How Yellowstone’s ‘Old Faithful’ became an Angel copulating with a woman

In 1923, American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850-1931) created the marble sculpture, “The Sons of God Saw the Daughters of Men That They Were Fair”.

The sculpture depicts an unusual episode found in the Bible, narrated in Genesis 6.1-4:

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…. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went in to the daughters of men, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.

The ‘Sons of God’ have often been interpreted as angels, who were so attracted to human women that they came to earth to have sex with them. Daniel Chester French adopts this angelic interpretation of Genesis 6.1-4 in his sculpture, which from 1924 has been on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

According to the museum’s acquisition records, French originally saw the silhouette of an angel copulating with a human woman while staring at the ‘Old Faithful Geyser’ in Yellowstone National Park. Admittedly, there are many people who imagine that they see faces and such things in the clouds and other objects. There is even a term for this: it’s called ‘pareidolia’. So Daniel C. French’s case of pareidolia is perhaps not so unusual. And yet… I can’t say I’ve ever looked at a cloud and thought: hey, that cloud looks exactly like an angel having sex with a woman! And the same goes with the shapes of geysers that I’ve seen. Who knows, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation for Daniel C. French’s angel-erotic pareidolia. Perhaps he had very recently been reading about Genesis 6.1-4, and this image had simply been imprinted on his mind. Or perhaps he was just really into angelic-human sex, and told his lovers to dress up with feathers. Who can tell?

Side-note: Daniel C. French’s other sculptures are decidedly unsexy. French is best known for the majestic and slightly fascist statue of Abraham Lincoln (1920) at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, and also for the Four Continents at the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House, New York. None of his other sculptures offer any indication that the artist had an angel fetish.

But after French’s sculpture of “The Sons of God Saw the Daughters of Men That They Were Fair” was put on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, along with a notice that it had been inspired by Old Faithful, it came to the attention of photographer Frank Jay Haynes. He noticed that the sculpture not only bore a resemblance to Old Faithful, but to his own photograph of the geyser: “Old Faithful Geyser. Plume. Yellowstone National Park” (1885). The photograph had been sold for decades at Yellowstone as the main souvenir photo of the Geyser:



If you look carefully at the photograph, with the sculpture in mind, you can make out the angel’s right wing at the top left, the heads of the angel and woman at top right, the obscured left wing, the woman’s arse, and even her left leg extended on tippy-toes to reach eagerly up to her angelic lover, with the right leg crossed behind it. It’s all there, in watery geyser form. And on the left-bottom of the geyser and sculpture, you can see the cascade of water shooting up, later to take pareidolic shape as a Son of God about to copulate with a Daughter of Man.

It’s not just me and Daniel C. French seeing these things, is it?

As a result of these similarities, subsequent promotion of French’s sculpture made note that it had been modeled on Haynes’ photo of Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park.

My major source for the information about the sculpture, French, and Haynes was Peter H. Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone: Artists in America’s First National Park (The Autry Museum of Western Heritage in association with University of Washington Press, 2002).


Gili Kugler on Caleb the Giant-Slayer

CalebFaithDr Gili Kugler (the University of Sydney) has recently written an article in which she discusses the different biblical traditions about Caleb’s involvement in the spy mission to Hebron and the eventual conquest of Hebron.

Gili Kugler, “Who Conquered Hebron? Apologetic and Polemical Tendencies in the Story of Caleb in Josh 14,” Vetus Testamentum 67 (2017): 570-580.

In the Bible, there are a number of inconsistent narratives about the spy expedition and conquest of Hebron/the southern Judean hill country. These narratives provide different identifications of:

  • The leader of the conquest: either Joshua (Joshua 11.21-22), or Caleb (Joshua 15.13-14), or Caleb after being allocated the land by Joshua, who now allocates land not yet conquered (Joshua 14.6-15), or the army of Judah (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The time of the conquest: either as part of Joshua’s conquest of the whole land (Joshua 11.21-22), or after the conquest of the whole land, as one of the areas still to be conquered in the second half of Joshua (Joshua 14.6-15; 15.13-14), or after the death of Joshua (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The inhabitants who were killed: either the Anakim (Joshua 11.21-22), the Anakim who lived in great fortified cities as we saw the giants identified in Numbers 13 (Joshua 14.12), or the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (Joshua 15.14), or the “Canaanites”, Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The ethnicity of Caleb: a Kenizzite (Joshua 14.6-15; 15.13-14 – ‘son of Kenaz’), or part of Judah, or at least allied with Judah (Judges 1; as in Numbers 13).

