Friday, March 30, 2012

Early Christian Reception of the Sons of God Myth, part III


Augustine rejects a literal interpretation of the sons of God myth in De Civitate Dei. Augustine sees the narrative of Genesis 6:1-4 as the original account of the mingling of the heavenly and earthly cities, when those who had previously organized a society around divine morality and the greater good lapsed into the lesser morality of earthly desire.[1] Augustine is aware of a number of textual issues that arise when comparing the Hebrew text, which he deems to be ambiguous, and the Septuagint, which, in Augustine’s time, had manuscripts that read both οῖ υῖοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ  and aggeloi τοῦ θεοῦ .[2] Augustine appeals to texts in the Bible in which righteous human beings were referred to as angels, thereby providing grounds for a metaphorical interpretation of the text.[3] Augustine identifies the sons of God or angels of God with the line of Seth although he does not provide a rationale for this identification.[4] The description, according to the LXX and old Latin text, of the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of man as giants does not denote any spiritual or otherwise otherworldly character to their fathers. Augustine points to the frequent occurrence of human beings with well above average height.[5]
            Chrysostom offers perhaps the most erudite argument for rejecting a literal interpretation of the sons of God myth, one that retains its merits in light of biblical scholarship. Chrysostom begins by rejecting the identification of the sons of God with angels on textual grounds. While the term “sons of God” appears in other parts of Scripture, at no point is there an explicit identification of the sons of God with the angels of heaven or with the fallen angels.[6]  Chrysostom continues to refute the interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 as an account of angelic descent on the grounds of canonical intertextuality. By Chrysostom’s time, the canon of Scripture is largely set. The canonical account of the fall of angels recorded in the Apocalypse of John implies a fall of the angels before the advent of man in Chrysostom’s interpretation.[7] Finally, Chrysostom dismisses the angelic descent interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 on the grounds that a being created incorporeal cannot become corporal for the sake of having intercourse with a corporal being.[8] Chrysostom identifies the sons of God with the descendents of Seth on the grounds of the use of the term sons of God in other parts of Scripture. Chrysostom, when exegeting the passage in his homilies on Genesis, notes that Scripture applies the term sons of God to human beings.[9] Chrysostom alludes Psalm 29:1, “give to the Lord, o sons of God, glory and power,” and Psalm 82:6-7, “I say to you, you are as gods, you are all sons of God the most high, but you will die like men,” in addition to John 1:23 which says, “Chrysostom explains the term γὶγαντεζ as denoting men of considerable physical stature and ability.[10] Thus, for Chrysostom, the myth of the sons of God is explainable in entirely human terms.
A point of convergence exists between Chrysostom and Theodoret of Cyrus. Chrysostom at one point states that the descendents of Seth were identifiable with the sons of God in virtue of Enosh (Seth’s first born) having started the tradition of calling upon God by name.[11] Chrysostom, however, only makes mention of this interpretation of Seth’s line in passing. Theodoret, however, supplies us with more complete illustration of this argument.
            Theodoret begins with a detailed exegesis of the text of Genesis 6:1-4 that explicitly identifies the sons of God with human beings. The instance in question can be found in Genesis 6:3. Theodoret observes that after the sons of God copulate with the daughters of man, God responds, “my spirit shall not abide in these men forever, for they are flesh; their life span will be one hundred and twenty years.” For Theodoret, this text demonstrates the purely human identity of the sons of God in the Genesis narrative. Had the sons of God been angels, the text would have pointed towards angelic antagonists, rather than specifically mentioning “these men.”[12] Theodoret argues that God’s establishment of a set life-span is only appropriate to human beings, angels being immortal spirits and not subject to a finite duration.[13] Additionally, Theodoret argues that if the narrative recorded a primordial instance of angelic descent, then the narrative would implicitly implicate God with injustice. [14] The narrative, if taken to indicate an instance of angelic dissent, would present the angels as the causative agents of sin resulting in the deluge. Indeed, to Theodoret’s mind, if the sons of God were angels who had descended from heaven, the general evil that grew in God’s sight would have been the result of the angels raping the daughters of man.[15] As such, God would have punished human beings for the transgression of angels creating an instance of divine injustice.[16] Like Chrysostom, Theodoret also points to the instances in Scripture where sons of God is used as an appellation for human beings. In particular, Theodoret interprets Psalm 82:1-2 with its divine council imagery as referring to human beings in its use of the term sons of God,

            “This is the title he gives to rulers, as indicated by what follows: ‘how long will you deliver unjust judgments and take the part of sinners? Judge in favor of the orphan and the poor, give justice to the lowly and the needy.’”[17]


            After having treated of the question regarding the nature of the sons of God, Theodoret progresses to establish the identity of the sons of God via the narrative of Genesis. Theodoret’s identification largely rests upon the variances between the LXX and Masoretic revisions of the text at Genesis 4:26. The Septuagint reads, καὶ τῷ  σηθ  ἐγένετο υἱός ἐπωνόμασεν δὲ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ Eνως οὗτος  ἤλπισεν  ἐπικαλεῖσθαι  τὸ  ὄνομα  κυρίου τοῦ θεοῦ (hoped to be called by the name of the Lord). Whereas the Masoretic text has the more familiar “at that time to invoke/call upon the name of Yahweh.” Theodoret knows of Aquila’s translation of the text, which follows closer to the Masoretic text, although he dismisses Aquila’s translation as a puzzling manner of expressing the same concept as that of the LXX.[18]Following the Septuagint, Theodoret argues that Enosh lived virtuously and was known as “God” among his contemporaries and his offspring were known as sons of God.[19]At this point in Theodoret’s exegesis, the Syriac traditions surrounding the figure of Seth begin to influence his thought. Theodoret presents Seth’s lineage as having isolated itself from the line of Cain until such time as Seth’s progeny found Cain’s line attractive and was lured by the technological innovation.[20]


