Morality, Halakha and the Jewish Tradition,
God in All Seasons, and Holocaust and Return to Zion: A Study in Jewish Philosophy of Histo-
And it came to pass when man began to multiply on the face of the
(benei elohim) saw the daughters of men that they were goodly
(tovot) and they took for themselves wives from whomsoever they
chose. And the Lord said, 'My spirit shall not abide in man for ever
for he also is flesh therefore shall his days be 120 years.' The
Nephilim were in the earth in those days and also after that when the
sons of God came unto the daughters of men and they bore them
children, they were the mighty men that were of old the men of re-
nown. And the Lord saw that this wickedness of man was great upon
After this we are told God regrets He made man and decides to bring a
great destruction upon the world. This has to be one of the most obscure yet
tantalizing biblical narratives. It is also a very important passage. This is so
because, as one can see from the above, immediately after these events, we
are told that the Creator reduces the human life span to 120 years and then
decides to blot out all living things from the face of the earth and start all
over again with Noah and his family.
In order to gain some understanding of what it was that would generate
such fateful consequences, the following questions must be dealt with:
1) Who are these "sons of God" and "daughters of men"?
2) What is meant by "goodly" and why do these sons of God seem to be sur-
prised that these "daughters of men", as a group, are "goodly"?
3) There seems to be an element of surprise in "and they bore them children".
JEWISH BIBLE QUARTERLY
4) What is the connection between the Nephilim (a race of very tall people,
interpretations given over the years to these passages, as follows:
1) The benei elohim were celestial beings such as angels.
(which is really the image of elohim) and called his name Seth (Gen. 5:3).
This seems to imply that in some important sense Seth reflected the "likeness
and image" of God more so than Adam's other offspring.
3) Benei elohim refers to certain people, then considered an elite class, either
physical appearance and technologically advanced.
5) Benei elohim refers to individuals who claimed to be Nephilim, demigods,
of either their physical strength or beauty or aggressive nature. These are the
"tyrants" or "heroes" of mythology.
non of humans claiming to be descended from the gods has been well docu-
mented as characterizing certain periods in human history. Additionally, this
is consistent with the view that the intention of the text in these early chapters
of Genesis is to give a theological interpretation to the conventional wisdom
regarding the history of man.
I question, however, whether any of the above interpretations really fit into
edgement that His creation has been a failure. God is disappointed not only
by the behavior of human beings but by all living things (Gen. 6:7, 6:17). It
seems that the entire genetic process which had been designed to reproduce
"after its kind" had gone awry. According to the Rabbis, creatures of one kind
were mating with creatures of another kind to give birth to monstrosities of
both size and predatory nature.
This could be seen as a possible way of rec-
Thus, as a result of the mabul,
Vol. 40, No. 1, 2012
weather cycles were adjusted to become the kind of environment we are fa-
In light of all this, to read the story of the sons of god and
status to the detriment of others seems to be too 'tame' to justify the drastic
reaction of the Creator. The context of these passages, a prelude and contrib-
uting cause of the mabul, suggests a more radical and far reaching break in
Recent discoveries regarding the fossil evidence of hominids have suggest-
ed what might be a more appropriate interpretation of Gen. 6:1-5. The gen-
eral consensus holds that modern man, homo sapiens (the "man" adam that
appears in Gen. 1 and 2), first appears in the fossil record in Africa and soon
after that in the north of Israel some 100,000 years ago. However, fossils of
earlier forms of the human, called homo erectus and Neanderthal Man, ap-
peared as early as 1.5 million years ago. Until recently it was believed that
evolved gradually from its earlier ancestor, Neanderthal Man,
who had since become extinct. However, discoveries in 1988 in the Kebara
caves on Mt. Carmel and in the Qafzeh cave near the Kinneret indicated that
did not evolve from the Neanderthals but that both co-existed
for a very long time. Scientists are not agreed as to what was the relationship
between these two groups. Did they fight each other over available re-
sources? Did they mate with one another?
Recent scientific evidence shows
ern, non-African human genome is in fact derived from Neanderthals.
I wish to suggest that Genesis 6:1-5 is referring to this pre-historical phe-
(daughters of men) are the female Neanderthals. For a long time each group
kept to itself, with homo sapiens because of their superior endowments de-
veloping rapidly from hunter gatherers to cultivators of grain and domestica-
tors of animals. Then at one point homo sapiens realize that Neanderthal
women are "goodly", that they can be useful in all sorts of ways and so begin
rapaciously to abduct them, "to take for themselves wives from whomsoever
they chose" and to mate with them. We have no idea exactly what emerged
from such interbreeding but apparently in some cases it led to a sort of
'giantism', Nephilim and benei anak, who proceeded to terrorize and tyran-
This interpretation brings the antediluvial human condition into line with
breakdown in the genetic process. Was the fraternity of the two hominid
groups to continue, the progressive development of homo sapiens would be
threatened. In any event, human society could not possibly thrive in an envi-
ronment dominated by the likes of these monstrosities. And so the Creator,
"regretting what He had made" decides to start over again with the best of the
old human stock, a scaled down animal kingdom, and a stable and more
friendly environment in the hope that this time man will get it right.
In the farewell Song of Moses, the Creator is called an el emunah (Deut.
32:4) translated as "a God of faithfulness", to which the Rabbis added, "He is
a God of faith - He had faith in the world and therefore created it."
2. This is the view of Ibn Ezra, David Kimhi and Yehudah Halevi (Kuzari 1:95).
3. See Rashi: "Elohim is often used to denote 'prominence' or 'powerful'". See Exodus 21:6,
where elohim means 'a judge'.
4. See commentary of Shmuel David Luzatto.
5. See commentary of Meir Leibush Malbim.
6. Similarly, chapter 11 of Genesis may be seen as the Bible's interpretation of a well-
documented period in Mesopotamian history in which their culture was based upon the tower-
like structure called a ziggurat.
7. TB Sanhedrin 108a.
8. According to this view, one of the purposes of the mabul was to rid the world of those reptili-
an monsters. See Netziv, Ha’amek Davar to Genesis 7:23.
9. Genesis 8:22.
10 Newsweek, Oct. 16, 1989. Recent discoveries indicate that the Neanderthals were not as stu-
pid as earlier thought. They had the grace to bury their dead and, after all, were able to survive
for many thousands of years.
11. Green, Richard E. et al.: J; Briggs, A.W.; Maricic, T.; Stenzel, U.; Kircher, M.; Patterson, N.;
Li, H. et al. (2010), "A Draft Sequence of the Neanderthal Genome", Science, 328 (5979): pp.
710–722, also reported in the International Herald Tribune, May 14, 2010, page 7.
12. Sifri on Deuteronomy 32:4