Despite all these varied traditions, they all display a number of shared themes, characters, and geography – which makes it likely that we are dealing with related traditions.

So how do we account for the way these traditions developed? Scholars have usually dated the Caleb tradition as the earliest of the traditions, being placed into a pan-Israelite conquest involving Joshua. Kugler points out, though, that Joshua 14.6-15 appears to be a later supplement, interrupting the flow in Joshua 14 (and the land allocation to Judah), and also aware of Joshua 11 and its claim that the conquest of Hebron resulted in rest for the land as a whole.

Kugler views Joshua 14.6-15 as serving two apologetic purposes: (1) it justifies Kenizzite settlement and even integration into Judea, and (2) it disputes the idea that Joshua led the whole conquest, transferring the victory to Caleb the Kenizzite. She concludes that “Josh 14:6ab-15 can be viewed as a late formation in the Book of Joshua, responding to and disputing the pro-Joshuaic agenda found in the Deuteronomistic framework of the book” (p. 574). For Kugler, although Joshua 14.6-15 is directly dependent on Deuteronomy 1, it adds the detail that Caleb is a Kennizite, a detail not present in the Deuteronomistic source of the text.

This being the case, argues Kugler, the summary in Joshua 14.14, “So Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day” gives us a clue about the historical context in which a non-Judean was portrayed as having the right to the city of Hebron. Kugler points to the Edomite connections of the clan of Kenaz (Genesis 31.11, 15, 42; 1 Chronicles 1.36, 53), and suggests that Joshua 14.6-15 was added during the time of Edomite settlement in southern Judah before the exile. Joshua 14.6-15 therefore justifies Edomite settlement and lessens Joshua’s role in the conquest of all Israel.

It’s a fairly nicely worked-out possible solution – but it also has some problems.

  1. Joshua 14 knows both the all-Israel tradition in Joshua 11 and the Caleb-alone tradition in Numbers 13, where Caleb gets fully behind God (i.e. wholeheartedly follows God). The latter is a statement from the near-final form of Numbers 13 (often termed the ‘Priestly’ or ‘post-Priestly’ layer, but final form will do) . Joshua 14 also interrupts the ‘Priestly’ land allocation in the second half of Joshua. So how can we place Joshua 14.6-15 in the pre-exilic period, if it is post-Priestly? That seems highly unlikely.
  2. Moreover, Edom continues to have significant control over the southern highlands in the exilic and post-exilic periods. So in fact almost any period during which the Hexateuch was written might fit the alleged Edomite interest in the text. It is arbitrary to allocate an Edomite genealogy to the pre-exilic period.
  3. More problematically for Kugler’s proposal, it is reasonably clear that the Calebite traditions were already inconsistent before Joshua 14.6-15 was composed. That is, the inconsistency is not a result of deliberate polemic, but is a pre-existing literary difficulty that the author of Josh 14.6-15 had to deal with. We already have two conflicting Caleb-traditions before the composition of Joshua 14: (1) Num 13-14/Deut 1.36 makes Caleb a Judean hero; (2) Joshua 15, Judges 1, AND Judges 3 – the latter not mentioned by Kugler – all call Caleb the ‘son of Kenaz’ (and this latter identification is multiply attested and arguably independent). So the inconsistency, where Caleb is either Kenizzite or Judahite, was already in existence before the writing of the supplementary Joshua 14. Joshua 14, therefore, is not easily explained as a response to a historical situation which introduces a polemic; it’s a literary harmonization. In response to contradictory traditions, Joshua 14 says: Caleb is a Judean AND Kenizzite!
  4. Moreover, if this harmonization had a chance of success, it is likely that people at the time Joshua 14.6-15 was written simply did not any longer distinguish a Kenizzite from a Judahite. At the very least, we don’t know if they did make a distinction between Kenizzites and Judahites. Noth for example assigns the distinction of Kenizzites and Judahites to a very early, pre-J historical stage, in which the Kenizzites were part of a 6-tribe alliance which later became the tribe of Judah. Although I don’t follow Noth’s historical reconstruction, it illustrates how the distinction of Kenizzites from Judeans might simply have been ‘ancient history’ at the time of writing Josh 14.6-15.
  5. And there’s no other indication of any pro-Edomite polemic in the passage, either, apart from the older Kenaz-Edom connections.

