Saturday, February 6, 2010

Joseph Smith Didn't Believe in Watchers

OT SS Lesson #6 -- Originally posted at Mormon Matters
Hidden in our scripture reading for this week is a strange little passage which many modern Biblical scholars say was originally intended to explain the rise of the giant race of antiquity by the union of angelic beings with human wives.  These verses in Genesis stirred a lively debate among early Christian theologians as they struggled to explain why God felt it necessary to cleanse the Earth with a worldwide Flood.  It all starts with this odd passage inserted in the account before Noah built his vessel, the great ark.
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose…There were giants (Nephilim) in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:1-5)
This small passage has been the subject of much dispute in Christendom, and two main schools of exegesis have formed. The first and most popular explains this passage as descriptive of disobedient angels (sometimes called Watchers) who descended from celestial realms and cohabitated with human women, producing a race of giants. Pseudopigraphic literature such as the Book of Enoch are dedicated to expanding this particular incident and serve as proof-tests for this theory. It is also similar in many respects to various myths of Near Eastern peoples. This interpretation has spawned all kinds of new-age speculation on alien races, their interaction with antediluvian human beings, and modern-day abductions — but is actually the more conservative and accepted interpretation by the higher critics.
An alternate explanation results by understanding the term “sons of God” to be the pious race descended from Seth, who sinned by marrying descendants of Cain, who would have been pagans. This is favored by some Christian groups who object to the idea that angels are physical or sexual beings. Many Jewish Biblical authorities prefer this explanation as well, to maintain an emphasis on one God.
The first explanation is definitely the cool one.  I would have thought that Joseph Smith would have been all over fallen angels, with his emphasis on the corporeality of divine beings.  But it turns out that Joseph didn’t believe in Watchers.  Hugh Nibley wrote an article explaining how Joseph’s theology in the Book of Moses provides a solution to the dilemma:
It is the Joseph Smith Enoch which gives the most convincing solution: the beings who fell were not angels but men who had become sons of God. From the beginning, it tells us, mortal men could qualify as “sons of God,” beginning with Adam. Moses 6:68 How? By believing and entering the covenant. Moses 7:1 Thus when “Noah and his sons hearkened unto the Lord, and gave heed … they were called the sons of God.” Moses 8:13In short, the sons of God are those who accept and live by the law of God. When “the sons of men” (as Enoch calls them) broke their covenant, they still insisted on that exalted title: “Behold, we are the sons of God; have we not taken unto ourselves the daughters of men?” Moses 8:21 (Hugh Nibley, “A Strange Thing in the Land: The Return of the Book of Enoch, Part 8,” Ensign, Dec 1976, 73)
Joseph Smith’s unique Mormon spin on the b’nei ha-Elohim was that they were priesthood holders, and the covenant people of the Lord, who were defiling themselves by marrying out of the covenant.  Their resulting progeny were “Nephilim,” or “fallen ones.” Joseph Fielding Smith later clarified the LDS interpretation of Genesis 6 when he scolded:
There is a prevailing doctrine in the Christian world that these sons of God were heavenly beings who came down and married the daughters of men and thus came a superior race on the earth, the result bringing the displeasure of the Lord. This foolish notion is the result of lack of proper information, and because the correct information is not found in the Book of Genesis Christian peoples have been led astray.  The correct information regarding these unions is revealed in the inspired interpretation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Book of Moses. Without doubt when this scripture was first written, it was perfectly clear, but scribes and translators in the course of time, not having divine inspiration, changed the meaning to conform to their incorrect understanding. These verses in the Prophet’s revision give us a correct meaning, and from them we learn why the Lord was angry with the people and decreed to shorten the span of life and to bring upon the world the flood of purification.  (Answers to Gospel Questions, 5 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957-1966], 1: 136.)
The doctrine is repeated in sermons in the Journal of Discourses, such as this one by Charles W. Penrose:
It is stated that the iniquity of man was great, and God brought a flood on the earth. Now, to understand that correctly we have to know what kind of position those persons were in, and why they were called the “Sons of God.” Those men were in the same position as the Latter-day Saints. They were heirs to the Priesthood. They were the sons of God. They had obeyed the holy covenants. They had received the word of the Lord. They were consecrated to the Almighty. But they went outside of their covenants and their engagement with the Lord, and took wives of the daughters of men that were not in the covenant, and thus transgressed the law of God. The law of God in relation to this has been the same in all ages, and has been given to this people—that the sons of Israel shall wed the daughters of Israel, and shall not go out to wed with the stranger. These men did that, and God was displeased, as He is to-day with Latter-day Saints, who are called out of the world to be His servants, to be holy unto the Lord, to be clean because they bear the vessels of the Lord, when they go outside and wed with the stranger. (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [London: Latter-day Saints' Book Depot, 1854-1886], 25: 228 – 229.)
Perhaps because of its controversial nature Genesis 6:1-4 is often ignored when discussing the causes of the flood, even though the strong link between them has been noted in the past.  More fundamental religionists believe that this type of explanation of the Flood underscores the importance of maintaining racial and spiritual purity. God’s believing remnant must be preserved. When men failed to perceive the importance of this, God had to judge them severely.  In a Pearl of Great Price Institute Manual, President John Taylor is quoted, describing the Flood as an act of love, done for the benefit of that generation. By taking away their earthly existence God prevented them from entailing their sins upon their posterity and degenerating them.  An additional quotation from Joseph Fielding Smith applies this lesson to our day, saying:
“Because the daughters of Noah married the sons of men contrary to the teachings of the Lord, his anger was kindled, and this offense was one cause that brought to pass the universal flood. . . . The daughters who had been born, evidently under the covenant, and were the daughters of the sons of God, that is to say of those who held the priesthood, were transgressing the commandment of the Lord and were marrying out of the Church . Thus they were cutting themselves off from the blessings of the priesthood contrary to the teachings of Noah and the will of God. . . .Today there are foolish daughters of those who hold this same priesthood who are violating this commandment and marrying the sons of men; there are also some of the sons of those who hold the priesthood who are marrying the daughters of men. All of this is contrary to the will of God just as much as it was in the days of Noah” (Pearl of Great Price Student Manual - Religion 327)
Now, the Church still teaches that it is preferable not to marry outside of the covenant.  But we’re usually not so un-PC as to suggest that marrying non-members is an abominable sin that may cause mankind to be swept off the earth.  Some of you reading this post may not even agree that marrying outside the covenant is what brought a great judgment upon these people.  Once again, we’re seeing a shift in doctrine, to the point that some Latter-day Saint thinkers are again putting credence in the “Watcher” theory of Genesis 6.  Recent examples are posts by Yellow Dart at Faith Promoting Rumor, Seth P. at his blog, and David Larsen at Heavenly Ascents. In this, we’re not so different than the Christian world, where the debate continues.