[1] Augustine. De Civitate Dei. XV.22
[2] Augustine. De Civitate Dei XV.23 Augustine also makes note of Aquila’s translation that read “sons of the gods.”
[3] Augustine. De Civitate Dei.XV.23
[4] Augustine appears to find some significance in the etymology of Seth’s name as it appears in the Biblical text. Augustine describes Seth as a “son of the resurrection,” which appears to play with Eve’s exclamation after his birth in the LXX, ἐξανέστησεν γάρ μοι ὁ θεὸς σπέρμα ἕτερον.
[5] Augustine. De Civitate Dei. XV.23
[6] John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis 22.6
[7] John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis 22.7
[8] John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis 22.7
[9] John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis. 22.8
[10] John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis. 22. 12
[11] John Chrysostom. Homilies on Genesis. 22.8
[12] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 20-25
[13] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 10
[14] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 20-25
[15] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 20-25
[16] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 20-25
[17] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 45-50
[18] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 35-40
[19] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 40
[20] Theodoret of Cyrus. Questions on the Octateuch. On Genesis. Question XLVII. 60-65
copyright the author 2012

Early Christian Reception of the Sons of God Myth, part II


Early Christian Reception



Ireneaus of Lyon cites the sons of God myth in his treatise, Adversus Haerasus. Irenaeus writes,

 “Every knee should bow of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess Him, and that He would exercise judgment toward all; and that, on the other hand, He would send in eternal fire the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and became rebels…”[1]


Irenaeus’ reference to the sons of God myth occurs in the context of a coda of faith that, in his estimation, is subscribed to by all of the confessing churches. In this passage, Irenaeus states the basic tenets of his teaching under the auspices of ecclesiastical authority, including the resurrection, the ascension into heaven and the recapitulation of all things in Christ. This context is significant; Irenaeus contends the myth of the sons of God comprises part of the deposit of faith received by the Apostles and transmitted unerringly by the Church, the profession of which is an indication of orthodox faith. However, Irenaeus does not reveal what rendition of the sons of God myth he holds to be part of the universal deposit of faith. Irenaeus’ reference is ambiguous enough to allude to a myth based around Genesis 6, one that follows I Enoch, or one more along the lines of Revelation. At 1.15.6, Irenaeus provides a citation that clarifies which telling of the fall of the sons of God he holds as part of the apostolic faith,

 “Marcus, maker of idols, observer of portents, skilled in astrology and in all arts of magic, whereby you confirm your erroneous doctrines. Showing wonders to whomever you lead into error, showing the works of the apostate Power, marvels which Satan, your father, teaches you always to perform through the power of angelic Azazel, using you as the precursor of godless evil.”[2]


 The citation of Irenaeus is thought to be from a poem against Marcus written by bishop Pothinus and a close reading provides us with some insight into which understanding of the sons of God myth Irenaeus thought to be canonical in the Church. The poem explicitly portrays Azazel as the agent through whom astrology and magic may be performed by a human being. This portrayal of Azazel follows the character’s appearance in I Enoch closely. Irenaeus’ most extensive citation of the sons of God myth occurs in his minor work, Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. Existing only in Armenian and discovered only in the twentieth century, the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching is designed to be a catechetical treatise, expressing the doctrine of the Church under the authority of the bishop. The following is an expanded citation from the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, containing Irenaeus’ statements on both the fall of Adam and Eve and the fall of the angels,


“This commandment the man kept not, but was disobedient to God, being led astray by the angel who, for the great gifts of God which He had given to man, was envious and jealous of him,47 and both brought himself to nought and made man sinful, persuading him to disobey the commandment of God. So the angel, becoming by his falsehood the author and originator of sin, himself was struck down, having offended against God, and man he caused to be cast out from Paradise. And, because through the guidance of his disposition he apostatized and departed from God, he was called Satan, according to the Hebrew word; that is, Apostate: 48 but he is also called Slanderer. Now God cursed the serpent which carried and conveyed the Slanderer; and this malediction came on the beast himself and on the angel hidden and concealed in him, even on Satan; and man He put away from His presence, removing him and making him to dwell on the way to Paradise 49 at that time; because Paradise receiveth not the sinful…And for a very long while wickedness extended and spread, and reached and laid hold upon the whole race of mankind, until a very small seed of righteousness remained among them: and illicit unions took place upon the earth, since angels were united with the daughters of the race of mankind; and they bore to them sons who for their exceeding greatness were called giants. And the angels brought as presents to their wives teachings of wickedness, in that they brought them the virtues of roots and herbs, dyeing in colours and cosmetics, the discovery of rare substances, love-potions, aversions, amours, concupiscence, constraints of love, spells of bewitchment, and all sorcery and idolatry hateful to God; by the entry of which things into the world evil extended and spread, while righteousness was diminished and enfeebled.”[3]


