The Flood Story – Genesis 6-9


In the first 6 verses of chapter 6 we learn that  God is offended by the people of the land, הָאָדָם (ha·eretz), who seemingly encouraged their women to mate with the sons of God[1]Little is known of the sons of God. Michael Heiser and others suggest they were “fallen angels” and therefore verbotin to humans. However, all theories as to who were the sons of God are … Continue reading.


Sarna: God intervenes in human history because humans strove to rise to the level of divine beings. In this story, divine beings lower themselves to the level of humans, so God intervenes. Humankind must not pursue immortality, a hallmark of divinity, and so God imposes a severe restriction on human longevity (p.45)

Speiser: In 6:2, the phrase, בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים, does not refer to the Hebrew, single, unitary God, Elohim. Rather, the phrase, literally translated as the-sons-of-the-gods, refers to immortal beings (see Sarna, above, who translated the phrase to divine beings).

Wenham[2]Wenham has the most extensive and thorough discussion of the three theories enumerated below, p. 139: The phrase, בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים, can be translated in either of two ways: “the sons of the gods” or “the-sons-of-God”. Job 1:6 and 2:1 lend support to the latter (“of-God”) while ps 29:1 and 89:7 support the former (“of-the-gods”). The question that has perplexed scholars is this – what is the nature of these beings? The consensus among scholars is that there are three possible interpretations.

  1. The sons-of-the-gods  are non-human (e.g., angels, demons, or spirits).
  2. The sons of the gods are humans of a superior caste (e.g., kings or other rulers)
  3. The sons of the gods are godly humans, specifically the descendents of Seth as compared to the ungodly descendents of Cain.

The first view is the oldest and the one supported by most modern scholars. Moreover, most of the earliest exegetes, both Jewish and Christian supported this view.

Alter: Here quoted verbatim[3]Alter, Robert. Genesis: Translation and Commentary (Kindle Locations 3729-3730). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Here it seems better to render the generic ha’adam as “man” both because in the patrilineal imagination (compare the immediately preceding genealogy) males are seen as the begetters of daughters and sons, and because the term “daughters of man” is played against “sons of God.” 1.—4. This whole passage is obviously archaic and mythological. The idea of male gods coupling with mortal women whose beauty ignites their desire is a commonplace of Greek myth, and E. A. Speiser has proposed that both the Greek and the Semitic stories may have a common source in the Hittite traditions of Asia Minor. The entourage of celestial beings obscurely implied in God’s use of the first person plural in the Garden story (compare 3:22) here produces, however fleetingly, active agents in the narrative. As with the prospect that man and woman might eat from the tree of life, God sees this intermingling of human and divine as the crossing of a necessary line of human limitation, and He responds by setting a new retracted limit (three times the formulaic forty) to human life span. Once more human mortality is confirmed, this time in quantitative terms.”

So, let’s begin with the first verse.

Genesis 6:1

Genesis 6:7

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶמְחֶה אֶת־הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָאתִי מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה מֵאָדָם עַד־בְּהֵמָה עַד־רֶמֶשׂ וְעַד־עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם כִּי נִחַמְתִּי כִּי עֲשִׂיתִם


Mechanical Translation:

And-said [the-]LORD, I-shall-wipe the-mankind who-I-created from-on the-faces-of the-red-soil; from-mankind up-to beast, up-to-creeping-things and-up-to-flying-creatures-of the-sky because sorried-am-I that I-made-them.

Literal translation:

And the LORD said, “I shall wipe mankind from the {ground, land}; from mankind unto beasts, unto creeping things, and unto flying creatures of the sky because I regret that I made them.”


מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה: The NIV, NRS, NLT, KJV, and the LXE[4]An English translation of the Greek Septuagint. misunderstands הָאֲדָמָה (haadamah) by translating adamah as ‘earth'[5]This is confusing, since in modern times, earth can also be understood as the “planet earth”, a concept unknown to the ancient Hebrews of the Ancient Near East.. In ancient Hebrew, adamah literally meant the red arable soil of the Canaan highlands.  However, adamah is used more frequently to mean any cultivated, plantable ground or property. The key here is that adamah almost always refers to settled land. For example, Ezekiel uses adamah almost exclusively to mean the “land of Israel” – land settled by the people of Israel.

A more correct understanding this verse, therefore, is not that God intends to eliminate all of mankind from the planet earth. The planet earth is simply not in view. Rather, His intention is to rid the settled areas that had been cultivated or otherwise civilized – of all life.

In verse 6:17 we have the first mention of the flood

Genesis 6:17

וַאֲנִי הִנְנִי מֵבִיא אֶת־הַמַּבּוּל מַיִם עַל־הָאָרֶץ לְשַׁחֵת כָּל־בָּשָׂר אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ רוּחַ חַיִּים מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־בָּאָרֶץ יִגְוָע

Mechanical Translation:

And-I, behold, will-cause-making the-flood waters over-the-land to-spoil all-flesh which-in-it [is] breath-of the-living. From-underneath the-skies all which-in-the-earth [will]-die.

Literal translation:

Behold! I will cause the flood waters over the land to destroy all living flesh. From below the skies, all which [is] in the land will die.


עַל־הָאָרֶץ (al-ha·aretz): can be reasonably translated as “over all the land“, “over all the earth“, or “over all the country”. In no case is ha·aretz ever to be translated as “over all the planet“.  This rule is similar to the translation of הַשָּׁמָיִם (ha·shammayim). In many English Bibles these two words are translated as “the heavens”. In the Old Testament the concept of Heaven as understood by modern Christians, simply did not exist. Shammayim literall means skies.