Sure this makes Joshua 14.6-15 inconsistent with Joshua 1-11, but we can say the same about much of Joshua 12-19, where Joshua’s total conquest of all Israel is changed into a partial conquest with many parts of the land still occupied by its previous inhabitants. And yet, pre-modern readers managed to interpret the final book of Joshua as a harmony. Is it too much to expect that the hamonizing supplementer who wrote Joshua 14.6-15 thought what they had written was in harmony with the account in Joshua 11, rather than engaging in some subtle ‘polemic’?

Caleb was inserted in Joshua 14 as a Judean hero. This was in tension with the Ephraimite/Northern basic tradition in Judges 1-12, and contrary to the older traditions in which he was a Kenizzite and possibly an Edomite. But it was consistent with the Judea- and Jerusalem-centred traditions in the final stages of the book of Joshua.

Was Genesis even authoritative for the Book of Watchers? In what sense? John J. Collins

John J. Collins indicates the size of a cubit – the conventional unit of measurement for Giants

John J. Collins writes:

It should be clear that the Torah is one of several sources on which the author [of the Book of the Watchers] drew, although in this case it provides the main frame for the story. The story itself is a moral tale, illustrating the pitfalls of fornication and of illicit knowledge. The understanding of the sin of the watchers as improper revelation provides an obvious counterpart to the proper revelation of Enoch in the rest of the book. The contrast between the watchers and Enoch is spelled  out a little later, when Enoch has his audience with God in 1 En. 15. The watchers are reproached for having left the high and holy heaven and lain with human women. The mystery they revealed was worthless. In contrast, Enoch is a human being who ascends to heaven and lives like the holy ones.

Of course, the career of Enoch, which takes up the greater part of the Book of the Watchers, is itself only loosely based on Genesis. Enoch was famously said to have ‘walked with God’ (Gen 5.22). While the biblical phrase may have meant only that Enoch lived a righteous life, it inspired the story that he had ascended to heaven, even before ‘God took him’ (Gen 5.24). It is widely agreed that he was modeled to some degree on Enmeduranki, king of Sippar, who is said to have been taken up to heaven and shown the techniques of divination and the tablet of the gods. The Book of the Watchers spins a story that he was given a tour of the ends of the earth, guided by an angel. In all of this, motifs that echo the Hebrew Scriptures are freely mixed with Hellenistic and Babylonian traditions.

It is difficult to say whether or in what sense the author of the Book of the Watchers regarded Genesis as authoritative. He mainly treated it as fodder for imagination. This is the way ‘canonical’ texts work in literature: they nourish the imagination of later writers, and constrain it only to a limited degree.

    • John J. Collins, “Torah as Narrative and Wisdom in the Dead Sea Scrolls”, in Reading the Bible in Ancient Traditions and Modern Editions: Studies in Memory of Peter W. Flint, ed. Andrew B. PerrinKyung S. BaekDaniel K. Falk (Atlanta: SBL Press, November 2017), pp. 361-362 (357-380).

What do you think? Was Genesis more like Harold Bloom’s literary canon, to which Collins may here allude? Or was it ‘authoritative’ in some further sense (as Collins still entertains, while also asking “in what sense” Genesis may be regarded as authoritative for the Book of Watchers)?

