Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Boyd and Heiser Dialogue On The Nephilim Question

In the previous post my friend Michael Heiser offered clarifications to points where he felt I misunderstood and misrepresented his position. In this post I'd like to share a dialogue between Michael and I that arose from the questions I raised in my review of his forthcoming book, The Myth That Is True.

1) My original question: If these giants were as widespread as Heiser’s "seed of ha nachash" hypothesis supposes, why don’t we have archeological evidence of giant skeletons, buildings, tools, weapons, etc.?

Michael's response: Michael replied that “[s]keletons don’t last that long to be recovered” and “[t]he giants of the bible (these giant clans) were not unusually tall BY OUR STANDARDS. I personally don’t believe that the biblical giants were over seven feet tall. According to the Septuagint and Dead Sea Scroll readings for the Goliath story, Goliath was actually 6 feet 6 inches.”

My reply: This is surprising to me. What about the King of Og whose bed was over 13 ft. long and 6 ft wide? And why rely on the Septuagint version of Goliath’s height instead of the Hebrew text which, I’ve read, makes him over 9 feet tall?

Michael's rejoinder: Regarding Og, his sarcophagus is what is measured, not him. Regarding Goliath, everyone who does textual criticism knows that the Masoretic text of Samuel is in bad shape. The Septuagint and the Dead Sea Material are, in the overwhelming number of cases, superior.

2) My Original Question: Many of Heiser’s arguments are circumstantial and sometimes quite speculative….If the seed of ha nachash was as central to the biblical story-line…wouldn’t it be a bit more obvious?

Michael's Response. Michael replied that he doesn’t “say anything that isn’t rooted in the text, and I tell you when I speculate.” He pointed out that his theory is “able to reconcile Gen 3, Isa 14, and Ezek 28” and is “grounded in the text and in comparative data.” Finally, Michael noted that since I misunderstood his nachash thesis (see the previous post), he felt my “question is a bit misguided.”

My reply: Michael’s right that my overly-literally reading of his ha nachash theory lessens the force of the objection I raise here. And it’s true that Michael believes his interpretation of ha nachash as “the shiny one” reconciles Gen. 3, Isa 14 and Ezek. 28. But his interpretation still strikes me as circumstantial, and I don’t see any conflict between these three passages that needs to be reconciled.

Michael's rejoinder: The vast majority of critical OT scholars and likely a majority of evangelical OT scholars do NOT feel Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are referencing the “serpent” of Eden. I disagree, but I am in the minority.

3) My Original Question: Genesis 3:15 suggests an on-going animosity between the seed of the serpent (or shiny one) and the seed of Eve until a descendant of Eve crushes the serpent's (or shiny one's) head. But if the seed of ha nachash is the Nephilim, then the battle seems to have ended pretty much with the invasion of the promised land (with a few lingering giants among the Philistines to be slain later on).

Michael's Reply: Michael replied that he didn’t see the battle as ending in the OT, and the only reason I thought he was suggesting this was because I took his idea that the Nephilim were the seed of ha nachash too literally.

My response: Fair enough.

4) My Original Question: Because there’s so little in Scripture about the rebellious gods begetting Nephilim, Heiser has to rely quite a bit on certain non-canonical writings to flesh out his thesis, especially 1 Enoch.

Michael's Response: Michael responded that “This is just wrong. Genesis 6 is crystal clear, and 1-2 and Jude back it up in very explicit terms.”

My Reply: I grant that Genesis 6 is pretty clear and that 2 Peter 2 and Jude are most likely tapping into the "Watcher" tradition. But I don’t think this gets us much mileage in terms of arguing that the Canaanite Nephilim were begotten by rebellious gods.

Michael's Rejoinder: The Canaanite nephilim weren’t directly begotten by the rebellious sons of God of Genesis 6, so I’d agree with you. The “Canaanite nephilim” (which is a bad term since “nephilim” isn’t used of any of the giant clans) are descended from the nephilim. The question is, “how?” This takes us back to the flood question (Gen 6:4b). I outlined three views there, and opted for the last one—that the Genesis 6 cohabitation happened afterward. In that respect, you’re right—there are no other passages that say this sort of thing happened again. It’s just based on a point of Hebrew syntax in Genesis 6:4.

5) My Original Question: If the Canaanites were as infected with the seed of ha nachash as Heiser suggests, why were some spared and even taken as wives?

Michael's Response: Michael responded that the “infection” was related to “the initial Genesis 6 event – the sons of God and the human women” but that “there is no hint at all that the original (after the fact) threat of Genesis 6 was in view” in the conquest narratives. “The problem [rather] was that the (spiritual) seed of the nachash (evil enemies of Israel) would try to squash Israel.” He also pointed out that in the pre-scientific ancient world, the male “DEPOSITED the child in the woman, who served to incubate it.” In other words, there was no awareness of women contributing genetically to the person being born, so there would be no concern with daughters of Nephilim passing on an infected gene.

