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Continued from Reflections on Noah: The Nephilim

The angel/human hybrid theory is definitely an exciting story to learn about and I can understand its popularity.  It is thrilling to look at a possible link between the age of recorded history and an age of demi-gods, giants, and heroes.  The problem I have is moving into these fantastical stories about demons marrying women shifts the supernatural elements of Christianity into mythologies which do not belong to us.  Besides, for someone who is interested in history and sociology, there is another theory which is just as compelling; this theory about the Nephilim is usually referred to the Sethite view.

According to the Sethite view, Genesis 6: 1-8 is a passage which provides a link between the story of Cain’s exile and the wicked world in which we meet Noah.  The theory argues that the “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis 6:2 are actually the descendants of the righteous Seth while the “daughters of men” were the descendants of the murderous Cain.  Creation’s descent into wickedness was due to the intermarrying of these two groups, the Sethites and the Cainites, and as a result the only righteous people left were Noah and his family.  As I will point out, this theory makes the most sense in its immediate context as well as the in the context of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, as a whole.

The context for the Sethite view begins back at the third chapter of Genesis:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed.  He shall bruise your head, and you shall be on guard for his heel (Gn 3:15 NKJV).

In this verse we see a clear division.  God has noted a separation between the seed of the enemy which will be wicked, and the seed of the woman which will fight the wickedness.  In other words, God has set apart a people for himself.  Here is the genesis of the overarching theme of Genesis; God is drawing a people out for Himself and setting them apart from the wicked.

cain-slaying-abel-jacopo-palma-1590The woman and her husband are then exiled from the Holy garden.  The division between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent is then illustrated immediately.  Cain and his brother Abel are born and Eve proclaims they are God’s gift (Gn 4:1).  After God chastises Cain for an improper sacrifice, Cain kills his brother out of anger and jealousy.  Cain proves through his actions he is the seed of the serpent because of his enmity toward Abel who was accepting to God.  God then further exiles Cain, though not without the opportunity for repentance, to the “land of Nod”—Nod means “one who wanders from God” showing us that Cain chose his exile.

The next passage (Gn 4: 17-24) provides a genealogy through the line of Cain.  Notice how Cain’s first son, Enoch, is not dedicated to God, but to the construction of a new city.  This genealogy is basic compared to other Biblical genealogies but interesting.  A picture of a thriving urban civilization is painted.  Lamech, who becomes the first polygamist in the scriptures, has children who develop tents and care for livestock, invent music
and instruments, and manufacture bronze and iron.  The genealogy ends with a song from Lamech to his wives about how he has murdered two men out of revenge.  Despite the line of Cain’s cultural developments, they have descended into wickedness.  Now we meet back up with Eve.

Adam and Eve are given another son who they named Seth; Adam acknowledges his new son as a gift from God to replace the murdered Abel.  The text immediately begins another genealogy, starting with the verse:

As for Seth, to him also a son was born.  He named him Enosh, and he hoped in the Lord God and called upon His name (Gn 4:26 NKJV).

Notice the contrast between how Cain and Seth accept their sons.  Cain dedicated his son to a city and the progress of human civilization.  Seth dedicated his son to God and they called upon His name.  This is a clear division between a seed set apart for God and a seed which is at enmity with them.  It is important to point out that this division is undertaken solely through the choices of those involved.  The genealogy continues, reporting the long lives of Seth’s descendants and bringing us to the passage dealing with the Nephilim.

The two contrasting genealogies immediately preceding Genesis 6 provide an obvious contextual framework to work from.  It should be obvious the “sons of God” are those who came up through the line of the righteous and faithful Seth.  Likewise, the “daughters of men” are those who came from the wicked and murderous line of Cain.  Now that the righteous line of Seth has mingled with the wicked line of Cain, there is no one left on the earth who remembers God and He “was grieved that He made man.”  Noah is the only one who “found grace in the presence of the Lord” so God develops a plan to preserve the righteous “sons of God”.

To conclude, it seems obvious to me what the writers of Genesis were attempting to communicate when they wrote down Genesis 6.  The Sethite view gives Genesis 6, seemingly an esoteric passage, relevance to the whole Genesis narrative– relevance which was previously difficult to find.  The clear prohibition of intermarriage found later in the Pentateuch, and the rest of the Old Testament, only solidifies the Sethite view.  That being said, who exactly the Nephilim were, or more specifically, why they were referred to as “mighty men of old, men of renown” when they were a wicked race who were eventually destroyed in Noah’s flood, remains a mystery.   The debate will continue on.  Through some leaked information about the upcoming movie Noah, we should get a Hollywood interpretation of the Nephilim discussion which should be interesting at least—grab your popcorn and enjoy.

Note: At this point, some of you may be asking, “Ok, so why did intermarriage create a race of wicked giants called the Nephilim?”  There is an etymological argument which has not reached consensus.  One argument is that the Hebrew word nephilim is best translated as “the fallen ones.”   When the Bible was translated into the Septuagint, the Greek word gigantos was used.  The gigas were a race of savage men, born of the Earth, and eventually destroyed by the gods, hence the reason it was probably used by the translators of the Septuagint.  Somewhere along the way, “mighty men of old, men of renown” became synonymous with “men of great physical stature.”  For those who are interested, the Old English word ent was replaced by the word giant, perhaps providing a clue.  I have my own theories about why they were referred to as “mighty men of old” which I will touch on next.