Genesis 6:1-3

And it was when people began to multiply on the face of the ground and daughters were born to them, that the sons of gods saw daughters of people—that they were good, so they took for themselves wives from all whom they chose.
So Yahweh said, “My spirit will not abide with people forever, also for the reason that he is flesh. And his days will be one-hundred and twenty.” _Genesis 6:1-3 (my translation)

In my Hebrew Readings class (with Dr. Robert A. Mullins) we recently translated Genesis. We’ve actually been working through Ruth but since there are only a handful of us in the class we have freedom to take breaks and translate some other problematic or simply interesting texts. This time we took a break from Ruth and translated just the first few verses in Genesis 6. And as far as translation goes they were not too difficult. But theologically and otherwise, I think there are some issues.

There are two different positions that make most sense to me as to what’s going on in this passage concerning the “sons of gods” and the “daughters of people.”

One position is that the sons of gods should defiantly be translated “sons of God,” referring to Yahweh, and we should interpret them as being in the lineage of Seth, son of Adam (v. 5:3). This view makes sense if you consider the context, particularly that chapter 5, the genealogy preceding this story, emphasizes Seth and that the likeness of God in Adam is passed through him—“When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness.” So therefore the sons of God are actually Seth’s line. Who are the “daughters of people?” Well in this position the daughters would refer to women in Cain’s line, the cursed line. Thus God’s punishment of shorter life and eventual flood is a result of intermarrying among Yahweh’s chosen people and, well, someone else. This is a theme that travels throughout Genesis—Israelites can’t marry Canaanites. So this reading of Genesis 6 would carry tones that fit contextually.

The problem with that reading is that “sons of gods,” according to Dr. Mullins, refers to divine beings of some kind in other texts, and there is no evidence that the phrase “sons of gods” ever refers to human beings. If the sons of gods are divine then a simpler reading of “daughters of people” is called for—simply that they are people. The classical interpretation is that the “sons of gods” are actually divine beings (also see the book of 1 Enoch) and that this reference goes further back than chapter 5—all the way back to chapters 2-3, the creation and the curse. People were essentially kicked out of Eden and denied access to the tree of life. Therefore in some sense, there is now a gap between immortality and mortality, divinity and flesh. This gap cannot be crossed, so when divine beings and people begin to mate Yahweh must remove his spirit from them. This, then, is the story of the boundaries of divine and flesh being crossed. So this view also has contextual merit, it would make sense that chapter 6 would refer to the creation and curse narrative for in the Noah story God is about to essentially un-create everything (doing away with the separation of waters from waters and dry land from sea), definitely referring to the Creation and curse narrative.