Sons of God

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Sons of God (Heb: Bənê hāʼĕlōhîm,[1] בני האלהים, Bene Elohim, lit. "Sons of Godly beings/powers") is a phrase used in the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament). Bene Elohim are part of different Jewish angelic hierarchies.

Hebrew Bible[edit]

In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase "sons of (the) Elohim" occurs in:

Deuteronomy 32:8 Also mentions "sons of Israel" bÿney yisra'el (בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) which is translated as the "people of Israel" in the HCSB and "heavenly court" in the NLT and "heavenly assembly" in the NET Bible. [2][3]

Literary origins[edit]

The first mention of "sons of God" occurs in the Hebrew Bible, as the subject of the Genesis 6:1-4 passage. In terms of literary-historical origin, the text from which this phrase comes from is typically associated with the classical Davidic-Solomonic Jahwist tradition.[4]

Joseph Hong believes that Genesis 6:1-4 has gone through drastic abridgment by either the original writer or later editors.[5][6] Nahum M. Sarna believes that the text defies certain interpretation, based on difficulties with the text's themes, extreme terseness, vocabulary and syntax. Sarna postulates that such a passage cannot be other than a fragment, or bare outline, from a well-known fuller story.[7][8]

Ugaritic text[edit]

Claus Westermann claims that the text of Genesis 6 is based on an Ugaritic urtext.[9] In Ugaritic, a cognate phrase is bn 'il.[10] This may occur in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle.[11]

The phrase bn ilm ("sons of the gods") is also attested in Ugaritic texts,[13][14][15][16][17] as is the phrase phr bn ilm ("assembly of the sons of the gods").[18]

Elsewhere in the Ugarit corpus it is suggested that the bn ilm were the 70 sons of Asherah and El, who were the titulary deities of the people of the known world, and their "hieros gamos" marriage with the daughters of men gave rise to their rulers.[19] There is evidence in 2 Samuel 7, that this may have been the case also in Israel.[20]

Late text[edit]

J. Scharbert associates Genesis 6:1-4 with the Priestly source and the final redaction of the Pentateuch.[21] On this basis, he assigns the text to later editorial activity.[22] Rüdiger Bartelmus sees only Genesis 6:3 as a late insertion.[21]

Józef Milik and Matthew Black advanced the view of a late text addition to a text dependent on post-exilic, non-canonical tradition, such as the legend of the Watchers from the pseudepigraphic Book of Enoch.[21]


Different source versions of Genesis 6:1-4 vary in their use of "sons of God". Some manuscripts of the Septuagint have emendations to read "sons of God" as "angels". Codex Vaticanus contains "angels" originally. In Codex Alexandrinus "sons of God" has been omitted and replaced by "angels".[23] The Peshitta does read "sons of God".[24]

In writings of Second Temple Judaism (c.500 BCE-70 CE)[edit]

The Book of Enoch and the Book of Jubilees refer to the Watchers who are paralleled to the "sons of God" in Genesis 6.[25] The Epistle of Barnabas is considered by some to acknowledge the Enochian version.[26]


Christian antiquity[edit]

Early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Commodianus have held the view that the "sons of God" in Genesis 6:1-4 were fallen angels who engaged in unnatural union with human women, resulting in the begetting of the Nephilim. Modern Christians have argued against this view by reasoning on Jesus' comment in Matthew 22:30 that angels do not marry, although it only refers to angels in heaven.[1] Others saw them as descendants of Seth.[1] Saint Augustine subscribed to this view, based on the orations of Julius Africanus, in his book City of God which refer to the "sons of God" as being descendants of Seth (or Sethites), the pure line of Adam. The "daughters of men" are viewed as the descendants of Cain (or Cainites). Variations of this view was also received by Jewish philosophers.[27] James M.Scott also proposes that the identification of Jesus as a Son of God arose from the Adoptionist theology that was later rejected at Nicea.[28]

Medieval Judaism[edit]

Traditionalists and philosophers of Judaism[29] in the Middle Ages[30] typically practiced rational theology. They rejected any belief in rebel or fallen angels since evil was considered abstract. Rabbinic sources, most notably the Targum, state that the "sons of God" who married the daughters of men were merely human beings of exalted social station.[31] They have also been considered as pagan royalty[1] or members of nobility[32] who, out of lust, married women from the general population. Other variations of this interpretation define these "sons of God" as tyrannical Ancient Near Eastern kings who were honored as divine rulers, engaging in polygamous behavior.[1] No matter the variation in views, the primary concept by Jewish rationalists is that the "sons of God" were of human origin.[31]

