Richard Beck Defends the Sethite Interpretation of Gen 6.1-4

Richard Beck, who blogs at Experimental Theology and is Professor and Department Chair of Psychology at Abilene Christian University, tackles the story of the Nephilim in Gen. 6.1-4. He revives the Sethite Hypothesis, under which “sons of God” are interpreted as the descendents of Seth (Gen. 5) and the “daughters of men” are interpreted as the descendents of Cain (Gen. 4).

The argument here is that the “image of God” is carried through the line of Seth. These “sons of God”–the descendants of Seth–“fall” when they begin to intermarry with the descendants of Cain (“the daughters of men”). And while it might seem that this argument is a bit stretched it is worth noting that some Gnostic sects saw Seth as the father of the children of God, the elect. In this we see a dualism where Seth and Cain function as the primordial ancestors of the “children of light/God” and the “children of darkness/Satan” respectively.

– Richard Beck, “The Nephilim”, Experimental Theology, 17 September 2012

The interpretation of “the sons of God”/”the sons of the gods” (בני האלהים) as the human descendents of Seth has been overtaken in modern scholarship by their interpretation as either divine beings or angels (with some interpreting them as kings or potentates). The most famous defence of the Sethite interpretation is Augustine’s explanation of the sons of God as Sethites, in City of God 15.23. Yet earlier identifications of בני האלהים as the descendents of Seth were made in a fragment of the early third century Chronographie by Julius Africanus preserved in Syncellus, and [there are related distinctions between Sethites and Cainites] in Philo’s early first century Quaest. in Gen. [1.79 but in relation to Gen. 4.25], and perhaps even [an even earlier Sethite interpretation of Gen 6.4] in the second century BC Sirach 16.7.

Have a read of Richard’s thoughts from his prison Bible study on Gen. 6.1-4, here.

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3 thoughts on “Richard Beck Defends the Sethite Interpretation of Gen 6.1-4

  1. Thanks for your post here. I was completely unaware of the Hebrew rendition of Sirach 16.7.

    However, when reading Philo, I cannot find the particular passage you have in mind where he says the ‘sons of God’ were descendants of Seth. In Book 8, he does make a distinction between Cain’s descendants and Seth’s descendants.

    But the only explicit reference to the Genesis 6.1-4 episode I can find from Philo is in Book 9, where he says, ‘the angels of God saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful, they took unto themselves wives’, with no mention of Cain or Seth. (Though he doesn’t make any direct connection between the nephilim as children of angels.)

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  2. You’re right – what I wrote was incorrect. Philo’s interpretation of Gen 6:1-4 has “the sons of elohim” as angels. It’s his interpretation of the “different seed” of Gen 4:6 which associates the Sethite line with divine characteristics or a righteous lineage, and opposes them to the lineage of Cain. That’s rather different from a Cainite versus Sethite interpretation of Gen 6:1-4.

    I updated the post to correct it.

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  3. its Seth guys

    Abel died without heirs
    Cain was half human
    only Seth carried on pure humanoid look.

    after flood only Noah had it.
    then he married Naamah and it was lost forever.
    japheth was the closest to Seth.
    Giants are not from fallen angels humanoid ones it is a term that means intelligent serpents not red haired Angels.
    put serpent in where fallen angel is and it all makes sense. their was a dual species breeding extravaganza before the flood.
    and it went haywire.

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