Through careful examination of the first eleven chapters of Genesis, James A. Diamond identifies several instances of humans who strive to be like God, and are punished for their hubris. This pattern begins with Adam and Eve, who eat the forbidden fruit after the serpent tells them that “the day ye eat thereof . . . ye shall be as gods” (3:5) and continues through the story of the Tower of Babel. Diamond argues that one of the more mysterious passages in Genesis should be read as yet another example of such behavior:
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 [b’nei elohim] saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” (6:1-3)
Diamond, without trying to interpret the exact meaning of the ambiguous phrase translated here as “sons of God,” explains these verses thus:
I suggest . . . fathers were making use of their daughters’ [beauty] for their own empowerment, presenting them in such a way as to be attractive to these powerful b’nei elohim, to increase the power and prestige of their families. It therefore is another attempt to trespass into God’s domain and become godlike. . . . Whether the girls wished to marry these b’nei elohim did not concern the fathers (or the b’nei elohim), and neither did the fact that this kind of marriage subverts Lord’s plan for human procreation.
The b’nei elohim story is often described as a fragment or narrative standalone, since it is immediately followed by the flood story which seems to have no patent connection to it. . . . Read in this larger context of “beginnings,” however, which presents instances of human beings overreaching to become like God, this prelude to the flood story may offer an example of a specific evil that human beings pursue that pushes the Lord to wish to bring their society to an end.
The story then is not simply a mythic tale of b’nei elohim abducting human women, but rather another instance of human beings longing to achieve some form of godlike status. Fathers exploited their daughter’s beauty to entice the b’nei elohim into marrying them and propagating demi-gods instead of marrying their daughters to human men and propagating the human species as God intended.