Of angels and devils and mortal men

You wake up on the morning that is the start of you never going back to the office again. You are retired. The farewell party is over. They said ‘don’t be a stranger’; they meant ‘don’t be a pest’.

You very soon learn that door knockers are the front-people of a fund raising industry that has evolved just for the purpose of trying to extract the last of a retiree’s savings before he/she is shipped off from ‘their home’ to ‘a home’; care or funeral, it’s all the same to them. They just know they have a limited window of opportunity to get you to direct debit a negotiated amount of money to their most worthy cause; “We are not asking for that beautiful Audi in your drive, no, no, no, just what you can afford” they smile.  Some of them come to bring you the Good News, although it is only good news if you sign up to their particular branch of religion and pay your subs. Otherwise it is terrible news. Still they do spin some fantastic tales of angels and devils; of the creation of the universe and of mortal men. And when you start to dig into it, you do find a great story.

My daughter gifted me with a blog website for my retirement to enable me to get a few things off my chest in regard to the things I have observed and thought about over my three score and a few more and these door knockers became my motivation.

So who’s that knock, knock, knocking on my door this time?

I open to a smiling young man with his equally smiling young wife and delightful child. Armed only with their Bible they want to know if there is anything they can do to help me share in their joy of life gained through their understanding the good news in the Bible. Actually I quite like these particular young people. “Bible bashers” get a bad rap as a general observation, but I applaud that this young family has dedicated precious time to try to bring good news even to the many closed-minded, self-opinionated people like me who answer door bells (or more often don’t bother).

And I am also very open to understanding the Bible which, at the very least, is a very important set of texts on the history of the Hebrew nation that has played a significant role in the civilisation that has emerged some 4,000 years after the birth of Abraham.

Like most, I have been exposed to the Bible during the younger schooling years of my life and I found parts to be a balance between scarcely believable and quite intellectually challenging. Intellectual challenge is of course the consequence of the original transgression against divine law when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge. So when this pleasant young man offered his services in interpreting the Bible, I thought it was a great opportunity. I asked him if he could explain Genesis 6 to me?

His eyes brightened with joy at the challenge and, being unable to recall Genesis 6 off the top of his head, he thumbed vigorously through his Bible to the appropriate page and began speed reading to refresh his memory. To help I said, “it refers to the sons of God taking as many of the daughters of man as they wished for their wives and having children by them; and these children being the heroes of ancient times.” His now frozen smile agreed that this was what it said and he paused quite a while to compose his thoughts.

To focus on exactly what my question was, I asked; “so exactly who were these sons of God”? As he scanned the chapter he quickly, albeit a little hesitantly referred me to the line regarding “nephilim who were on the earth at that time” and he also suggested that angels might be involved. I  said that I understood the Hebrew translation of nephilim to mean ‘the cast-down ones’. There is also an interpretation that the term was associated with giants. And the cast down ones referred to the angels defeated by Michael, Gabriel, Raphael and the other archangels who fought on the side of Yahweh.

So, is identifying the nephilim, the cast down ones and/ or the giants and/ or angels, the key to understanding Genesis 6?  At this point the young chap decided he needed to go back to his Church elder and seek advice so that he did not mislead me. I said I would look forward to hearing from him again. I do not even know which Church he represented. I can understand his dilemma; if they were angels, immortal servants of God, either fallen or not, then their interbreeding with hominins and creating a hybrid species was something of a religious challenge.

That was quite a while back. The missionary has not returned. I still did not quite know what Genesis 6 means but, being fairly early on in the first book of the Bible, I cannot have been the first person to have sought clarification on these sons of God, the nephilim and what role they and their heroic offspring played in the creation of modern man. It was not as if it was an obscure notation in the midst of the Bible. This is Genesis. So I thought I would search available texts to see what I could find out.

ancient bronze angel. The face oddly similar to Maori carved images of their Gods.

ancient bronze angel

Starting with the Bible itself, Genesis makes first mention of Satan, the devil, responsible for giving the fruit of intelligence to Adam and Eve, which meant, as Yahweh, God stated “the man has become like one of us with his knowledge of good and evil” Gen. 3:22. Yahweh then interceded to prevent further development of man before he also gained immortality. Gen 4: 22 : he must not be allowed to eat from the tree of life and live forever.

