In this weeks hangout our group of scholars discussed the numerous interesting things related to the Pentateuch. One of the more fascinating things they talked about was material found inside the Old Testament that is frankly a little weird. Not all of this comes out of the Pentateuch but it is certainly worth looking at. These stories aren’t just weird to us today either, brought up in the discussion are 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees which are extra-canonical books that deal with, in part, these stories found within the canon.
The first these stories that is brought up is from Genesis 6:1-4 in which “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown” (Gen. 6:4). Next, we leave the Pentateuch and head over to Daniel 4:13-23 in which celestial beings known as “the watchers” are referenced.
Both of these stories hint at the idea of a divine council which is explicitly named in numerous other places in the Old Testament. The divine council is the court of the gods in which, in the Hebrew tradition, YHWH sits at the head of. These gods can be interpreted as not truly being gods, but angels, but that is something to wrestle with. Of course the first story also deals with these members of the divine council sleeping with humans and having children who are neither gods nor human called the Nephilim. Odds are, this isn’t going to be preached about on Sunday morning.
Personally I am fascinated by these brief mentions of the Nephilim and the watchers, along with any mention of the cherubim or the seraphim in the scriptures. These figures are usually interpreted as being different types of angels (although the Nephilim don’t really fit into this category). But I think it’s amazing and should be embraced that our scriptures have references to things similar to other ancient traditions. In other traditions we would call them mythological creatures like the Titans in Greek mythology. We see these repeatedly in scripture from all the above mentioned creatures to leviathan and Rahab (not the person), as well as the numerous mentions of dragons that come up in scripture. I won’t tell anybody how to interpret these different creatures. But I find them fascinating and wish we could talk about them more.