            The above citation from the Proof of the Apostolic Preaching provides us with Ireneaus’ most detailed appropriation of the sons of God myth. Irenaeus’ follows an expansion of the account in Genesis 6:1-4, including a literal interpretation of angelic descent, procreation with women and production of an offspring of giants. The mention of the sons of God providing humanity with “the virtues of roots and herbs, dyeing in colours and cosmetics, the discovery of rare substances, love-potions, aversions, amours, concupiscence, constraints of love, spells of bewitchment, and all sorcery and idolatry hateful to God,” seems to confirm Irenaeus’ use of I Enoch as a canonical work.
            Tertullian is most explicit in his belief in the fallen angels interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4. In chapter 22 of the Apology, Tertullian writes,

            “We are instructed by our sacred books how from certain angels, who fell by their own free will, there sprang a more wicked demon-brood, condemned of God along with the authors of their race, and that chief we have referred to.”

            Tertullian continues by extrapolating upon the effects of the fallen angels upon humanity, citing them as the source for all forms of physical and spiritual maladies. Tertullian maintains the angels saw the beauty of women and left heaven to copulate with them. The angels revealed numerous hidden arts and sciences that had, at that point in history, not yet been revealed to humanity. Among these arts is the ornamentation of women. The ornamentation of women is, by its nature derived from angels who had abandoned God to satisfy sexual temptation, facilitative of both seduction and apostasy.[4] It is these same sons of God who, according to Tertullian, Paul says Christian’s are to judge at the end of the age.
            In the course of Tertullian’s appeals to the fallen angels myth one finds early indications that the myth was not universally accepted in the early centuries of Christianity. The early skepticism of the myth seems to derive from suspicion surrounding the myth’s relationship to I Enoch. Tertullian writes,

            “I am aware that the Scripture of Enoch, which has assigned this order of action to the angels, is not received by some, because it is not admitted into the Jewish canon either.”


            After acknowledging the objection towards I Enoch on account of the Jewish canon, Tertullian proceeds to argue for the book’s inspiration on account of its authenticity, if not through Enoch himself (the supposed antiquity of the book being a major stumbling block towards its universal acceptance) than through Noah, who Tertullian presumes would have naturally preserved the traditions of his great-grandfather for his posterity after the Flood.[5] The main purpose behind the composition of I Enoch, as contended by the majority of scholarship, was to provide an authoritative interpretation of the enigmatic verses comprising Genesis 6:1-4. Following Tertullian’s argument, the myth, as recorded in I Enoch, of a sexual union between humans and angels has the authority of antiquity.[6]
            Clement of Alexandria utilizes the sons of God myth in his Stromata, although some of the references are subject to a great deal of interpretation. Reed, for instance, identified Stromata I.XVI as containing an allusion to the sons of God myth. The passage discusses the supposed divine origins of Greek philosophy, commenting that certain persons have argued that Greek philosophy was delivered by “certain powers descending from heaven.”[7] Reed’s interpretation presumes philosophy may be considered part of the forbidden knowledge imparted by the sons of God. This interpretation gains more support when considering Stromata V.I where Clement offers his most detailed treatment of the sons of God myth. According Clement, the angels who descended and took wives imparted to them secret knowledge. This knowledge was spread amongst humanity, though without the guidance of divine revelation there could be no assurance that philosophers would discover true doctrine.[8]
Origen, while never disregarding I Enoch as spurious, heretical or uninspired, gradually wavers in his enthusiasm for the book. De Principiis contains Origen’s most unambiguous citation of I Enoch as authentic Scripture. Later in the fourth chapter of De Principiis, Origen quotes directly from the text of I Enoch 21:1 and I Enoch 19:3 in that order.[9] As with the earlier citation of Enoch from De Principiis, Enoch is appealed to in the context of books considered Scripture. However, Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John displays his increasing hesitancy to ascribe full canonicity to I Enoch,

“Let us look at the words of the Gospel now before us. Jordan means their going down. The name Jared is etymologically akin to it, if I may say so; it also yields the meaning going down; for Jared was born to Maleleel, as it is written in the Book of Enoch – if anyone cares to accept that book as sacred – in the days when the sons of God came down to the daughters of men. Under this descent some have supposed that there is an enigmatical reference to the descent of souls into bodies, taking the phrase daughters of men as a tropical expression for this earthly tabernacle.”[10]


Origen’s reference to the Book of Enoch attests to a development in his own use of the sons of God myth. Origen demonstrates knowledge of an allegorical interpretation of the sons of God myth circulating at the time the Commentary on the Gospel of John was composed. Origen does not specify in what circles this interpretation circulates, Jewish or Christian. In this interpretation, however, the sons of God represent human souls descending from heaven and becoming incarnate in human bodies (the daughters of man). Aside from the apparent hesitancy to advocate for the canonicity of I Enoch, Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of John is notable for presenting us with the first example of Origen’s interpretation of the sons of God myth. It is notable that Origen refers to the sons of God and not the angels of God. Origen follows the original text of the Septuagint and the Masoretic text in this reading, as opposed to the angels of God in later redaction of the Greek text or the angels of I Enoch. I believe this indicates the possibility Origen may have primarily utilized Genesis 6:1-4 as the basis for his reading of the angelic descent myth.
Contra Celsum marks the point at which Origen expresses most of his reservations regarding the inspiration of I Enoch. In Contra Celsum, Celsus disputes the uniqueness of Jesus on account of the numerous accounts of angels having descended to earth. Celsus argues that even according to the books Christians hold as sacred, Jesus is not the only celestial being to have descended.[11] It would, in Celsus’ estimation, be impossible to proclaim Jesus as the only one sent from God if there are in Scripture other accounts of angels.[12] Origen argues Celsus has both misinterpreted the books believed inspired by all the churches and also misidentified a book as inspired in all the churches. Origen notes that I Enoch is not universally accepted, therefore removing it from consideration of what constitutes Christian doctrine.[13] During his response to Celsus, Origen refers to the narrative contained in Genesis 6:1-4 when interpreting the myth of angelic descent on account of Genesis universal acceptance. Origen then reprises the interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 stated in his Commentary on the Gospel of John,

