Background/The Divine Council
This post (yes, I know the title is rather provocative) was inspired by a comment that TT made in a previous post in this series concerning 1 Cor. 11.10, which reads “For this reason a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels” (NRSV, used throughout; emphasis mine). The part of TT’s comment which is the inspiration for this post reads, “women are supposed to wear veils so that they don’t get raped by angels.” Another commentor said later in the discussion that “Is the point to take the most extreme interpretations of these passages possible (”women had to worry about getting raped by angels,” honestly!)” (please read the post and comments for full context).
TT’s comment and the following reaction quickly reminded me of Genesis 6.1-4 (and other texts), which presents a tradition of heavenly beings coming down from their celestial abode and mating with humans. As I have already discussed elsewhere on FPR several times (see here, here, here, here, here and here), references to a divine council or heavenly assembly are found frequently throughout the Hebrew Bible . The divine council is simply the heavenly royal court over which Yahweh, the God of Israel, presides as heavenly king. The members of this heavenly court or assembly are referred to in the Hebrew Bible by such terms as: bene (ha)’elohim “sons of God” (Gen. 6.2, 4; Deut. 32.8-9; Job 1.6, 2.2, 38.7), ‘elohim “gods” (Ps. 82.1, 6), bene elim “sons of gods” (Ps. 29.1, 89.7), and bene ‘elyon “sons of the Most High” (Ps. 82.6). Moreover, the council itself is referred to by such appellations as the adat ‘el “council/assembly/congregation of ‘El/God” (Ps. 82.1), sod qedoshim rabbah “great council of the holy ones” (Ps. 89.8), sod YHWH “the council of Yahweh” (Jer. 23.18), and sod eloah “council of God” (Job 15.8).
The members of the divine council–the “sons of G/god(s)” or “gods” as they are often described–served various functions. Yahweh’s heavenly council was frequently depicted in terms analogous to that of the royal court of an earthly king or monarch. Thus, just as a king presides over a body of counselors and administrators with whom he counsels and to whom he issues decrees, so too Yahweh was surrounded by an assemblage of heavenly beings with whom he counseled and to whom he issued decrees. For this reason the God of Israel is designated as ‘el ‘elyon “the Most High God” (Gen.14.18-19; Ps. 78.35; cf. Ps. 82.6), because there are other, lower gods who serve him and praise him in his heavenly divine council. The God of Israel is the Most High (God) because there are other, subordinate gods in his heavenly council. These gods obey Yahweh’s decrees and pay deference to Yahweh because he is the supreme God of the pantheon–but they too are still gods nonetheless. Like many ancient Near Eastern texts which exult a particular earthly king as supreme over all the kings or rulers of other nations, so Yahweh is supreme in relation to the other gods of his council and those of other nations. The relevant issue in these texts is not one of “ontology” or species, of course, but one of power, might, and glory. Thus we read in Ps. 29.1 (NRSV, alternate translation):
Ascribe to Yahweh, O sons of gods [bene ‘elim],
ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength.
There are thus numerous biblical passages which clearly state or imply that there are other real gods in existence, although Yahweh is seen as supreme among them. In addition to those verses cited above, consider also Psalm 89.6 (NRSV, adapted), which reads: “For who in the skies can be compared to Yahweh? Who among the sons of God is like Yahweh…?”, as well as Psalm 99.2 (4QPsalm), which states: “Yahweh is great in Zion, he is exalted over all the gods.” Furthermore, Deuteronomy 32.43 (NRSV) goes on to affirm that, “Praise, O heavens, his people, worship him, all you gods!” Finally, Job 38.4-7 (cf. Genesis 1.26-27; 3.22) (NRSV, adapted) declares: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” These are just a sample of the biblical texts which demonstrate that the biblical authors believed that there were other real gods in existence besides Yahweh (see also Deut. 32.8-9, Ex. 15.11, Ps. 82.1, 6).
Genesis 6.1-4 reflects the background of the divine council. This passage reads:
When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.
Here the heavenly beings of Yahweh’s council–the “sons of God” or gods–descend from their heavenly home and mate with human women producing children. This same ancient tradition is found in the non-canonical book of Enoch, chapters 6 and 7. Chapter 6, verses 1-3 reads:
And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’
Chapter 7, verses 1-3 continues:
And all…took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells
I think it is clear that the Bible presents a tradition of heavenly beings mating with humans; moreover, such views are found in later Judeo-Christian texts. How can, or should, such notions be interpreted among Christians (including LDS Christians) in modern times? And, in contrast to the initial outcry concerning TT’s comment about 1 Cor. 11.10, is it really such a stretch, given these biblical and non-biblical sources, to think that some early Jews and Christians might have worried that women could still be sexually enticed or overpowered by angels (fallen or otherwise)? Although I do not as yet have a firm conclusion on what 1 Cor. 11.10 is referring to in its reference to women and angels, it doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous as it might appear at first glance.