Robert C. Newman points out some interesting facts concerning the current controversy:
The present form of the debate is rather paradoxical. On the one hand, liberal theologians, who deny the miraculous, claim the account pictures a supernatural liaison between divine beings and humans. Conservative theologians, though believing implicitly in angels and demons, tend to deny the passage any such import. The liberal position is more understandable with the realisation that they deny the historicity of the incident and see it as a borrowing from pagan mythology. The rationale behind the conservative view is more complex: though partially a reaction to liberalism, the view is older than liberal theology.
Why do you think our LDS bloggers are beginning to reconsider such an unusual theory?

62 Responses to “Joseph Smith Didn’t Believe in Watchers”

  • LayGuy
    First of all, thanks for for linking the awesome pic above from my website. As a non-Mormon, I find this article interesting to read – mainly due to the derogatory nature it paints against us “non-Mormons”. In particular, the quote by Joseph Fielding Smith..
    “There is a prevailing doctrine in the Christian world that these sons of God were heavenly beings who came down and married the daughters of men and thus came a superior race on the earth, the result bringing the displeasure of the Lord. This foolish notion is the result of lack of proper information, and because the correct information is not found in the Book of Genesis Christian peoples have been led astray.”
    Well I’m one of those “fools” who doesn’t believe in your so called “Genesis” book – and stick to the angelic origin of the “sons of God”. You see, us Christians don’t give any attention to the Book of Mormon as we find it totally bizarre that you people equate Jesus and Lucifer as brothers!
    The interpretation has absolutely nothing to do with liberal or conservative views. Anyone, with half a brain, can whip out a concordance and study for themselves where “sons of God” is mentioned in the Old Testament and plainly see that it ALWAYS refers to angelic beings.
  • Bored in Vernal
    LayGuy, Thanks for visiting Mormon Matters! While my post was written primarily for those interested in Mormonism, I’d like to address your point. I included a link to a paper by Trevor J. Majorswhich quite cogently represents the opposing view–and indicates that someone with “half a brain” might come to the same conclusion as Joseph Fielding Smith (though I think Joseph Fielding has an edge on abrasiveness). Majors does an excellent job of presenting his view that the angelic beings interpretation is inconsistent both contextually and doctrinally, and the definition an unnecessary imposition on the text. There are many theologians in the Christian world who take this stance. One doesn’t have to believe in the Pearl of Great Price to do so.
    That Christians are divided on this is hardly an issue. The purpose of this post is to explore the reasons that Mormons are beginning to discuss and support both sides.
  • LayGuy
    Hi Bored,
    I’m totally glad that Mormon’s are starting to discuss “both sides” of this debate. I read Major’s take on the issue and shiver at his conclusion – “antithetical parallelism” – in other words, this text is so damn confronting to my worldview that I need to slap all sorts of labels onto it to fit it into the son’s of Seth theory! :)
    Sorry if I come across as simple and lack big words in my comments! I am, after all, the LayGuy! :)
    However, the Son’s of Seth theory rapes the text of any contextual meaning. Hang on, let me slap a big word in here – umm..rapathetical abnormalatism! There you go! Maybe someone may sit up and take notice now!
    The Son’s of Seth theory was invented to hide the morbid truth that angels left their proper existence in heaven and sinned by impregnating mere humans. The result was a genetically mutated human being – the Nephilim. Demigods – half human, half spiritual. I suggest something for you. Stop here. Close the Book or Mormon and any allegiance to it’s teaching and go off and study ancient civilisations. You’d be staggered at the common theme of demigods and giants. It’s rampant – across the whole world!
    This was all part of Satan’s plan to alter the DNA of humans and thwart the Messiah arriving through the seed of the woman. I strongly suggest, that those wanting to look into these matters, pull out their Hebrew Lexicons and delve into the meaning of all the words in Genesis 6.
    You’ll find an angelic conspiracy to pollute the gene lines of humans and animals. You might find the answers as to why we find fossils of Neanderthals and dinosaurs. You’ll find that Noah’s gene line was “physically perfect” – i.e. none of the Nephilim juice was in his bloodlines baby!
    You just might even come to the conclusion that the very reason God wiped out planet earth was that the unholy alliance between angles and human’s had so wrecked planet earth and posed such a threat to the coming of the Messiah in human form (I know you Mormons will differ with me on this point), that the only solution God could do was wipe the slate clean and start again.
    I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Maybe it all had to do with some serious flirting with the daughters of Cain. I hear they could have been real cute! Doesn’t explain GIANT offspring though! :)
  • aquinas
    Thanks for the provocative post. I found this interesting: “I would have thought that Joseph Smith would have been all over fallen angels, with his emphasis on the corporeality of divine beings.” I hadn’t considered the issue in this way before. I think you are right that Joseph would have favored a concept of fallen angels, but perhaps just not fallen and corporeal angels.
