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Sons of God

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Sons of God

    The sons of God (or children of God; Hebr. bĕnê ʾĕlōhîm, and variants) are divine members of God's heavenly assembly. They are depicted in many roles: praising God at the dawn of creation (Job 38.7); praising God in heaven (Ps 29.1); meeting in the heavenly assembly before God (Job 1.6, 2.1; cf. Pss. 82.1, 6; 89.6–8); representing the foreign nations (Deut. 32.8, following a text from Qumran and the LXX); and, most curiously, marrying and having offspring with human women (Gen. 6.1–4). Other terms, such as seraphim, angels (i.e., “messengers”), and hosts of heaven also refer to these members of God's heavenly assembly (see 1 Kgs. 22.19; Isa. 6; Ezek. 13.25). The sons of God are also identified with the stars in heaven (Job 38.7; cf. Judg. 5.20). The title “sons/children of God” is familiar from Ugaritic mythology, in which the gods collectively are called the “children of El (literally, God)” (bn ʾil). One of El's titles is “Father of the Children of God,” indicating that the term refers to the gods as his physical offspring, with Asherah (called “Creatress of the Gods”) as their mother. The sons/children of God are also found in Phoenician and Ammonite inscriptions, referring to the pantheon of subordinate deities, indicating that the term was widespread in West Semitic religions. Beginning in the seventh and sixth centuries BCE, several Israelite writers (especially Jeremiah, the Deuteronomist, and Second Isaiah) explicitly rejected the notion that there were gods other than Yahweh, and depicted the “hosts of heaven” as a foreign intrusion in Israelite monotheism.

    Ronald S. Hendel

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    Oxford University Press

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