Divine Transgression


Chapters 12 and 13 jointly deal with the same subject matter: the sons of God episode in Gen 6:1-4 and the nephilim. Nevertheless, this site treats them separately.  Note that the nephilim are linked to the giant clans of later biblical history (i.e., the era of the conquest). Discussion of the giant clans and nephilim connections are the subject of Chapters 23, 24, and 25.


The focus of Chapter 12 is flawed interpretations of Genesis 6:1-4 and the fact that the New Testament writers Peter and Jude both presume a supernatural view of the episode. The ancient Near Eastern background of the passage and the meaning of the term nephilim are the focus points of Chapter 13.


Bibliography included in the book


Annette Yoshiko Reed, Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)


Peter H. Davids, The Letters of 2 Peter and Jude (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006)


Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries 18; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987)


Jerome H. Neyrey, 2 Peter, Jude: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Yale Bible 37C; New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008)


G. Mussies, “Titans,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed. (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; Leiden; Boston; Cologne; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999)


G. Mussies, “Giants,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed. (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; Leiden; Boston; Cologne; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999)


David M. Johnson, “Hesiod’s Descriptions of Tartarus (Theogony 721–819),” The Phoenix 53:1-2 (1999): 8–28


J. Daryl Charles, “The Angels under Reserve in 2 Peter and Jude,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 15.1 (2005): 39–48


George W. E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch 1–36, 81–108 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001)


Pieter G. R. de Villiers, ed., Studies in 1 Enoch and the New Testament (= Neotestamentica 17; Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch Press, 1983)


Richard J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude (Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, 1998)


James C. VanderKam, “1 Enoch, Enochic Motifs, and Enoch in Early Christian Literature,” in The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity (ed. James C. VanderKam and William Adler; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 33–101


Archie T. Wright, The Origin of Evil Spirits: The Reception of Genesis 6:1–4 in Early Jewish Literature (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 198, second series; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013)


Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “The ‘Angels’ and ‘Giants’ of Genesis 6:1–4 in Second and Third Century BCE Jewish Interpretation: Reflections on the Posture of Early Apocalyptic Traditions,” Dead Sea Discoveries 7.3 (2000): 354-77


Ida Fröhlich, “Theology and Demonology in Qumran Texts,” Henoch 32.1 (2010): 101-128


Hermann Lichtenberger, “Spirits and Demons in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Holy Spirit and Christian Origins: Essays in Honor of James D. G. Dunn (ed. James D. G. Dunn, Graham Stanton, Bruce W. Longenecker, and Stephen C. Barton; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 22–40


Ida Frölich, “Mesopotamian Elements and the Watchers Traditions,” in The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions (ed. Angela Kim Hawkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John Endres; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 11–24


Amar Annus, “On the Origin of the Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 19.4 (2010): 277–320

  •  In my judgment, this is the most important article to date on Gen 6:1-4. It supersedes all work done on the Mesopotamian backdrop — work which frankly pales in comparison to the data that Annus brings to bear on the passage. Annus shows with great clarity how the Mesopotamian apkallu traditions are the backdrop to Gen. 6:1-4 (and therefore the supernatural backdrop against which it was written and must be understood), along with how Second Temple Jewish writers comprehended the Mesopotamian backdrop. Subsequent Christian tradition (i.e., the church fathers) knew nothing of this backdrop, and so early church interpretations that produced the Sethite view violate the text’s original context. The same goes for other approaches that ignore the apkallu context. We are either going to interpret Scripture in its own context or not.
  • See below on Kvanvig and Drawnel as well.
  • Annus’ work and conclusions have been strengthened by detailed work on one item he brings up but does not develop — the connections between the giant offspring and the evil spirits (demons) in the Akkadian bilingual texts known as Utukkū Lemnūtu. Those texts are the focus of Drawnel’s article in the additional bibliography (“The Mesopotamian Background of the Enochic Giants and Evil Spirits”). Here is the abstract for Drawnel’s essay:

In the myth of the fallen Watchers (1 En. 6–11) the giants, illegitimate offspring of the fallen angels, are depicted as exceedingly violent beings that consume the labour of all the sons of men. They also kill men, devour them, and drink blood. Finally, they sin against all the animals of the earth. The violent behaviour of the giants in 1 En. 7:2–5 continues in 1 En. 15:11 where the spirits of the giants attack humanity, thus it appears that the spirits behave in a manner similar to that of the giants. The present article argues that the description of the giants in 1 En. 7:2–5 and their spirits in 15:11 is modeled after the violent behaviour of the demons found in the Mesopotamian bilingual series Utukkū Lemnūtu. The giants, therefore, are not to be identified with the Mesopotamian warrior-kings, but their behaviour rather indicates that they actually are violent and evil demons.


