Dear Peter Gabriel…

6 12 2011

Dear Peter Gabriel,

Since Sir Jimmy Saville is no longer, and I now know that Santa never was, I have come to the conclusion that I have no other choice but to lay my wishes at your feet: I wish, Peter, for Christmas, or a Birthday, or just some random occasion within the next year, for an album of brand new Peter Gabriel music.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my longings. I am quite positive that if I put my mind to it, I could find at least half a dozen of my friends who would feel similarly. And the rest? Well… they just don’t know what they’re missing! But they will do Peter. When your new album comes out, I’ll invite them all round, lock the doors and crank it up to 11.

Peter, I know you’re probably not a sucker for flattery, but I might as well start there before I have to resort to more stringent forms of coercion. Up truly is one of the all-time great albums. I’m not just saying that. Perfectly crafted songs, oscillating between naked minimalism and dense, multileveled orchestration. The lyrics are fun, moving and dark in equal measure (well, actually let’s be honest… not many of them are fun!)

Every track is perfect: The angsty ‘Darkness’, the infectious grooves of ‘Growing Up’, the spine-tingling-soulfulness of the Blind Boys on ‘Sky Blue’, the beautifully disorienting drumming of the ‘No Way Out’ outro, the two-headed beast that is ‘I Grieve’, with its industrial-ambience and ridiculously catchy middle section, the Levin-fuelled grooves of ‘Barry Williams’, the soaring note-perfect vocals of ‘My Head Sounds Like That’, the many-layered and perfectly toned guitar work of ‘More Than This’, not to mention the Hammond breakdown at the end, the rich strings and haunting vocals of ‘Signal to Noise’, made all the more poignant by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s posthumous contribution, and the vulnerable simplicity of ‘The Drop.’ I honestly don’t think I’d change a note…

So all I’m asking, Peter, is for more of the same, or better. Please.

Don’t get me wrong, pretty much everything you’ve produced since has been far better than the mediocre output of almost every other artist and band around, but it’s time for something new. Sure, you can sing Arcade Fire and Neil Young, and Regina Spektor, and do a pretty good job of it too! Sure, you can rework your old material in new, beautifully orchestrated arrangements that make the hair stand on end on the back of my neck. You can sing with apes, and get mentioned in a Vampire Weekend track and win Grammys… All of these are laudable achievements, but where’s the new stuff? Where are the 130 ideas you’ve been working on? Where’s the legendary I/O album I’ve been salivating over in anticipation since 2004?

I understand Up took you ten years to perfect. I’ll do you a deal, I’ll stay off your back until September 2013, by which time you will have had a full eleven years since Up. But if I don’t get something good by then, you can count on me coming after you! The clock’s ticking Peter! I’d settle for just a song or two, in whatever stage of completion… go on, stick some on a disc and post them to me, I won’t share them. It can be our little secret!

Anyway, I guess I’d better wrap this up before I end up sounding a little like that guy in the Eminem song ‘Stan’ (what was his name?). You know… “I hope you can’t sleep and you dream about it. And when you dream I hope you can’t sleep and you scream about it”, that kind of thing. I’m not crazy. I’m not about to offer to call my first child after you (though in exchange for a signed copy of the new album and a gig ticket, I might consider Gabriel as a middle name). I’m just a poor, eager fan, listening to Up, getting nostalgic, and writing letters that’ll never get read. But since Santa failed to give me a Mr Frosty and Saville never arranged for me to feed lions in a zoo, I’m quite used to writing unrequited letters…

Yours hopingly, longingly, jadedly,

Liam Thatcher

p.s. – I just realised, I quoted an Eminem song, the lyrics of which mention Phil Collins by name. Sorry about that. I hope you’ll forgive me, and please rest assured, Collins is top of the list of names I would never consider inflicting on any future child or pet!

p.p.s – Best not to tell my wife about this letter. She already thinks I’m a little bit strange…

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I’m loving angels instead (Part II)

11 06 2010

One more post on Genesis 6, and then I’ll get back to something less odd… I promise!

The Nephilim

If it is uncertain who the Sons of God are, the identity of the Nephilim is even more puzzling. Many assume they are the offspring of the Sons of God and the daughters of men, giant human/angel hybrids who appear in scripture only here and in Numbers 13.

On the other hand, some read the phrase ‘mighty men of old, the men of renown’ as simply indicating that they were honourable humans, perhaps valiant warriors. There are certainly occasions in scripture where this phrase means just that. See for example Num 16:1-2; Ezek 23:22-23.

