בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים ובְּנוֹת הָאָדָם
בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים ובְּנוֹת הָאָדָם
An Interactive Learning Module by Rivka Kahan
"וַיִּרְאוּ בְנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶת בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם"
Parashat Bereshit concludes with the enigmatic story of the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" and "בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם"
This module will explore the
that arise in understanding the simple meaning and theological implications of this story. Are the
divine or human? How does this story fit into the larger narrative of Parashat Bereshit?
An in-depth analysis of this issue can be found at
בני הא־להים and בנות האדם
. As you use this module, you are invited to compare your own analysis with the analysis found there.
2. The Verses
Let’s begin by examining the four verses of the story in
What questions do you have about these verses on the
What questions does this narrative raise on a
philosophical or theological
How does this story fit into the
of Parashat Bereshit and Parashat Noach?
Some of the questions that arise from the narrative are:
are the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" and "בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם"? Are the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים"
? If so, this story seems reminiscent of pagan mythology. How is it consistent with the monotheism of the Torah?
do the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" and "בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם" take in this story and what is the moral status of those actions?
What is the meaning of
How does this story relate to the
of the fall of man, culminating in the flood?
Who are the
4. Meanings of "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים"
Let’s begin by exploring the identity of the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" by analyzing the meaning of the word "אֱ-לֹהִים" throughout Tanakh.
Click on the word
to access the
, and click on כל הצורות to see all forms of the word in Tanakh.
While the word "אֱ-לֹהִים" in most of the verses refers to God, scan the following examples for other meanings: Shemot 4:16 (#253), Shemot 7:1 (#263), Shemot 21:6 (#320), Shemot 22:7 (#322) and Shemot 22:8 (#323-4).
Now let’s explore the meaning of the phrase
Exit the concordance to return to
, highlight the phrase "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים", and click
to find other verses in which the phrase appears. What does this phrase mean elsewhere in Tanakh?
5. Summary of Findings
Our search has shown that the word "אֱ-לֹהִים" can refer to
(as in Shemot 4:16 and Shemot 7:1) and to
(as in Shemot 21:6, 22:7 and 22:8).
We have also found that the only other places in Tanakh where the phrase "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" appears is in Sefer Iyov (see 1:6, 2:8 and, in a slightly different form, 38:7), where they refer to
[Note that the similar phrase בני א-לים might also refers to divine beings. See, for example, Tehillim 29:1 and 89:7.]
How might these findings affect your reading of the narrative of Bereshit 6?
6. Commentators: Rashi
Let’s now return to the
to see how our commentators have understood this story.
on Bereshit 6:2, 6:3 (ד"ה לא ידון רוחי באדם, לעולם, והיו ימיו), and 6:4 (ד"ה הנפילים היו בארץ.)
How does Rashi understand the
of the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים"? What are the textual and theological motivations for this position?
How does Rashi interpret the
of the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" and the
of Hashem to their actions?
According to Rashi, who are the "נְפִלִים" and why are they so called?
exist for Rashi’s approach?
7. Rashi and Radak
Rashi understands the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" to be sons of
and judges who married people who were not of the ruling class. He interprets the phrases "כִּי טֹבֹת הֵנָּה" and "מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר בָּחָרוּ" to imply relationships of
force and licentiousness
Radak explains similarly, but elaborates on what is so problematic about such a relationship. See
Radak on 6:2
, ד"ה את בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם (until ואין מציל אותם מידם).
What does Radak add to our understanding of the
of the relationship between the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" and "בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם"?
Based on Rashi’s and Radak’s interpretations, how does the story of the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" and "בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם" represent a
new form of immorality
that did not manifest in the earlier sins of Sefer Bereshit?
Why is this story an important link in the chain of events that describe the decline of man?
8. Commentators: Rav Hirsch
Let’s now move to a second interpretation of our story. Read
(until "ולקחו מהם נשים") and 6:3 (starting a few lines in, from "נמצא ש'רוחי באדם' הוא מושג אחד"). Note that similar ideas appear in Ibn Ezra 6:2 and Abarbanel.
In Rav Hirsch’s view, who are the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" and the "בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם"?
What is the meaning of the
120 year limit
that Hashem declares in 6:3?
How does Rav Hirsch
from Rashi in his understanding of Hashem’s response?