 Additional Bibliography


James C. VanderKam, “Genesis 6:2-4 and the Angel Stories in The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36),” in The Fallen Angels Traditions: Second Temple Developments and Reception History (ed. Angela Kim Harkins, Kelley Coblenz Bautch, and John C. Endres, S.J.; Catholic Biblical Monograph Series 53; Washington, D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Association, 2014), 1-7


Angel Kim Harkins, “Elements of the Fallen Angels Traditions in the Qumran Hodayot,” in The Fallen Angels Traditions: Second Temple Developments and Reception History (ed. Angela Kim Harkins, Kelley Coblenz Bautch, and John C. Endres, S.J.; Catholic Biblical Monograph Series 53; Washington, D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Association, 2014), 8-24


Eric F. Mason, “Watchers Traditions in the Catholic Epistles,” in The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions (ed. Angela Kim Hawkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John Endres; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 69-80


Helge Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic: An Intertextual Reading (Journal for the Study of Judaism Supplement 149; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2011)

  • In addition to Annus, this is the major resource for thinking about the Mesopotamian context of Gen 6:1-4. Any work on Gen 6:1-4 that seeks to defend a non-supernaturalist view and does not seriously interact with the treatment of the original context for the passage discussed by Annus and Kvanvig via primary sources  can be safely ignored.
  • This title runs over five pages and is very expensive. Some of the material in regard to Mesopotamia, the Watchers traditions, and Genesis 6 has been published in an article by Kvanvig:
    •  Helge Kvanvig, “The Watcher Story and Genesis: An Intertextual Reading,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 18:2 (2004): 163-183


S. B. Parker, “Sons of (The) God(s),” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed. (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; Leiden; Boston; Cologne; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999)


Henryk Drawnel, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Enochic Giants and Evil Spirits,” Dead Sea Discoveries 21:1 (2014): 14-38


J. L. Cunchillos Ylarri, “Los bene haʾelohîm en Gen. 6, 1–4,” Estudios Bíblicos 28 (1969): 5–31


G. Cooke, “The Sons of (the) God(s),” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 35 (1964): 22–47


David J. A. Clines, “The Significance of the ‘Sons of God’ Episode (Genesis 6: 1-4) in the Context of the ‘Primeval History’ (Genesis 1-11),” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 13:3 (1979): 33-46


Willem A. VanGemeren, “The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4 (An Example of Evangelical De-Mythologization?),” Westminster Theological Journal 43:2 (1981): 320-348


John J. Collins, “The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men,” in Sacred Marriages: The Divine-Human Sexual Metaphor from Sumer to Early Christianity (ed. Marti Nissinen and Risto Uro; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 259-274


H. J. Lawlor, “Early Citations from the Book of Enoch,” Journal of Philology 25 (1897) 164–225


James C. VanderKam, “The Interpretation of Genesis in 1 Enoch” in The Bible at Qumran: Text, Shape, and Interpretation (ed. Peter W. Flint, and Tae Hun Kim; Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature; Grand Rapids, MI; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 129-149


Robert C. Newman, “The Ancient Exegesis of Gen. 6:1-4,” Grace Theological Journal 5:1 (1984): 13-36





There are two related items to briefly emphasize with respect to this chapter:


(1) The fact that the early church embraced a supernatural view of Gen 6:1-4 until the time of Julius Africanus and Augustine (whose lives overlapped, with Africanus preceding Augustine). What is now called the Sethite view originated with Africanus and was popularized by Augustine, whose stature in the early church transformed the view into dogma.

(2) Authorities other than (and earlier than) Augustine defended the supernaturalist view of Gen 6:1-4 in part on the Enochic traditions (1 Enoch) of early Jewish literature.


These items need to be discussed in tandem.


Augustine, like nearly all the church fathers, didn’t know Hebrew and had no access (linguistic or otherwise) to the primary source material from Mesopotamia that provides the original ancient Near Eastern context for correctly parsing Gen 6:1-4. Rather than belabor this obvious point, it is likely of more interest to readers to get some exposure to what early church leaders prior to Augustine.


Augustine’s opposition to the supernaturalist view of Gen 6:1-4 that is found in the book of 1 Enoch was not based on exegesis (again, he neither knew Hebrew nor had access to other relevant primary sources). Rather, it likely stems from his opposition to Manichean teachings (a religious sect of which he was once a member that was an amalgamation of other religions, among them Christianity). The Manicheans held 1 Enoch in high regard. After Augustine rejected the sect, any regard for 1 Enoch was left behind. Earlier authorities in the church forcefully disagreed.