“We shall nevertheless even on this point persuade those who are capable of understanding the meaning of the prophet, that even before us there was one who referred this narrative to the doctrine of souls, which became possessed with a desire for the corporeal life of men, and in this metaphorical language, he said, was termed daughters of men.”[14]


            Origen’s interpretation of the sons of God in Contra Celsum offers three points to consider. 1) When concluding this segment of the work, Origen implies there is still some room for interpretation of the meaning behind the narrative in Genesis 6:1-4.[15] 2) Origen understands I Enoch itself to be an interpretation of the text of Genesis 6:1-4, “that even before us there was one who referred this narrative to the doctrine of souls.” 3) Origen utilizes an allegorical interpretation of the myth when the veracity of the incarnation is threatened. Whatever the historical truth behind the dispute with Celsus, Origen adopts the allegorical interpretation after Celsus challenges the affirmation that Jesus is really the Son of God descended to earth.
Athenagoras treats of the myth in his Embassy for Christians. Athenagoras affirms a literal interpretation of the sons of God and daughters of man myth. There are no appeals to Enoch as an authoritative source and, when offering an account of the myth, there are none of the Enochian expansions in his writing. Before addressing the myth of the sons of God, Athenagoras proceeds with a philosophical exposition on the nature of angels. Athenagoras distinguishes God (the Father) from matter, the Son as the intelligence, reason and wisdom of the Father, and the Spirit as an effluence of the Father, “as light from fire.”[16] Angels, conversely, are created in closer proximity to matter, created for the purpose of controlling matter and the forms of matter.[17] Athenegoras writes,

“For this is the office of the angels – to exercise providence for God over the things created and ordered by Him; so that God may have universal and general providence of the whole, while the particular parts are provided for by the angels appointed over them.”


Athenegoras conceives of a transcendent God, impregnable by material creation. For the sustenance of the creation, angels are more immediately related to material creation, being themselves created beings. This distinction permits Athenegoras to interpret the sons of God myth literally. God, being totally outside of matter, cannot commingle with material creation. The angels, however, have been created for the purpose of intimate interaction with matter. The sons of God are angels who abandoned the purpose of their creation,

“These angels fell into impure love of virgins, and were subjugated by the flesh, and became negligent and wicked in the management of the things entrusted to him.”[18]


That the angels were subjugated by the flesh indicates how close to humanity Athenegoras conceives of the angels who fell. Athenegoras assumes the angels who fell remain on earth, unable to return to heaven and, perhaps in an allusion to the punishment of the offspring of the fallen angels, the souls of the giants are transformed into demons.[19]
            Julianus Africanus is the first Christian author in the ante-Nicene period to record a Sethinite/Caininite  interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4. Julians, however, does not reject the literal interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 completely. Rather, Julianus provides several qualifiers that need to be factored into one’s reading of the text in order for a literal interpretation to be possible. Julianus attests to the variant readings of the Greek text between sons of God and angels of God.[20] Julian himself advocates for interpreting the passage as referring to marriage between the tribe of Seth and the tribe of Cain. Seth’s seed are the sons of God due to the lineage of humanity springing from them, eventually climaxing in the birth of Jesus. Cain’s seed, meanwhile, represents the daughters of man on account of their irrelevance to the lineage of Jesus and presumed extermination with the flood.[21] Julianus is the first known Christian interpretation of the sons of God myth that identifies the narrative as concerning the comingling of two different human lines. This being said, Julianus does not reject the literal interpretation of the myth as a viable interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4. Rather, Julianus advises that a literal interpretation must qualify which angels took wives from the daughters of men,

            “But if it is thought that these refer to angels, we must take them to be those who deal with magic and jewelry, who taught the women the notions of the stars and the knowledge of things celestial, by whose power the conceived giants as children.”


            Julianus’ allowance of the literal interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 is the last hospitable reference to such an interpretation in Western Christianity. Among the Nicene and post-Nicene fathers there is a substantial rejection of such an interpretation. Ecclesial writers of the fourth century would prefer a less literal interpretation of the passage in question.


