Strange Flesh: Knust’s Unprotected Texts

Bob Cornwall (Ponderings on a Faith Journey) provides a review of Jennifer Wright Knust’s Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire (San Francisco: Harper One, 2011). He comments on Genesis 19; Genesis 6.1-4; and the inner-biblical reception of those texts in Jude 1.7:

Unprotected Texts - Knust
Unprotected Texts - Knust

personally I found the discussion in the chapter on “Strange Flesh” illuminating. In this chapter she deals with a number of issues that range from the Sodom Gomorrah story to the suggestion that the giants and “warriors of renown” were the children of unions between angels and human women. The latter isn’t all that new or controversial, but the suggestion that the issue in Sodom centered not on either homosexuality or hospitality, but the Sodomite’s yearning to mate with angels (that is strange flesh) was new to me and intriguing. She also deals with the question of the angels whom Paul is concerned about in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul suggests that women should be veiled “on account of the angels.” Could the issue be that the angels are watching and desiring these women? Remember too that the Corinthians were engaging in angelic speech.


The Women Seduce the Angels: Genesis 6.1-4 in Two Christian Versions – T. Reuben and The Almighty Bible

The curious incident which is narrated in Genesis 6.1-4 makes ‘the sons of God’ responsible for making off with some eye-catchingly beautiful human women, and having some (implicitly) transgressive divine-human sex:

And the sons of god saw that the daughters of man were good. And they took for themselves wives from whoever they chose… The fallen angels [Nephilim] were on earth in those days, and also after, the sons of God who copulated with the daughters of man and produced offspring for them. The offspring were the heroes who were from antiquity, the men of renown.

By contrast, Christian versions of the myth tend to transfer the blame for this transgression to human woman. That is, in some Christian versions, it is the women who tempt the angels!

One such Christian version is The Testament of Reuben (ca. A.D. 100). In T. Reub. 5.1-6, the women tempt the angels to descend from heaven, by treacherously charming them with their feminine beauty.

Paul may well be concerned that Christian women don’t continue to seduce angels when he requires them to wear a veil in 1 Corinthians 11.10 “because of the angels” (although, his reasoning here is more than a little obtuse).

A more recent Christian version is The Almighty Bible‘s translation of Gen. 6.4-7 (November 2010). The creators of The Almighty Bible decribe it as a graphic novel-type version of the Bible. In respect of Genesis 6, The Almighty Bible provides an illustration which appears to conflate Gen. 6.4-5, combining the stories of the Nephilim with the story of the human wickedness before the great Flood. So, Giants are pictured alongside human men and women, drinking and cavorting. The Giants (Gen. 6.4) are not particularly responsible for instigating the “wickedness” (Gen. 6.5). In fact, the illustration appears to show that “wicked” women are to blame for seducing both men and Giants. See the difference in height and facial hair of those seated at the two tables, and the (braless – how risque!) woman seductively hanging off a Giant in the foreground:

Almighty Bible's illustration of Genesis 6.4-5
Almighty Bible's illustration of Genesis 6.4-5

The Almighty Bible‘s transference of blame from the Giants to the human women is facilitated by the fact that the graphic novel misses out the first three verses of the episode (Gen. 6.1-3). But it is in these expurgated verses that the Nephilim (mistranslated as “Giants” in the LXX and many English versions) are most clearly responsible for coming down to earth and copulating with human women. Significantly,  The Almighty Bible doesn’t miss out the long boring genealogy in Ch. 5  immediately before this episode. From a notice on their website it seems that The Almighty Bible cares about decent family values, but cares somewhat less when it comes to damaging stereotypes about women. Under the heading “biblically accurate”, The Almighty Bible provides what may be a justification for its “inaccurate” reinterpretation of Genesis 6.4-5:

The Almighty Bible is created in a manner that maintains the drama and excitement of these amazing books but is also respectable of family norms and values when it comes to the nature of the images.

Chaste, non-angel-seducing woman sells Almighty Bible's version of Genesis
Chaste, non-angel-seducing woman sells Almighty Bible's version of Genesis

But why does the specifically Christian reception of Gen. 6.1-4 have this propensity to transfer blame from fallen angels to human women? Here are three interrelated thoughts on the development:

1. With the replacement of the account of evil found in the Book of Watchers with the account of evil based on (not found in) Genesis 1-11, the ultimate responsibility for evil was no longer attributed to angels but to humans. Hence, it is humans who instigate the evil; humans seduce the angels rather than the other way around.

2. Compared with some early Judaisms, Christianity greatly exaggerated the badness of humanity, and gave it a cosmic dimension. What was now required was nothing short of a heavenly intervention (and so enter Jesus Christ, Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man). Which came first? The Christian explanation was that Jesus was required to deal with the cosmic effects of the earlier sin. A more critical view is that the cosmic effects of sin were required so as to give Jesus a necessary role in God’s newly expanded plan of reconciliation.  As Slavoj Žižek nicely observes, the Christian Fall story of a certain “loss” of relationship with God in fact “obfuscate[s] the absolute synchronicity of the antagonism in question … [W]hen a certain historical moment is (mis)perceived as the moment of loss of some quality, upon closer inspection it becomes clear that the lost quality emerged only at this very moment of its alleged loss.” In short, the Christian worldview invented both problem and solution simultaneously.

3. As a result of the Christian cosmic exaggeration of problem-and-solution, you get a whole series of related binaries that start to seem feasible together. So the heavenly Jesus and Son of Man is opposed to the corrupt sons of Adam. The life in the spirit of God is opposed to life in the flesh. And heavenly angels (who are all males in Jewish traditions) are opposed to earthly women. The logic is as tight and persuasive as the conception is unrealistic and invented. Bad women are the other side of the coin to the  necessary righteousness of the Christian Saviour, providing support for the whole system. The idea of corrupt, earthly women provides the blessed assurance for the idea of an angelic, heavenly existence in the afterlife.

Lastly, here’s The Almighty Bible‘s justification for employing a (pseudo-) graphic novel format to present the Bible:

It’s David vs. Goliath as The Almighty Bible sets out to compete with huge secular brands in a way that is equally entertaining yet shares a faith-based message