I grew up in a time when comic books were very popular. Superheroes and super-villains abounded and battled in earth-shaking combat. The resurgence of Marvel movies and television shows indicates that I am not the only one who enjoyed the diversion of mutants and aliens duking it out on imaginary battlefields.
One day a long time ago I noticed an old paperback at a book sale, Gladiator by Philip Wylie. It may have been the book that inspired elements of Superman and Spider-man. In it a scientist discovers the secret of genetically altering (by a different name, since this was the 1920’s) animals and humans to give them a strength and imperviousness proportional to that of an ant. (Seems more like Spider-Man than Superman to me.) He injects his own son with the formula while in the womb and they give birth to an enormously powerful and virtually indestructible baby.
As the boy grows up a combination of bad parenting and an accidental death caused by his great strength bring him to a point where he believes his only worth is to become a formidable warrior on the battlefields of WW I. He becomes greatly feared, even by his own nation, and decides to leave, finding a remote spot in South or Central America to camp out.
He finds himself in a ruin built from huge blocks that would have been impossible for normal humans to move and begins to lift them back into place. As he does this he has an epiphany. This was a place built by people just like him! All he has to do is go back over his father’s notes and rebuild a society of super-humans who will never have to do the will of mere mortals again. They would rule the world!
As he is meditating on this a storm builds around him. He faces it and challenges whatever gods there may be that think they can get in his way. The storm builds to a climax and releases a powerful bolt of lightning that strikes him, killing him on the spot, preventing him from bringing forth more of his kind.
We see also why the originators of that city no longer existed. God had wiped them out once before, presumably for the same desire to rule those they considered lesser beings.
I was initially disappointed by this deus ex machina ending. Surely there had to be a more interesting way to end his plot. That disappointment is more a product of my times than of the time the story was written. The idea of God actually intervening to prevent abomination was not a strange idea for a man of his times. Why should it be for a Christian in the late 20th Century?
All he had to do was read the biblical stories of Noah’s flood, the tower of Babel or Sodom and Gomorrah to get the idea that God does intervene when society gets too far out of line with His will.
Wylie may well have gotten his ideas from the various myths of gods and demigods that feature prominently in ancient cultures. The Greek and Roman pantheons, Sumerian legends of characters such as Gilgamesh, Norse deities such as Odin and Thor
Speaking of beings with superhuman abilities, there are strange references in the Bible to beings of extraordinary size and power who lived both before and after the Flood. The one many of us are familiar with is Goliath of Gath, a giant of extraordinary strength and fighting ability. He was from an actual tribe known as “Anakim” – an entire tribe of giants that terrorized those around them.
For a look at some of the reasons other believe the Nephilim to be descendants of unions between angelic beings and human women, see Notes on the Nephilim.
The story of Noah’s flood begins with a strange statement (Genesis 6:1-4). “Sons of God” are finding “daughters of humans” (“daughters of men” in Hebrew) beautiful and are starting to marry them and produce offspring. The Common English Bible captures the idea well in Genesis 6:1-4, calling them “divine beings” and their offspring “giants.” The become the “heroes of old” and “famous men.”
No, this is not the part where I start talking about UFO’s and interplanetary beings hybridizing with humans.
The place where I actually begin is in Job 1:1-12. Job’s problems begin during a meeting between God and the “sons of God” at God’s throne in the heavens. God brings up the subject of the righteousness of Job to Satan, who claims that Job is only in it for the blessings. God gives Satan authority over all of Job’s family and possessions.
At no point in the Bible do we see such a meeting taking place between God and human representatives. It seems to be a regular occurrence since we see another such meeting soon after in Job 2:1-6.
Another story illustrates the same kind of scenario. The prophet Micaiah tells King Ahab in 1 Kings 22:19-23 of a vision he had in which God brings up the subject of how to kill Ahab. One of the “spirits” present at the meeting suggests that he will lie to Ahab’s prophets to draw him into a battle that ends his life. God approves the suggestion and empowers the spirit to do so. Ahab’s life ends in the battle, even though the king goes in disguise.
We begin to see that the “sons of God” are non-human beings from the spirit realm who can interact in certain respects with human beings on earth. In the examples above they operate with God’s permission. What if they decide to disobey God?
The Apostle Peter speaks of “angels who sinned” not being spared, but are locked up in a kind of prison for later judgment (2 Peter 2:4-6). There seems to be a chronological flow from sinning angels to the flood to Sodom and Gomorrah. He seems to make the chronology of the angelic sin more specifically a pre-Flood event in 1 Peter 3:18-20.
Jude is even more specific about what the sin of the angels is: not keeping their own “principality” and .leaving their “proper habitation.” In other words, they moved from their proper “divine realm” into the “earthly” realm.
Let’s put it together. The timing of the angelic sin is pre-Flood. Angelic beings left the heavenly realm to go to earth. This suggests that the “sons of God” are the angels who left heaven to marry human women and produce hybrid children with superhuman abilities.Jude and Peter both seem to get their information from a book now called 1 Enoch, which specifies that this is exactly what happened in Chapter 6.
It would be easy to suggest that this is, in fact, the source of legends of gods and demigods wreaking havoc on earth in ancient times. Since I like things easy, I’ll suggest precisely that.
An what do I mean by “wreaking havoc?” Why would these angelic/human marriages and their giant offspring be mentioned in the introduction to the Flood account? The obvious reason is that their influence must be a large part of the evil that humanity is collectively embracing at that time.
In terms of plot-line Philip Wylie seems to have nailed it. Superhuman beings get the idea that they can rule humanity according to their own whims, and God steps in before they can completely carry out their evil plans.
Let that be a lesson to any would-be trans-human or post-human wannabes that would rule the world. There is only one Ruler: Jesus Christ, to whom the Father has given all authority in heaven and earth. Nobody will ever be tough enough to take him on and win.
Of course the main lesson of the Flood is that a world overwhelmingly driven by evil will come under judgment. In this Peter and Jude agree with all of the Prophets. Since it is easy to see the tide of evil rising, we need to seek Jesus, the only safety in the coming judgment.
Postscript: It turns out that giants return after the flood and affect Israel’s occupation of the Promised Land in surprising ways. We will turn to that subject in a later post.