    My understanding has been that Joseph’s interpretation of Genesis 6 shadowed or was perhaps indicative of his premortal narrative that the punishment of disobedient spirits was that they were denied physical bodies. The idea of corporeal disobedient angels would not fit that narrative. Even with Joseph’s divine council narrative with councilors as sons of God, it isn’t clear whether Joseph viewed them as embodied. The Lucifer character clearly is not embodied, so it may not have made sense to Joseph to understand fallen angels as embodied. “The Devil has no body, and herein is his punishment” (1841). This also seems to fit his view of angels as either resurrected, or not yet resurrected spirits of just men (1843). His instructions of detecting evil spirits seems not to entertain the possibility of an evil spirit who was corporeal and could “shake hands.” Again in 1843 he repeats the view that spirits who kept not their first estate “should not have a habitation like other men.” It is interesting since the Book of Moses predates his other revelations on the nature of angels, the divine council and the war in heaven.
    To be sure, one can interpret Joseph’s cosmology in a way that doesn’t preclude the existence of tabernacled disobedient spirits, but its unclear whether Joseph interpreted his revelations in such a way. It seems to me that Joseph’s interpretation Genesis 6 seems to fit with or telegraph his later revelations on angels, resurrection and embodiment.
  • MH
    Layguy, I wrote another post dealing with the Pre-Mortal existence, and specifically asked how Evangelicals reconcile how Lucifer came into existence. It’s a bit off topic here, but I’d love to get ananswer to my post. I’m looking for a respectful answer, rather than a sarcastic one please.
    I loved where BiV quotes Newman: “The present form of the debate is rather paradoxical. On the one hand, liberal theologians, who deny the miraculous, claim the account pictures a supernatural liaison between divine beings and humans. Conservative theologians, though believing implicitly in angels and demons, tend to deny the passage any such import.” Ahh, the paradox of scripture.
  • Jettboy
    I find LayGuy’s insistence as fascinating as the interpretations. By the way, I am one of those on the side that believes the Sons of God are Priesthood holders under the Covenant. This isn’t because I don’t believe in Angels and all of that; because obviously I do. Its because, theologically for Mormonism, angels having children is not possible. The assumption would have to be that these are exalted resurrected beings. Why they would come down for mortal pleasures is beyond me to even comprehend.
    As for “Giants on the Earth?” I think the answer to that is in the next description of, “the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” The “Giants” were just great men of means and position. We still call those we respect or think highly of as giants of history. Just for added benefit, I’ll even give credit that the text really means “Giants” as a borrowing from pagan mythology to make the story more grand than it really was. Then again , Moses 8:18 pretty much states that the giants were seeking Noah’s life. I think these were kings and warlords of vast power and influence, not much different than stories told by Greeks.
    It wasn’t only marrying outside the Covenant that brought the wrath of the flood. The people were wicked and destructive:
    28 The earth was corrupt before God, and it was filled with violence.
    29 And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted its away upon the earth.
    30 And God said unto Noah: The end of all flesh is come before me, for the earth is filled with violence, and behold I will destroy all flesh from off the earth.
    These were not innocent people most of them. They were taught the gospel and went against the Lord anyway. Humanity at that point had chosen to reject righteousness. There was no turning back or repenting because they had made up their minds and hardened their hearts. For added information, this is what the end of the world is going to be like with few remaining who cling to truth and righteousness.
  • Jared
    Thanks for this excellent post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I haven’t thought about this topic for many years.
    Regarding LayGuy’s cynical attitude: I wish people who claim to follow Christ would try to be more understanding of one another’s Christian beliefs.
    This admonishment goes for Mormons too.
    It’s not easy, I know it can be difficult. I often fall short of the mark.
    Joseph Smith encountered humankind’s resistance to additional light and knowledge as he brought forth the revelations of the restoration. He said the following, that pretty well sums it up for those who are familiar with trees and tree knots.
    Note: for experience with knots in hardwood, try sawing, with a handsaw, through a hemlock knot. Should you do so, you’ll understand Joseph’s analogy by experience.
    “There has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn-dodger [a piece of corn bread] for a wedge, and a pumpkin for a beetle [a wooden mallet]. Even the Saints are slow to understand.” (History of the Church, 6:184).
    Parenthetical thought: when LDS put as much effort into understanding and experiencing “faith” as is done in exploring church history, doctrinal mysteries, and sundry other topics, then we’ll have greater experience with the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Spirit.
  • Joseph Smidt
    Bored in Vernal,
    Very interesting to read an well researched.
    “who were defiling themselves by marrying out of the covenant.”
    1. Reminds me, I just saw Fiddler on the Roof again the other day and it has a few scenes showing how important marrying in the covenant are to many Jewish people. (Or at least Jews living back in the day.) Great movie though!
    2. There is no mystical punishment for marrying outside the covenant. The “punishment” is the effect of two spouses that in a very crucial way are very “unequally yoked”. Many studies show if married couples have vast differences in philosophical or religious views and or how to raise children, etc… it has a negative impact. It’s creates yet another reason to believe your spouse is fundamentally pointed in the wrong direction.
    Sure, many people can deal with it just fine, but on statistical levels it causes problems.
    *Note:* I’m not saying marrying outside the covenant is wrong or bad, only that statistically it can make life more difficult. It should therefore be done with caution.
  • Joseph Smidt
    Oh, and if it wasn’t clear from my comment, the interpretation that had something to do with marrying outside the covenant is probably correct. It could be something else but I’m sure it is not some mystical beings from some unseen world waiting to punish us.
  • Katie L.
    BiV, great post. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
    I recently read this passage in my own Bible reading, and I have to say, it’s stuff like this that makes me LOVE the Bible. You just never know what’s going to happen next.
