Angels in our midst

ancient bronze ‘angel’. Image credit unknown

I was outside in the garden when I became aware of a presence. They had just appeared almost from nowhere, an angelic, golden haired, family of father, mother and child. Armed only with their Bible they just wanted to know if there was 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 warm to this young family. “Bible bashers” get a bad rap as a general observation, but this little family is so innocent and quite endearing and I am, despite first impressions, 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 agreed he could starting with explaining Genesis 6 to me?

His eyes noticeably brightened with both surprise and 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 fill the awkward silence and bring some 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 hesitantly 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 possibly 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 seeing him again soon. 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 human women and creating a hybrid species was something of a challenge to the accepted religious narrative.

The missionary has not yet returned. I now don’t think he intends to. So 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 depths of the Bible. This is Genesis; this is the beginning. I have plenty of time on my hands so I thought I would search available texts to see what I could find out.

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, around 900 BC , the Iliad and the Odyssey were being written in Greece, similar to the Hebrew texts they recounted tales of ancient Greece, the 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 who included many of the children of the Titans were called the Olympians. Among the Olympians there was a hierarchy of twelve senior Olympians and several 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 and remained in the heavens.

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 while Satan fell out of favour with God because he gave the fruit of knowledge.

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 labour 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 seven senior 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.”

The seven 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.”

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

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.

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