From ancient artefacts and consistent through the ancient folklore of cultures from around the world, we know of unearthly beings that were present on the earth and engaged with humans. They were called various names, faeries, nymphs, elves, angels not to mention the more menacing versions of the creatures called trolls, gnomes and leprechauns. Whatever these beings were, they clearly were worthy of some research to understand their impact on human civilisation.
Tap, tap; a lovely, smiling young couple stand at my door holding what could only be a Bible. They were Asian and so I would have expected them to be holding the book of the writings of Confucius rather than the history of the Hebrews, but what else have I got to do for the next half hour? I might just learn something interesting.
They were from a Bible study group up in a nearby suburb, so they informed me (from which I concluded that I was being assessed for my potential to join their group to help defray the cost of hiring the hall and to take my turn at bringing supper). Then the man asked if I knew there was also a female God? Points for originality in an opening gambit, where was this going? I wondered. They might just be weird enough to be interesting. “Why no, I didn’t’ know that”, I replied. Two delighted Asian beams told me I had given just the answer they wanted. Step 2, ‘now we have three question for you, ok?’
‘Ok, give me your three best questions; game-on.’
They produce an electronic tablet of some sort, not an Apple i-pad, I noted, although I know little about these things, which had a question 1 written on it: ‘do you believe in GOD? (in red and underlined).“Well, I replied, that depends on your definition of God, doesn’t it?” Confucius reigned on the young faces before me. Not the expected response at all. It was supposed to be yes/no from which they had two pre-planned paths to lead me to the good news about this female god (they should have said goddess, but I can overlook that with English being a second language).”The person who created you and us and all thing on earth and all stars in sky” they countered, tag-teaming to recover their composure.
That was their big mistake. When some stranger answers a fundamental question of faith with an even more fundamental question of faith, and all you wanted out of this meeting is to get a new member for the Bible study group to help defray costs and take a supper turn, then the red flag should go up on their electronic tablet. It should say to them: ‘this is the moment to cut your losses and exit stage left.’ I am sure an apple i-pad would have had that function. “Well”, I continued, “if you are talking about God as a physical person, a him or her in the sense that you and I are hims and hers and you think that this him and/or her, if that’s where you are leading with your opening gender-specific gambit, created humans and animals and all the stars in the sky and all the things on earth, then no I do not believe that such a gender-specific person exists. So, they switched; God was now a spirit not a him or her. Ok now we are getting somewhere even though it seemed to have drifted away from the ‘female God’ opening gambit, but I let it go, for now. Then he showed me the references to the plural ‘us’ when God talked about creation in Genesis. I am totally with them on all that. Yes, I do acknowledge all the Biblical pluralities in reference to multiple gods and have no argument with that although a little surprised that a Bible study group that normally sticks rigidly to the monotheistic creed would keep pointing it out. But he jumped on to other references. There were lots of highlighted underlined verses bouncing between different books in their Bible to continue references to multiple gods as well as to Genesis 6 which said ‘The sons of god resorted to the daughters of man and bore children by them’. That raised an eyebrow, I cannot recall that verse ever being discussed by the priests or brothers in my catholic upbringing. Genesis 6 intrigued me though and seemed worthy of further discussion.
Then, before we could clarify that, he quickly shifted back to his plan, backing up to the start of the Bible, Genesis. Then with excitement he points out ” Look Adam and Eve have two son, Cain and Abel, but Cain kill Abel then Cain have wife!!! Where come from Cain wife?’ He blurts with frothy excitement. ‘Then Adam is not first man, just first man who know God!’ I see, but what I am really interested in is Genesis 6 and this claim that sons of God mated with human women, can we discuss the implications of that a bit more? But no, he is away again flicking through the tabbed pages to show me other great stories in the Bible and was not willing to be side-tracked by the goings-on between sons of God and daughters of men.
So, I reeled him in with ‘so who do you think wrote all these stories in the Bible? It is, after all, only two or three thousand years old.’ Confucius again reigned briefly in his eyes. Then he replied, “No, no, Moses write of course. Moses write five book of Torah” (‘are you the full yuan?’ said his eyes‘). “Well, there is some dispute with that, with Moses having been dead before some of the incidents in later books of the Torah, but setting that aside, even if it was written by Moses, that was still only 3,000 to 4000 years ago, and humans have been on earth some 200,000 years, the earth has been around 4.5 billion years; so, if Moses was the author, then he was writing about stuff that happened a long, long time before he was born’. He looked at me, clearly wondering if I was a tile short of a mah-jong set.
“So anyhow let’s get back to Genesis 6” I suggested. The frustrated young man asked “why?” why, when he was explaining things for me, did I keep jumping back to Genesis 6 and making Confucius? For the simple reason my friend, that until you can explain what it means by ‘the sons of Gods resorted to the daughters of men and bore children by them‘, we can go no further. That is a brick wall; you do not pass go, you do not collect two hundred yuan until this is resolved between us.
Again, he tries to switch back to the plan. “Look Genesis say, day 1 God create the light make day so that is sun made, ok?” (yes, my enthusiastic young friend, that would be the sun), “then day 4 God create two light, sun and moon ok?” (if that is what it says). “BUT (he leaped with joy at having sprung his trap) how can be two sun? first sun make day 1 and day 4 make number two sun. How can be?” Ok, he has now completely lost me, and I am weary of this, I step it up a bit. “So, now that we are talking about suns,” I replied, ” there are not just two suns but many hundreds of billions of suns. We are a small planet in a solar system located in the far corner of a Galaxy, the Milky Way which is only one galaxy in the universe, correct? And God created all this?” He seemed a little bit annoyed at this topic shift, but he agreed. “So, Magellan got in a boat early in the 16th century” I continued, “and sailed continuously to the horizon not knowing whether he would fall off the edge of the planet or hit the sky like a brick wall but, in fact, he came back to where he started. So, if you and I, John, (I had extracted his Christian name by now as John, presumably in honour of the Baptist) set off in a spaceship traveling faster than the speed of light and kept going, avoiding collisions, would we eventually hit a cosmic wall, fall off the end of space or come back to where we started?”
In my peripheral vision I see the young woman moving discreetly stage left, this shouldn’t take long now. The young man is slumping, “I don’t know; too many big; too many headache.” Of course, my young friends, the universe is huge and we are but one planet in the solar system of what is known as a dwarf sun, a minute speck in the far flung corner of an unspectacular galaxy containing tens of billions of stars, which itself is just one galaxy among a hundred billion galaxies (give or take) so answer me this: would the God who created all those hundreds of billions of suns and trillions of planets only put life on one planet? Ours? “Yes?” he whimpered. “No, no, no my Good News friend. God would have created more life than us somewhere in the universe, surely? And so, is it not possible that other life has journeyed through the universe before us and that we were visited by a far more intelligent species in the past? And if so do you suppose those alien visitors might have had some connection to Genesis 6?”
At the mention of the ‘alien’ word there was a weird blend of horror, despair and resignation in his eyes. She had already started to move. One final look telling me that I was clearly a lunatic and he followed her. They did not actually run, not in the classic Greco style, but a very quick shuffle probably covers it. Exit Stage left. “Where are you going? We didn’t get past question one. We haven’t even started on the New Testament.”
What I would give to be at next week’s Bible Study meeting in Roslyn, but these were not the only missionaries working on my patch, spreading the good news. 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. They look so innocent and well-meaning 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.
Interesting questions still unanswered, as is Genesis 6 as that missionary has still not knocked on my door again to explain the connection between the angels and the Sons of God.