Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Messy Transition of Genesis 6

Alice C. Linsley

Genesis chapters 1-3 are creation and origin stories that are capped by the king lists of Genesis 4 and 5. Genesis chapter 6 is a messy transition from the king lists to the flood narratives of Genesis 7-9. A detailed reading of chapter 6 calls attention to contextual incongruities. Contextual incongruities are evident of layers of interpretation from different cultural and historical contexts. Here are some examples:

1. God promises to wipe out all people on earth except for Noah’s immediate family, yet Genesis 9 lists Noah’s many descendants and Genesis 10 lists some populations older than the time of Noah.

2. Noah is presented as having only one wife, yet the rulers of Noah’s lineage had two wives.

3. The “covenant” language of Genesis 6:18 reflects a theological development of a much later period than Noah.

4. Historical persons of the archaic world are recast as mythical beings (“Nephilim”) by a late hand on the material. Fallen angels are said to have had sexual relations with humans. This indicates that this chapter has been shaped by a third-century rabbinic source. The historical significance of deified sons is disguised by rabbinic mysticism. The incongruity is evident in Genesis 6:1-4. Here the Nephilim are posed as fallen angels and at the same time they are described as “heroes of days gone by, men of renown.”

The high kings of the ancient Nile were called “sons of God” and this expression is parallel to the “daughters of men.” Such parallelism is typical of Semitic literature. Apparently, the opening material was originally a continuation of the accounts of the ruling lines of Cain and Seth.

The attempt to portray the archaic rulers as an alien supernatural element called “Nephilim” fails because the Bible makes it clear that these are mortal men whose descendants were living with the Horite Hebrew in Hebron. Number 13:33 identifies the Nephilim with the people of Anak. Anak was a ruler, and his “Anakim” people are associated with Kiriath Arba, an ancient name for Hebron, where Sarah resided. Her settlement marked the northern boundary of Abraham’s territory in ancient Edom.

Unfortunately, most Bibles translate Nephilim as “giants” when it should read “great ones.” Nephilim comes from the same root as the Aramaic npyl (naphil) which means great. This is equivalent to the Arabic nfy, meaning hunter. It is said concerning Nimrod that he was a “mighty hunter” or a “mighty man” before the Lord (Gen. 10).

If the word nephilim came from Hebrew naphal, it would not be spelled as we find it. The word nephilim to mean "fallen ones" would be spelled as nephulim. Likewise, nephilim does not mean "those who fall" or "those who fall away" - that would be nophelim. The only way in Hebrew to get nephilim from naphal by the rules of Hebrew morphology would be to presume a noun spelled naphil and then pluralize it. However, this noun does not exist in biblical Hebrew.

However, in Aramaic the noun naphil does exist. It means "giant," making it easy to see why the Septuagint translated nephilim as gigantes ("giants"). The period of 300-200 BC includes the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) and the First Book of Enoch, both of which gave rise to the idea of fallen angels mysteriously mixing with humans.

The Books of Enoch are 1 Enoch, also known as the "Ethiopic Apocalypse of Enoch" and the Slavonic version that is referred to as 2 Enoch or "The Book of the Secrets of Enoch." 1 Enoch was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic (probably both), but the only complete copy known today is in Ge'ez, a language of Ethiopia. 1 Enoch dates to no earlier than around 200 BC. The pertinent chapters are 1-36 (The Watchers) and chapters 72-82 (The Astronomical Writings). These books fit Risto Santala's description of literature that, like "the esoteric Qabbalah wandered off the right track in creating a very extensive literature on doctrines of angels and mysteries..."

As for the historically significant elements in chapter 6, we have the three-clan confederation of Noah’s sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth (Gen. 6:10). However, the rabbinic editor seems aware of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of these descendants of Cain and Seth. Noah is assigned but one wife, as are his sons. Yet the rulers among Abraham's ancestors had two wives.

Noah is said to be a good man, whose righteousness exceeds all his contemporaries. Yet he is heartless when it comes to his grandchildren. He saves animals, but his grandchildren are left to die in the flood. Apparently, not all died because in Genesis 9:25 we read that Noah curses Canaan, one of his grandchildren.

It is true that during the time that Noah lived (5000-3000 BC) there were periods of flooding. This has been confirmed by the discovery of boats and boat images in the Sahara. The period is called the “African Humid Period” or “the African Aqualithic.”

Archaeologists have also found evidence that the Proto-Saharan rulers like Noah kept royal menageries of exotic animals. The oldest known zoological collection was found during the 2009 excavations at the shrine city of Nekhen on the Nile. It dates to c. 3800 BC.

If we extricate the historical from the later mystical interpretation, we find that Genesis 6:1-4 describes the early kingdom builders as the “mighty men of old, as “heroes” and “men of renown.” They constructed temples, palaces, fortified shrine cities ("high places"), great stone monuments, and pyramids. They were patrons of the arts, science, agriculture and architecture. They controlled commerce on the major water systems and collected taxes and tribute. The estimated wealth of the High Kings of Egypt exceeds the combined estimated wealth of Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) and J. P. Morgan (1837-1913) at the time of their deaths, which is 675 million. Gold mined by the Egyptians was used to make precious objects found as far from Egypt as Southern China and Ireland.

Evidently, Noah was a ruler during the African Humid Period, a time of flooding across the Fertile Crescent. As a ruler he had access to more than one boat. He and his royal household would have been the first to be saved in the event of a catastrophic flood. He had the resources to save the animals of his royal menagerie. These elements of the flood narratives can be verified by anthropological and archaeological research.

This photo is of a boat constructed of bundles of hollow marsh reeds over a wood frame. Genesis 6:14 states Noah's ark was constructed of גפר (gofer/gopher), which is the word used to describe the reed basket in which Moses floated on the Nile. The hollow reeds make the boat extremely buoyant. Such vessels are still constructed by the marsh Arabs of Iraq and by Nilotic fishermen.

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