    The idea of heavenly beings coming down to mate with humans seems so far-fetched that I’m not sure I could entertain it as being literally true even for a second. I’m trying to understand what would be the point of that narrative. What is the value in believing that? It’s so foreign to my modern sensibilities that I think I’d need a much clearer understanding of the culture from which the narrative rose in order to begin to understand it.
  • Bored in Vernal
    I am pleased that we had a visit from a passionate believer in the “Watchers” theory. I have a feeling that the majority of Latter-day Saints are going to be with the Joseph Fielding Smith answer, however to the credit of LayGuy, there are many well-reasoned arguments for the other side. If you’re interested, there are several very good essays on the fallen angels theory here.
    Aquinas, #4, thank you for a wonderful treatment of why Joseph Smith’s interpretation of Genesis 6 fits with his other writings on wicked/righteous spirits. I think those who present the other view (as Yellow Dart seems to imply in his post) have to do a bit of manipulation to make it fit. By equating the b’nei ha-Elohim of Genesis 6 with the spirits in the Divine Council, one must assume that it is possible for a premortal spirit either to become embodied or perhaps that their spirit essence is of sufficient substance to beget children. There are other possibilities, such as resurrected beings (and they would have to be from other worlds, since there was no resurrection here before Christ’s) but none of these possible “sons of God/s” quite mesh with the description given in D&C 129.
    Jettboy #6, that is one possibility for the “Giants,” (see here). I think it’s important to bear in mind that the Hebrew “Nephilim” is not easily translated. The word can mean “fellers” (like those who fell a tree, or a person) and thus are a type of bully; or it can mean “fallen ones.” I prefer the latter meaning. I think it goes along well with being descendants of those who had broken their covenants.
  • Ms. Jack Meyers
    Joseph Smith’s unique Mormon spin on the b’nei ha-Elohim was that they were priesthood holders, and the covenant people of the Lord, who were defiling themselves by marrying out of the covenant.
    I’m pretty sure I’m the one who got defiled when my husband married out of the covenant. But seriously, did Joseph Smith really teach that God wiped out the world with a flood because of interfaith marriage? I never knew we were that dangerous.
    I completely support the interpretation that the “sons of God” = angelic/divine beings. I figured that out when I was 16 or 17, long before I’d learned Hebrew, just by using the concordance of my NIV Study Bible and looking up parallel usages of the term “sons of God” in the Old Testament. It always refers to angelic/divine beings.
    Besides, I think we can all agree that sex with angels sounds totally hot.
  • Bored in Vernal
    Jack, the problem with using such a simplistic approach is that Hebrew, as most languages, has words that can mean different things. For example, the word “elohim” is a debated term which we are not even sure is plural. It is used in the Bible to refer to clay idols as well as to the Ruler of the Universe. It’s not so hard to see that “sons of (the) god(s)” can have a range of meaning from messengers. to angelic (or we would say premortal) beings, to covenant people. “Sons of God” again changes its meaning in the New Testament.
    But I do agree with you about the sex with angels part.
  • Rico
    The reason I reject the Fielding Smith argument is that: 1. I think the scriptural injunctions regarding marriage outside the covenant are that it has a tendency to lead people away from their God, not that they break the covenant themselves. Moreover, there an instance of a prophet marrying outside the covenant (Joseph and Asenath – although I believe there has been instances of people who believe she converted – I think this is unlikely).
    2. We believe in a god that can fall and we therefore do not believe our ‘divine’ beings are immutable or incorruptible. Thus theologically speaking it is possible.
    However, my problem with the theory is that it does not make logical sense for me, in that why would angel come down and do such things? I am not saying this is a reason to reject it but it just seems really strange.
  • Arthur H.
    How many chromosomes does an angel have, then?
  • Bored in Vernal
    Rico–I’m with you–but it’s hard to reject both explanations when you don’t have a replacement, isn’t it?
    Do you think there’s a possibility that there is another way to interpret the passage that we just haven’t recognized yet? Or would you like to throw the whole thing out as unscriptural, perhaps borrowed from mythology?
  • Kevin Barney
    I personally accept the Watchers theory as a contextual reading of the Genesis passage, and see the Moses reading as an attempt to make some sense of the passage rationally.
  • Cowboy
    #17 – That’s a very interesting take on it. There has been some argument that the JST of the Bible was in some cases direct revelation, and in others just an attempt by Joseph Smith to clarify confusing passages. A quick example is during the plagues with Pharoah, where in several instances the original KJV states that God hardened Pharoahs heart. the JST clarifies this to mean that Pharoah actually hardened his own heart. Some have suggested that the JST is not necessarilly a more correct translation from a technical standpoint in this example, rather Joseph Smith just felt the need to clarify that God had not robbed Pharoah of his free will.
    Are you suggesting that in either whole or part, The Book of Moses functions in the same way? In other words it was not so much revelation, as much as it was intellectual interpretation?
    I am aware that The Book of Moses coincided with the period of time (I know that doesn’t say much) when Joseph Smith was undergoing his JST process. For what it is worth, I think I agree with you and Layguy that the intent behind the passage in Genesis is to suggest fallen angels breeding with mortals. I say this because of Layguys observation that the Joseph Fielding Smith argument does not explain the “Giants”. A side note that I used to give attention to was that the Genesis account states that it was the son’s of God who followed after the daughters of men, whereas the Moses account states that it was the Daughters of God who followed after the son’s of men.
  • Bored in Vernal
    So Kevin, to push you a little bit– do you “deny the historicity of the incident and see it as a borrowing from pagan mythology?”
  • Cowboy
    “Parenthetical thought: when LDS put as much effort into understanding and experiencing “faith” as is done in exploring church history, doctrinal mysteries, and sundry other topics, then we’ll have greater experience with the Holy Ghost and the gifts of the Spirit.”
