posted on May, 15 2020 @ 05:00 PM
The first four verses of Genesis ch6 form a famously obscure passage.
I suggest that the key to understanding them is to remember that Genesis is a work of theology, more than a work of history.
It presents a series of theological statements;
God made the world, and the human race in particular.
Something has gone wrong in the relationship between God and man, resulting in Sin.
“Judgement” has been considered (in the Flood story), as a way of dealing with Sin, but God is unwilling to carry this through to the final
As Sin continues to prevail, despite partial judgement, God set in motion an alternative approach, by establishing a community committed to teaching
the world about his ways.
This theological emphasis, incidentally, is the reason why controversies about the possible origins of the narratives matter less than people think.
Academics are curious about the sources of the stories in Shakespeare, but audiences are only interested in what he has done with them. In the same
way, the reader of Genesis need only be interested in what the writer has done with the stories which were available to him.
In order to understand these four verses, we need to place them within the theological structure of Genesis.
The rest of the chapter sets the scene for Noah’s Flood, and then leads into the Flood itself.
So these four verses have to be considered as part of the explanation of the Flood.
They describe the kind of society that made the Flood necessary.
The statement about marriage found at the beginning of Genesis tells us that “a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife”.
If we look at this closely, it implies what the anthropologists call a “matrilocal” marriage system, in which a husband leaves his own people and
lives with his wife’s people, instead of the other way round.
Modern readers tend not to notice this point, because we’ve got used to married couples leaving both sets of parents and setting up
If the matrilocal principle is applied to kingdoms, it might mean that the kingdom is inherited not by the king’s son, but by the man who comes in
from outside and marries the king’s daughter. This could offer the best of both worlds, combining dynastic stability with the ability to choose a
man of proven qualities.
It may be possible to detect symptoms of this practice in Greek mythology. For example, Bellerophon fled his native Corinth, after killing a man, and
married a daughter of the king of Lycia, becoming one of his heirs.
And Bellerophon was supposed to be a son of the god Poseidon, Similar claims are made for many of the Greek heroes, such as Perseus and Heracles.
I surmise, then, that the first two verses of Genesis ch6 could be describing a similar combination. That is, a warrior caste, claiming for themselves
the prestige of being sons of gods, and sometimes winning kingdoms for themselves by marrying the relevant heiresses, “the daughters of men”.
Their children, in v4, are the NEPHILIM. This word is translated in early Greek versions as “giants”, or sometimes as “violent ones” or
The latter translations would simply mean that the ruling warrior caste was hereditary. The “sons of god” rulers would sire mighty men who would
be eligible to become rulers in their turn.
If they were “giants”, then the implication would be that the dominant caste was taller than the more subjugated strata of society, which is very
plausible. We only have to remember the history of Ruanda, and how the dominant Tutsi tended to be taller than the subordinate Hutu.
There would be a vicious circle operating. The height difference would help to keep them dominant, and their dominance would exacerbate the height
difference by giving them better access to food supplies.
In the most extreme version of this relationship, the shorter and weaker peoples would be pushed out into the desert, just as the African pygmies have
been pushed into the rainforest, and the shortage of food would keep them comparatively stunted.
That would be why the desert-dwelling Israelites saw themselves as “grasshoppers” alongside the established residents of Canaan, “the sons of
Anak, who come from the Nephilim”.
On this theory, the first four verses of Genesis ch6 would be describing a Fertile Crescent dominated by a tall, swaggering warrior caste, as seen
from the viewpoint of the outsiders camped in the desert. Genesis calls them “sons of gods” simply because that is what they called themselves.
And that is exactly the kind of society which would follow on from the aggression of Cain, and would in turn lead into the conditions of the following
passage, “the earth was filled with violence” (v11).
In short, their purpose is to be part of the explanation for the necessity of sending the Flood,