The term ‘ Sons of God’ is clarified in the Bible’s Book of Job. In fact Satan was specifically referred to as a ‘Son of God’. Job: 1: 6-12. “One the sons of God (explained in a footnote as the angels who make up God’s Council) came to attend on Yahweh and among them was Satan. So Yahweh said to Satan, ‘where have you been?’ ‘Round the world’ he answered, ‘roaming about’. So Yahweh asked him ‘Did you notice my servant Job?‘ It is clear from this that Satan interacted with humans and was on speaking terms with Yahweh as one of his Council advisors, and this was after the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. 

The book of Revelation, written by John the beloved, a very close disciple of Jesus, wrote of a conflict within the population of angels and that Satan and his angels rebelled against God and the seven archangels, named in the Book of Enoch as: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Remiel, Reguel and Zadkiel.  Rev. 12: 7-10 “And now war broke out in heaven when Michael and his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had deceived the world, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him.”

If the nephilim were indeed the cast down ones, and Satan was once an angel within Yahweh’s council, then we may very well interpret from the Hebrews’ texts that it was Satan and his angels who married human women and sired heroic children by them.

But the Bible is in its essence the Hebrews’ text of their ancient history and passed-down knowledge of creation. There were other nations in these times and even earlier who have their own historical texts and creation legends so perhaps I should seek other ancient historical texts for further clarification. I do not have to look far to start getting other accounts of the battle between the Gods.

The accepted authoritative texts upon which modern Bible is based date back to the reigns of King David and his son Solomon, the ninth century BC, (although some Biblical scholars believe parts were not written until several centuries later during the period of Babylonian exile for the Israelites, 600-400 BC.) and Revelation was written by John after the death of Jesus. The lessons in first five books of the Bible, the Torah, may well have been given to Moses by Yahweh around 1400 BC during the 40 years in the desert, however the recorded texts themselves can only be traced back to the 9th century BC,

At this same time, 900 BC , the Iliad and the Odyssey were being written in Greece, similar to the Hebrew texts they recounted tales of ancient Greece, creation of man and the war of the gods.  The Greeks are an old and respected civilisation particularly from an intellectual, political and philosophical viewpoint and these books of the Iliad and the Odyssey therefore deserve a level of respect.

The Greek epic told of three groups of gods: the primordial gods were Gaia (earth) and Uranus (heaven).

The second group of gods were called the Titans, referred to as giants, and the first generation of Titans consisted of the twelve children of the primordial gods.

The third group of gods, the younger gods which included many of the children of the Titans were called the Olympians. Among the Olympians there was a hierarchy of  twelve senior Olympians and a number of minor deities. The leader of the Olympians, Zeus, was a son of the Titan ruler, Cronus.

There was, according to the Greek texts, a war between the Titans and Olympians; the Biblical battle between Satan and Yahweh is paralleled in Greek mythology as the battle between Zeus and Cronus.  In the Greek epic, the battle was won by the Olympians who then ruled the earth and created men. It was the Titans (the giants) who lost this battle.

As for the creation of men, the Greek account is that Prometheus and Epimetheus, even though they were members of the defeated Titans, were given the task of creating man. Prometheus shaped man out of clay, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure. This account resonates with the first book of the Bible, Genesis 2:7,” Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life“.

Prometheus is associated with ‘intelligence’ and was a protector and benefactor of humans he created. Prometheus decided to make man stand upright just like the gods did and to give them fire. As in Genesis, God created man in his own image. He may be paralleled with Satan who enabled Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge and become like Gods. Prometheus fell out of favour with Zeus because he gave favours to man at the expense of Zeus.

As for sons of Gods breeding with daughters of men, Greek history does not treat this as unusual, but rather as a very normal practice; demigods were quite common throughout the population and long lists were handed down in history. Achilles certainly fits the description of a demigod, his mother a nymph goddess and father a mortal king, and he most certainly was one of Greece’s great heroes of in the Trojan war.

But there has been an even earlier accounts of the battle of the gods and creation of man in ancient Babylonian texts.