    I assume you believe that The Book of Moses was divinely inspired. If so, I wonder if you have given you critique careful thought. After all, if God went to the effort of revealing this detail – out of the countless things he could have “restored” – perhaps he intends/desires for us to put great effort into exploring Church history, doctrinal mysteries, and sundry other topics. When I believed in the Church my opinion was that there was very little one could do to increase their testimony beyond studying the scriptures and doctrines vigorously, and applying the principles to their lives.
  • Steven B
    Count me as one who considers the story as a mythology having no rational basis in fact. But it is consistent with the early theology of the Hebrew people. They believed that God was not in complete control of the situation and had to start fresh. They also believed that marrying outside of the faith could bring about the destruction of the world.
  • Mike S
    There is much in the Old Testament that is a relic of the times – that can’t be interpreted literally. Like most writings from that time, I think there is truth wrapped up in language of the times.
    My own interpretation (which isn’t any more valid than any of the thousands of others out there):
    - People married outside their own “people”. For LDS, that would be non-LDS. For Jews, that would be non-Jews. For Muslims, that would be non-Muslim.
    - A natural disaster happened involving flooding in the area these people lived. Not likely a “world-wide” flood, as there’s no evidence for that, yet a lot of evidence against that.
    - Due to human nature, people attributed that natural phenomenon of the flood to God’s displeasure with marrying outside the “covenant”, much the same way that when something bad happens to us, we are also inclined to see this as God’s displeasure with something we did or didn’t do
    - As the story was passed down and eventually written down, we get what we have today:
    … A race of “great men” – as covered above – this could be great as seen by worldly riches, etc.
    … A flood covering the entire earth – the “world” was defined in ancient times much more narrowly than we do
    I don’t think it was much more or less than this.
  • Kevin Barney
    No. 18 Cowboy, the Book of Moses is part of the JST. I think a lot of it is midrashic style commentary.
    No. 19 BiV, yes.
  • Daughter of Eve
    Reply to #14
    I’m curious as to when the Church started preaching that God can fall? Never have I heard this doctrine and as far as I know, it is false. Could you give references to this assertion? Thanks.
  • Martin
    Most interesting post. I had no idea the standard Christian interpretation was of fallen angels impregnating human women, so the thought comes off crazy to me. If it were true, it would imply that resurrected beings can defy God and enter our world (more than one would expect from telestial or terrestrial beings) and can and sometimes do decide to rebel against God. The implications of that are staggering: 1) since we’re taught corporeal beings have power over the non-corporeal, that would imply Satan is working for somebody else, as there are evil corporeal beings of great power; 2) it implies that even after “you made it” (received celestial glory), you still have to watch out for temptation (something too horrible for me to accept).
    Naw, I like the more typical Mormon interpretation better.
    Though, the typical Christian one would make a better movie!
  • Jared
    #20 Hi Cowboy–
    I agree with you–I do. I think we should study everything the Lord has provided because it can have a good ending. However, studying needs to lead to application and experience.
    What I’m saying is that few LDS seem to really “experience” faith at the various levels that the Lord makes available. Forgive me for alluding to my experiences as an example, but I can speak with confidence therein.
    There is nothing I have achieved in my life that comes close to equaling the sublime experience of divine intervention that comes from exercising “faith”.
    Most of the time exercising faith leads to help from a divine source. The help that comes is usually in a manner that is natural so that one could say, “Oh, that’s an interesting coincidence. I’ve been praying about that and here’s the answer, but could that be how He answered my prayer?” It’s easy to discount this kind of answer to prayer. I think it done all the time. But then there are other answers that come in unmistakable ways. A vision, or by the ministering of an angel(s) (this comes in several forms, where the angel(s) are seen and heard, or just heard).
    I think latter-day saints experience the first kind (natural means) fairly often. It’s easy to discount this kind of experience. I think LDS would experience the second kind (miraculous) more often if they would “diligently seek” in the manner the Lord has shown us in the Book of Mormon.
    A thought on worthiness. I think many LDS miss understand what it means to be worthy to receive a blessing from the Lord. The reason I feel this way is because of my experience.
    Worthiness, I’ve learned, has more to do with desire, sincerity, and willingness than it does with keeping the commandments. It isn’t possible for a human being to keep the commandments–perfectly. But we can access perfection through the Savior’s atonement. This is how a member accesses the higher manifestations of the Spirit. I’ve done it many times, so it isn’t words on the pages of the scriptures for me, any longer.
    So my parenthetical thought isn’t meant to suggest “not to seek and search”. I think we need to ratchet things up a bit and put our faith on the line and ask the Lord to forgive us of our sins so that we can be “worthy” to access the higher manifestations of the Spirit. The Book of Mormon teaches this approach with power. The doctrine of Christ is available to all of us so we can receive a remission of our sins. When we do, then we will have greater access to the Lord. Nearly every author/prophet in the Book of Mormon is an example of this process.
    Cowboy, last thought–I don’t think you’re as far from believing in the “church” as you think. Just my opinion. :D
  • Katie L.
    Besides, I think we can all agree that sex with angels sounds totally hot.
    Jack, I couldn’t agree more that sex with angels would be beyond spectacular…but do you really think angels actually came down and got their groove on with the earthly wimminz? For reals?
  • Joseph Smidt
    “How many chromosomes does an angel have, then?”
    This is the most intelligent comment said thus far.
    *People*, we’ve examined human DNA to the point that we can even tell what what different non-human animals our ancestors mated with, which part of the world they migrated from, and even how large their populations were, etc…
    Guess what, nothing resembling anything other than humans mating with non-supernatural beings is anywhere to be found. Furthermore, all DNA can be tracked along migrationary paths along the earth. Did angels follow these same migratory patterns before they mated with humans?
    Do angels magically have mortal human DNA with DNA signatures matching human species that migrated around the globe for thousands of years? Or has this DNA magically disappeared?