[1] Irenaeus of Lyon. Adversus Haereasus. 1.10.1
[2] Unger held that Irenaeus’ citation is a poem composed by bishop Pothinus. 214
[3] Irenaeus of Lyon. Proof of the Apostolic Preaching. 1.15, 1.17
[4] Tertullian. On the Apparel of Women. II
[5] Tertullian. On the Apparel of Women. III
[6] Tertullian concludes this section of On the Apparel of Women by defending the I Enoch via Christological interpretation. In so far as the book has content that may be interpreted as referring to Jesus Christ, the book pertains to the Church and should be read by the Church. Additionally, Tertullian cites the authority of Epistle of Jude as verifying I Enoch’s inspiration.
[7] Clement of Alexandria.Stromata. I.XVI
[8] Clement of Alexandria. Stromata. V.I
[9] Hessayon, Ariel. Og King of Bashan, Enoch and the Books of Enoch.
[10] Origen. Commentary on the Gospel of John. 25
[11] Origen. Contra Celsum. 5.53
[12] Origen. Contra Celsum. 5.54
[13] Origen. Contra Celsum. 5.54
[14] Origen. Contra Celsum. 5.55
[15] Origen. Contra Celsum. 5.55
[16] Athenegoras. Embassy for Christians. XXIV
[17] Athenegoras. Embassy for Christians. XXIV
[18] Athenegoras. Embassy for Christians. XXIV
[19] Athenegoras. Embassy for Christians. XXV.
[20] Julianus Africanus. II
[21] Julianus Africanus. II
copyright the author  2012

Christian Reception of the Sons of God Myth, part I.


Background – Christian interpretation of the sons of God in Genesis 6


The critical apparatus of the Septuagint demonstrates the redaction history of Genesis 6 in Greek. Aquila and Symmancheus followed a Masoretic text type, οῖ υῖοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ. Codex Alexandrius, however, presents us with aggeloi τοῦ θεοῦ. Whether or not this is an example of mistranslation, interpretation, or an instance of Codex Alexandrius following a different Hebrew manuscript tradition is uncertain. Attempts at critical reconstruction of the earliest Septuagint text largely side with οῖ υῖοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ, noting the textual tradition contained in Codex Alexandrius. Philo of Alexandria demonstrates his own knowledge of the discrepancy among the Greek texts circulating in his time.[1] It is worth noting that the topic of the Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4 and the motif of the fall of the angels is expansive enough to constitute a separate volume. This thesis will restrict itself only to the interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4 that falls within the general trajectory of the orthodox or catholic Christian tradition. Gnostic materials utilized the myth of the fall of the angels in a very different manner and there are many sources available on the Gnostic materials.
           

I Enoch


I Enoch possibly represents the earliest and certainly most detailed explication of the account of the sons of God and the daughters of man in Genesis 6. Only J. T. Milik believed in the possibility that I Enoch represented the preservation of a larger narrative that Genesis truncates into a few lines.
            The account of the fall of the angels begins at I Enoch chapter 6, “In those days, when the children of man had multiplied, it happened that there were born unto them handsome and beautiful daughters. And the angels, the sons of heaven, saw them and desired them; and they said to one another, “Come, let us choose wives for ourselves from among the daughters of man and beget us children.”[2] Comparing the Greek fragments of I Enoch 6 (Gizeh fragments) to the Greek text of Genesis 6, we can note some lexical affinity between the two:

καὶ ἐγένετο ἡνίκα ἤρξαντο οἱ ἄνθρωποι πολλοὶγίνεσθαι ἐπὶ τῆς 
γῆς καὶ θυγατέρες ἐγενήθησαν αὐτοῖς ἰδόντες δὲ οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ τ ὰς θυγατέρας τῶν ἀνθρώπωv ὅτι καλαί εἰσιν ἔλαβον ἑαυτοῖς
γυναῖκας ἀπὸπασῶν ὧν ἐξελέξαντο . (Gen 6:1)

Καὶ ἐγένετο οὗ ἂν  ἐπληθύνθησαν οἱ υἱοὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἐγεννήθησαν ‎‎ θυγατέρες ὡραῖαι καὶ καλαί.  καὶ ἐθεάσαντο αὐτὰς οἱ ἄγγελοι υἱοὶ οὐρανοῦ  καὶ ἐπεθύμησαν αὐτάς , καὶ εἶπαν πρὸς ἀλλήλους  Δεῦτε  ἐκλεξώμεθα ἑαυτοῖς γυναῖκας ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων , καὶ γεννήσομεν ἑαυτοῖς τέκνα. 


The lexical affinities between the two texts, although marred by changes of tense, offer the possibility of some form literary dependency. In particular, the Gizeh fragment of I Enoch appears to take off from the Greek text of Genesis. The justification for utilizing the Greek texts over Hebrew, Aramaic, or Ge’ez texts is largely derived from a combination of missing data and chronology. The Aramaic texts found at Qumran suffer from too many lacunae. Additionally, the Ge’ez texts, both of Genesis and I Enoch, are largely the product of the fifth century at the earliest. By the fifth century, Christianity had been firmly established in Ethiopia; however, most all of our surviving Ge’ez manuscripts are products of the tenth century C.E. Additionally, the Ge’ez text, following the translation tradition of the Septuagint, is likely the product of Greek originals. Thus, the Greek fragments, when they supply a substantial amount of material, are invaluable when discussing the relationship between Genesis 6 and I Enoch 6.
            Syncellus records a major variant of I Enoch 6 that should be noted in this discussion:

Καὶ ἐγένετο ‎ὅτε ‎‎ ἐγεννήθησαν ‎αὐτοις ‎ θυγατέρες ‎ὡραῖαι. ‎ καὶ ἐπεθύμησαν αὐτάς ‎οἱ ἐγρήγοροι καὶ εἶπον πρὸς ἀλλήλους· ‎ἐκλεξώμεθα ἑαυτοῖς γυναῖκας ἀπὸ ‎ τῶν θυγατέρων ‎ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ‎τῆς γῆς.
 