Scholars have looked into the early church’s attitude toward 1 Enoch and its supernaturalist view of Gen 6:1-4. Here are some quotations of interest:


Kvanvig (p. 165; see the above article in the additional bibliography):


In early Christianity the authority of the Enochic scriptures was defended by influential theologians such as Irenaeus, Tertullian and Origen, although they knew that the authority of these scriptures was not recognised in all churches. The authority of Enoch was then strongly denounced by Augustin [sic] in “the City of God”, which most possibly was one of the reasons why the book went out of use and was long forgotten in the western Church.


Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch (ed. Klaus Baltzer; Hermeneia—a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2001)


Tertullian and Origen, in particular, turned to the primordial prophet as an authority to undergird their teaching. In time, however, the fortune of the Enochic traditions waned in catholic Christianity under the influence of Augustine, the church’s increasing proclivity for philosophical theology, and the widespread use of the texts in heretical circles (p. 83)


More generally, for a discussion of citations and allusions to 1 Enoch in the New Testament, see Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch: A Commentary, 83-87. For Nickelsburg’s survey of early orthodox Christian writers who cited or alluded to 1 Enoch, see pp. 87-95. Nickelsburg summarizes the data as follows:

Certain writers in the second and third centuries accepted at least parts of the Enochic corpus as Sacred Scripture authored by the prophet Enoch. The appeal to Enochic authority is explicit in Jude, Barnabas, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Other authors, although they do not invoke Enoch’s name, employ material of Enochic provenance to provide an authoritative explanation for the presence of evil in the world. Some of them cite a form of the tradition that is alluded to but not explicated in 1 Enoch, viz., the idea that the angels were sent to earth for the benefit of humanity and only subsequently sinned with the women (Papias, Justin, Athenagoras, Lactantius, Commodianus, Rufinus, and Pseudo-Clement). Close comparison of the texts may indicate common usage of some single tradition or dependence of one writer on another. It is uncertain whether the tradition was known to some or all of these authors with its pseudonymous (Enochic) identity or in an anonymous form. In any case, these authors recount or allude to the stories as accurate explanations of how things are and how they came to be. . . . (p. 101)


Alongside these teachers of the early church is the vast majority who ignore or do not use the Enochic material or polemicize against it. The first explicit evidence for the rejection of Enochic authority appears in Tertullian and Origen, who acknowledge that the texts on which they base some of their conclusions are not held in regard by a majority, perhaps, of the churches. The voice of some of these dissenters is heard in Hilary of Poitiers, Jerome, and Augustine.


The reasons for denying the authority of the Enochic writings were doubtless complex, and one should distinguish expressed reasons from possible real reasons. Origen, who wishes to cite Enoch, indicates some nervousness about the fact that these texts are not Sacred Scripture for the Jewish community. The issue had already been raised by Tertullian. Possibly this reflects the kind of reasoning that Jerome would express a century later with reference to the Apocrypha (Preface to Samuel and Kings). Jerome, who calls 1 Enoch “apocryphal,” dismisses it because the story of the watchers was a source for Manichaean heresy. For Augustine the text is also apocryphal, and he is skeptical about its authenticity. Perhaps this is a judgment after the fact on a text with which he was particularly uncomfortable because of its popularity among the Manichaeans, whose teachings he had first accepted and then rejected. Certainly, the gnostic and Manichaean use of Enochic material did not boost the book’s popularity among orthodox writers. . . . (pp. 101-102)


As an explanation of the origins of evil, the story of the watchers was bound, for a variety of reasons, to hasten the demise of Enochic authority. First, one had to relate the story to the chronological priority of the Eden story (cf. Epiphanius). Genesis 6:1–4* sits uncomfortably in the sequence between Genesis 1–5 and the flood story. Because they do not recapitulate the whole of primordial history (with the exception of the Animal Vision), the Enochic writings all but ignore the Eden story and thus identify the watchers as the source of all substantial evil. Second, other myths competed with the story of the watchers as explanations for the origin of sin and evil. . . . The increasing emphasis on Adam (and Eve) as the cause of all sin is adequately documented in both Jewish and Christian literature such as 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, the Books of Adam and Eve, Romans 5, Irenaeus, and Augustine. Irenaeus is an interesting case in point. He knows the story of the watchers and accepts the authenticity of its Enochic provenance, but, different from Justin, Athenagoras, and others, he does not use the story to explain the origin of a demonic kingdom. At the same time, he develops a complex Adam/Christ typology from a Pauline nucleus. Third, and related to this, is the tension between a myth that emphasizes human responsibility and one that focuses on the demonic victimization of humanity. One wonders to what extent Augustine’s rejection of the story of the watchers is a function of his development of an anthropologically oriented doctrine of original sin. (p. 102)

The note to a development in the priority of “Adam material” in regard to an explanation for depravity is especially interesting since the Old Testament never references Genesis 3 as the cause of human depravity. Instead, it is Genesis 6:5 that makes the sweeping statement about depravity. This is one reason why Second Temple Jewish literature lays the problem of evil at the feet of Genesis 6:1-4, not Genesis 3. In my view, this makes sense, though the result of Genesis 3 — human mortality / inability to holy / being driven from the presence of God — is certainly part and parcel of the human condition of needing salvation and being completely unable to merit salvation in any way.


