One of the most enigmatic texts in the entire Bible has to do with sons of God taking wives from the daughters of men. It turns out that the wild idea of inter-celestial sexual relations, resulting in mass superhuman pregnancies, may not be our best interpretive option.
In this case, it is important to start from the end-result – where the Torah readers are told that God intended to destroy humanity and all creation on account of this situation (Gen.6:1-8).
“And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart. And the LORD said: ‘I will blot out man whom I have created … but Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD”. (Gen.6:5-8)
Wouldn’t you agree with me that the punishment of humanity for the evil of celestial serial rapists (fallen angels in popular theories) makes no sense whatsoever? This idea (if true) would be equivalent to punishing the woman while justifying the rapist on the grounds that the woman was too attractive. In other words, God would be punishing the victim. This would be a great injustice indeed! In fact, the wording suggests the opposite. Whoever the perpetrators of these crimes were, they were human and not angelic beings.
Understanding the clear facts of the text (that humanity was utterly and thoroughly fallen and that God intended to destroy it) is crucial for answering our main question: Who were these “sons of God” that used the daughters of men in their predatory acts of sexual abuse at the very beginning of human history?
In most English translations we read that, “the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives…” (Gen.6:4).
וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה; וַיִּקְחוּ לָהֶם נָשִׁים
The original Hebrew shows that this text should be considered more carefully. For example, the singular Isha and plural nashim (נָשִׁים) in Hebrew do not have to mean “wife,” but can also be translated, “woman.” Therefore, we are justified in thinking that a culture of systematic rape and nontraditional marriages is being described here. The Hebrew word Elohim can be translated as “God” or as “gods”. The Hebrew word “ben” (as in plural form “b’nei haElohim” [בְנֵי-הָאֱלֹהִים]) does not have to be translated literally as “son” either. It can also be understood as, “a representative of a strata of society or group”. Hebrew often does this with words like “ben” and “baal“. For example, baalei haim (singular baal haim), which literally means, “masters of life/lives,” actually can be translated as “animals.” The original Hebrew of Genesis 6:4 reads:
הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ, בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וְגַם אַחֲרֵי-כֵן אֲשֶׁר יָבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶל-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, וְיָלְדוּ לָהֶם: הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם, אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם
“The Nephilim (הַנְּפִלִים) were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.”
The Hebrew Nephelim, is usually (and incorrectly) translated as “giants.” Nephelim is Hebrew for “the fallen ones”. Note how the text describes them as ancient warriors (הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם), and famous people (אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם).
The phrase, “b’nei Elohim,” most probably referred to powerful and influential men who felt they were above the law and therefore not accountable to anyone for their predatory sexually pursuits (compare to Ps.8:5-7).
A contemporary analogy is Hollywood’s sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, who used his position of power to force young actresses into unwanted sexual encounters with him. Refusal of his advances would result in the destruction of their carriers in the American movie industry. Powerful men are prone to the abuse of weaker women. As King Solomon wrote, there is nothing new under the sun. The presence of this story in Genesis makes perfect sense when we remember that Genesis was written to Israelites who had only recently left their forced labor camps in Egypt, where they had been enslaved by members of powerful Egyptian families.