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Sons of God and Sons of Men

July 7, 2011

Question for scholars and laypersons alike. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this:

In the Tower of Babel narrative the people decide to make a city “ומגדל בשמים וראשו” (and a tower whose top is in the heavens); the purpose of building the migdal is so that the people might “נעשה־לנו שם” (make for ourselves a name). Because of humankind’s building projects יהוה decides to ‘come down’ and see the city and tower which the בני האדם (sons of men) have built. There might be a linguistic parallel in this story compared to Gen 6:1—4.

In the pre-flood account the בני־האלהים descend (if we assume divine beings) from heaven and take wives from the בנות האדם which ultimately leads to God’s judgement in the great flood. In the tower of Babel story the בני האדם attempt to ascend up to the heavens which again leads to God’s intervention in the confusing of language.

It seems to me that sometimes people tend to isolate these stories from each other in their analysis. However, I think they may be more interconnected in their ideological purpose. In other words, these stories were collected together, and placed together for a purpose. In some manner, their themes or polemics should cohere.

How would you go about explaining this structural parallel (if it is one)? I have a working theory that explains this in the context of Gen 1-11, but I would like to hear your thoughts as well.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2011 10:27 am

    Quick thought: the entire “primeval narrative” includes a motif of divine-human likeness and distinction. In Genesis 1, humanity bears the image of God. In Genesis 2, humanity lacks the two marks of divinity relevant to that story: wisdom and immortality. You’ve already noted Genesis 6: divine beings shouldn’t descend to earth. Also in Genesis 11: humans shouldn’t ascend to heaven.

    Another thought: note that the Babel builders are scared of being scattered across the earth. This fear keeps them from fulfilling God’s vision for humanity, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” per Genesis 1. “Filling the earth” is another theme in the “primeval narrative.”

  2. Daniel O. McClellan permalink
    July 7, 2011 4:20 pm

    It seems to me the authors are trying to insist that God is protective of the divine/human divide, but is constantly threatened by attempts to cross it. Adam and Eve had to be tossed out of the Garden and the tree of life had to be protected by an armed guard once they gained knowledge of “good and evil.” He seems to have been trying to make sure they didn’t become immortal and thus fully divine. In Genesis 6 we get the sense the sexual union of gods and humans violated a natural boundary, and the event appears to catalyze the deluge. The connection to the flood story in the epic of Gilgamesh, who was trying to gain immortality, is an interesting one. In Genesis 11 we again seem to find God annoyed by the possibility that the division of the divine and the human is going to be crossed, so he confounds their language to keep them from large-scale organization and scatters them.

    What I find interesting is the fact that the deity seems to stumble across attempts to gain immortality that are close to being successful, and has to act quickly to disrupt them.

    • July 9, 2011 5:49 am

      I recently wrote about this subject, using the Tower of Babel and Fall stories as well:

      There is quite the disconnect between the God of the NT and the God of the OT.

    • Texas Dave permalink
      July 9, 2011 9:22 am

      Interesting juxtaposition – in the first book of the OT God is “protective of the divine/human divide”, while in the first book(s) of the NT God, in Christ, is working to restore mankind to divine connection and indwelling.

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