VanderKam, “The Interpretation of Genesis in 1 Enoch” (see additional bibliography above):


The angel story seems bizarre to us, and we may wonder why anyone would have believed it. Whatever our reactions may be today, a surprisingly large number of Jewish and Christian writers did take it seriously and found it to be a convincing explanation of scriptural passages and of the human situation. They were able to apply the authoritative story to a number of ends. One of the major purposes that the different forms of the story served was as a basis for preaching or exhortation. As we have seen, the angel tale offered an explanation for the extraordinary evil before the flood that required such drastic punishment, and accounted for the ongoing presence of evil in the postdiluvian world. But the flood was the point of subsequent exhortations. The point seems to have been: God did it once, and he will do it again, not with a flood, but in the final judgment that will resemble the destructive and universal scope of the deluge, the first end. The wise were thus to take heed and live in light of this fact. . . . (p. 146)


The letter of Jude is a work that makes homiletic use of the angel story. One of the central purposes of this epistle is to cite examples of how God had judged the wicked in the past, just as he will judge the writer’s enemies who are guilty of similar sins. As part of a series of examples he alludes to “the angels who did not keep their own position but left their proper dwelling.” God “has kept [them] in eternal chains in deepest darkness for the judgment of the great Day” (v. 6). A few verses later the author quotes 1 Enoch 1:9, which he introduces with the words “Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied.” The quotation from 1 Enoch has to do with God’s coming in final judgment: “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him” (vv. 14–15).


Other early Christian authors found sundry purposes that the story could serve. Justin Martyr (died ca. 167 CE) appealed to Enochic teachings to show that non-Christian religions are errors produced by the demons who emerged from the giants’ bodies (in both his first and second Apology). Tertullian, who composed a lengthy defense of the authority of the Book of Enoch, used it for various purposes, including as a source for his arguments against feminine ornamentation and makeup—arts taught by the angels in the Enochic story (On Prayer 20–22; On the Veiling of Virgins 7).


In his The City of God Augustine wrote a response to the angel story that marked the end of its authoritative use in Christianity. He argued that in Gen 6:1–4 the same individuals are called both “angels of God” (6:2 as his Bible was worded) and “men” (6:3) and that elsewhere in the Scriptures holy people are called “angels” (e.g., Malachi was called a “messenger,” using the word for “angel”). The designation “angels of God” in 6:2 refers to humans who by grace were members of the city of God, not to actual heavenly angels; the term “daughters of men” envisages members of the other city in his grand theory (15:22). (pp. 146-147)


Elsewhere VanderKam has a more detailed treatment of the views of early church theologians and writers with respect to 1 Enoch. Here are some page image captures from James C. VanderKam, “1 Enoch, Enochic Motifs, and Enoch in Early Christian Literature,” in The Jewish Apocalyptic Heritage in Early Christianity (ed. James C. VanderKam and William Adler; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996):









1 Enoch Inspired?


In view of the data (New Testament and early Christian writers) the question of whether 1 Enoch should be considered canonical invariably arises. My answer is “no” and “the question is something of a pointless distraction.”


New Testament citations of material show only that such material informed their worldview and helped them articulate whatever point it was that they were trying to make in their own writings. Peter and Jude read the Enochian material and embraced its worldview approach to Gen 6:1-4. This is patently obvious since the comments of Peter and Jude with respect to the  Genesis 6 transgression of the divine sons of God includes material not found in Genesis 6 but which is found in Enochian material (and the Mesopotamian context, to boot). I speak here of the angels that sinned being imprisoned in Tartarus / the Abyss to await eschatological judgment. The New Testament text is explicit in this regard, and such references (2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6) are proof positive as to how Peter and Jude (inspired books in all of today’s Christian canons) viewed the Genesis 6:1-4 event. There is no need to hold cited material (or materially that conceptually informed any biblical writer) on the level of those books that all Christian traditions hold as inspired, despite disagreement on other books. Rather, we ought to be reading the material that informed them whether we think it inspired or not, as it helps us follow their thinking and fosters more accurate interpretation in our own day.