Most notable Jewish writers in support for the view of human "sons of God" were Saadia, Rashi, Lekah Tob, Midrash Aggada, Joseph Bekor Shor, Abraham ibn Ezra, Maimonides, David Kimhi, Nahmanides, Hizkuni, Bahya Ashur, Gersonides,[33] Shimeon ben Yochai and Hillel ben Samuel.[34]

ibn Ezra reasoned that the "sons of God" were men who possessed divine power, by means of astrological knowledge, able to beget children of unusual size and strength.[32]

Jewish commentator Isaac Abrabanel considered the aggadot on Genesis 6 to have referred to some secret doctrine and was not to be taken literally. Abrabanel later joined Nahmanides, and Levi ben Gerson in promoting the concept that the "sons of God" were the older generations who were closer to physical perfection, as Adam and Eve were perfect. Though there are variations of this view, the primary idea was that Adam and Eve's perfect attributes were passed down from generation to generation. However, as each generation passed, their perfect physical attributes diminished. Thus, the early generations were mightier than the succeeding ones. The physical decline of the younger generations continued until the Flood, to the point that their days were numbered as stated in Genesis 6:3. It was immoral for the older generations to consort with the younger generations, whereby puny women begot unusually large children. Nephilim was even considered a stature.[27]

Jewish philosophic preachers such as Jacob Anatoli and Isaac Arama viewed the groups and events in Genesis 6:1-4 as an allegory, primarily for the sin of lust that declined man's higher nature.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary 2011, p. 1384
  2. ^ Michael S. Heiser. "Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God". 
  3. ^ "lost in translation 3c: why aren't these verses in my bible? deuteronomy 32:8". August 2 2011. 
  4. ^ Davies 1995, p. 22
  5. ^ Joseph Hong. Problems in an Obscure Passage. Notes on Genesis 6.1-4: The Bible Translator XL, 2, 1989, p.420
  6. ^ Davies 1995, p. 24
  7. ^ Sarna. Genesis, JPSTC, 1989, p.45
  8. ^ Davies 1995, p. 21,24
  9. ^ C. Westermann, Genesis, BKAT 1/3. (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1982), 42
  10. ^ a b DDD 1998, p. 795
  11. ^ Mark S. Smith The Ugaritic Baal cycle 1994 p249 "all the divine sons" (or "all the sons of God"). ESA sources may support this point."
  12. ^ M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, J. Sanmartin Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit 2d ed. (Munster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995)
  13. ^ Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, Juan-Pablo Vita, A concordance of Ugaritic words 2003 p389
  14. ^ Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, Juan-Pablo Vita, The texts of the Ugaritic data bank 2003 p82
  15. ^ Marvin H. Pope El in the Ugaritic texts 1955 p49
  16. ^ Rahmouni, A. Divine epithets in the Ugaritic alphabetic texts 2008 p91
  17. ^ Young G. D. Concordance of Ugaritic 1956 Page 13
  18. ^ G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren Theological dictionary of the Old Testament 2000 p130
  19. ^ Parker, Simon B. (2000). "Ugaritic Literature and the Bible". Near Eastern Archaeology 63 (4): 228–31. doi:10.2307/3210794. JSTOR 3210794. 
  20. ^ Cooke, Gerald (1961). "The Israelite King As Son of God". Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 73 (2): 202–25. doi:10.1515/zatw.1961.73.2.202. 
  21. ^ a b c Davies 1995, p. 23
  22. ^ Scharbert, J. Traditions- und Redaktionsgeschichte von Gn 6 1967
  23. ^ Jackson 2004, p. 75, "Rahlfs (1971) reports that Alexandrinus was emended by another hand at 6.2 crossing out the word uioi and writing the word aggeloi."
  24. ^ Biblia Peshitta en español: traducción de los antiguos manuscritos arameos.. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers. 2006. ISBN 9789704100001. 
  25. ^ Wright 2004, p. 20
  26. ^ James Carleton Paget, The Epistle of Barnabas: outlook and background 1994 - p10 "The quotation finds no precise equivalent in Enoch, which is probably explicable on the grounds that B. is inspired by something he remembers from Enoch at this point (see for a parallel to I Enoch 89:61-64; 90:17f.)"
  27. ^ a b Bamberger 2006, pp. 150, 151
  28. ^ Scott, James M. (1992). Adoption as Sons of God. ISBN 978-3-16-145895-8. [page needed]
  29. ^ Bamberger 2006, p. 148
  30. ^ Bamberger 2006, p. 147
  31. ^ a b Bamberger 2006, p. 149
  32. ^ a b Bamberger 2006, p. 150
  33. ^ Bamberger 2006, pp. 149, 150
  34. ^ Jung 2004 Reprint, pp. 66, 67
  35. ^ Bamberger 2006, p. 151


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