It is prudent that we avoid importing later senses of ‘canonical’ and ‘authoritative’ and other more dangerous terms such as ‘inspired’ and ‘biblical’, at least in the senses in which they are employed to describe phenomena in the Common Era. But two factors, at least, occur to me that suggest Genesis was also ‘authoritative’ in some sense that exceeds its demonstrated ability to “nourish the imagination of later writers”.

First, the text appeals to the arche or origins, a move which is always, inherently an attempt to justify some present situation, institution, practice, belief, doctrine, etc – to invest our present contingent circumstances with the illusion of some fixed and immovable anchor. This quality is intrinsic to ‘the authoritative’, which always involves the claim that one is standing on the shoulders of giants – which like Quixote’s, are no more than phantoms of the imagination.

Second, we should note the importance of the role of heavenly revelation within 1 Enoch, in particular revelations of heavenly secrets of creation (beginnings) and eschatology (endings), which strongly suggests an attempt to discover the ‘deeper meaning’ of Genesis, not to mention other aNE origin stories; this is a giveaway that the author regards Genesis as authoritative, although ‘authoritative’ in a sense that both overlaps with later ideas of inspiration and contrasts with them, given that the boundaries of what counts as ‘inspired’ are expanding, and by nature are expansive, open to new revelations of heavenly secrets.

Lastly, I note that the Book of Watchers sticks closely to the wording of the verses in Genesis 6.1-4, even while expanding its (authoritative, inspired and inspirational) words in what were probably unforeseen directions. Even the words of Genesis are authoritative, but not at all with the implication that they may not be added to – quite the opposite. As supplement to Genesis 6.1-4, the Book of the Watchers is Derridean, not simply making an addition to the text, but asserting its originary lack, a lack to be filled by a plumbing of deeper origins, and (allegedly) more secret truths of origins that are at once ultimate (eschatological) endings.

Update (8 January 2018): Jim Davila answers my question above. He considers that not only was Gen 6.1-4 ‘authoritative’ for 1 Enoch, but that some earlier version of the Watcher/Giant story was also authoritative for Gen 6.1-4 (although the author of Gen 6.1-4 tried to play it down). Yet like me, Jim also states that this ‘authority’ was a long way from the later canonical authority. See what he wrote here. See also the similar views of J.T. Milik, Paolo Sacchi, Philip Davies, and Helge Kvanvig. On the other side, there are quite a few more other scholars who don’t think that Gen 6.1-4 is an abbreviation of any such story as found in 1 Enoch. Unfortunately, given the brevity of 1 Enoch 6.1-4, the issue is possibly beyond definitive resolution. I tend to think that Gen 6.1-4 is no abbreviation, and is not deliberately suppressing a form of Watcher/Giant story. For it works fine as an allusion to antediluvian heroes known for their reputation as great warriors and womanizers, and the story makes no reference to giants (that’s a much later development in the reception of Gen 6.1-4, prompted by Deut 1-3/Numbers 13, a tradition that develops and comes later than Gen 6.1-4). There is too much supposition required to make a reasonable case for dependence of Gen 6.1-4 on an earlier version of the Watcher/Giant story. On the other hand, it is an intriguing possibility…

Update 2 (9 January 2018): Jim Davila replies to my first update, and points out rightly that Nephilim did come to connote giants – at least by the time that the Bible was complete, and certainly in Modern Hebrew (based, as Modern Hebrew usually is, on the Bible read as a whole and interpreted over 2000 years). But as for whether the meaning of ‘giant’ is primary or secondary, he’s right also that this issue is a difficult one to resolve. The etymology, too, is uncertain – although I think the better etymology sees it as a reduction of the passive adjective (qaṭīl), קְטִיל, as I explained here: and so ‘fallen [heroes]’, that is, heroes fallen in battle. A third biblical text (in addition to Gen 6 and Num 13) which supports this view is Ezek 32:27, with its closely related group of gîbbōrîm nōflîm (fallen heroes). And a fourth text is the Hebrew of Sir 16:7, with its group of nsyqy qdm (“princes of old”) who also were ‘mighty’ (which Jim & I have discussed before). This all provides something short of conclusive evidence, but enough to make me favour seeing the primary meaning of the Nephilim as legendary or autochthonous heroes or princes famed for heroic deeds, maybe but not necessarily gigantic in stature.

