St. Ephrem on the sons of God


When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals for ever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them.

— Genesis  6:1-4

Who were the sons of God? 

For Ephrem, the sons of God are the children of Seth who had been blessed.  Cain had been cursed and his offspring were weak… the earth being cursed under them.  

And the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful and they took to wife such as them as they chose. He called the sons of Seth sons of God, those who, like the sons of Seth, had been called “the righteous people of God.” The beautiful daughters of men whom they saw were the daughters of Cain who adorned themselves and became a snare to the eyes of the sons of Seth. Then Moses said, they took to wife such of them as they chose, because when they took them, they acted very haughtily over those whom they chose. A poor one who exalt himself over the wife of a rich man and an old man would sin with one who was young. The ugliest of all would act arrogantly over the most beautiful.

The sons of Cain were interested in neither the wealth nor the appearance of those women; they were seeking ploughmen for their lands that had been left uncultivated. Although this thing began because of the licentious and poor men — the licentious being driven by beauty and the poor being attracted to wealth — the entire tribe of Seth followed suit and was stirred to a frenzy over them.

Because the sons of Seth were going into the daughters of Cain, they turned away from their first wives whom they had previously taken. Then these wives, too, disdained their own continence and now because of their husbands, quickly began to abandon their modesty which until that time they had preserved for their husbands’ sake. It is because of this wantonness that assailed both the men and the women, that Scripture says, all flesh corrupted its path.

— St. Ephrem commentary on Genesis {Retyped from a translation of his works I had available}.

There are several views on who the sons of God were.  Among the church fathers, we see that while Ephrem has his interpretation, Clement of Alexandria talks of the angels who “forsook the beauty of God for perishable beauty and fell as far as heaven is from the earth.”

The New Jerome Commentary does not provide any indication of this explanation we see in St. Ephrem:

divine beings: lit., “sons of god,””, i.e., members of the class of divine beings, common in religious texts of Canaan.  The Bible sometimes borrowed traditional descriptions of the heavenly world without comment.  The divine beings, attracted by the women’s beauty, married them and sired giant offspring, the “mighty men of old”.  Comparable literatures speak of semidivine heroes of old.  Though human sin is not expressly mentioned in vv 1-2, the divine judgement in v 3 presumes that there was actually sin. … …  Many scholars suggest that v 2 alludes to a longer myth about marriages between heavenly beings and human wives, which produced the pre-flood race of giants.  The Bible is reticent about stories of the “gods”; here it alludes to such a story only to show that the mixing of heaven and earth, which had been forbidden to the first man and woman in the garden by prohibition against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, and of the tree of life, is taboo.

Both interpretations from the Church fathers are mentioned in Wikipedia, which mentions that the Qumran scrolls support the sons of Seth interpretation, but {Wiki being notoriously untrustworthy} I attempted to find the quote online and could only find indications that supported the alternate interpretation.

It seems that the spurious works attributed to Clement {of Rome} may hold a clue… In the “Recognitions”, he states: “righteous men, who had lived the life of angels, being allured by the beauty of women, fell into promiscuous and illicit connections with these.”  In the “Homilies”, it states that angels came down and “changed themselves into the nature of men, in order that, living holily, they might subject the ungrateful to punishment, yet having become in all respects men, they also partook of human lust, and being brought under its subjection they fell into cohabitation with women; and being involved with them, and sunk in defilement.”  The source of these spurious works are different.

My thoughts are that perhaps it is due to the different schools they come from.  Going back to St. Ephrem and St. Clement {of Alexandria}, we see that one is from the school of Mesopotamia  which in thought was a relative of the Antiochian school, and the other was from the school of Alexandria.

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2 Responses to “St. Ephrem on the sons of God”

  1. antgaria Says:

    I apologize for the lack of posts lately… been busy with work and church and life altogether. This post was the reply to an email exchange, and not very well researched. Not wanting too much time to pass between posts, I massaged the contents and posted here.

    I think my conclusion is a guess more than anything and I invite people who know more about this issue to educate us. I couldn’t find any place where the contents of the Qumran scrolls are easily available, and for the sake of the email, I didn’t need to investigate and try to track down too closely the sources of the spurious Clementine works.

    Also, I can’t stress enough that these Clementine romances are spurious works that are thought by anyone to be not of that author, the blessed St. Clement of Rome. They are later invention which have a bunch of stuff in there that are quite fanciful from what I can see, but they provide possible insight into this topic, so I mentioned them here.

  2. Ian Climacus Says:

    Always good to hear from you when you are able to…

    I can add nothing, except to say thank you for the interesting and thought-provoking commentaries provided on a tough part of the Bible, open to many and varied interpretations.

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