            Syncellus’ recording of I Enoch 6 contains lexical affinity with both the text of Genesis as well as the text of Gizeh fragment. The parallels to the Genesis narrative have, as with the Gizeh fragment, been underlined above. However, Syncellus also records lexical parallels with the expansions in the Gizeh fragment. Syncellus’ reference also provides a Greek translation of the proper name of the group of angels found in the Aramaic fragments in the form of οἱ ἐγρήγοροι.
            The narrative of I Enoch continues by describing the fall of the angels of God. The impetus for the fall of the angels stems from the machinations of two figures, Shemyaza, the figure who encourages the other angels to take human wives, and Azazel who the text identifies as the figure responsible for revealing previously hidden knowledge to humanity, these include the arts of seduction/beautification for women as well as alchemy.[3] Additional angels teach humanity incantation and witchcraft and astrology.[4] As the narrative continues, the consequences of Shemyaza and Azael’s actions are explored. The consequences are recorded in two distinct text units, those of Shemyaza in 7:1-6  and 9:8 and those of Azazel in 9:6-7. I Enoch 7:1-6 details the general fall of angels and states many of the charges leveled against Azazel in the following section as well as provides an account of the origin of the Nephilim. The knowledge revealed by Azazel is later defined in 9:6-7 as the knowledge of every form of oppression according to the Ge’ez text. The Greek text in the Gizeh preserves a variant description of the arcane knowledge revealed by Azazel, καὶ πάντα σὺ ὁρᾷς ἃ ἐποίησεν Ἀζαὴλ, ὃς ἐδίδαξεν πάσας τὰς ἀδικίας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐδήλωσεν τὰ μυστήρια τοῦ αἰῶνος τὰ ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ ἃ ἐπιτηδεύουσιν καὶ ἔγνωσαν ἄνθρωποι. I Enoch eventually distinguishes the two levels of sin comprising the fall of the angels. Shemyaza is guilty of leading the angels to sin against themselves by copulating with women while Azazel is guilty for corrupting humanity with previously occult knowledge.





The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.



The author of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs presumes the authenticity and authority of I Enoch. Simeon addresses his sons with the prophetic and apocalyptic warning: “For I have seen in a copy of the book of Enoch that your sons will be ruined by promiscuity, and they shall injure with a sword the sons of Levi.”[5] As Kee notes, the citation from what the author refers to as the book of Enoch does not appear explicitly in I Enoch, although a similar strain of thought is found 2 Enoch or the Slavonic Enoch.[6]
The Testament of Levi includes the following mention of the book of Enoch, “You shall be scattered as captives among the nations, where you will be a disgrace and a curse. For the house which the Lord shall choose shall be called Jerusalem, as the book of Enoch the Righteous maintains.”[7] As with the reference to the book of Enoch in the Testament of Simeon, there is no correspondence between this reference and the extant Enoch material. It must be noted that the Testament of Levi demonstrates the likely Christian redaction of the final form of the text of the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs as we have it today. We find signs of this redaction at 10:2, “See, I am free of responsibility for your impiety or for any transgression which you may commit until the consummation of the ages, against Christ, the Savior of the world, in leading Israel astray and fomenting great evils against the Lord.”





The sons of God myth in the New Testament


Various portions of the New Testament display knowledge of the sons of God myth, most especially in the manner interpreted by I Enoch. The spirits in prison in I Peter 3:19 refers to I Enoch 10:4-6 and its account of the subsequent punishment given to the angels who sinned. II Peter is more explicit in its evocation of the sons of God myth, εἰ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς
 ἀγγέλων ἁμαρτησάντων οὐκ ἐφείσατο, ἀλλὰ σειροῖς ζόφου ταρταρώσας παρέδωκεν
 εἰς κρίσιν τηρουμένους. II Peter’s allusion to the sons of God myth avoids an explicit citation of I Enoch and appears to refer to a broader interpretative tradition. Conversely, the Epistle of Jude makes explicit citation of I Enoch in its text,

 Ἐπροφήτευσεν δὲ καὶ τούτοις ἕβδομος ἀπὸ Ἀδὰμ Ἑνὼχ λέγων Ἰδοὺἦλθεν Κύριος ἐν ἁγίαις μυριάσιν αὐτοῦ, ποιῆσαι κρίσιν κατὰ πάντων καὶ ἐλέγξι     πάντας τοὺς ἀσεβεῖς περὶ πάντων τῶν ἔργων ἀσεβείας αὐτῶν ὧν 
ἠσέβησαν καὶ περὶπάντων τῶν σκληρῶν ὧν ἐλάλησαν κατ' αὐτοῦ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἀσεβεῖς.[8]

 ὅτι ἔρχεται σὺν ταῖς μυριάσιν αὐτοῦ καὶ τοῖς ἁγίοις αὐτοῦ,  ποιῆσαι κρίσιν κατὰ πάντων, καὶ ἀπολέσει  πάντας τοὺς ἀσεβεῖς, καὶ ἐλέγξει πᾶσαν σάρκα περὶ πάντων  ἔργων τῆς  ἀσεβείας αὐτῶν ὧν ἠσέβησαν καὶ ‎‎σκληρῶν ὧν ἐλάλησαν λόγων, καὶ περὶ πάντων ὧν κατελάλησαν κατ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἁμαρτωλοὶ ἀσεβεῖς.[9]


Jude makes a comparatively complete citation of I Enoch 1:9, with minor changes from the Greek text found in the Gizeh fragments. Whereas both of the Petrine allusions leave some room for interpretation as to whether or not the authors are appealing to I Enoch or a general myth of the sons of God popular in Jewish interpretations of Scripture, Jude appears to have either possessed a copy of or memorized I Enoch and appeals to its rendition of the sons of God/fallen angels myth as authoritative.


