This will probably be my least read blog…

The nephilim have always been fascinating to me. I think it is one of the more interesting and fun parts of scripture to explore, though certainly not a foundation of faith by any means. I revisit thinking on them often as I find them to be one of the points where tradition, science, mystery, and yes, even conspiracy theory, intersect. I fully understand if most of you have checked out now, and that is ok, I don’t mind, but before you do, consider this. Here is an easily debatable topic that we don’t need to argue over so vehemently as it is not overly crucial to the faith in general. It may be wrong, but I like to think of it as one of the mysteries God, in His infinite wisdom, inspired the Biblical authors to write about so that we would have mysteries to explore. God understood His greatest creation to be a curious sort after all. Here we go…

In Genesis 6:4 we get a vague and interesting passage. It reads as follows “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days-and also afterward-when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by the, They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” (NIV). Now depending on the translation that you use, you might find Nephilim translated as giant, mighty men, or something similar. Some of the more modern translations use phrases like ‘supernatural beings’ as their translation. This verse finds itself near the beginning of the story of the flood and needs to be properly set there. Shortly after we begin the account of Noah who was a righteous man, blameless among the people and a man who walked with God. (verse 9). Now our exploration is set in it’s proper time and place. The earth has fallen to wickedness, Noah is righteous. The flood is coming. The earth is soon to be destroyed by flood, and mankind gets a sort of reboot. We all learned this in Sunday school. So what is the big deal? Where is the exploration? I’m glad you asked, let’s fast forward to Numbers chapter 13.

Here our exploration has fast forwarded to the time when Moses is sending out men to explore Canaan. The report comes back, and for our purposes we will need to look toward verse 32 and 33. “32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (NIV) The word translated here for ‘Niphilim’ is the same word  we find in Genisis. This time however, we have the decendents of Anak, who apparently came from the Nephilim. Who were these sons of Anak? They are mentioned briefly in Deuteronomy, Judges, and Joshua, with Joshua eventually driving out the descendants of Anak from Hebron. This is is the most easily found reference to Nephilim after the flood, and it is certainly not the only one as noted above. Did the Nephilim survive the flood then? It would seem so. Their existence seems to be backed up Egyptian execration texts which list political enemies in Canaan including the people of anaq. (Space and Time in the Religious life of the near East published in 2001). It is likely that the people of ‘Anak’ and the people of ‘Anaq’ were one and the same. 

As an aside, Ezekiel uses a similar word with differing vowel sounds (near as I can tell) to describe a fallen Phillistine warrior (Ezekiel 32:27). This word is often used to denote physical strength and size as well. 

It is here that we need to introduce another group to our exploration. The Rephaites (sometimes called Rephaim) are mentioned numerous times in the Old Testament ( Genesis 14:5  Genesis 15:20; Deuteronomy 2:10-21, 3:11; Joshua 12:4, 13:12, 15:8, 17:15, 18:16; 2 Samuel 5:18-22, 23:13; and 1 Chronicles 11:15, 14:9 and 20:4). This matters as the Rephaites were unusually large and tall people as well. Og,  the King of Bashan, was likely one of the last survivors of this group.

Continuing forward, and using Genesis 6:4 as our beginning point, we simply must examine the language. The word translated as Nehphilim, etc. is generally used to describe a bully or a tyrant, and is often used to denote large size as well. That alone would seem to dispel and supernatural origin, or even to denote a race of giants. The majority of ancient Biblical texts interpret the word used to mean giant. This includes The Theodotion, The Vulgate, The  Samaritan Pentateuch, The Targum Onkelos, The Targum Neofiti, and of course The Septuagint. It is noteworthy to mention though that Aquila’s translation translates it as fallen ones. There seems to be a reasonable consensus of the majority of sources, the the Nephilim were at the very least giants. That in and of itself is noteworthy and interesting.
We must consider the phrase ‘sons of God’ however as well, as that was who came to the daughters of men. This phrasing is used in 3, possibly 4 other places in the Old Testament. In each of these three places (Job 1:6 Job 38:7 Psalm 29:1) it refers to heavenly beings. The fourth possible place (Deuteronomy 32:8) is the subject of some debate over language and meaning. I mention it for the sake of completeness only. While the conventional usage of the word translated Nephilim does not seem to support any sort of hybrid race, the scriptural usage of the phrase translated ‘sons o God’ does. It can easily be read here that angelic beings copulated with human women and spawned these giant tyrants and bullies. The phrase translated as ‘sons of God’ is also used in Jewish angelic hierarchies. It can be found in the Talmud, rabbinic literature, traditional Jewish prayers and even in kabbalah. In extra Biblical  writings (Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees), the Nephilum are treated as the offspring of mortals and fallen angels. I want to be clear here, these are not cannon. I mention them for two reasons. First, the book of Enoch is referenced in Jude. It therefor contained at least one truth, though that does not mean it contains more than that. It is interesting to note that many of the church fathers thought it had been excluded from what we now call the Old Testament by the Jews because it contained prophecies about Christ. Those fathers include Clement of Alexandria,  Athenagoras of Athens, Tertullian, and Irenaeus. this adds some validity to the idea that it contains truth even if not cannon. The Book of Jubilees was well known to early Christians, evidenced by many of their writings, and was used by the community that originally collected the Dead Sea Scrolls. Again, this does put them on the level of cannon, but does add to the idea that they contain some truth.