A large number of clay tablets have been discovered in what was ancient Mesopotamia and were subsequently translated. Mesopotamia is the land where Abraham was born and lived most of his life before migrating to Canaan.

Atra-Hasis (exceptionally wise) is a character of an Akkadian epic that is recorded in various versions on clay tablets. The Atra-Hasis tablets include both an account of the creation of mankind and of the great deluge. This is one of three known Babylonian stories of the great deluge. Atra-Hasis also appears on one of the Sumerian kings lists as king of  Shurrupak in the times before a flood. The oldest known copy of the epic tradition concerning Atra Hasis can be dated to the reign of Ammi Saduka (1646–1626 BCE), 200 years before Moses, during the time that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.

These texts greatly increased knowledge of the epic and were the basis for Lambert and Millard’s first English translation of the Atra Hasis epic in something approaching entirety. A further fragment has been recovered in  Ugarit. In its most complete surviving version, the Atra Hasis epic is written on three tablets in Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylon.

Tablet I contains a creation myth about the Sumerian gods Anu, Enlil, and Enki, gods of sky, wind, and water, when gods were in the ways of men. Following a casting of lots, sky is ruled by Anu, earth by Enlil, and the freshwater sea by Enki. (This account from Atra-Hasis has a corresponding passage in the Greek poem the Iliad, i.e. the division by lots of the air, underworld and sea among the Gods Zeus, Hades and Poseidon.) Enlil then assigned junior divinities to do farm labor and maintain the rivers and canals,

In this ancient set of tablets, the authors also write of a war between two groups of the gods, the lesser gods against the greater gods. But they give the reason for the war; it was that the lesser gods were required to do all the manual labour on earth and they simply rebelled after forty years.

When the gods were man

they did forced labor, they bore drudgery.

Great indeed was the drudgery of the gods,

the forced labor was heavy, the misery too much:

The seven great Anunna-gods were burdening

the Igigi-gods with forced labor.

 The Igigi-gods were digging watercourses

canals they opened, the life of the land.

The Igigi-gods dug the Tigris river

and the Euphrates thereafter.

Springs they opened from the depths,

wells … they established.”

Intriguingly the area between the Tigris and Euphrates is where Biblical scholars are convinced that Genesis’ garden of Eden was located. And the 7 greater Gods aligns in number with the Bibles reference to seven Archangels.

But after 40 years of hard labour, these lesser gods simply rebelled as described in this tablet:

“Everyone of us gods has declared war;

…We have set … the excavation,

Excessive drudgery has killed us,

our forced labor was heavy, the misery too much!

Now, every one of us gods

has resolved on a reckoning with Enlil.”

Sumerian pottery cylinders provide the earliest depiction, 5000 years old, of 'flying beings' commonly referred to as angels.

Sumerian pottery cylinders provide the earliest depiction, 5000 years old, of ‘flying beings’ commonly referred to as angels.

The outcome of the rebellion in the Akkadian texts was that the seven senior gods agreed to create an intelligent species and humans to take over the manual farm labour (in the Garden of Eden?) from the lesser gods.

 In the Greek epic, Zeus’ anger against Prometheus for giving man the knowledge of fire caused him to unleash evils on mankind through Pandora’s box.

In Genesis, Yahweh’s anger against Satan for persuading Eve and Adam to eat from the tree of knowledge (gain intelligence) resulted in mankind being banished from the garden of Eden to suffer the harshness of the wilderness.

Were the angels simply the winners of the war between the Gods and the devils the losers? Is it good and evil that really divides them or just winners and losers of some internal disagreement? In the human conflicts we tend to say one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist; the victor writes the history.

Do these all texts describe how the evolutionary leap from the Hominid ape-man to Homo Sapiens (intelligent man) came about? So now I have referred to the modern study of archeology and the mapping of the development of modern man through analysing skeletal remains.

