Kings as Sons of the Gods

kings sons of gods (3)

d) 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 God/the gods saw the daughters of humanity (adam), that they [were] good (tov). And they took to themselves wives, whomever they chose.”

This leads us to the third possibility: that “the sons of the gods” refers to kings and other rulers.[1]

Since the nineteenth century, archaeologists have unearthed over a million cuneiform tablets in the Ancient Near East (ANE). Prior to then, no evidence affirmed this view.[2] Today, most Jewish experts and many Christian scholars hold it.[3]

Throughout the ANE, people believed that a king enjoyed a father-son relationship with a god. After all, that god generated him.[4]

For example, an Akkadian man lamented,  “When I lie down at night my dream is terrifying. The king, the very flesh of the gods, the sun of his peoples, his heart is enraged (with me) and cannot be appeased.”[5]

This man considered his monarch a deity. Such equivalence occurred widely in the ANE.[6]

Pre-flood kings’ lists included god-rulers.[7] The Sumerian King List opens by saying, “When kingship was lowered from heaven….”[8]

This continued after the flood, with designations  such as “the divine Gilgamesh.”[9]

The Sumerian king Gudea, who ruled from 2144–2124 BC, wrote of himself as, “The offspring of the goddess Gutumdug, dowered with sovereignty and the scepter supreme by the god Gal-alim.”[10]

When the Ugaritic King Keret mourned the loss of his children, the chief god noticed his pain. According to the legend, “His father El, [replied], “E[nough] for thee of weeping, Keret; of crying, Beloved, Lad of El.”[11]

Numerous pharaohs from before and after Moses’s era called themselves the sons of a god, whether of Atum, Amon-Ra, or Re.[12]

According to one of the pyramid texts, a deceased pharaoh, “is the being of a god, the son of a god, the messenger of a god.”[13]

Finally, a contemporary of Moses, Tukulti-Nunurta of Assyria claimed to be “The eternal image of [the god] Enlil…Enlil, like a physical father, exalted him second to his firstborn son.”[14]

People considered ANE kings divine progeny even if, unlike the pharaohs, they did not call themselves gods. Claiming descent from the gods conferred legitimacy to a monarch’s rule.

Consequently, rulers’ inscriptions claim divine ancestry from Sumerian times (2500–2000 BC), through the Old Babylonian era (2300–1670 BC), and in both the Middle Assyrian and Neo-Assyrian periods (1392–612 BC). Being a son of a god was a royal prerogative.[15]

Gilgamesh provides an excellent example of this. He reigned over the city of Uruk. Two texts describe him as “the flesh of the gods.”[16] Technically, “Two-thirds of him is god, [one-third of him is human].”[17]

Although the Bible gives no credence to such claims of semi-divinity, even Israel employed such rhetoric.[18]

For example, the psalmist Asaph called Israel’s judges “gods” and “sons of the Most High.” Yet Asaph never implied they were anything more than human (Ps 82). Furthermore, Lord called the future king from David’s line “God’s son.” His need for discipline indicates this did not refer exclusively to Jesus (2 Sam 7:12–17).[19]

As a result of this evidence, the highly-regarded Hebrew theological dictionary TDOT concluded that the author of Gen 6:1–4 wrote of these men as sons of the gods.[20]

Given the tremendous evil perpetrated by these men, their possession by demonic forces remains a strong option (Cf. 1 Pet 3:18–22).[21]

Moses did not report mythological unreality but remained faithful to the historical context of ancient genealogies.[22]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Gen 6:1–2. List the strengths and weaknesses of the view that the sons of the gods consisted of ancient human rulers.

strengths–

 

weaknesses–

 

After reviewing all three options (descendants of Seth, fallen angels, and human kings), what do you conclude?

 

 

Go to Taking Wives for Themselves

 

[Related posts include 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.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); Made in the Image of God (Gen 1:26 cont.); An Israelite View of Genesis 1Ancient Near Eastern Genealogies (Gen 5:1); Modern Scholars’ View of 1 Pet 3:19–20; and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 5: Groaning and Grieving (Genesis 5:28–6:8)]

 

[1]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 139–40.

[2]Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2–3 and the Human Origins Debate, 205.

[3]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 139–40.

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

[5]W. G. Lambert, trans., “I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom,” in ANET, 1:594–6, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n627/mode/2up.

[6]Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, 35–39, 42–43, 45, 47–48.

[7]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 186.

[8]Thorkild Jacobsen, trans., “The Sumerian King List,” in ANET, 265, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n289/mode/2up.

[9]Jacobsen, “The Sumerian King List,” in ANET, 265–6, 266, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n291/mode/2up.

[10]Gudea, “Inscription on Statue A of the Louvre,” in Records of the Past,  Being Ancient Translations of the Ancient Monuments of Egypt and Western Asia, 2nd Series, Vol. II, (Archibald Henry Sayce; London: Samuel Bagster, 1888), col ii, lines 16–9, http://www.sacred-texts.com/ane/rp/rp202/rp20221.htm.

[11]H. L. Ginsberg, trans., “The Legend of King Keret,” in ANET, 2.59–62, 143. https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n167/mode/2up. Italics original.

[12]Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, 38–9.

[13]Samuel A. B. Mercer, trans., The Pyramid Texts (London: Forgotten Books, 2008), utterance 471, line 920a, http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/pyt/pyt25.htm.

[14]Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology, 47–8. Niehaus quoted from W. G. Lambert’s Three Unpublished Fragments of the Tukulti-Ninurta Epic.

[15]Walton, Genesis, 293–4.

[16]Speiser, trans., “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, 9.2.10–4; Assyrian version 1.5–7, 88, 90, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n113/mode/2up and https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n115/mode/2up.

[17]Speiser, trans., “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” in ANET, 1.2.1, 73, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n97/mode/2up.

[18]Walton, Genesis, 294.

[19]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 140.

[20]Haag, “בֵּנ” (ben), TDOT 2:157.

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

[22]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 264.