Notes on Genesis (xxviii) Sons of God, daughters of men
‘So when the sons of God saw the daughters of men were beautiful, they took wives for themselves of all they chose.’ (Gen 6:2)
This is a puzzling sentence. The identity of the beings involved is not clear, for the earliest Greek version seems to have replaced the word ‘sons’ with ‘angels’, and Everett Fox understands them as having been ‘divine beings’; there may be a similar identification of such sons with angels when the Vulgate renders the ‘angels of God’ mentioned at Job 1:6, 2:1 as ‘sons of God’. But the sons seeing the daughters as beautiful (Greek kalai) recalls Eve’s seeing that the forbidden tree was ‘kalon’ for food (3:7; it was also beautiful to contemplate.) In both cases there is a sense of beauty being apprehended by the sight and leading those who see it astray. Clement of Alexandria, one of the witnesses for the early Greek tradition that sees angels as having been involved, draws what might appear to be a gloomy lesson: ‘The mind is led astray by pleasure…An example of this for you is the angels who forsook the beauty of God for perishable beauty and fell as far as heaven is from the earth.’ This hearkens back to an ancient Greek way of thinking, and nicely exemplifies Clement’s approaching the Bible in the light of antecedent traditions; how many people, of whatever culture, have ever managed to avoid doing this? But even in Clement’s interpretation, what may be at stake is not so much the perishable beauty itself but the weakness of those who, when they see it, are led to renounce a beauty that is infinite.