Torah commentary on “celestial-terrestrial intermarriage”

Posted: October 17, 2015 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Is a virgin birth possible? The JPS Commentary on Genesis doesn’t deny it!

Chapter 6

jps genesis commentary
CELESTIAL-TERRESTRIAL INTERMARRIAGE (vv. 1–4)

At the beginning of history, humans strove to rise to the level of divine beings, and God intervened. Humankind cannot be immortal. Here divine beings lower themselves to the level of humans, and God intervenes. A severe limitation on human longevity results.

The account given in these few verses is surely the strangest of all the Genesis narratives. It is so full of difficulties as to defy certainty of interpretation. The perplexities arise from the theme of the story, from its apparent intrusiveness within the larger narrative, from its extreme terseness, and from some of its vocabulary and syntax. The passage cannot be other than a fragment of what was once a well-known and fuller story, now etched in the barest outline.

Legends about intercourse between gods and mortal women and between goddesses and men, resulting in the generation of demigods, are widespread and familiar ingredients of pagan mythology. The present theme of celestial beings arriving on earth and intermarrying with humans seems at first glance to belong to the same genre, echoes of which are found in other biblical passages. Thus, behind the exclamation of Isaiah 14:12—“How are you fallen from heaven, / O Shining One, son of Dawn!/ How are you felled to earth”—is the notion of angels in rebellion against God and thereby forfeiting their angelic dignity. Job 4:18–19 similarly expresses the theme of the corruptibility of angels: “If He cannot trust His own servants, / And casts reproach on His angels, / How much less those who dwell in houses of clay.”

In light of these and other biblical references, such as Ezekiel 32:27, it is quite likely that the main function of the present highly condensed version of the original story is to combat polytheistic mythology. The picture here presented of celestial beings intermarrying with women on earth may partake of the mythical, but it does not overstep the bounds of monotheism; there is only one God who passes judgment and makes decisions. The offspring of such unnatural union may have possessed heroic stature, but they have no divine qualities; they are flesh and blood like all humans. They are not only mortal, but their life span is severely limited as compared with the personages listed in chapter 5. The one God is recognized as holding sole title to the breath of life, which He controls as He wills.

This literary segment has three points of connection with the preceding passage: the opening reference to human fecundity in verse 1 takes up the theme implicit in the genealogy; mention of daughters links up with the oft-repeated formula there regarding the begetting of sons and daughters; and the specific restriction of human longevity presupposes knowledge of the extraordinary ages recorded in chapter 5. At the same time, the story is immediately followed by God’s verdict on human wickedness, and the impression is created, even if not made explicit, that it illustrates the magnitude and the universality of evil in the world. Even the celestial host is corrupted. True, mankind is not condemned here for the acts of angels, but the effect is that the world order has been disturbed.

1. men Hebrew ha-ʾadam is here a collective, the human race.1

2. the divine beings The definite article points to a familiar and well-understood term.2 The context in Job 1:6; 2:1; and 38:7 unmistakably proves the reference to be to the angelic host, the celestial entourage of God. This is a poetic image drawn from the analogy of human kings surrounded by their assemblage of courtiers. Occasionally, as in 1 Kings 22:19, “the host of heaven” is used to the same effect.

saw how beautiful The implication is that they were driven by lust, so that external beauty, and not character, was their sole criterion in the selection of mates.

took wives Hebrew l-k-ḥ ʾishah is the regular term for the marriage relationship. There is no suggestion here of violent possession or any condemnation of the women involved.

3. The Lord said See Comment to 3:22.

My breath The life force that issues from God, corresponding to “the breath of life” in 2:7.3 Its presence or withdrawal determines life and death.

shall not abide This rendering of the otherwise unexampled Hebrew yadon best suits the context and follows the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Saadia, and Ramban. However, Rashi, Rashbam, Bekhor Shor, and Ibn Ezra connect the word with the stem d-y-n, “to judge.” The meaning here would then be something like, “I shall not go on suspending judgment.”

in man Taken together with the next clause, the reference would be specifically to the offspring of these unnatural unions, but all humankind is included within the scope of the verdict because disorder has been introduced into God’s creation.

flesh They are not divine despite their nonhuman paternity.4 “Flesh” connotes human frailty. Psalms 56:5 and Isaiah 31:3 are good examples of this usage.

one hundred and twenty years The duration of human life is drastically shortened, the diminution being emblematic of moral and spiritual degeneration.5 Early exegesis of this verse prefers to see here a reference to the interval of time remaining before the Flood. The figure would then represent three conventional generations of forty years each.6

4. This verse is obscure, probably deliberately so, in order to downgrade the mythic tone. The etymology of Nephilim is uncertain.7 The obvious association with n-f-l yields the rendering “fallen ones,” that is, fallen angels. But it is not clear from the text that the Nephilim are identical with the “divine beings.” Rather, they appear to be the offspring of the misalliances, who continued to generate Nephilim in the course of their married lives. Because Numbers 13:33 implies that these were people of extraordinary physical stature, the term was understood to mean “giants” or “heroes.” While it is not certain from the text whether or not the Nephilim themselves procreated, it is contrary to the understanding of the biblical narrative that they should have survived the Flood. Hence, the reference in Numbers is not to the supposedly continued existence of Nephilim into Israelite times; rather, it is used simply for oratorical effect, much as “Huns” was used to designate Germans during the two world wars.

cohabited Significantly, the verb y-d-ʿ is not used, as in 4:1, 17, and 25, but a coarser term, as befits the circumstances.

heroes of old, the men of renown Their heroic exploits were the subject of many a popular tale. On the analogy of 11:4, it is possible that they were guilty of some vainglorious outrages.

Comments
  1. […] Torah commentary on “celestial-terrestrial intermarriage” […]

Want to add your perspective?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s