The brain of the earliest hominid species was about the same size as that of a chimpanzee, although it is speculated that this was the time in which the human SRGAP2 gene doubled, producing a more rapid wiring of the frontal cortex. During the next few hundred thousand years the Homo erectus species (upright walking) became evident with earliest findings dating between 1.5 and 1.9 million years ago. This species began migrating from central Africa through northern Africa into Asia and Europe. The brain of the Homo erectus had doubled from the chimpanzee size to now being 850 cubic centimetres. Archeologists believe that Homo erectus was the first species to use fire and complex tools. The last recorded fossil of Homo erectus is dated about 140,000 years ago. The emergence of the modern species of man, the classic Neanderthal, was relatively recent, between 200-250,000 years ago. The Neanderthal recorded the largest brain of the hominid species at 1500-1600 cm3. A variation of Neanderthal, Homo sapiens (intelligent man, man of knowledge), dates back 200,000 years. So for a period of over 100,000 years, Homo erectus and Neanderthal were both present on earth and for 60,000 years all three: Homo erectus, Neanderthal and Homo sapiens, co-habited on earth. There is evidence of inter-breeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens but the Neanderthal became effectively extinct about 30-40,000 years ago in Western Europe. Interestingly our Homo sapiens’ brain size has been decreasing over the past 28,000 years to now averaging 1200-1300 cm3. So has the size of my computer over the last 28,000 hours.

Maybe that young missionary who never returned was doing me a favour by forcing me to seek so that I should find? or at least find a whole lot more questions; but very interesting questions.

On thinking about it, here is another thing I would have liked to ask that young missionary who knocked on my door offering to explain the Bible to me.

All the way through my Roman Catholic upbringing, the core of our faith was based on the dogma, ‘that Jesus, son of God, died on the cross for man’s sins;  so that man could now become righteous in God’s eyes’ 1 Peter 2:24: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.”

This dogma referenced back to the last supper when Jesus metaphorically said that the wine represented his blood and the bread represented his body, and that he would sacrifice his body and his blood as the new covenant between God and man. This then came to pass the next day with his crucifixion.

So, what was that all about? If I had to think about this, I would have to dismiss it. Why would an all-loving God require his Son to suffer and die a cruel death as a means of atoning for the evils of man. There seemed no co-relation. How would having his Son rejected, tortured and killed by humans actually thereby make humans acceptable to God as a righteous species?

While I had been studying the Babylonian texts published  in 1965 by W. G. Lambert and A. R. Millard, texts that had been written around 1650 BCE, (approximately 250 years before Moses is believed to have received the teachings of Genesis from Yahweh), I noticed that the translated epic actually contains an account of the sacrifice of a God. The Atrahasis epic is written on three tablets in Akkadian, the language of ancient Babylon.

Let her create, then, a human, a man,

Let him bear the yoke!

Let him bear the yoke!”

Let man assume the drudgery of the god.

They slaughtered Aw-ilu, who had the inspiration, in their assembly.

Nintu mixed clay with his flesh and blood.

That same god and man were thoroughly mixed in the clay.

For the rest of the time they would hear the drum.

From the flesh of the god the spirit remained.

It would make the living know its sign.

Lest he be allowed to be forgotten, the spirit remained.

After she had mixed the clay,

she summoned the Anunna, the great gods.

The Igigi, the great gods, spat upon the clay.

Mami made ready to speak,

and said to the great gods:

“You ordered me the task and I have completed it!

You have slaughtered the god, along with his inspiration.

I have done away with your heavy forced labor”

For this purpose of creating a man to make him useful to the Gods, one of the lesser gods was sacrificed, and his flesh and blood was mixed with clay from which process man was made. This reference to mixing with clay to create man in both the Greek and Biblical texts: “Prometheus shaped man out of clay, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure. Genesis 2:7,” Yahweh God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life”.

But these Akkadian texts describe the sacrifice of a God so that his flesh and blood could be mixed with man to make the man useful to the Gods developing from primitive beasts to intelligent farmers and workers.

The similarity to the account of the sacrifice of body and blood of Jesus as the new covenant between God and man in the New Testament is quite astounding. It requires some further research on how this more  modern Christian dogma actually came to us.