 See John Day’s section “The Sons of El (God)” in his book Yahweh and the Gods and Goddesses of Canaan. Journal for the study of the Old Testament, 265. (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 22-24.
20 Replies to “Wait, that’s in the Bible?! Celestial Sex”
In the post I linked to elsewhere, I had read in other studies that the angels mentioned possibly would have been better translated as messengers/officials, and were either regulators for the local government/community or the church who required head gear. Sorry, short on time, or I’d plug in links.
This all reminds me of an illustrated version of the Genesis 6:1-4 story I saw in a JW bible once…
Thank you for the reminder at the end that the question is _not_ whether women have ever been in danger of being raped by demi-gods. Rather, the question is whether some ancient Israelites or Christians believed this.
TYD ~ I’ve long been aware of Judeo-Christian Nephilim tradition. However there are many other perfectly valid interpretations of what the author of 1 Corinthians meant when he said that woman should have authority over her head “because of the angels.”
ESV Study Bible: “This probably refers to the invisible heavenly beings (6:3; Heb. 1:7) who are present with the Corinthians when they worship (cf. Ps. 138:1) and whose presence makes propriety in worship that much more important. The NT elsewhere uses the fact that angels are watching as one motive for obeying God’s commands. (see 1 Tim. 5:21; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 1:12)”
From What does “because of the angels” mean in 1 Corinthians 11:10, Michael Marlowe elaborates: “Several explanations have been offered by scholars, but one explanation stands out as being by far the most commonly accepted. Briefly it is this: In Jewish tradition, and also in the early Church, angels are said to be present at sacred gatherings and sacred times, to watch over and to join with the saints in their spiritual exercises. Any serious offense against propriety during these sacred moments will stir up the disapproval of these angelic helpers of the saints, perhaps causing them to depart; and any good deed they witness will bring all the more aid from them.”
I’ve read elsewhere (though I can’t find my source right now) that the word for “angels” can also mean “messengers,” i.e. non-Christian outsiders who visited the church to report on the doings of Christians. So cultural propriety had to be maintained so as not to give the church a bad name among outsiders.
My outcry at TT had to do with his casual selection of the “rape-by-angels” theory as the proper reading of the passage, and I still maintain that was unnecessarily, deliberately negative when so many alternative possibilities exist.
Final thing: if what you’re interested in is my participation on this blog, doing entire posts calling attention to and scrutinizing me after only three comments is a bad way to go about it. I realize that anything anyone says on teh Intarweb is theoretically fair game, but I’m pretty uncomfortable with that level of attention.
Wow, how come Authorities are not bold enough to talk about this kind of stuff, publicly? – yes, just a rhetorical question. 🙂
But I do have these questions:
In Genesis 6, how did these men become divine gods and be allowed to walk around and have celestial sex and not others?
YD, do you believe it is possible that there could be “gods” walking around right now in 2009 and mating with female mortals?
Are such male/female relationship as in the Twilight movie to be taken more seriously by the LDS community?
I see those in Genesis 6 as ordinary humans and nothing more.
But maybe those on FPR might consider this Genesis 6 passage just a non-literal legend and nothing more?
I still maintain that was unnecessarily, deliberately negative when so many alternative possibilities exist.
I guess there are “alternative” readings, but again, that doesn’t mean they are right. I happen to follow the actual ancient Christian interpretation of this passage, as spelled out by Tertullian, rather than modern apologists.
I see those in Genesis 6 as ordinary humans and nothing more.
Todd, you are certainly entitled to this position, but it just happens to be wrong.
I can’t speak for TT, but I don’t think he purposefully picked the most “deliberately negative” reading. I know there are other readings of the passage, and as I said, I don’t know where I stand on what is occurring in this reference. However, I think that your reaction to his comment was at least a little unfair given some ancient biblical and Jewish-Christian views on angels/heavenly beings mating with women; and I thought that such ancient (and biblical) views should be brought to the attention of anyone who might be following this series, since I doubt many casual readers of the Bible realize what is really going on in Genesis 6.1-4.
As for your final note, I am sorry that I made you uncomfortable. My sincerest apologies. I have modified my references to you. Again, my apologies.