The reality is that we don’t know for certain what the story here is. If you happen to google Nephilim, you will find all manner of interesting, and often crazy, speculation up to, and including, them being ancient aliens. The view that they were fallen angels is ancient. There is evidence this belief was held as such by the ancient Israelite’s, it was held by some early fathers, including, but not limited to, Justin, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Ambrose. Flavius Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews (1:3:1) held the position that angels co-habited with women. Philo of Alexandria also held this position as did many rabbinical authorities. A section of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Genesis Apocryphon, holds this view as well. Some translation of The Septuagint,  read ‘angles of God, instead of ‘sons of God’ lending some support to this view as well. It was not until the fourth century and Augustine’s rejection of it, that this understanding fell out of favor almost completely. It is interesting that Augustin’s rejection came from the fact that he did not believe that angels and humans could copulate, not because of interpretive or contextual reasons. In more recent times, those more liberal than I reject this as simply one of many myths that ancient people have. While the angelic understanding is an ancient one, it is not the only ancient one. There is no consensus past the reality that whatever the Nephilim, Sons of Anak, and Rephaites were, they were awful big. They were not fans of the people of God, or apparently of God Himself.

I am coming to an end finally. I did not have the space to get to New Testament supporting evidence, delving into the book of Amos, or a couple of other things, but that is ok, as this is not persuasive so much as an encouragement to explore one of the more interesting mysteries of scripture. Look, read, research, and see what you find. Enjoy trying to solve a mystery that really has no solution. Enjoy a conversation topic that really shouldn’t be to controversial. Peace.

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12 Replies to “This will probably be my least read blog…”

  1. I think its a great blog – if only because this kind of careful reading of the scripture in order to better understand the characters in the story of God’s Reign is what deepens and enlivens that story in its telling. Thanks

  2. A “just for fun” read.

    http://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/neanderthals-humans-and-interbreeding-old-bones-new-evidence/

    Open question…
    Is biblical reference to Nephilim:

    1. A long lost memory of Neanderthal – Human interbreeding?

    2. An attempt by ancients finding Neanderthal bones, trying to explain where the heck they came from?

    Note – Neanderthals may have been smaller in stature than humans, but they were certainly more robust, which can substitute for the translation of “giant”.

    1. Of course, there is also the possibility of ancients finding mammoth/mastodon bones, and trying to build a story of them being related to human hybrids. They have been mistaken before as giants (e.g. Cyclops in Greek mythology).

    1. Now… if they can only find a circumcised Neanderthal, the probability that he was a circumcised Nephilim increases by 100%! But unfortunately, as all of us old guys know, that part is the first to go!!!

  3. “Some of the more modern translations use phrases like ‘supernatural beings’ as their translation. ”

    Really? Which ones?

    1. For what it’s worth,

      Genesis 6:4 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

      4 The children of the supernatural beings who had married these women became famous heroes and warriors. They were called Nephilim and lived on the earth at that time and even later.

      Although this gives me little inspiration, since some notes say CEV is a “dumbed down” version of the Bible, for children and non-English as 1st language speakers.

    2. The CEV in particular wasn’t intended to be ‘dumbed down’ so much as it’s intent was to be able to be understood by those who were not familiar with the language used in the Bible. The idea was a translation that could be read in the same way as people spoke. I don’t prefer it as it has a tendency to paraphrase to much for my tastes.
      The idea about Neanderthals is interesting. It doesn’t really explain the size of the giants in the Bible though. The sons of Anak as clearly of a much taller sort than the spies sent by the descriptions.
      I tend to not like the “super natural beings” translations as they make a subject that is already not easily understood even more difficult. In a time when we see a lot of media saturation and fascination with the supernatural, it sounds more like the plot of an episode of Supernatural instead of a Biblical mystery to explore.

  4. Of course, this was for fun. However, there are many references to CEV being “dumbed down”. Not my words.

    Also, many references to Nephilim being mis-represented by either fossilized Mastodon bones or Neanderthals. So, in the spirit of fun – I don’t really care one way or the other. Although Neanderthals being present in Judea is fascinating, especially with human European DNA containing some Neanderthal DNA, and African DNA not containing Neanderthal DNA. Especially since Judea was a major migration route for early humans.

    1. Actually, as full disclosure on my beliefs, after thinking about it…
      The Nephilim are probably one of the best examples of hyperbole, or exaggerated myth, within the Bible. The authors of that particular reference were obviously drawing upon Greek myth, or dreaming up their own explanation of observations of unexplained phenomena (fossils buried in flood residue).

      There is no way in hell (ok – maybe that is my ultimate fate) – that I will believe that angels (or supernatural being), had sex with hottie female humans, and that is the reason God decides to kill all of mankind, except Noah and his brood. Sorry – no can do.

      If people actually believe that, I’d like to hear how they can justify it, other than it is located in a random set of 2000 year old texts!

      I realize I am setting myself up for some negative comments. But come on – really? I’d like to be convinced that there really is a rationale explanation.

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