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Stress-testing the
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Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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Titans, AE

A further exchange with Steve Hays on the interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4.

Since I don’t think this is a particularly important theological issue, I’m not going to blog about it again. But it seems only fair to respond to Steve’s latest round of comments, and make some clarifications by way of closing out my side of this debate.

Steve A problem with appealing to Second Temple literature is that, during the Intertestamental period, there’s blatant syncretism between Gen 6:1-4 and Greek mythological cosmogony or theomachy.

Agreed. But as I pointed out, if there were blatant syncretism between Genesis 7–8 and Greek mythological tales (which for all I know there is), we would hardly take that as impugning the traditional interpretation of Genesis 7–8. It would simply illustrate that the Jews believed the competing accounts were describing a common event.

The question isn’t whether the embellishments are accurate; as I’ve said, I don’t think they are. The question is simply how the Jews understood their own text. If there’s no evidence of alternative readings until Christian theologians became motivated by an invalid argument from Matthew 22:30 and parallels, then that lends some weight to the Enochian view—even though 1 Enoch itself is just legendary embellishment. (Of course, I don’t think it lends decisive weight—I have elsewhere repudiated, for example, the traditional Jewish interpretation of the second commandment! I’m just marshaling all the evidence available.)

Steve There’s nothing in the actual wording of 2 Pet 2 or Jude which either states or implies an allusion to Gen 6:1-4.

(1)

This is question-begging. As I’ve said, we need to ask how the original readers would have understood these passages. Given how widely-known the book of Enoch was, it seems these passages obviously are allusions to Genesis 6:1-4. When we try to put ourselves in the shoes of a first century Jew, given what we know, that certainly looks like how he’d read it. Moreover, Enoch is clearly on Jude’s mind in vv 14-15, so it’s not much of a stretch to think vv 5-7 are dealing with similar material.

(2)

There’s also the problem of what Jude and Peter are talking about if it’s not Genesis 6. It could be something else—but what? Why discount the plausible explanation we have, when there’s nothing to replace it with?

(3)

Of course, none of this is decisive. But the overall weight of evidence seems to push quite firmly in the direction of the traditional interpretation.

Steve They’re “godlike” on Heiser’s interpretation, but of course, that’s not something I grant.

But you were making an internal critique. You were saying that the Enochian view is internally inconsistent. And on the Enochian view the sons of God are godlike. Satan in Job, for instance, evinces considerable power over the elements. The fact that you don’t grant the Enochian view is irrelevant if you’re making an internal critique.

Steve To begin with, the text doesn’t say or imply that the “sons of god[s]) took possession of human males.

Sure. And I don’t think they did. I was just pointing out that you were failing to anticipate some obvious ways in which the sons of God could gain humanity while retaining their divinity.

Steve Assuming, however, that you’re the child of a demoniac, that doesn’t make you a genetically-enhanced human being.

(1)

Even though I agree, you’re continuing to assume things we can’t possibly know. Argumentum ad conjectura. So we’re back to the head-of-a-pin situation. The fact is we just have no idea what the son of a demoniac would be like.

(2)

For the record, I don’t think the sons of God took human form by possession. But more particularly, I don’t think they shared bodies which already had human spirits. When I suggested they could have taken pre-existent human bodies, I was actually thinking of recently deceased corpses. Needless to say, that’s utterly conjectural as well; I don’t believe it; in fact, I got the idea from “Supernatural”. The point is not that I think this did happen; but merely that for all we know it is a possible way in which a spiritual being could take on human form without losing its innate abilities. The point was not to suggest a mechanism of what actually happened, but merely to illustrate by way of counterexample that your previous argument substantially overreaches in its assumptions about what is possible for divine beings.

Steve Mind and body are two distinct domains. At most, there’d be some psychological rather than physical transference. The child of a demoniac might be mentally ill, or have paranormal abilities (e.g. ESP, psychokinesis).

Again, I tend to agree. I think the sons of God probably created bodies for themselves in whatever way such beings usually create bodies (cf the angels at Sodom). But for all we know they had genetic labs where they tinkered with DNA to make things work. My point was not to commit myself to a conjectural notion of how they managed to achieve the feat of reproduction with humans, but merely to illustrate that your argument makes some obviously dubious assumptions.

6 comments

  1. Annoyed Pinoy

    In Steve’s blog “Reanimated corpses” he wrote, “We think Jude is referring to 1 Enoch in 14-15 because we have specific textual clues to that effect. Their absence in v6 tells against that identification.

    But Jude 1:6 states, “…he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day…” It’s my understanding that 1 Enoch repeatedly refers to “chains” and “darkness” as punishments for the Watchers; and that they are being kept in that condition awaiting the final judgment. So, I think there is connection in Jude1:6 to 1 Enoch.

