Sons of God

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Sons of the God (Heb: bənê hāʼĕlōhîm,[1] בני האלהים , literally: "Sons of the gods") is a phrase used in the Hebrew Bible and apocrypha. The phrase is also used in Kabbalah where Bene elohim are part of different Jewish angelic hierarchies.

Hebrew Bible[edit]

Genesis 6[edit]

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, "My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years." The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

— Genesis 6:1–4

The first mention of "sons of God" in the Hebrew Bible occurs at Genesis 6:1–4. In terms of literary-historical origin, this phrase is typically associated with the Jahwist tradition.[2]

This passage has had two interpretations in Judaism.

Rabbinic Judaism traditionally adheres to the first interpretation, with some exceptions, and modern Jewish translations may translate bnei elohim as "sons of rulers" rather than "sons of God". Regardless, the second interpretation (sons of angels or other divine beings) is nonexistent in modern Judaism. This is reflected by the rejection of Enoch and other Apocrypha supporting the second interpretation from the Hebrew Bible Canon.

Joseph Hong believes that Genesis 6:1–4 has gone through drastic abridgment by either the original writer or later editors.[3][4] 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.[5][6]

Ugaritic text[edit]

Claus Westermann claims that the text of Genesis 6 is based on an Ugaritic urtext.[7] In Ugaritic, a cognate phrase is bn 'il.[8] This may occur in the Ugaritic Baal Cycle.[9]

  • KTU² 1.40 demonstrates the use of bn il to mean "sons of gods".[10]
  • KTU² 1.65 (which may be a scribal exercise) uses bn il three times in succession: il bn il / dr bn il / mphrt bn il "El, the sons of gods, the circle of the sons of gods / the totality of the sons of gods."[8]

The phrase bn ilm ("sons of the gods") is also attested in Ugaritic texts,[11][12][13][14][15] as is the phrase phr bn ilm ("assembly of the sons of the gods").[16]

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.[17] There is evidence in 2 Samuel 7 that this may have been the case also in Israel.[18]

Late text[edit]

J. Scharbert associates Genesis 6:1–4 with the Priestly source and the final redaction of the Pentateuch.[19] On this basis, he assigns the text to later editorial activity.[20] Rüdiger Bartelmus sees only Genesis 6:3 as a late insertion.[19]

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.[19]


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".[citation needed] Codex Vaticanus contains "angels" originally.[citation needed] In Codex Alexandrinus "sons of God" has been omitted and replaced by "angels".[21] The Peshitta reads "sons of God".[22]

Other mentions[edit]

The phrase "sons of the Elohim" also occurs in:

  • Job 1:6 bənê hāʼĕlōhîm (בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים) the sons of Elohim.[23][citation needed]
  • Job 2:1 bənê hāʼĕlōhîm (בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים) the sons of Elohim.
  • Job 38:7 bənê ĕlōhîm (בְּנֵי אֱלֹהִֽים) without the definite article - sons of Elohim[citation needed]
  • Deuteronomy 32:8 both bənê ĕlōhîm (בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים) and bənê ĕl (בני אל) the sons of Elohim or sons of El in two Dead Sea Scrolls (4QDtj and 4QDtq); mostly "angels of God" (αγγελων θεου) in the LXX (sometimes "sons of God" or "sons of Israel"); "sons of Israel" in the MT.[24][25]:147[26]

Closely related phrases include:

  • Psalms 29:1 bənê ēlîm (בְּנֵי אֵלִים) without the definite article - sons of elim (a similar expression).[citation needed]
  • Psalms 89:6 bənê ēlîm (בְּנֵי אֵלִים) - sons of elim
  • A closely related Aramaic expression occurs in Daniel 3:25: bar elahin - בַר אֱלָהִֽין - son of the gods.

