See: Reading Noah and the Flood Through the Source Theory Lens (c)
Genesis 6:1 When men began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them as they chose. …3* (Verse 3 will be dealt with after verses 1-2 & 4 which have a similar theme and so are grouped together) … 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.
“When men began to multiply on the face of the ground…” Although God had commanded the humans at their creation to be fruitful and multiply, throughout the early chapters of Genesis increasing numbers of humans seem to exponentially multiply sins and problems.
“…daughters were born…” Daughters and women in general have played a very minor role in the opening chapters of Genesis. Eve was the first human to rebel against God, but the only other women mentioned by name are those in the genealogy of Cain. It does appear that the reference in these chapters to daughters or women in general is a sign of further problems. In most of the genealogy following the descendents of Seth wives are not even generically mentioned; only fathers and sons get mentioned by name. After Eve, the next time a wife is mentioned in the Seth lineage is with Noah and his sons. The next wife actually named will not occur until Sarai, wife of Abraham is mentioned at the end of Genesis 11.
“…sons of God…” It is possible that this section of the story with the references to the sons of God might actually have originated in a pagan source where avatars, “sons of Hercules, and other human offspring of the gods are common themes. Judaism developed its own language and imagery which includes the phrase “son(s) of God”. The inclusion in Genesis of verses 6:1-2 and 4 may have resulted from the Jews adapting some erstwhile pagan stories to their own use. Some interpreters have seen the “sons of god” as a reference to angels or demons intermarrying with humans and producing “divine” offspring. Such an explanation is totally inconsistent with Jewish and Biblical anthropology. First neither angels nor demons have been mentioned in the text. Second, both angels and demons are bodiless powers and would have no way to have sexual intercourse with the humans. Angels in Biblical thinking don’t become human when they sin – that would be more a pagan or dualistic idea, not a biblical one. No matter what the origins of stories about the “sons of God’, probably the interpretation of the text which is most consistent with the witness of the rest of Genesis would be that the descendents of Seth (the sons of God) began intermarrying with the daughters of the outcast Cain, something which displeased God.
“…they took to wife such of them as they chose…” The text indicates a disorderly world, with each person doing as they saw fit with no regard for anyone else and especially with no regard for God’s wishes. If God intended an orderly universe with each kind of animal and even each kind of human (descendents of Cain or the Sethites) maintaining separate realms, then the story is showing that the humans continue to push the world toward disorderly chaos by failing to respect the boundaries in creation established by God. The human penchant for disregarding and destroying God’s established boundaries and realms is a major theme of the early chapters of Genesis. In the Flood story God will be described as grief stricken because of this destructiveness of humans.
“…daughters of men…” The earlier genealogies rarely mention daughters (except in the lineage of Cain), here nameless daughters are mentioned, and their role is that of temptresses. Is it the women’s fault that they are good looking? It is not the women who are out of control; they simply are what they are. It is the “sons of God” who are doing whatever they want. Is the text suggesting that lust is uncontrollable in the sons of God? St. Isaac the Syrian believed that lust was the only major sin of these early citizens on earth. Such stories will contribute to the monastic ideal of chastity and celibacy as the means for humans to overcome their own sinfulness. It is desire which gives birth to so many evils, a theme common in ancient Hindu and Buddhist writings as well in which desire destroys the underlying unity of all things and causes the formation of the “self” which is in opposition to all other “selves.”
Next: God Questions His Creation: Genesis 6:1-2,4 (b)