Nephilim are beings who appear in the Hebrew Bible, specifically
in the Book of Genesis, and are also mentioned in other
Biblical texts and in some non-canonical Jewish writings.
In the Bible, specifically the Book of Genesis, Chapter
6, verses 1 through 4 describe the origin of the Nephilim:
"Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the
face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that
the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful;
and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.
Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with
man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his
days shall be one hundred and twenty years." The Nephilim
were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when
the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they
bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were
of old, men of renown.
According to the New American Bible, the Nephilim appear
as part of the “increasing wickedness of mankind”.
Their appearance accounts for the prehistoric “giants”
of Canaan, whom the Israelites called the Nephilim, but
additionally to introduce the story of the flood with a
Also, the commentary suggests that the phrase “(as
well as later)” stated above is a reference to the
Book of Numbers 13:33, how the Israelites likened the tall
aborigines (“Anakim”) to the Nephilim, possibly
due to seeing the very tall structures of Canaan that appeared
to have been built by a race of giants.
The New American Bible commentary draws a parallel to the
Letter of Jude and the statements set forth in Genesis,
suggesting that the Epistle refers implicitly to the paternity
of Nephilim as heavenly beings who came to earth and had
sexual intercourse with women:
“The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain
but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal
chains, in gloom, for the judgement of the great day. Likewise,
Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the
same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and
practiced unnatural vice, serve as an example by undergoing
a punishment of eternal fire.”
According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible, the Genesis
verses only indicate that the Nephilim existed at the same
time as the products of divine-human intercourse.
The Hebrew of nephilim is ?????, which may mean “those
causing others to fall”. Abraham ibn Ezra proposes
that they were called this because men's hearts would fail
at the sight of them. Some (e.g. Jean Leclerc and Peter
of Aquila) suggest that it is derived from the warlike nature
of the Nephilim, comparing the usage of Naphal in Job 1:15
"And the Sabeans fell upon them" where Naphal
means "to take in battle". Alternatively, Shadal
understands nephilim as deriving from the Hebrew word ???
Pela which means wonderous.
The nephilim come from a union between “sons of God”
(??? ?????? “b’nei ha-'elohim” Lit. "Sons
of the powers" ) and “daughters of man”.
In Aramaic culture, the term Nephila specifically referred
to the constellation of Orion, and thus Nephilim to Orion's
semi-divine descendants (cf. Anakim from Anak); the implication
being that this also is the origin of the Biblical Nephilim.
Some commentators have suggested that the Nephilim were
believed to have been fathered by members of a proto-Hebrew
pantheon (which is controversial among Jewish peoples) and
are a brief glimpse of early Hebrew religion, most of the
details of which were later edited out from the Torah (or
at least would have been edited out when, as some claim,
it was redacted together), and that this passage may have
offered monotheistic Hebrews a way to fit semi-divine pagan
heroes into their cosmogony.
The idea that the Torah was somehow changed is not in keeping
with traditional Hebrew practice, in which if even a single
character is out of place in a parchment translation of
the original Hebrew Torah, the entire parchment must be
destroyed and replaced anew. However, there are several
variations, some of great significance, between ancient
manuscripts of the Torah, between Septuagint, Syriac Peshitta,
Dead Sea Scrolls, masoretic text, Samaritan Pentateuch,
and the versions in the Hexapla, as well as between various
manuscripts within each of these groups.
In the Hebrew Bible, there are a number of other words that,
like "Nephilim", are sometimes translated as "giants":
• Emim ("the fearful ones")
• Rephaim ("the dead ones")
• Anakim ("the [long]-necked ones")
"Rephaim" is a general title that the Book of
Joshua states was given to the aborigines who were afterwards
conquered and dispossessed by the Canaanite tribes. The
text states that a few Rephaim had survived, one of them
being Og, the king of Bashan. Og of Bashan is recorded as
having a 13-ft long bed.
“Only Og king of Bashan was left of the remnant of
the Rephaites. His bed was made of iron and was more than
thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It is still in Rabbah
of the Ammonites.”
The Rephaim may have been the same Canaanite group known
to the Moabites as Emim, i.e., fearful, and to the Ammonites
as Zamzummim. The second of the Books of Samuel states that
some of them found refuge among the Philistines, and were
still existing in the days of David. Nothing is known of
their origin, nor of anything specifically connecting them
with Nephilim, though the connection is made by Jewish tradition.