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.[27] The Epistle of Barnabas is considered by some to acknowledge the Enochian version.[28]


Christian antiquity[edit]

Early Christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Commodianus believed 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.[29] 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]

Augustine of Hippo 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 were also received by Jewish philosophers.[30]

Medieval Judaism[edit]

Traditionalists and philosophers of Judaism[31] in the Middle Ages[32] 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.[33] They have also been considered as pagan royalty[1] or members of nobility[34] 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.[33]

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,[35] Shimeon ben Yochai and Hillel ben Samuel.[36]

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.[34]

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.[30]

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.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Douglas, Tenney & Silva 2011, p. 1384
  2. ^ Davies 1995, p. 22
  3. ^ Joseph Hong. Problems in an Obscure Passage. Notes on Genesis 6.1–4: The Bible Translator XL, 2, 1989, p.420
  4. ^ Davies 1995, p. 24
  5. ^ Sarna. Genesis, JPSTC, 1989, p.45
  6. ^ Davies 1995, p. 21,24
  7. ^ C. Westermann, Genesis, BKAT 1/3. (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1982), 42
  8. ^ a b DDD 1998, p. 795
  9. ^ 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."
  10. ^ M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, J. Sanmartin Die keilalphabetischen Texte aus Ugarit 2d ed. (Munster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1995)
  11. ^ Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, Juan-Pablo Vita, A concordance of Ugaritic words 2003 p389
  12. ^ Jesús-Luis Cunchillos, Juan-Pablo Vita, The texts of the Ugaritic data bank 2003 p82
  13. ^ Marvin H. Pope El in the Ugaritic texts 1955 p49
  14. ^ Rahmouni, A. Divine epithets in the Ugaritic alphabetic texts 2008 p91
  15. ^ Young G. D. Concordance of Ugaritic 1956 Page 13
  16. ^ G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren Theological dictionary of the Old Testament 2000 p130
  17. ^ Parker, Simon B. (2000). "Ugaritic Literature and the Bible". Near Eastern Archaeology. 63 (4): 228–31. doi:10.2307/3210794. JSTOR 3210794.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ a b c Davies 1995, p. 23
  20. ^ Scharbert, J. Traditions- und Redaktionsgeschichte von Gn 6 1967
  21. ^ 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."
  22. ^ Biblia Peshitta en español: traducción de los antiguos manuscritos arameos.. Nashville, Tenn.: Holman Bible Publishers. 2006. ISBN 9789704100001.
  23. ^ "Job 1:6 (KJV)". Blue Letter Bible.
  24. ^ Michael S. Heiser. "Deuteronomy 32:8 and the Sons of God" (PDF).
  25. ^ Riemer Roukema (2010). Jesus, Gnosis and Dogma. T&T Clark International. p. 147. ISBN 9780567466426. Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  26. ^ Michael S. Heiser (2001). "DEUTERONOMY 32:8 AND THE SONS OF GOD". Retrieved 30 January 2014.
  27. ^ Wright 2004, p. 20
  28. ^ 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.)"
  29. ^ Douglas 2011, p. 1384
  30. ^ a b Bamberger 2006, pp. 150, 151
  31. ^ Bamberger 2006, p. 148
  32. ^ Bamberger 2006, p. 147
  33. ^ a b Bamberger 2006, p. 149
  34. ^ a b Bamberger 2006, p. 150
  35. ^ Bamberger 2006, pp. 149, 150
  36. ^ Jung & 2004 Reprint, pp. 66, 67
  37. ^ Bamberger 2006, p. 151


  • Douglas, J. D.; Tenney, Merrill C.; Silva, Moisés (2011). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Revised ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. ISBN 0310229839.
  • Davies, Jon, ed. (1995). Words remembered, text renewed: essays in honour of John F. A. Sawyer. Sheffield: JSOT Press [u.a.] ISBN 1850755426.
  • Darshan,Guy "The Story of the Sons of God and the Daughters of Men: Gen.6:1–4 and the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women", Shnaton: An Annual for Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies 23 (2014), 155–178 (in Hebrew; Eng. abstract)
  • DDD, Editors: Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst, (1998). Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible (DDD) (2., extensively rev. ed.). Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9004111190.
  • Jackson, David R. (2004). Enochic Judaism. London: T&T Clark International. ISBN 0826470890.
  • Wright, Archie T. (2004). The origin of evil spirits the reception of Genesis 6.1–4 in early Jewish literature. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN 3161486560.
  • Bamberger, Bernard J. (2006). Fallen angels: soldiers of satan's realm (1. paperback ed.). Philadelphia, Pa.: Jewish Publ. Soc. of America. ISBN 0827607970.
  • Jung, Rabbi Leo (2004). Fallen angels in Jewish, Christian, and Mohammedan literature. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Reprints. ISBN 0766179389.

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