Monster Theory in Biblical Studies

A recent article examines how “monster theory”, first developed within psychoanalysis and anthropology, has been applied to the study of the Hebrew Bible:

Brandon R. Grafius, “Text and Terror: Monster Theory and the Hebrew Bible“, Currents in Biblical Research
16, no. 1 (2017): 34–49.

Grafius discusses giants in a couple of places in the article. First, he briefly mentions Brian Doak’s description of the giants of Numbers 13-14 (from The Last of the Rephaim [2012], pp. 70-81) as typical of explorers’ accounts of their encounter with “monstrous others”. Second, Grafius discusses how “Anathea Portier-Young looks at how 1 Enoch 6–11 uses Gen. 6.1-6 in combination with the Greek myth known as the gigantomachy, in which the ‘uncivilized’ giants wage war against the gods of Olympus” (Apocalypse Against Empire [2011], pp. 18-23). For Portier-Young, according to Grafius’ summary, whereas Greeks had associated barbarian peoples with giants, the author of 1 Enoch 6-11 made the watchers “synonymous with Hellenistic culture”. This is a “critical inversion”! When 1 Enoch 6-11 portrays the giants’ “enormous size and uncontrollable appetite”, it does so as “a sharp critique of Hellenistic culture”. [Note that Grafius confuses his descriptions of the watchers (fallen angels) and their offspring (the giants) in his summary of Portier-Young: it is the giants whose “monstrous appetites cause them to devour all the people’s food, then the people, then each other” (p. 42), not the “watchers” (see 1 Enoch 7.3-5).]

Overall, the article provides a useful introduction to monster theory and its application to Biblical Studies.


Gospel of Peter’s Walking, Talking Cross Again: On Foster’s published response to Goodacre’s unpublished paper

I recently offered an explanation of the weird resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter, in which Jesus expands gigantically from earth to heaven, and his cross ‘walks’ out of his tomb and talks to God (“Whence the Giant Jesus and his Talking Cross? The Resurrection in Gospel of Peter 10.39–42 as Prophetic Fulfilment of LXX Psalm 18“).

During the editing process, I made the decision to cut my original discussion of Paul Foster’s published response to Mark Goodacre’s unpublished interpretation of the resurrection scene in the Gospel of Peter — as it was not quite relevant. In ‘A Walking, Talking Cross or the Walking, Talking Crucified One? A Conjectural Emendation in the Gospel of Peter’ (Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting [Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha Section], London, July 2011), as well as in an earlier blog post, Goodacre had argued for an emendation of σταυρός (‘cross’) to σταυρωθεντα (‘crucified [one]’, i.e. Jesus). Goodacre puts forward the possibility that ‘cross’ in an earlier Greek version of the Gospel of Peter had been written with the nomen sacrum ΣΤΑ. Early Christians often abbreviated certain divine names or titles, which they might have done with ΣΤΑ, which would then have originally stood for σταυρωθέντα (‘the crucified one’). But the scribe of the main surviving copy of the Gospel of Peter (the Akhmîm Fragment) misconstrued ΣΤΑ as σταυρόν (‘cross’). And so, the existence of a walking, talking cross in the Gospel of Peter, according to Goodacre, was the result of a copyist’s error. Goodacre’s proposed conjectural emendation therefore makes the text more ‘sensible’. It means that the Gospel of Peter does not make Jesus’s cross walk and talk, but rather Jesus (as ‘the crucified one’). After all, it would be much less surprising, at least for modern readers, to have a person walking and taking, rather than a cross. So Goodacre’s proposal has some degree of plausiblity.

