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nephilim-and-womanThere is an interesting discussion going on involving Anthony D. Baker and Adam Kotsko concerning the sexual roles of the sons of god(s) and daughters of men in Gen. 6.1-4, rape, theosis, and gendering.

Anthony started it all, with a post entitled “Gender and the Studio” (Theology Studio, 20 November 2012), in which he responds to a challenge issued by Sarah Coakley concerning his gendering of the Anunciation to Mary the mother of Jesus. The question in turn arises from Anthony’s thesis in his 2011 book, Diagonal Advance: Perfection in Christian Theology, in which he argues that the story of Adam and Eve has been misinterpreted by treating the first humans as equivalent to the Greek person of Prometheus.  Whereas Prometheus must accept his own limitations and must be punished for transgressing into the divine realm, Adam and Eve are created with the potential for theosis, or transformation into the image of God. So Anthony summarises that “we assume that the archetypal human is not Adam and Eve, who are called to share in the divine being, but Prometheus, who is confined to a natural plane, and must either content himself with this ‘natural imperfection’, or else go steal a torch of divine fire.  If we affirm the human calling to deification, we do so despite its God-defying character; if we deny it, we do so because it seems the ultimate hubristic dogma.”

For Anthony, the imposition of the Prometheus myth onto the Christian myth turns the transgression of Adam and Eve, and of the sons of god(s) into nature-defying acts. The Christian, theological concept of the Fall, in turn, genders these acts as active (male) and passive (female). This is in contrast to the Anunciation in Luke 1, in which Mary actively responds to the desire for her shown by God – so that their  “erotic transgression” (Anthony’s unusual phrase)  is “consensual”, not rape as in Gen. 6.

Then Anthony  gives an example from Gen. 6.1-4:

The fall narratives, from Eden to Babel to the origin of the Nephilim, are about the disorder than comes of too much taking. In the latter case, the Sons of God find the daughters of men desirable, and “take” them as wives (Gen 6). The “Sons” are pure activity here, and the “daughters” are so passive that the text implies a Sabine-like rape.

But Adam challenges Anthony: “if your account of the meaning of masculinity and femininity is derived from a rape scene, something has gone badly wrong, something that requires not ‘clarification,’ but repentance and conversion”. Yet, if I understand Anthony, he describes this particular gendered binary as a result of the Fall, not as a “paradigm” for gender.

Adam also argues that “it’s highly questionable to use it as a paradigm of intra-human relations, given that both the Jewish and Christian traditions have almost unanimously regarded the ‘Sons of God’ as being angels (or some form of supernatural being)”. But in Christian theology from at least Augustine until modernity, the ‘sons of god(s)’ have not usually been interpreted as angels. They were interpreted as human – as sons of Seth who mixed with the daughters of Cain. This is the case for most of Christendom – until modern biblical scholarship suspected a polytheistic framework behind the story.

Does Gen. 6.4  describe rape at all? Adam is right that the text is hardly clear. As Walter Bührer notes in his 2011 ZAW article, “Göttersöhne und Menschentöchter: : Gen 6,1–4 als innerbiblische Schriftauslegung”, the sequence of “seeing”, considering the object as “good”, and then “taking” it provides a strong echo between Gen. 6.4 and Gen. 3.6 as accounts of two transgressions. But if there is an offence in the actions of the sons of god(s), it would be against the fathers of the daughters of man – for they were the ones who previously possessed their daughters’ marriage rights before they were seemingly taken at will by the sons of god(s). As for the situation of the daughters of men, they may well have been willing participants, as Adam suggests is a possibility. Although, there is a clear power differential between the sons of god(s) and daughters of men which still makes the sons of god(s) the more active characters in the story. The sons of god(s) are mighty characters, who sire other famed and mighty characters. They do the gazing upon the women, who are noted only for their beauty. There is no suggestion that the daughters of men were seductresses – as in the later reception history of Gen. 6.4. So the male-active / female-passive binary seems clear from the story, even if it is not interpreted as a rape story.


h/t: Bob Macdonald, Biblical Studies Carnival November 2011