    Sure, we can speculate, as many religious people do, about all sorts of things that run contrary to evidence like: the universe being created in 7 days, etc…
    But at some point you have to realize the truth Behinds Joseph Smith’s words “Facts are stubborn things.” and no amount of wordplay using ancient Hebrew or mixing and matching GA’s quotes changes any of this.
    It’s a great post! But the fact people really believe this makes as much sense to me as the people who believe the earth is flat because the scriptures say the earth has four corners. People like that exist, but come on.
  • Cliff
    Bored, thank you for your post. As a Gospel Doctrine Teacher, I was going to just skip over the whole Sons of God thing and move on to how big a cubit was, but now I have a better understanding. Thank you for taking the time to explain that.
  • Ms. Jack Meyers
    Katie ~ Well, let me put it this way: is believing that angels can have sex with humans really any crazier than believing that some cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree?
    In traditional Christianity, angels are a different race from humans and God. We don’t know the extent of their powers, or what their bodies are like other than that they’re capable of imitating humans perfectly. And we do know that they can sin if they wish (Jude 1:6-7, which many interpret as a reference to the actions of the beings in Genesis 6).
    For the record, I disagree with LayGuy that this is the standard interpretation among Christians. I think by far the most common interpretation among lay Christians is the sons of Seth theory. It’s Christian apologists and intellectuals who are aware of the strong textual and extra-biblical literary evidence for the angels/lesser deities interpretation that prefer it. Here is an article by a friend of mine which briefly lists the evidence for this interpretation and the problems with the other interpretations.
    Now, I’ll thank you all to stop trying to take all the fun out of my religion.
  • Bored in Vernal
    Joseph, I think *most* (apparently not ALL) people who are defending the fallen angels theory are doing so with the view that this was a piece of mythology from ancient traditions which was inserted into the narrative. The point is being made that the interpretation should reflect the intention of the writing, and that the ancients were relating the story of fallen angels and did not intend to describe a pious race descended from Seth.
    I assume that Mormons who take a more literal or fundamental view of the Old Testament will be more drawn to the Jos. Fielding Smith explanation.
    My original question was written with the intention of discovering whether Latter-day Saints were beginning to take a less literal view of the Bible, historically tracing it back to its apparent origins (as it seems Kevin Barney and others prefer).
  • Cowboy
    “Cowboy, last thought–I don’t think you’re as far from believing in the “church” as you think. Just my opinion.”
    Sorry to disappoint Jared, but I doubt it. Like others, I just happen to come from a history of Mormon entrenchment, so I am able to relate well (I think…).
  • Bored in Vernal
    Jack, we cross-posted, but I think it’s very interesting that among Christians (at least on the internet) it seems to be mostly apologists/intellectuals as you state, OR crack-pot loony alien-abductionists who stick to the fallen angel theory. No offense intended to LayGuy, but I just don’t see the Christian mainstream as being invested in it.
  • Joseph Smidt
    Bored in Vernal,
    Thank you for your comment.
    “The point is being made that the interpretation should reflect the intention of the writing, and that the ancients were relating the story of fallen angels and did not intend to describe a pious race descended from Seth.”
    I agree so I apologize if my comment was missing where people were coming from. Again, keep up the good work.
  • Ms. Jack Meyers
    BiV, I completely agree. In my experience, the Christian mainstream is just as uncomfortable with this idea as some of the (LDS?) people commenting on this thread.
    I’m fine with it because I don’t think it’s any crazier than anything else that Christianity teaches. It certainly isn’t any crazier than some of the things Mormonism has taught. If past LDS leaders can accept that God the Father Himself can have sex with humans, I don’t see what’s so unacceptable about angels having sex with humans.
  • Ms. Jack Meyers
    And I should clarify that I’m not trying to argue with you, BiV. I’m just providing some context for the concept as far as the Mormon worldview is concerned.
  • Cowboy
    Kevin #23:
    I understand you are something of an expert on Jewish traditions. A sincere question: I am struggling to reconcile how the book of Moses would be considered Midrashic commentary, given that it does not present itself as exegesis. In many cases The Book of Moses introduces concepts not only foreign to the Genesis account, but also to extra-bibilical writings as well. In particular is the “temptation of Moses”, and I think the “worlds without number” bit as well. Based on the way the account is written, I believe it is insinuating to be a literal account of Moses. I understand that in the Nauvoo era, Joseph Smith had employed at least one Jewish Rabbi to instruct him and others in Hebrew and Jewish tradition. I have also read that he may have studied writings such as the Kabbalah (I’ll admit right away to knowing very little about these subjects).
    Are there traditions or writings from these sources that Joseph Smith could have used to inform his commentary? Lastly, is there precedent in midrashic tradition for this style of writing, where the exegesis is presented as a fictional narrative that does not allude to the allegory?
  • FireTag
    The Kabbalah does contain some ideas that can relate to the “worlds without number” idea, and they go back AT LEAST as far as the 11th Century, and possibly are far more ancient.
    More interesting to me is the fact that the idea of parallel universes, including duplicates of our earth, and of US (the JST does say other “earths” , not just other worlds, after all) does pop up as a very robust result in most currently viable theories of cosmology. That does make me take notice of the possibility that prophets (Joseph and/or Moses) may be shown things they have no basis for understanding. After seeing those “worlds without number, the prophet was immediately told to focus on the more immediate matters of THIS world.
    I also wonder, given that the “flood” can probably be related to oral traditions of real “megafloods” happening at the end of the last ice age throughout many regions of the world, and given that the “giants” precede the flood, whether we are dealihng with an even older oral tradition of the time during the ice age when modern humans shared the world briefly (and may have mated with, according to some scientists) with another larger human species, Neanterthals.
    No evidence for the latter interpretation. Just wondering.
  • Joseph Smidt
    “More interesting to me is the fact that the idea of parallel universes, including duplicates of our earth, and of US (the JST does say other “earths” , not just other worlds, after all) does pop up as a very robust result in most currently viable theories of cosmology.”