[1] Reed has opined that Philo’s mention of this variance among the Greek text of Genesis circulating in the 1st century indicates the possibility of the Greek text having been redacted to reflect the popularity of the fallen angels myth in Second Temple Judaism. During Philo’s time, texts such as I Enoch and other pseudepigrapha which developed the sons of God and daughters of man in Genesis 6. Reed presumes the popularity of these texts and the fallen angel myth contained therein led to a “correction” of the Greek text so as to reflect the widespread interpretation of Genesis 6. The implication in Reed’s hypothesis is that aggeloi τοῦ θεοῦ is more explicit in conveying the fall of angels and the resulting offspring between angels and women than οῖ υῖοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ, which allows for an array of interpretations. The variety of interpretations possible with οῖ υῖοὶ τοῦ θεοῦ may be seen when analyzing Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. Whether or not Justin records an authentic dialogue is debatable. However, in the character of Trypho, Justin records a popular interpretation among Jews in the early second century C.E. that connected the sons of God of Genesis six with human figures via proof texting through Psalm 95. In concluding the discussion of the Septuagint version of the text, it is worth noting the old Latin text. The old Latin text follows the text of the Septuagint, angeli dei. Only with Jerome’s translation work in the fourth century did the Latin text follow a masoretic tradition.
[2] I Enoch 6:1-2
[3] I Enoch 6:3, 8:1
[4] I Enoch 8:3
[5] Testament of Simeon 5:4. As
[6] See editorial notes to The Testament of Twelve Patriarchs 786
[7] Testament of Levi 10:5
[8] Jude 1:14-15
[9] I Enoch 1:9
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Traditions of Seth part II - Christian Traditions.


Seth in Christian Literature



Seth appears as figure of interest in both orthodox and Gnostic sources. The Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians, found among the Nag Hammadi codices, is a Christian-Gnostic text extrapolating on the figure of Seth.[1] Bohlig and Wisse, in their critical edition of the text in Brill’s edition of the Nag Hammadi Codices, note the possibility of the ancient Egyptian pantheon influencing the portrayal of Seth in the text. Bohlig and Wisse hypothesis that the Gnostic tendency to find an esoteric good in an exoteric evil figure.[2] There is possibility that Seth’s character in the Gospel of the Egyptian’s is meant to correspond to the Egyptian god Set/Seth, the traditionally evil god being reinterpreted by the third son of Adam.[3] Bohlig and Wisse appeal to evidence of attempts to rehabilitate Set among the Egyptian pantheon of gods in Egyptian magical texts and note that where Set was associated with sodomy in Egyptian religion, the seed of Seth are said to dwell in the “holy” city of Sodom.[4]
As Layton notes, the Gospel of the Egyptians recounts the standard Gnostic creation myth, expanding upon the role of the invisible spirit as progenitor of a separate Gnostic universe and the establishment of the Gnostic church.[5] The great Seth, the pre-existent savior, manifests in human history three times, culminating in Jesus’ adoption by Seth.[6] Seth of the Hebrew Bible appears as a son of the great Seth, the pre-existent savior. Earthly Seth’s primary role in the text is as the source of an incorruptible race of celestial origins. Adamas prays for a son who will become “the father of the immovable and incorruptible race and because of it the silence and the voice may appear and that because of it the dead aeon may raise itself so that it may dissolve.”[7] The Logos descends from the invisible spirit and begins the series of heavenly processions to the material world leading to the creation of the earthly Seth and his eventual progeny.[8] Seth is the product of a cosmic union; the great invisible Seth copulated with the earthly aeons of Sodom and Gomorrah, producing the incarnation of his seed.[9] Seth’s line is a link between the natural world and the supernatural world, directly produced by the emanations of the original invisible spirit.
            Seth is also seen as the guardian of sacred knowledge in the Gnostic tradition.
The Three Tablets of Seth purport to be the record of the great Patriarch’s witness to the Gnostic myth. Layton notes the notion of “tablets” or “steles” has the connotation of a gigantic stone slab set up in the city and containing public records. This imagery has immediate parallels to the Jewish tradition recorded by Josephus. Another Jewish legend concerning Seth’s transmission of primordial sacred knowledge is found in the Life of Adam and Eve. Eve instructs her surviving children to record all they have seen and heard of their parents’ lives for their future offspring. After Eve’s death, Seth commits himself to the task of constructing the tablets requested by Eve. Seth makes the tablets in both stone and clay to survive the various punishments God may send upon the earth. According to the Life of Adam and Eve, the arcane sacred knowledge passed on from Seth formed the basis of the Solomon’s wisdom.[10]
            The Secret Book of John briefly describes Seth as the product between Adam and his essence, Eve.[11] The Secret Book of John describes Seth as the result of a divine human union, the Mother having sent the Spirit down to awaken Adam’s essence in Eve. The end result is the text’s affirmation that Seth is the seed according to an eternal race.[12] The Hypostases of the Archons parallels the notion of Seth’s being produced by a human-divine union, going so far as to claim Seth is not the offspring of Eve, but of Eve’s spiritual and superior counterpart who had originally been present in Adam as a heavenly androgenen but fled when the lower material powers were preparing to corrupt Adam.[13] Throughout the surviving Sethian Gnostic texts the theme of Seth as the source of a separate (Gnostic) and quasi-divine race is apparent.[14] Another theme frequently explored by these same texts is Seth as an illuminator of secret knowledge. In the Apocalypse of Adam, Seth is portrayed as receiving revelations from his father Adam which he is then charged with passing on to his seed.[15] Seth’s role as a revelator of secret knowledge may also be depicted in the Three Steles of Seth, upon which Seth writes praises of the true God.
            Orthodox Christian speculation on the person of Seth was largely reserved to the Syrian church. Jurgen Tubach has presented a fine summary of the Syrian evidence in his article Seth and the Sethites in Early Syriac Literature. Ephrem’s commentary on Genesis attests to a tradition in which Seth and his seed originally lived in a region separate from the offspring of Cain. Seth had originally bound his descendents to a promise to never leave their dwelling. Eventually, Seth’s descendents break this promise, and enter the lands of Cain’s descendents, where, enticed by the inventions of Jubal and the produce of Jabal, eventually settle and marry with Cain’s descendents.[16] Ephrem identifies the sons of God as the descendents of Seth and the daughters of man as the descendents of Cain. Ephrem does not completely reject a literal interpretation of the Genesis 6 narrative. Ephrem attests to a belief in human beings of extraordinary size resulting from the sexual relations between the Sethite and Cainite lines. Ephrem interprets Cain’s line as having lived off of the food from “cursed” ground and therefore unable to acquire proper nutrition. Seth’s line, meanwhile, enjoyed better yield from the land and better nutrition. The sons of Seth possessed a natural physical prowess over the sons of Cain and pass this trait onto the progeny between the two lines.[17]
The Spelunca thesaurum, the Cave of Treasures, is ,according to Tubach, a compilation of early Syriac traditions concerning Seth predating the writings of Ephrem.[18] The Cave of Treasures describes Seth as perfect as Adam, which Tubach interprets as indicating that Adam’s likeness to God was passed on to Seth.[19] This description of Seth as possessing Adam’s likeness to God is then complicated by the affirmation that Seth and all of his descendents were giants.[20] Seth receives burial instructions from Adam as well as a warning to never marry into Cain’s line.[21] After Adam’s death and burial, the Cainites migrate to live on the plains and the Sethites migrate to a mountain adjacent to Eden where they live a life pleasing to God.[22] The Sethites engage in morning lauds, climbing to the summit of the mountain to sing with the angels of God.[23] Eventually, Seth’s descendents migrate down from the mountain to the plains inhabited by Cain’s line and are enticed into leaving their segregated life by the innovations of the Cainites.[24]