Again, despite its apparent oddity, I tend to lean toward the human/angel hybrid interpretation, for the following reasons:

  • The term Nephilim comes from the Hebrew root ‘to fall’. This could indicate that they were the product of fallen angels sleeping with human women.
  • The Greek and ANE myths that speak of angels sleeping with humans culminate with the creation of a race of giants
  • In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh was born to Lugalbanda and Ninsun, who was a goddess. Thus Gilgamesh is described as being two parts god and one man. As the offspring of a heavenly and earthly union, Gilgamesh is hailed as a hero. Perhaps here lies the origin of the phrase ‘men of renown’? An ironic title, for in Genesis 6 rather than producing heroes, the union brings about judgment.
  • If the Nephilim of Genesis 6 are the same as in Numbers 13, then the offspring of the illicit interspecies relationship become enemies of God’s people.

Having said all that, I have a number of unanswered questions about the Nephilim:

  • Genesis 6:4 says ‘they were there in those days… when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them’ which makes it sound like the Nephilim already existed when the Sons and Daughters were getting together.
  • How did the Nephilim survive the flood such that they reappear in Numbers 13?
  • It is worth noting that apocryphal texts like Jubilees include the story of Mastema pleading with God to allow one-tenth of the Nephilim to survive, which God grants (10:8-9). Clearly I’m not taking that as conclusive proof (!!) but it does demonstrate that even early Jewish writers were aware of the alleged discrepancy and sought to discover a solution.
  • As half-breeds, in what sense would the Nephilim still be considered to be ‘in the image of God?’

So although I do lean towards the angel/human hybrid option, I am still arguably left with more questions than I started with! However, a few final comments…

Application

I wouldn’t go to the wall for any of the interpretations I’ve sided with here. At the end of the day, it makes very little difference to me! But here are four thoughts that help me to hold these strange thoughts in my little head, and emerge with some semblance of applicable, nourishing, Biblical truth.

  • If the Sons of God are angels, then why does mankind get punished for their wrongdoing? Surely this is unfair? Gordon Wenham answers this question nicely, saying:

‘The narrative gives no hint that seduction or rape was involved. These unions are described in terms befitting perfectly normal marriages, which presupposes that the father of the girls gave their free assent to the arrangements.’ (Wenham, p146)

It would appear that humans were complicit in the sin; the women actively and knowingly entering into the relationships, and the fathers wilfully giving their daughters to the angels. It is therefore not unfair to judge mankind for our part in the process.

The author of Genesis is not putting the blame solely upon angels. v5 says that God saw the wickedness ‘of man.’ So this chapter is subordinated to Genesis 2 and 3. Angels may have sinned as well as humans, but it is man’s sin that brings about the judgment.

Thus Genesis 6 tells me that we are not pawns in the hands of heavenly beings. God still sees us as having free will, and expects us to take us responsibility for our actions. I doubt if any of us will ever face this kind of temptation! But so often we are tempted to sin, and it will not do for Christians to try to escape culpability by claiming ‘the enemy made me do it!’ It didn’t work in Genesis 3:13. It didn’t work here. It won’t work for us.

  • Verse 2 tells us that the Sons of God saw the women were good and took them. This echoes the language of Genesis 3:6, where Eve saw the fruit was good and took it.

I think here the author of Genesis intends us to see that the sin of seeing, assessing and taking has now spread from humans to angels. Both the physical human world and the spiritual angelic world are now fallen, and permeated by sinfulness.

  • Instead of simply punishing man and the angels, God inflicts judgment upon man, animals (v7) and the earth (v13). Why?

I would suggest there are two reasons. Firstly, it symbolises a complete reversal of creation; previously God separated the waters and created every living creature to cover the land. Now He brings the waters back to cover the earth again, and wipes out every creature living on the land. Secondly, it is a signpost toward God’s future plan for the earth. God is not only interested in redeeming human beings, but all of creation (Isaiah 65, Romans 8). So here He judges all of the earth, as a precursor for His plan to redeem all of the earth.

  • The Nephilim, as part human, part celestial creatures are a poor and pale shadow of Christ. When Heaven and Earth, in all their sinful deviousness come together to try to create a powerful, superior race, the best they can muster is a half-and-half, slightly oversized peculiarity. Jesus was not half human and half divine, but fully both. He is unique amongst all of creation, and nobody else in history comes anywhere close.

And finally…

Stay tuned for tomorrow when I will answer the questions you’ve all been waiting for:

  • Is it wrong to date angels?
  • Should I be wary of freakishly tall people?
  • What should I do if I think my boyfriend/girlfriend is a nephilim?