Anakim are the descendants of Anak, and dwelt in the south
of Canaan, in the neighbourhood of Hebron. In the days of
Abraham, they inhabited the region afterwards known as Edom
and Moab, east of the Jordan river. They are mentioned during
the report of the spies about the inhabitants of the land
of Canaan. The book of Joshua states that Joshua finally
expelled them from the land, excepting a remnant that found
a refuge in the cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. The Philistine
giant Goliath, whom David later encountered, was supposedly
a descendant of the Anakim.
“The land, through which we have gone to spy it out,
is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people
that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw
the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim),
and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we
seemed to them.”
The Sumerians called their gods the Anunaki; according to
a Midrash, Abraham was the son of an idol manufacturer in
the Sumerian city of Ur.
It is more commonly suggested by traditional Jewish sources
(such as the Midrash) that the spies saw large and powerful
inhabitants in Canaan and because of their own fears, cowardice,
and inadequate faith in Yahweh, saw themselves as grasshoppers
in the eyes of the Canaanites, whether they were actual
'giants' or not.
Main articles: Book of Enoch, Book of Jubilees, and Grigori
In the texts of Ugarit, there were 70 sons of God, each
one being the special deity of a particular people from
whom they were descended. Some memory of this is found in
Biblical texts which speak of Baal Melkart of Tyre or Chemosh
The story of the Nephilim is chronicled more fully in the
Book of Enoch (part of Ethiopian biblical canon). Enoch,
as well as Jubilees, connects the origin of the Nephilim
with the fallen angels, and in particular with the Grigori
(watchers). Samyaza, an angel of high rank, is described
as leading a rebel sect of angels in a descent to earth
to instruct humans in righteousness. The tutelage went on
for a few centuries, but soon the angels pined for the human
females and began to instruct the women in magic and conjuring.
The angels consummated their lust, and as a result produced
hybrid offspring: the Nephilim.
According to these texts, the fallen angels who begat the
Nephilim were cast into Tartarus/Gehenna, a place of 'total
darkness'. However, Jubilees also states that God granted
ten percent of the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim to
remain after the flood, as demons, to try to lead the human
race astray (through idolatry, the occult, etc.) until the
In addition to Enoch, the Book of Jubilees (7:21-25) also
states that ridding the Earth of these Nephilim was one
of God's purposes for flooding the Earth in Noah's time.
The Biblical reference to Noah being "perfect in his
generations" may have referred to his having a clean,
Nephilim-free bloodline, although it may be inferred that
there was more diversity among his three daughters-in law.
These works describe the Nephilim as being evil giants.
There are also allusions to these descendants in the deuterocanonical
books of Judith, Sirach, Baruch, 3 Maccabees, and Wisdom
Some individuals and groups, including the great Protestant
church Reformer John Calvin (in his commentary on Genesis),
the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Latter-day Saints,
take the view of Genesis 6:1 that the "Angels"
who fathered the Nephilim referred to certain human males
from the lineage of Seth, who were called sons of God probably
in reference to their being formerly in a covenantal relationship
with Yahweh (cf. Deuteronomy 14:1; 32:5); according to these
sources, these men had begun to pursue fleshly interests,
and so took wives of the daughters of men, i.e., those who
were descended from Cain. Not only is this unequivocally
stated in Ethiopian Orthodox versions of I Enoch and Jubilees,
but this is also the view presented in a few extra-Biblical,
yet ancient works, particularly the Conflict of Adam and
Eve with Satan. In these sources, these offspring of Seth
were said to have disobeyed God, by breeding with the Cainites
and producing wicked children "who were all unlike",
thus angering God into bringing about the Deluge.
Nowhere is the Ethiopian view presented more explicitly
than in the Conflict of Adam Book 3, chap. 4:
"Certain wise men of old wrote concerning them, and
say in their [sacred] books, that angels came down from
heaven, and mingled with the daughters of Cain, who bare
unto them these giants. But these [wise men] err in what
they say. God forbid such a thing, that angels who are spirits,
should be found committing sin with human beings. Never,
that cannot be. And if such a thing were of the nature of
angels, or Satans, that fell, they would not leave one woman
on earth, undefiled... But many men say, that angels came
down from heaven, and joined themselves to women, and had
children by them. This cannot be true. But they were children
of Seth, who were of the children of Adam, that dwelt on
the mountain, high up, while they preserved their virginity,
their innocence and their glory like angels; and were then
called 'angels of God.' But when they transgressed and mingled
with the children of Cain, and begat children, ill-informed
men said, that angels had come down from heaven, and mingled
with the daughters of men, who bare them giants."
This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's
Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.
This is a Modified Version
of the Original -17 July 2009 - 2011
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