’s also different from the numbering preferred by most Protestants, Greek Orthodox and some Jews.

The fact that different branches of Christianity and Judaism number these commandments differently isn’t a big deal. The text itself doesn’t number them, and regardless of how they’re numbered, the content of the Ten Commandments doesn’t change. How you prefer to number them only matters if, say, you wanted to make a plaque or a monument with the commandments engraved on it.

Uh-oh …

This point is largely ignored by those who imagine they can put such a plaque or monument in a public building without establishing anything more than a vaguely non-sectarian “Judeo-Christian” form of ceremonial civil religion.

Nope. If you want to hang the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, you’re going to have to pick sides — privileging one Christian sect over another. Before you commission such a plaque or monument you first have to decide if it’s going to hang in a Lutheran courtroom or in a Methodist courtroom.

Does the First Amendment allow for such a thing as a sectarian courtroom? No, it really does not.

"My house burned on this day in 1986. Remained standing, but was largely gutted."

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  • The_L1985

     I’ve heard that it is done in imitation of the modesty of the virgin Mary.

  • Carstonio


    Give a goat a break – it’s bad enough you killed her kid

    Goats: They kid because they love.

  • Robyrt

    Yeah, I love that little nephilim bit because it gives hints that there was so much other stuff going on besides the official patriarchal lineage. The idea that they were a lost race of giants, Goliath being one of their last descendants, fits the shortening age of each successive generation as the story of Genesis advances. The Book of Enoch is just more explicit about it, offering an explanation for why there were Gilgamesh and friends running around, and why we don’t see them any more.

  • VMink

    Wasn’t the Ghost Dance made explicitly illegal on pain of US Cavalry?

  • AnonymousSam

    Ooh! I loved Okami. No idea those games were connected. I may have to hunt this down now.

    Edit: Aw, PS3 and X-Box 360 exclusive? I could have sworn I saw it on PC before. I keep planning to get a PS3 and it keeps not happening. Probably has something to do with that whole “but I need food to live!” thing.

  • AnonymousSam

    Ha, I remember them. I had Last Exit for the Lost on my “absurdly long songs” tracklist for a long time, along with Fates Warning’s Pleasant Shade of Gray song/album.

  • AnonymousSam

    I don’t know about Pagan/Wiccan specifically, but the term arose semi-frequently among the Otherkin community of which I was once a part. Some ‘kin prefer the term to more explicitly angelic-derived heritage taxonomy.

  • Nicanthiel

    Yeah, there’s a specific branch of ‘kin (who have become more popular in pagan circles in the past few years) that identify as reincarnated Nephilim, and have an entire ritual/social culture based on the effects they claim that identity has on their current lives.

  • 2 You shall not make cast idols.

    This is about that Simon guy, isn’t it?

  • Joshua

    Simon Cowell? I won’t argue with you.

  • Gosh, all this discussion of nephilim, and no mention of the roleplaying game…

  • nelc

    Not to mention the rock group.

  • Of course, the only place in Exodus referring to the “עשרת הדברים” (literally: ten written-things) is in 34:28, and is generally taken to refer to the contents of Exodus 34:6–26. Needless to say, these are not what most people think of when they go on about the ten commandments, although I’d strongly support a movement to put tablets with these written on it into every courtroom in the country, if only to see the perplexed bewilderment on the face of fundamentalists confronted with commandments like “The first-born of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, you shall break its neck.”

  • christopher_young

    Alternatively, if I won the lottery, I would cheerfully pay to place Arthur Clough’s The Latest Decalogue on display in a number of public buildings I could name.