    Now here is some speculation that I could really cast my support behind as I know from my own research that it is nearly impossible to construct cosmological models that both fit the data and that do not also predict the formation of more than our universe.
    At least with this type of speculation we enter a realm where all data we know gives rise to physical models that support the idea that more than this universe had to be created.
    Now, just to be clear: we have no evidence that there is a multiverse, only that all models that we know of that give rise to our universe, keeping in mind the need for an inflationary phase in our history, also give rise to so much more!
  • Joseph Smidt
    “I also wonder, given that the “flood”…”
    I lived in the panhandle of Florida for a while where gopher wood grows. (One of the rare places it does.) Many of the locals swore Noah must have built his ship there because of various reasons. When they would tell me this I couldn’t help but think: “If they are right, maybe the flood was really a hurricane that hit Florida and washed Noah out to sea. Then, given the vastness of the ocean he becomes convinced the whole earth must be underwater until he lands clear over on the other side of the world.”
    Now, for several reasons the above has no evidence nor truth to it. But, it would be so fun if it were.
  • Jeff Spector
    “Now, the Church still teaches that it is preferable not to marry outside of the covenant. But we’re usually not so un-PC as to suggest that marrying non-members is an abominable sin that may cause mankind to be swept off the earth.”
    I think that the Sons of God marrying the Daughters of Men was not a primary reason for the flood but one of a chain of events that started with Cain. I spent a bunch of time on this since I am teaching this tomorrow as well. I prefer to think that this was almost a consequences of the wickedness that had fallen upon the people rather that a discrete thing that happened.
    After all, these were the Sons of Adam (progenitors) not so far removed from the garden itself. But there is more to it than what is explained in Genesis 6. It starts back in Moses 5:51-56.
    I prefer the simple answers that the Giants were tyrants or men who had fallen due to sin than any supernatural being.
  • Th.
    If LayGuy happens to return, I hope he will state clearly exactly what tone he was going for. I’m really not sure how seriously to take what he’s saying because I can’t interpret the way in which he is saying it.
  • Bored in Vernal
    Th: Here’s his post on the Nephilim. Sounds like he takes the fallen angels story very seriously/literally.
  • LayGuy
    Trust me – I’m dead serious – I just tend to write in my own style! :)
    Check out all my posts on this topic…Not too sure if the links will appear below. If not, just do a search on my blog..
  • Rico
    The idea God can fall is contained in the BoM reference to the idea that ‘God can cease to be God’. Al 42. Moremakes mover I follow Blake Ostler’s interpretation of what this means.
    To return to the issue at hand. Although I am sympathetic to the pagan borrowing idea, I think this still leaves us with the problem of explaining the flood. Assuming it was localized, it was either intended by God (but we have no adequate reason why) or it was a freak natural disaster that Noah was inspired to prepare for (and that the flood was attributed to God – because of his capricious nature – Ronan Head recently spoke about how this world view was present among the near east).
    In this context the latter makes more sense but this means the whole story is taking a new turn.
  • Rico
    I think i remember that Hugh Nibley gives a different interpretation than the one above he makes it sound that the angels came down and corrupted the ordinances by making a mockery of them. This is another interpretation that includes fallen divine beings but not the weirdness of the sex issue.
  • FireTag
    Rico: #45
    If it was natural, it was not freakish, but something that has happened dozens of times over the past 3 million or so years, and happened relentlessly rather than surprisingly.
  • Reed Russell
    This week, I’ve been watching a British series called “Hex.” One of the characters is Azazel – leader of the Nephilim. Wacky stuff.
  • Rameumptom
    While 1 Enoch has fallen angels, other ancient documents suggest fallen man as the Watchers. So it isn’t just modern men that can see both sides of this story. In fact, Nibley talks about the Cave of Treasures, and how Adam’s posterity at Jared’s time, leave the holy mountain because they are enticed by the daughters of Cain/men, who wear suggestive clothing, play seductive music, and dance for them (see Second Book of Adam and Eve).
    I see it as Satan giving his priestcraft power to his sons. Cain was definitely a fallen son of God. Adam and Eve had only recently received the fullness of the gospel, prior to Cain’s death, so that Eve could declare that she had gotten a child from the Lord. Cain was raised as a priest, holding God’s power on earth.
    In the medieval Book of Jasher, Adam’s garment is passed down, and stolen from Noah by Ham. Nimrod receives it, and the garment is used for evil purposes and getting gain and power. Yet, because it is the priesthood garment of Adam, it still retains great power. We get this same idea of God’s gifts being used for ill purposes, when the Urim and Thummim are described in the BoM: the person using it must not look for things he ought not.
    The Watchers are described as having stolen knowledge and talents from heaven. These include music, craftsmanship, etc. Cain was able to create a new covenant with Satan that twisted God’s covenant with man. This covenant continued down his line to Lamech, who boasted about slaying a man for the covenant. When his wives spoke it everywhere, it allowed secret combinations to spring up everywhere, and the world was filled with violence. Why? Because Satan now had multiple covenants with mankind, and God only had one with man.
    Even today, we note in LDS scripture how powerful knowledge is (D&C 130). Evil men are able to use knowledge to get great gain, riches, and government seats of power. Nimrod is described perfectly as the king of the earth, in his day. So powerful was he that he sought to then overthrow heaven. Isaiah’s prophesy against Nebuchadnezzar centuries later, aptly applies to Nimrod, whom Nebuchadnezzar sought to imitate (Isaiah 14). “How art thou fallen, O Lucifer, son of the morning….”
    So, while I do not think incorporeal angels were able to have mortal children and corrupt the world, I do think that mortal men who held the priesthood, changed alliances and gave their oaths to Satan, in exchange for worldly power and gain.
  • Arthur H.