[1] Stroumsa and MacRae both note the centrality of the concept of the seed of Seth was one of the earliest elements in Gnostic mythology
[2] Bohlig and Wisse. The Gospel of the Egyptians. Nag Hammadi Codices. 35 Werkel has also advanced a similar view, Werkel “Die drei Stelen des Seth.”  It should be noted, however, that Pearson strongly critizes this view, noting that if Seth and the Egyptian God Set are meant to be identifiable in the Gnostic texts, there should have been some assimilation of Set’s tendencies unto the character of Seth.
[3] Bohlig and Wisse. 35
[4] Bohlig and Wisse. 35
[5] Layton. The Holy Book of the Great Invisible Spirit. The Gnostic Scriptures. 101 The tractate concludes with an account of the Gnostic baptism and thus reception into the Gnostic church.
[6] Layton.
[7] The Gospel of the Egyptians. III:51:9-10
[8] The Gospel of the Egyptians. III:53:12-III:54:10
[9] The Gospel of the Egyptians. III:71:9
[10] Life of Adam and Eve. 51:3-7
[11] Secret Book of John 63:12-64:3
[12] Pearson. “Seth in Gnostic Literature.” 481
[13] Hypostases of the Archons 89,7. See also Luttikhuizen 215
[14] Peasron sees the concept of Seth as the progenitor of the Gnostic race as having affinity with Philo’s thought in De Post. Caini. “Again, commenting on the term ἕτερον σπέρμα in Gen 4:25, Philo says that Seth is the ‘seed of human virtues sown from God.’ For Philo, therefore, all virtuous men are of the race of Seth.”
[15] Apocalypse of Adam. 85:19-24 Pearson argues argues that this theme of Seth passing on secret knowledge to his seed is depicted in the Gospel of the Egyptians’ narrative of Seth hiding away a secret book atop a mountain. (III 68:1-3)
[16] Tubach, Jurgen. Seth in Early Syriac Literature. 190
[17] Tubach, Jurgen. Seth in Early Syriac Literature. 190
[18] Tubach, Jurgen. 194
[19] Tubach, Jurgen. 194
[20] Tubach, Jurgen. 194
[21] Tubach, Jurgen. 196
[22] Tubach, Jurgen. 196
[23] Tubach, Jurgen. 196
[24] Tubach, Jurgen. 197
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