If someone asked you to name the origin of a story about gods who take human wives and then give birth to a race of semidivine heroes, you might answer: It’s a Greek myth, or perhaps a Norse legend, or maybe a folktale from Africa or India. Surely this story couldn’t come from the sacred scriptures of Judaism and Christianity. Or could it?
In fact, it is one of the seldom-told stories in the Hebrew Bible. The passage from Genesis 6:1–4 is short enough to quote in full:
“When mankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, the Sons of Goda saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they took wives of them, from any whom they chose. And Yahweh said, ‘My spirit will not be strong1 in man forever, for indeed he is but flesh. His lifetime will be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterwards, when the Sons of God mated with the daughters of men and they bore children for them: these were the heroes of old, the men of renown.”
For thousands of years this story has scandalized readers of the Bible, and for good reason. The story appears to go against the grain of our traditional understanding of biblical religion.