What textual or philosophical
are raised by Rav Hirsch’s position?
9. Rashi and Rav Hirsch: A Comparison
Unlike Rashi, Rav Hirsch suggests that the narrative describes the
intermingling of the line
of Shet ("בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים") with the line of Kayin ("בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם").
Rav Hirsch suggests that the story describes not
corruption of leadership
, but the increased
universality of immoral behavior
, as the moral refinement of Shet was overpowered by the aggression of Kayin.
Though Rashi and Rav Hirsch agree that the 120 years refer to a time limit by which Hashem will decide the fate of humanity, how do they disagree about the meaning of the phrase
"לֹא יָדוֹן רוּחִי בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם"
What does R. Hirsch's understanding imply about how
might affect the Godly spirit within him?
10. Rav Hirsch: Questions
R. Hirsch's approach rasies both textual and philosophical questons.
What textual difficulty arises from the interpretation that "א-להים" and "אדם" refer to different family lines? Is there sufficient
for the suggestion?
Does the text support the idea that Kayin's descendants were corrupt while Shet's were pure?
What philosophical questions relating to man's
freedom of choice
may follow from the suggestion that different family lines have fundamentally different moral characters?
11. Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer
Let’s now consider a third approach. Access
Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer 22
from the library and read from: "רבי אומר ראו המלאכים... הנפילים היו בארץ".
According to this midrash,
were the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים"?
How does the midrash interpret the actions of the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים"?
In the view of the midrash, how does this narrative fit into the general story of the
fall of man
12. Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer: Summary
According to Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" were
who married mortal women, an inherently inappropriate relationship which was characterized by immodesty, and which resulted in violent offspring (the "נְפִלִים" or giants). The narrative represents another stage in the
that led to the flood.
Is there any evidence elsewhere in Tanakh that
angels and humans
? What philosophical or theological difficulties might arise from such an interpretation?.
What philosophical challenge is introduced by this interpretation's
reducing mankind’s responsibility
for the moral decline that led to the flood?
13. Commentators: Malbim
For a fascinating middle-ground position, return to the Mikraot Gedolot to see
How does Malbim
the simple meaning of "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" as angels with a traditional Jewish view of the impossibility of angels mating with humans?
How does Malbim’s position
elements of Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer with elements of Rashi and Radak?
In Malbim’s view, what is the meaning and purpose of Hashem’s statement in 6:3? How does he understand the
120 year limit
How does he understand the identity of the "נְפִלִים" in 6:4?
might Malbim's interpretation face?
14. Malbim: Summary
Like Rashi and Radak, Malbim believes that this is a story of
, but like Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, he believes that the phrase "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" refers to
In his understanding, however, the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" were not actual angels, but human beings whom others in the ancient world
to be angels, allowing them to take advantage of "בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם".
This misconception, he suggests, is hinted to by Bereshit 6:4 which explains the belief system of the time period, identifying the "נְפִלִים" with "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים".
Is it legitimate to suggest that a story in Torah is written from the
of human beings?
15. Questions to Consider
Which of the three general approaches to our narrative discussed above do you think is most consistent with the
of the verses?
In your opinion, which most compellingly links this story to the
Which interpretation strikes you as most
, either textually or philosophically?
We have seen that the commentators who interpret "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" as human also understand the 120 years to refer to a
for the judgment of mankind. In contrast, Malbim, who posits that they were believed to be divine, interprets the 120 years as the limit of the human
, a means to curb his potential evil and highlight his mortality in the hope that he repent. Why might the difference in interpretation of "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים"
to a difference in understanding the 120 years?
16. Questions to Consider
The narrative of the "בְּנֵי הָאֱ-לֹהִים" and "בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם" is one of the most difficult to interpret in all of Torah, due to the ambiguity of the verses and the broader questions that they raise.
We have seen three approaches. The story describes: the
of the weak by the ruling class, the
of two family lines that represent conflicting values systems, or the inappropriate mating of
with human beings. There are textual and theological supports and challenges for each of these.
By exploring the potential meanings of this narrative, we gain greater insight into the
nature of the sins
that led to the decline of mankind and the decree of the flood, and thus into the
fundamental moral frailties
that reside within man.
17. Additional Reading
For further discussion of this topic, see:
בני הא־להים and בנות האדם
For other topics related to Parashat Bereshit, see:
Parashat Bereshit – Topic List
the beginning of this module
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