I have argued in ‘Whence the Giant Jesus’ that the surviving text already makes perfectly good sense as a Christocentric interpretation of LXX Psalm 18. So it was not directly relevant to engage with Goodacre’s quite different alternative — although I did make mention of it. As you might expect, I favour my own explanation, rather than Goodacre’s conjectural solution (I mean, conjectural emendation is a last resort, am I right?)

Yet while Goodacre’s suggestion is only conjectural (without any direct textual support), I do consider that it was internally logical and possible. But Paul Foster disagreed. In a published article, Foster made three main criticisms of Goodacre’s proposal (‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk? A Reconsideration of Gospel of Peter 10.39–42’, JTS 64 [2013] 97–99).

I do not consider any of Foster’s three criticisms at all fatal to Goodacre’s case. That’s what my deleted footnote had discussed, and it may be worthwhile preserving my reasons.

In his published response to Goodacre’s unpublished paper, Paul Foster objects that

(1) the proposed nomen sacrum is rare;

(2) the author would then have inconsistently translated ΣΤΑ as σταυρωθέντα in GPet 13.56; and

(3) the emendation produces a text in which Jesus is simultaneously supported by the two men and walks behind them

(Foster, ‘Do Crosses Walk and Talk?, pp.  97–99).

The first objection, while cogent, is hardly fatal. Plenty of things we see in early Christian texts are rare or unique. This might be a rare case of ΣΤΑ being used for σταυρωθέντα.

The second objection is evidentially neutral, given the Akhmîm Fragment’s tendency to employ other nomina sacra inconsistently, as Goodacre already notes. Foster’s first two objections raise the question of probability, but are far from being decisive.

The third objection misreads Goodacre’s interpretation of the resurrection scene. Goodacre’s interpretation sees the ‘two’ men or angels from heaven not as ‘supporting’ the [crucified] one, but ‘lifting up’ the one (according to Goodacre’s translation of the rare verb ὑπορθοῦντας in GPet 10.39c). Then, the crucified one subsequently follows the two out of the tomb (10.39d). Although Foster’s own interpretation is different, he needed to acknowledge that, on Goodacre’s particular interpretation, the sequence was quite coherent.

Foster goes on to argue that the scene of a mobile, talking cross is not ‘absurd’, as Goodacre stated, given the examples of cross piety in early Christianity, in which the cross is given an independent role as ‘a salvific object’ which is involved in action or gets addressed by other characters. I have some sympathy for the underlying point that this is an example of cross piety, and my own article discusses the cosmic nature of the cross piety in the Gospel of Peter. But Goodacre’s ISBL paper was really only taking its point of departure from the perceived oddness of the content of GPet 10.39-42. His argument, however, is based on text-critical considerations, in particular the Akhmîm Fragment’s late date and the large number of ‘errors, riddles, and puzzles’ it contains (p. 8). Moreover, as Foster had acknowledged in his commentary, the motif of cross piety fails to account for the innovation of a walking and talking cross, which is ‘not typical of the other forms of cross-devotion exemplified in patristic texts’ (Gospel of Peter, 418). Quite right – something more that “cross piety” is required as an explanation for the unique mobile, talking cross of the Gospel of Peter.

Foster’s counter-arguments therefore fail to convince; Goodacre’s case for textual emendation offers a plausible solution for a problematic text, albeit one which relies on recourse to conjectural emendation. I think ultimately that the debate is superseded by the solution I offered. Yet I find Goodacre’s proposal, while not likely, to be internally consistent and logically possible.

David and Goliath: The Very Scary Giant

Sunny Griffin (text) and Donna Lee Hill (illustrations),
David and The Very Scary Giant.
Ashland, OH: Landoll, 1994.

Some children’s books are quite oblique when it comes to explaining what happens to Goliath at the end of the story of David and Goliath. After a very slow build-up, with lots of background about David as a young boy and how he looked after his sheep – David and The Very Scary Giant suddenly gets to the climax:

The text explains that David’s stone killed Goliath. That is, however, the last page. There’s no actual depiction of David killing Goliath, just the expectation in Goliath’s eyes. And there is definitely no head-chopping.