If any of Jesus’ followers believed that God was promising to finally deliver them from the yoke of Rome and give them peaceful sovereignty over the Holy land, they were disappointed. After two more failed Jewish rebellions in 70 AD and 135 AD, the Romans brutally crushed the Jewish state with hundreds of thousands of Jews killed, deported or sold into slavery. The Romans renamed Judea as Palaestina, derived from “Philistine”.

The development of Christianity in the first 100 years AD therefore evolved as one of saving the eternal souls of believers rather than saving the Jews from the military rule of Rome. Unlike other recorded messianic claimants at the same time, who generally met the same fate of Jesus, the Christian movement was not ended with the death of Jesus; indeed it flourished after his death.  That the disciples of Jesus continued openly to preach the beliefs of Christianity, knowing this would lead to their own execution, is the strongest proof that they now believed in the afterlife that could be gained through belief that Jesus, the man born as a result of a visit by angels to the virgin Mary, was and is a son of God.

Despite the destruction of the Jewish state, continuous Roman persecution failed to destroy Christianity and eventually the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great ended the Roman persecution of Christians in 313 AD and allowed freedom of religion within the Roman Empire.

As already mentioned, Constantine later convened and took part in the first meeting of Christian churches, the Council of Nicea, held in 325 AD in what is today Iznik, Turkey. He hoped to help church leaders find common ground on some contentious aspects of Christian doctrine. Chief among these issues was the relationship and relative divinity of God the Son (Jesus) and God the Father. Arianism was popular during this period. This Christian belief championed by Arius, a priest of Alexandria, Egypt, held that Jesus, though the Son of God, was inferior to God the Father.

The Council of Nicea established the equality of Father and Son and documented this in a creed, or universal statement of faith, to which all but two attending bishops agreed. The dissenting bishops were exiled, as was Arius himself. The Romans were not known for their tolerance towards those who did not toe the party line.

After this council, orthodox Christians agreed on the critical point that Jesus and God were equally divine and created of the same substance.

The Holy Spirit was declared a divinity in 360AD at the First Council of Constantinople and so the Roman Catholic Church officially established the Holy Trinity, God the Father, in the Heavens, God the Son, on Earth and God the Holy Spirit. This Trinity of Gods then aligned Christianity with Greek beliefs in three primary Gods of Zeus, in Heaven, Hades in the underworld, and Poseidon in the water and the Sumerian beliefs of Anu in heaven, Enlil on Earth and Enki in the water.

It is debatable whether Constantine was a true convert to Christianity (it is said he converted on his deathbed in 337AD), or whether he established the Roman Catholic Church as a political strategy to bring the growing number of Christians under the control of a Roman institution, which was under his control. The celebration of the birth of Jesus was decided around 340AD by Pope Julius 1 to be December 25. The selection of this date had no biblical basis, but the Roman pagans already celebrated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, which means ‘birthday of the unconquered sun’, on December 25th (three days after the death of the Sun on the shortest day, December 22) ) and was the ‘birthday’ of the Pagan Sun god Mishra. In the pagan religion of Mithraism, the holy day was Sunday. Easter was originally timed for the Jewish Passover festival which was based on lunar activity which is why the date changes. It was separated from the strict Hebrew calendar during early Christian debates over the accuracy of that calendar, but remains today as reliant on lunar movement, a pagan observation, rather than setting a specific crucifixion date.

Given these decisions made by the Romans under the influence of Constantine we are entitled to wonder whether the account of the sacrifice of body and blood in the new testament was a borrowing of the Accadian sacrifice of the flesh and blood of a God  so that intelligent man would be created that was recorded on tablets 1650 years BC? Why do this? Possibly because of the words that accompanied the metaphorical references to the drinking of wine and eating of bread at the last supper was referred to as a new covenant between God and man. That statement effectively created a new starting point for a new belief system. It confined the covenants of Abraham and Moses to history and established a new covenant, a new base from which Rome could control the followers of this Jewish-based religious sect.

Intriguing. More questions than answers. But the big question we need to ask is: “do the texts that Roman Emperor Constantine approved as the new testament, the new dogma for the movement established by Jesus of Nazareth 300 years before, really give us a true and accurate account of the beliefs of the original Jews who formed the movement with Jesus of Nazareth. Or were they edited and sanitised to suit the  political requirements of Rome?” 

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