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The Sons of God and Daughters of Men and the Giants: Disputed Points in the Interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4

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Abstract:

This essay offers a comprehensive analysis of the many problems of interpretation in Gen 6:1–4. Although the Nephilim were the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men in the underlying myth, contrary to a widely held view this is no longer the case in Gen 6:1–4, where they are already in existence at the time of the sexual liaisons. Even though 1 Enoch preserves the original notion of the origin of the Nephilim, the more elaborate story there is in general a later midrash on Gen 6:1–4, contrary to some recent suggestions. Genesis 6:1–4 is not based on Mesopotamian or Greek mythology but contains an Israelite myth utilizing and transforming Canaanite concepts. Not only do the heavenly sons of God derive ultimately from the Canaanite “sons of El,” but the name of the Canaanite giant Nephilim (literally “fallen ones”) is a retrospective term comparable to that of the giant Rephaim, a word originally used of the dead (Ugaritic rp'um), implying the giants have passed away. Contrary to some, v. 3 is an original part of the text; it indicates that the humans' descendants were in danger of becoming immortal as a result of the infusion of the divine spirit from the marriages. in this verse derives from a Hebrew verb, “to be strong.”

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1628/219222712805363944

Publication date: 2012-12-01

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  • Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel is a new, peer-reviewed, quarterly journal focusing primarily on the biblical texts in their ancient historical contexts, but also on the history of Israel in its own right. Each issue has a topical focus. The primary language is English, but articles may also be published in German and French. A specific goal of the new journal is to foster discussion among different academic cultures within a larger international context pertaining to the study of the Hebrew Bible and ancient Israel in the first millennium B. C. E.
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