I jest…

Enough of this celestial speculating…





I’m loving angels instead (Part I)

10 06 2010

Open your Bibles at Genesis 6, turn on the Robbie Williams classic Angels and marvel, as it takes on a sinister new twist…

Genesis 6 is arguably one of the strangest texts in all of Scripture. Let it be known from the outset, I’ve never been one to read Marvel comics, don’t have much of a penchant for sci-fi, and tend to like nice, tidy, respectable theological opinions that don’t cause people to look at you funny and make excuses about why they need to leave quickly. Nor do I make a habit of studying the apocrypha or Ancient Near Eastern mythology. Not that I have a problem with any of those things per se… I’m just saying…

Yet given that I’ve recently been studying my way through Genesis, and seeing as a few people have asked, I thought I would take a moment to share a few thoughts on Genesis 6:

‘When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.’ (Genesis 6:1-4)

This passage poses a couple of puzzlers; in particular, who on earth (or in heaven?!) are the Sons of God, and who are the Nephilim?

Sons of God

Of the major interpretations regarding the identity of the Sons of God, two stand out as the most plausible:

  1. They are descendents of Seth, who intermarried with the daughters of Cain
  2. They are angelic beings who mated with human women

According to Option 1, the Sons of God are humans born of Seth’s (godly) line. This is backed up by referring to Genesis 4:26, where Seth’s line are unique amongst the peoples as being those who ‘call on the name of the Lord.’ The daughters of men are women born of Cain’s (ungodly) line. People who hold this view also tend to note that the phrase Sons of God is used in the NT to refer to godly humans (Matt 5:9; Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26; and particularly Luke 3:38 ‘…the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.’)

Thus, many take Genesis 6 as demonstrating the impropriety of relationships between believers and unbelievers. This is the stance of many modern preachers, who are put off by the rather more bizarre notion that there may have been intercourse between humans and angels.

So as one particularly popular preacher puts it ‘Later in Genesis Noah gets drunk, and from reading some of the answers [about the Sons of God] from Bible commentators, one is given the distinct impression that they have been joining him… The passage says they were ‘men’, not the demon seed of chucky.’ (Cue condescending laughter, and his case is settled…)

But, I have to say, I’m not convinced. Though I am tempted by this neat, un-weird version of events, here are a few reasons why I’m more inclined to go with the slightly more peculiar Option 2.

  • In the Old Testament, the phrase ‘Sons of God’ is used of angelic beings, possibly even fallen angels. See Job 1:6 for example. Of course, that is not to say the phrase must always mean angels (see Matt 5:9; Luke 3:38; Rom 8:14, 19 and Gal 3:26), but it certainly does not always mean ‘godly humans.’
  • The Codex Alexandrinus of the Septuagint translates the phrase angeloi tou theou (angels of gods)
  • Most Jewish commentators have historically taken the view that the Sons of God were angels, for example:

‘And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: ‘Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.’ (1 Enoch 6:1-4)

‘And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they chose, and they bare unto them sons and they were giants.’ (Jubilees 5:1)

‘For many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants.’ (Josephus, Ant 1.3.1)

  • The early church fathers (Justin Martyr, Iranaeus, Origen etc) all held this view.
  • In fact, this was a near unanimous interpretation until approximately 200 A.D. And it is still the view of most modern commentators.
  • The idea of angels sleeping with humans has parallels in Greek literature and the myths of the ANE, where Heaven and Earth unite and give rise to a race of giants.
  • It is conceivable that a number of NT texts hint at this passages:
    • Jude 6 talks about angels who fell (v6) and then compares them to the sexual impurity of Sodom and Gomorrah (v7), which perhaps implies that the angels’ ‘falling’ involved sexually impure actions of the sort seen in Gen 6.
    • 2 Peter 2:4 talks about angels sinning and being condemned. This is immediately followed by a reference to the flood, in which men were judged.
  • Even if we were to accept that ‘Sons of God’ referred to Seth’s offspring, there is no reason why ‘daughters of men’ should refer to Cain’s line. Nothing in Genesis so far has prepared the reader to assume that ‘men’ now refers to Cainites only.
  • We know from Genesis 18 that angels can take on physical form, and that when they do so, humans find them attractive.

So on these grounds, I find myself leaning toward the angel interpretation.

One major objection to this is that the NT teaches that angels do not marry (Matt 22:29-30; Mark 12:24-25; Luke 20:34-36). However, to my mind this is not decisive.

  • Michael Eaton suggests that ‘After the flood a restraint was put on angels. Matthew 22:30 is true now. It may not have been true then.’ (Michael Eaton, Preaching through the Bible: Genesis 1-12, p123) I find no proof for this either way.
  • That godly angels do not marry, says nothing about the practice of fallen angels. It is conceivable that these were fallen angels, who slept with humans in an attempt to distort the lineage of the people of God, and subvert normal celestial asexuality.
  • At any rate, the very point of Genesis 6 is that the angels shouldn’t have been sleeping with the humans! That’s what brings about judgment. So rather than serving as a conclusive objection, Matt 22 only goes to strengthen the case against the fallen Sons of God.

Chew on that for a day or so… Thoughts on the Nephilim to follow!