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    1 Enoch does refer to darkness, though not chains that I’m aware of. But even absent textual indicators, the allusion still seems obvious to me. It is puzzling that many Christians don’t see the link.

    Moreover, Steve’s alternative is unintentionally ironic. He says my reading has conditioned me to be blind to the obvious alternative. But bracketing whether this reads the text as its original audience would have, where does the Bible describe the fall of angels? Are Dante-inspired theological motifs so conditioning Steve’s thinking that he has forgotten there is nowhere that describes such a fall? In Second Temple Judaism, Genesis 6:1-4 was the only likely scriptural candidate.

    Moreover, if Steve is taking a more traditionally evangelical, pared-down angelology where fallen angels are demons, how come demons are roaming free while being consigned to chains and gloom?

    Now, I do agree with Steve that Second Temple Judaism is far removed from the original context of Genesis. I’ve already explicitly acknowledged the dangers of being too credulous about midrash, syncretistic embellishments etc. But we can only work with the evidence available. Not only is it evidentially unwarranted to treat the Enochian interpretation as a late Jewish innovation (even though it potentially could be), but it simply fails to engage with how the readers of Peter and Jude would have understood them. That seems to be a significant line of evidence, even if the exegetical arguments from Genesis 6 itself were weak (which I don’t think they are).

  3. bethyada

    I have been enjoying this conversation. I tend to side with your position here. (Your best line thus far: your argument trades on two layers of equivocation.).

    I am perhaps not well enough read on some historical claims but I tend to find pagan mythology and polytheism to be a devolution of sorts from the monotheism of Noah, Abraham and Moses. Thus I suspect that the Titans were from a deification of real postdiluvian (and possibly antediluvian) patriarchs. We don’t need to propose syncretism if myths arose around real ancestors.

    Some critiques on your arguments used thus far.

    You write: The point of verse 1 is that mankind, generally, is multiplying and having daughters. Obviously they were having sons too, but the daughters are the focus because they become an object of desire. For whom? Well, apparently not for the sons of humans, since that would merely reiterate what verse 1 has already indicated! It’s a no-brainer that people multiplying happens when sons of men find daughters of men attractive. If there was nothing more going on in verse 2 than human males finding human females attractive, it’s hard to make sense of the passage at all.

    Now while I disagree with Steve, his point has some merit which you dismiss because: men like women. But I don’t see that as the point in his original analogy which was: Raiding parties to abduct women from a neighboring tribe or village. That happens in lots of primitive cultures. An invading army where officers have the pick of the women. Sex-starved sailors who discover the Polynesian islands and help themselves to the bounty, including–or especially–native women.

    So Genesis 6 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. could be emphasising the taking. It is not saying that they simply found them attractive, it is saying that they took what they found attractive.

    Later you write: the average height of a man in the ancient Near East, to my understanding, was around 1.5 meters (5″). So the Nephilim might not have been taller than some modern basketball players.

    You don’t have to speculate here. Goliath (Masoretic) was six cubits and a span and Og had a bed 9 cubits in length.

  4. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    I see your point about the “choosing” being the focus; that is something I didn’t properly engage with. It adds a little weight to Steve’s view, but I still think it’s ultimately unconvincing when we assess the combination of thoughts in the text, and the full range of external evidence.

    The reason I didn’t go into the height of Goliath is that the Septuagint differs with the MT, recording his height at 4 cubits and a span. And cubits themselves weren’t standard measurements either—but going by averages, that would make him about 6″6′. Still pretty tall, even by today’s standards, and a foot taller than average back then (looks like I got the average height half a foot too short in my post).

    Mind you, Og’s bed seems on firmer footing, which would lend credence to the MT reading of Goliath’s height over the LXX—assuming he wasn’t a total runt.

  5. Annoyed Pinoy

    While I’m not dogmatic on the traditional view, here’s more evidence that suggests it’s correct.

    Heiser claims IN THIS VIDEO (that’s already cued up) that the “them” in Jude 1:7 grammatically matches to the angels (verse 6) and not the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He claims “them” is a masculine plural just as angels. While “cities” is a grammatical feminine.

    Also, as I (fallibly) read various translations, they seem to be saying that the sin commited is LIKE/SIMILAR to that commited in Sodom and Gomorrah (viz. it’s of a sexual nature).

    “….which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire…”- ESV

    “…since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh…”- NASB

    “…in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh…”- NKJV

    The NET which is a less literal translation done by competent scholars makes the connection explicit by adding the word “angels”

    “…since they indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire in a way similar to these angels…”- NET

  6. Annoyed Pinoy

    Some commentaries interpret the verse to mean spiritual/religious adultery (i.e. unfaithfulness to God). However, that seems to me to be ad hoc and doesn’t really makes sense of the phrase “strange flesh” or “unnatural desire”.

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