“And it came to pass when men began to multiply on the face of the
earth…that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that were fair.
And they took them wives…The Nephilim were in the earth in those
days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the
daughters of men. And they bore children to them. The same were the
mighty that were of old, the men of renown.”
Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.
In Genesis chapter 6, the Bible brings a narrative that reads more like Greek or Roman
mythology than Holy Writ.
Abravanel launches an investigation: Who were these “sons of God?” And who were the fair maidens
who captivated them with bewitching appeal?
Some commentators suggested that the “sons of God” were princes and of blue blood. Others posited
that these men were clairvoyants or astrologists. They charted the zodiac, peeked into the future, and
ascertained which women would give birth to children who would, in time, become worthy men.
Finally, some sages put forth that the “sons of God” were angels. They write that the angels were the
“Nephilim”, referred to in our verses above. “Nephilim”, they claim, carries an immoral or unethical
connotation. The Hebrew term “Nephilim” is closely related to another Hebrew word, “noflim”, which
means “fallers” or “falling.” These rabbis borrow “noflim,” per se, and turn it into “the fallen”, as in to
fall from grace.
Asserting that the “sons of God” means angels, for a simple reason, does not meet Abravanel’s criterion
for a straightforward interpretation of the Bible. Angels are wholly intelligent and incorporeal beings.
Moreover, according to Abravanel, angels have no physical impulses with zero inclination to sin. Thus,
wrongdoing for these heavenly facilitators is a non-starter.
As to the identity of these “sons of God”, Abravanel offers two responses. We offer one below, though
“Sons of God” may have been descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. The reason why the
Bible characterizes Seth’s seed as “sons of God” is because they were, well, godly and pious. Insofar as
they were pure in character and deed, the Bible lauds them as “sons of God.”
Who, then, were the “daughters of men?” Abravanel answers that they hailed from Cain, the first born
of Adam and Eve, born of dubious circumstances, as an earlier blog has ascertained. Since Cain tilled the
soil, the Bible refers to the women as daughters of man, as in farmer. In Hebrew the generic term for
“man” (adam) shares its root with “land” (adamah).
In sum, we have established that the “sons of God” could not possibly have been angels. But now that
Abravanel identified the suitors and the bevy of beauties, there still remain questions: Why does the
Bible seem to disparage their marriages, putting the matchmaking in a negative and lopsided light?
Further, what shall we say about the “Nephilim?” If they weren’t crestfallen, heavenly angels, then who
For the fuller discussion on both of these topics, see Abravanel’s World of Torah. There, Bible students
will learn why Heaven frowned on Seth’s descendants marrying the descendants of Cain. They will also
read why certain people were designated or labeled “Nephilim.”