    I was going to say more but Mr. Smidt said it for me. I don’t know why an angel would have the same DNA or number of chromosomes as a human. Maybe they do. I don’t know. But generally, from what we observe here on Earth, when two species produce offspring (and this rarely happens), the result is a sterile offspring.
    I’m open to being wrong, but I would like to know what the underlying mechanism is if it’s actually possible to produce non-sterile offspring with an angel.
  • SkepticTheist
    I disagree on the interpretation that Joseph Smith did not believe in the watchers. Joseph Smith merely gave a more literal interpretation of the THEME of the watchers in the JST. This didn’t invalidate the story of angels coming down to cohabit with women. This story was introduced into the biblical text by some Jewish redactor who recognized this THEME as what had happened before the flood. This theme is mythical. It is the same theme as the Titans who fought against Zeus. The Watchers in the Book of Enoch were never meant to be interpreted literally, just like many things in the Book of Revelation were never meant to be interpreted literally. It was meant to have multiple interpretations of that theme that embody that theme. The whole epistle of Jude is heavily dependent on the Book of Enoch. And Jude interpreted the theme as the angels who kept not their first estate. Hugh Nibley likened this to both Satan as well as Lamech who revealed secrets in an unauthorized way, as well as to Cain:
    “This is the classical account of the Watchers, angels who came to call the human race to repentance, but who, being tempted by the daughters of men, fell and gave away the covenants and the knowledge they possessed.” (Nibley, Temple and Cosmos, p. 63).
    If we get too literal in our interpretations of the scriptures, we miss the whole point. There is nothing wrong with the Genesis account of the angels cohabiting with women. It was never meant to be interpreted literally. It was only meant to be applied to various historical things that happened. And what happened to the Sons of God at the time of Noah was only one of the literal embodiments of this myth.
  • msg
    I actually sat in my ward’s GD class with 3 other sisters like myself who are married to non-members. (my husband happens to be Jewish.) The teacher stated right off that the sin for prompting the flood was marrying outside of the church. Several
    members from Utah and Idaho raised their hands agreeing and making comments about the problems with marrying outside the church–all of those who made the ignorant comments of course had no firsthand knowledge of marrying outside and no one in their immediately families had either. They discussed and discussed as if I and my other women friends there were not there
    and they knew we were. I wanted to do one of two things: I could stand up and say “Excuse me for leaving class early but
    my husband, the pagan, is building an altar on which we will be sacrificing the neighborhood children this afternoon and I don’t want to be late for it” and I’d walk out. You have no idea how I wish I had done that! I also could have said, “Excuse me but it occurs to me that all of you making comments about marrying outside the church have no personal experience with doing so and I’m happy to take your questions and enlighten you.” Noah’s time had pagans and church members. Today that’s not the case as there are many good religious living people. I didn’t meet someone to marry in the church. But the Lord provided a good living man for me anyway and I am thankful He did. And those other sisters, I know their husbands–they are equally fine righteous living men. (The nerve of some people!)
  • msg
    And yes, my children are devout members in spite of my pagan husband!
  • Bored in Vernal
    msg, I wish you had! Or you could have told them they needed to get to work on their boats, since apparently the earth was again ripe for destruction. I’m sorry you had to sit through that, but some people just don’t think. You have to wonder if the Lord only saved 8 people because everyone else on the planet had married non-members.
    Skeptic–OK… but then how do you reconcile Joseph Fielding Smith’s Answers and the CES manuals?
  • LayGuy
    Did anyone stop for just a second and realize that there was no such thing as a “church” in Noah’s time? Nor was there a Law or Prophets as we came to know them? To equate the story of pre-flood Nephilim to marrying outside the “church’ has to be one of the most bizarre interpretations one could come up with. :)
  • M.C.
    Sorry, I just think it’s funny the couple of people on here that have said, essentially, “My concordance says it’s so.”
    Well, I guess if it’s in a concordance, it MUST be correct!
    To: LayGuy
    Dude, you listen to WAY to much Art Bell. Just sayin’. Also, Noah was a prophet.
  • M.C.
    And BiV, great topic.
  • Bored in Vernal
    Layguy, you’ve stumbled on one of those bizarre little traits of Mormons! We tend to interpret ancient scripture with a modern gloss. In our defense, we believe our Church is a restored version of what existed anciently. So, even if it wasn’t the same, people marrying within the “covenant,” or among the people whom God had “chosen” equates to “marrying in the Church.”
  • LayGuy
    MC – I don’t listen to Art Bell. I just read my Bible. For you to dismiss what I say just shows you know nothing about this topic. And no. Noah was never called a prophet in the Bible – maybe in your book – but not in mine.
    BiV – great post. But to reconcile your world view with mine would require me to dismiss the fact that I don’t give any authority whatsoever to any “sacred” writing apart form the Bible. I guess that’s the difference between Christian’s and Mormons. You guys hold on to “another gospel” – something Christian’s don’t accept at all.
    To accept that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers and to believe that my eternal reality is to inherit a planet and populate it with my own spirit children – with me being their god is in direct contradiction to what mainstream Christianity believes in.
    I respect you Mormons in that you study diligently and share your faith with a passion. However, I feel that you do so in vain due to the obvious errors and contradictions in your theology.
    Wish you well and that life swings about in a way where you find yourself not so bored anymore wherever Vernal may be! :)
  • Velska
    LaGuy, can I ask a question?
    You say Noah was never called a prophet? Then, did the Lord speak to Noah? See, I’m a little confused how someone can be such a prominent figure in the Bible, so that Peter in his Epistle recounts Noah’s story, and not be a prophet?
    I just mean to ask, what’s your definition for a prophet?
  • Mike S
    #59: LayGuy
    Vernal is a tiny town in Utah of probably less than 10,000 people. It’s also one of the largest cities in the US to not have a railroad, so it’s fairly isolated. If I lived there, I’m afraid I’d be bored too…:-)
    No offense to BiV
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