A Little Context For Me

Monday, October 31, 2016

Who Are The Nephilim? - Part 8 Enoch, Peter, and Greek Mythology

This part of an ongoing series about the Nephilim. To start at the beginning click here: Who Were The Nephilim - Part 1

For is God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until judgment, if did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly… 2 Peter 2:4, 5

We discussed this passage some in the last post, but there was one word that I word that I wanted to wait to tackle because this one tiny little word opens up the door for a whole new world of questions. If have studied this topic before, then I am certain you already know what is coming. If you haven’t then I think you will find it interesting. Any guesses on which word it might be?

If you guessed hell, you are getting close. However, this is one of those times when the real word has been obscured by the translators. Now before you go getting any ideas about grand conspiracies in Bible translations, you should know that this is not a bad or deliberately misleading translation. It is simply the word that makes the most sense when we translate Greek into English. The main difference is that in this case, thanks to our Greek mythology, comic books, and sci-fi, we happen to be more familiar with this word in the original. That word is Tartarus. So if we were reading the verse and retained the Greek, it would say:

…but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness…

This is the only place in the Christian Scriptures were we find this specific term. We do find the term used two times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that was widely read at around the time of Jesus and used by many early Christians. There are some variance between the manuscripts used for Septuagint and the manuscripts used in today’s translations of the Bible. So don’t freak out when you go to your Bible and the verses read nothing like the ones below. The point I am trying to make is that the concept of Tartarus is not unfamiliar to Jewish audiences or the Jewish writers of the Christian Bible, and it was a term easily borrowed to describe similar concepts.

And when he has gone up to a steep mountain, he causes joy to the quadrupeds in the deep (tartaro).

ἐπελθὼν δὲ ἐπ’ ὄρος ἀκρότομον ἐποίησεν χαρμονὴν τετράποσιν ἐν τῷ ταρτάρῳ (tartaro) Job 40:20

and the lowest part (tartaron) of the deep as a captive: he reckons the deep as [his] range.

τὸν δὲ τάρταρον (tartaron) τῆς ἀβύσσου ὥσπερ αἰχμάλωτον ἐλογίσατο ἄβυσσον εἰς περίπατον Job 41:24

In these verses, Tartarus is used to refer to the deep in 40:20 and the lowest part of the deep in 41:21. It is place where God has held the monstrous beasts, the Behemoth and Leviathan, captive. Despite their fierce natures, they are nothing but pets to the Creator of the universe and he keeps them contained in a place fitting of such gruesome creatures. And what could be more gruesome than these terrors of the ancient world? How about angels who failed to retain their proper estate?

We can also find the term Tartarus in the Book of Enoch. Here we learn that Uriel is the “holy angel of thunder and of tremors.” However, in the footnotes, we find an alternate translation that reads, “holy angel of the world and Tartarus.”  This immediately follows a conversation between Enoch and Uriel concerning the fate of the angels who sinned – angels who are bound in a terrible place awaiting judgment.

The fourth source for the term Tartarus has already been mentioned, and that is the Greek myths. What I find to be so fascinating are the numerous parallels between the Greek stories of Tartarus and the Biblical account in Genesis 6. I won’t take the time to retell any of them here. You can find them easily enough with Google. If you do take the time to research these tales, notice that most contain one or more of the following themes:

1. A lesser god/being revolts against a greater god.
2. The lesser god/being shares forbidden food, fire, or knowledge with humanity.
3. Sex is common between divine beings and humans.
4. The product of these unions are demi-gods, neither fully human nor divine.
5. Tartarus is the place of punishment reserved for the vilest offenders.
6. Those cast into Tartarus are often bound.
7. Tartarus is presented as below the earth or under a mountain.
8. Titans, an ancient race of giants, are primary characters within the tales.

Even a casual reader will readily pick up on the parallels between the Enochian story and the Greek myths. Nor are these the only ancient tales that share these themes, the only difference is a shared language between the Greek poets and the Biblical authors whose words overlap and coincide making the parallels more obvious. However, as we grow more familiar with the basic traits of the Biblical and Enochian accounts, we could move on to the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Irish legends of the Tuatha de Danann, the Red Headed Giants of the Native Americans, Hindu tales, the Nordic Asgard, or the Oni from Japan to see that the tales of gods descending to earth to mate and to destroy is buried in the collective psyche of almost all cultures. And just as Christians have defended the veracity of the Flood accounts by appealing to multicultural retellings of the event, I believe the same can be done in the case of the Nephilim.

In fact, I find it rather curious that few have bothered to make such a case for the authenticity of the beginning verses of Genesis 6 but will do so for the remainder of the chapter that contains the flood account. Why is it considered proper to maintain the supernatural aspects of Noah’s ark but to remove the supernatural aspects attributed to the Sons of God? For even if the sparse verses of Genesis leave much open to speculation, we have demonstrated how Jude and Peter acknowledge the overarching premise of Enoch as having some bearing on reality through their quotations of the text.  
Next time, we will look at more New Testament quotes from the Book of Enoch.

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