My Reply: It’s true there is no “hint” in the conquest narratives that the problem of the Nephilim infection of the human race was “in view.” But that’s precisely my point. If the problem of the Nephilim before the flood was that they were infecting the human race, how could this not be a problem with the Nephilim after the flood – if indeed the Canaanite giants were supernaturally begotten just as the pre-flood giants? And perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see how appealing to the pre-scientific views of conception and gestation answer the question I raise.

Michael's Rejoinder: The reason that the problem was “messing with the human race” in Genesis 6 is because that’s what Genesis 6 says. The OT never says thereafter with the other giant clans that there was any mingling of the populations (there were Mosaic laws forbidding it, though). I can’t say intermingling was the problem when the text doesn’t say that. The problem is clearly other: these were descendants of ancient enemies who were occupying the land. These particular enemies were viewed as demonic. As such, the story of the genocide of these particular populations are cast as holy war—it was Yahweh vs. the demon-gods and Yahweh’s people vs. the people of those demon-gods. I’m just saying what the text says without trying to insert any other reason.

6) My Original Question: If many (or all) of the Canaanites were not fully human, why do the narratives consistently refer to them simply as humans?

Michael Response: “Because they WERE human. They were just more than human. Remember Jesus? He was fully human but not only human.” He adds, “the nephilim and the giant clans were not deity like Jesus. But they did have unusual parentage.”

My Reply: I concede Michael’s point. But it still seems to me that if the Nephilim of Canaan had “unusual parentage” we might expect more than one verse (Num. 13:33) indicating it.

Michael's Rejoinder: There’s a lot more than one verse in play (and this is my dilemma in writing this book). That one explicit verse needs to be set against the backdrop of the wider Canaanite religions. It was not just an Israelite belief that certain populations in certain areas were “Sheol/Underworld ground zero.” Bashan = “place of the serpent” to the people of Ugarit as well – doesn’t take much imagination.

7) My Original Question: While some of Heiser's exegetical arguments were compelling and insightful (he certainly caused me to notice some things I'd never noticed in the text before!), others struck me as a bit stretched. Most importantly, his reading of Genesis 3 left me unconvinced.

Michael's Response: Michael responded by saying readers of my blog “need to read the chapter” [in his book]. He says, “If you understand the wordplay going on in Genesis 3 (the Hebrew word for “earth” is also used for “Sheol” or the Underworld in the Bible) it is easy to see how God is sentencing the Shining One, who wanted to be above the highest of God’s created order (the “stars of God—the heavenly host – see Isaiah 14:9ff.), to be below every created thing – literally sentenced to rule the Underworld (hell) instead.”

My Reply: I grant that readers need to read the chapter to ascertain its plausibility. But the main problem with his interpretation, I felt, was that Gen. 3:1 refers to the serpent as one of the “wild animals” God made, and 3:15 curses him “above all livestock and all wild animals.” In this light it's hard for me to think the author had anything other than a real snake/serpent in mind. But, as always, I could be wrong.

Mike Rejoinder: This is precisely why most OT scholars do NOT think Ezek 28 and Isa 14 reference the Eden story. Read the text CLOSELY. It never actually says that the nachash IS one of the beasts of the field. ESV has “the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field.” Here’s where English translations betray the reader. The Word “other” isn’t in the Hebrew text! What the text actually says is that the nachash “was more crafty than the beast of the field.” No kidding—he was a divine being! I don’t want contradictions between Genesis 3, Ezekiel 28, and Isaiah 14 where none exist—and translations like the ESV (and your assumptions about Genesis 3:1) create contradictions (unintentionally).

8) My Original Point: Against the church tradition, Heiser argues that Satan first fell when humans fell – in Genesis 3. He is correct in noting that the Bible doesn’t explicitly teach that Satan fell prior to the human fall. But I think we have other sound reasons for thinking he did.

Michael's Response: Michael responded that he didn’t “say anywhere that Satan fell in Genesis 3.”

My reply: My apologies. I inferred this because Michael says in his book that “the fall of what is likely a large group of angels (demons) is never described anywhere in the Bible prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve” and because he emphasizes that Genesis 3 is where the Lord cursed “the shiny one” and cast him down.

Michaels Rejoiner: And it isn’t. We have to speculate that there was, and I (with you) believe that as well.

Thanks to Michael for this interaction. I wish him the best with his book and encourage those interested in this topic to be looking for it.

Okay, that's it for the Nephilim issue, but not for the broader Jesus Versus Jehovah issue. (I'm thinking about writing a book with that title. Catchy, heh?)