I echo TT’s response in number 7. These “sons of God/gods” are clearly not humans in Genesis 6.1-4. It makes no sense. As for how “these men become divine gods,” I don’t know what you mean. As my other posts I linked to state several times, the “bene elohim” were seen as primordial divine beings (Gen. 1.26-27; Gen. 3.22; Job 38.4-7). There is no myth of origin for them, just as there is no myth of origin for Yahweh, the God of Israel. As Harvard’s Jon Levenson says,
““It is true—and quite significant–that the God of Israel has no myth of origin. Not a trace of theogony can be found in the Hebrew bible. God has no nativity. But there do seem to be other divine beings in Genesis 1, to whom God proposes the creation of humanity, male and female together: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (v. 26). When were these other divine beings created? They too seem to have been primordial. . . .From other biblical accounts of the divine assembly in session, it would appear that these “sons of God/gods” played an active roles and made fresh proposals to God, who nonetheless retained the final say.” (see Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 5.)
TYD ~ Your gesture in modifying your post is much appreciated. I hope you (and TT) know that I was aware of Nephilim tradition and Tertullian’s interpretation of 1 Cor. 11:10 when I made my initial comment, but I still think that’s a poor marker of what the original author meant, especially given the abundant references to angelic involvement in worship in both Jewish tradition and the Bible itself.
Point in fact though, I’ve probably known about Nephilim tradition longer than I’ve known about Mormonism. There are still some fairly recent paranormal accounts out there where women have claimed they were raped by invisible demonic entities. I’m not saying I believe them, but I think it’s a modern extension of the belief.
Oh and I didn’t mean to be harsh on TT. I see his logic and I apologize for being unfair.
And my clarification on Genesis 6: not humans who have become wonderful gods and then descended, but I have taught the passage as ordinary men given over to demonic influence.
Nephilim and Gibborim are a fascinating study in the O.T.
One more thing . . .
BJM, Chuck Missler would be the popular Idahoan pastor/teacher promoting demons mating with human girls to create the giants.
Todd (& TYD) ~ Maybe I should say what I think about Genesis 6:2.
In essence? I think TYD is right. Genesis 6:2 is most naturally read as a reference to angelic beings mating with humans.
You don’t even need to break down the Hebrew to see this. Just do a word search in your English Bible for “sons of God” in the Old Testament and see what you get. Every other reference to “sons of God” in the Old Testament arguably refers to angels. Humans weren’t referred to as “sons of God” until the New Testament. To try and read Genesis 6:2 as a reference to human men of noble/righteous/demonic status of some sort seems fairly eisegetical to me. I came to this conclusion with nothing but my NIV Study Bible when I was 16, just thumbing through and cross-referencing “sons of God,” long before I ever learned Hebrew. And I haven’t found a convincing counter-argument since, even though I would like to.
We all know I believe every word of the Bible to be inspired and I believe in inerrancy, so does that mean I believe angels (or possibly demons) can breed with humans?
Well, my knee-jerk reaction is to say “that’s stupid/icky/absurd/gross.” But if you want to get technical, the Bible never clearly delineates the abilities and biology of angels. So why not?
Sure, it’s crazy. But is it really any crazier than believing that some cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree?
So I guess my answer is, I’m open to the possibility. Nevertheless, I can’t say that fear of an angel or demon lusting after me keeps me up at night.
My friend JP Holding at Tekton takes this view. Here is another decently-researched article by Bob Deffinbaugh arguing this view from the evangelical perspective, which carefully examines and dismisses attempts to identify the sons of God as mortal men. His arguments on God changing His mind in Gen. 6 will make our open theists snort, and I disagree with his assertion that there are no female angels, but he covers the basics on why the other views are untenable.
Thanks for stopping by again! I would ask you though, who do you think these “angelic beings” are? That’s why I provided a discussion of the divine council in the Hebrew Bible.
And I’d love to hear your response to Bridget,Todd [smiling].
“Humans weren’t referred to as “sons of God” until the New Testament.”
And this is where TYD knows I would disagree with BJM.
Just FYI, (take it for what you will) Hugh Nibley was of the opinion that the “Sons of God” in Enoch were righteous church members entering into apostasy.
I thought you might be interested in a grammatical analysis of the phrase bene elohim. I think it is untenable grammatically and historically to affirm that these beings are mere humans.
Everytime I read David’s scholarly writings, I can picture his enthusiastic smile and friendliness. But I know he is communicating very clearly to me (though I have not been officially introduced to him), “Surrender your Christianity and your interpretations on the Scripture to the overwhelming sweep of ancient near eastern literature and belief systems outside the biblical text.”
I admit that conservative, traditional biblical scholars in America have alreadly lost the battle over presenting creaturely distinctiveness (and creatio ex nihilo) through exegetical, historical and archaeological thought.
Instead you’d rather have us surrender our search for the meaning via context, word-studies, and prophecy and replace it for American fundamentalist tradition. Some of us are just as wary of back-reading “classical american evangelicalism” back into the text, ‘Because that’s what the Bible says.” Text’s don’t speak for themselves, they must be interpreted. You could choose to ignore the history behind a comment, but then are you truly searching after the truth, or merely providing a veneer of sincerity?