Taking Wives for Themselves: Genesis 6:1–2 (Part 5 of 5)

taking wives themselves (2)

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This post carries a trigger warning for very disturbing historical information.

e) Gen 6:1–2 cont.: The chapter opens with, “And it came about, when humanity (adam) began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, and the sons of the gods saw the daughters of humanity (adam), that they [were] good (tov). And they took to themselves wives (isha), whomever they chose.”

Based upon the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context of Genesis, the “sons of the gods” (bene haelohim) in Gen 6:1–4 refers to kings.[1]

What exactly was their transgression? Moses reported, “And they took for themselves wives from all whom they chose.”

“Taking a wife” usually meant getting married (Gen 11:29).[2]

Some scholars contend that the sin of these tyrannical rulers consisted of incorporating great numbers of women into their harems.[3]

However, ANE cultures viewed polygamy as an acceptable, albeit imperfect, practice even within Israel (Gen 30:1–13; 2 Sam 3:2–5).[4]

The key lies in the phrase, “all whom they chose.”

Both the pharaoh whom Sarah encountered and David added married women to their harems (Gen 12:10–20; 2 Sam 11:2–5, 27).[5]

The Lord prevented one king from violating Sarah because Abraham had tricked him into adding her to his wives (Gen 20:1–9).

Therefore, this phrase appears to include already-married women.



In the “right of the first night,” a king or other government official could demand to spend a woman’s bridal night with her before she went to her husband.[6]

The Epic of Gilgamesh provides insight into this practice of oppressive rulers.[7]

Just after noting that Gilgamesh is primarily a god, the epic states:

The onslaught of his weapons verily has no equal. By the drum are aroused [his] companions. The nobles of Uruk are worried in [their chamb]ers, “Gilgamesh leaves not the son to [his] father. [Day] and [night] is unbridled his arro[gance]. [Is this Gilga]mesh, [the shepherd of ramparted] Uruk? Is this [our] shepherd, [bold, stately, wise]?

[Gilgamesh] leaves not [the maid to her mother], the warrior’s daughter, [the noble’s spouse]!” The [gods hearkened] to their plaint. The gods of heaven Uruk’s lord [they … ]:

“Did not [the gods, the Aruru] bring forth this strong wild ox? [The onslaught of his weapons] verily has no equal. By the drum are aroused his [companions]. Gilgamesh leaves not the son to his father; Day and night [is unbridled his arrogance]. Is this the shepherd of [ramparted] Uruk? Is this their [ … ] shepherd, bold, stately, (and) wise?…

Gilgamesh leaves not the maid to [her mother], the warrior’s daughter, the noble’s spouse!”

When [the god Anu] had heard out their plaint, the great Aruru (goddess of pregnancy and childbirth) they called, “Thou, Aruru, didst create [the man]. Create now his double; His stormy heart let him match. Let them contend, that Uruk may have peace!…

For Gilgamesh, king of broad-marted Uruk, the drum of the people is free for nuptial choice, that with lawful wives he might mate! He is the first, the husband comes after. By the counsel of the gods it has (so) been ordained. With the cutting of his umbilical cord it was decreed for him!”[8]

Even in this tale of a great hero, the text conveys the oppressive nature of Gilgamesh’s divinely-ordained right to sleep with any woman he chose on her wedding night.[9]



This horrific practice continued for many years.

Close to 425 BC, the Greek historian Herodotus reported that a group of people in Libya “show the king all virgins that are to be married. The king then takes the virginity of whichever of these pleases him.”[10]

The Babylonian Talmud also acknowledges the practice, stating:

What [was the] danger? If I say that [the Roman authorities] said, “a maiden that gets married on the fourth day [of the week] shall be killed,” [then how state] “they made it a custom”?

We should abolish it entirely!—Said Rabbah, “[That] they said, ‘a maiden that gets married on the fourth day [of the week] shall have the first sexual intercourse with the prefect.’ [You call] this danger? [Surely] this [is a case of] constraint!—Because there are chaste women who would rather surrender themselves to death” (b. Kethuboth 3b).



Violence could easily erupt from this tyrannical practice (Gen 6:13).[11]

According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, when a mighty man named Enkidu arrived in Uruk:

The men were clustered about him, and kissed his feet…Suddenly a handsome young man arrived…Enkidu blocked the entry to the marital chamber, and would not allow Gilgamesh to be brought in. They grappled with each other at the entry to the marital chamber, in the street they attacked each other.

Gilgamesh lost the fight. He and Enkidu became friends, and set off on their epic journey.[12]



By separating the account of the forbidden unions from that of the resulting offspring in Gen 6:4, Moses emphasized the sinfulness of the actions of these men.[13]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 6:1–2. How would you describe what Moses depicted in these verses? What does God’s reaction in Gen 6:5–7 tell you about his concern for those who experience sexual assault?





Go to Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3)

[Related posts include It is Good Not to Touch (1 Cor 7:1‒5); Sons of God or Sons of the Gods? (Gen 6:1–2); Descendants of Seth as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Fallen Angels as the Sons of God (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Limiting Human Life Spans (Gen 6:3); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); Made in the Image of God (Gen 1:26 cont.); Male and Female He Created Them (Gen 1:27)]

[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History; or to Chapter 5: Groaning and Grieving (Genesis 5:28–6:8)]


[1]Haag, “בֵּנ” (ben), TDOT 2:157.

[2]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 140–1. Note that isha can mean “wife,” “woman,” or “female” per BDB (https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/60/mode/2up).

[3]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 263.

[4]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 6:2.

[5]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 117.

[6]Walton, Genesis, 293.

[7]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 6:2.

[8]Speiser, trans., “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, 1.8–32; 4:31–9, 73–4, 78, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n103/mode/2up. Italics original.

[9]Walton, Genesis, 293.

[10]Herodotus, “The Histories,” in Herodotus with an English Translation (trans. A. Godley; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1920), 4.168.2, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0126%3Abook%3D4%3Achapter%3D168%3Asection%3D2.

[11]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 185.

[12]Maureen Gallery Kovacs, trans., The Epic of Gilgamesh (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1989), tablet 2, http://jewishchristianlit.com/Texts/ANEmyths/gilgamesh02.html.

[13]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 265–6.