Who Are the Nephilim?

The mysterious beings of Genesis 6

This Bible History Daily article was originally published in 2014.—Ed.


 
david-and-goliath-johnson

Who are the Nephilim? The giant Goliath is best known for facing the formidable but slight David and losing. Many theorists believe that Goliath was a descendent of the Nephilim of Genesis 6. This painting of the confrontation between David and Goliath was completed by William H. Johnson in 1944 during the Harlem Renaissance. The naive style presents the scene in its basic, most essential parts. Credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

The Nephilim, the product of the sons of god mingling with the daughters of Adam, the great Biblical giants, “the fallen ones,” the Rephaim, “the dead ones”—these descriptions are all applied to one group of characters found within the Hebrew Bible. Who are the Nephilim? From where do the “heroes of old, the men of renown” come?

Genesis 6:1–4 tells the readers that the Nephilim, which means “fallen ones” when translated into English, were the product of copulation between the divine beings (lit. sons of god) and human women (lit. daughters of Adam). The Nephilim are known as great warriors and Biblical giants (see Ezekiel 32:27 and Numbers 13:33).

It was once claimed that the mating of the sons of god and the daughters of Adam that resulted in the Nephilim caused the flood, and this caused the Nephilim to have a negative reputation. This was believed because the next verse (Genesis 6:5) is the introduction to the flood narrative and because their name means “fallen ones.” It is unlikely that this interpretation is correct because Genesis 6:4 presents nothing but praise for the Nephilim and no criticism is present. In addition, the name “fallen ones” is likely a reference to their divine paternity transforming—falling—into the human condition, albeit an almost superhuman condition.

In the free eBook Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context, discover the cultural contexts for many of Israel’s earliest traditions. Explore Mesopotamian creation myths, Joseph’s relationship with Egyptian temple practices and three different takes on the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham.

Genesis 6, Ezekiel 32, and Numbers 13 are the only passages that mention the Nephilim by that term. So where do the names Rephaim and “the dead ones” originate? The first thing to recognize is that these are not two separate titles, but rather a name, Rephaim, and a meaning, “dead ones.” The Bible refers to two groups as the Rephaim. The first are dead people who have achieved an almost divine status, similar to the concept of Saints. The second is a term that is applied to races of Biblical giants. It is this second usage that is often conflated with the Nephilim.

The Rephaim appear in Deuteronomy 2:11; 3:11; 2 Samuel 21:19 and Joshua 11:22 and almost always take the form of one member of the Rephaim (Anaqim, Og, Goliath) being in opposition with Israel or its representative. In this sense, the Rephaim live up to their name, as their purpose in each narrative is to die. The juxtaposition of the mighty Biblical giants defeated by the underdog, God’s chosen, is foreshadowed in the very name attributed to these characters.
 


 
This Bible History Daily article was originally published on November 19, 2014.
 

 
ellen-whiteEllen White, Ph.D. (Hebrew Bible, University of St. Michael’s College), is the senior editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society. She has taught at five universities across the U.S. and Canada and spent research leaves in Germany and Romania. She has also been actively involved in digs at various sites in Israel.
 

 

Further reading in the BAS Library:

Ronald S. Hendel, “When the Sons of God Cavorted with the Daughters of Men,” Bible Review, Summer 1987.

James C. VanderKam, “Enoch’s Vision of the Next World,” Bible Review, April 2003.

Ronald S. Hendel, “Biblical Views: Giants at Jericho,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2009.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

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  1. Stacie says

    This is going to sound like I should be wearing a tinfoil hat or be locked away, but I can promise you with all sincerity I am serious. I have felt different since I was a kid. In my younger years I began calling myself “malayak” but I had no idea what it meant. Google didn’t exist then. I later found out, which made me more confused. I am an old soul. I feel like I know more than I am supposed to… more than I have learned. I have a very black and white view of morality (of course, my humanity ruins that for me). I feel odd. Different. Always in waiting for… something…. It’s weird. I cannot explain it no matter how hard I try. I guess I’m just looking for guidance. I just want to be doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m tired of feeling like I’m waiting for something… feeling displaced. HELP!

  2. Tammy says

    Stacie, you are not alone.

  3. Richard says

    I have been studying sense l was
    13 asking for knowledge. we must pray and shout in his name, we must treat others as the creator,
    YAHWEH

  4. Ahmed says

    Nephelim: plural of Nafil نافل in Arabic (plural: Nafilin نافلين) which means a gift, a spoil of war.
    The sons of God, Igigi (watchers were on Mars) came to join the rest of Nibiruans (Anunaki: whom were sent to Earth by king Anu) on Earth. The Igigis came to join their Leader Marduk (he was married to a human woman & had a son Nabu). They wanted to follow suit and grabbed (like spoils of war) the human women in a wedding party. Marduk go angry and told them that they have to propose & marry them properly.

  5. James says

    Nephilim are not a Gift Ahmed, they are a gift from Satan to man before The flood. God promises no ” spoils of war” that comes from Satan. God is a God of Shalom! Not War! Goliath the Giant Nephilim and Rephaiam from the philistines whom the women slept with fallen angels (from satan) went against David whom is Gods chosen people. Stop spreading Satans heretical lies and crawl back to the Pit!

  6. James says

    Pluma read Genesis 6:1–4

    Niphilim are fallen angels commanded by Satan to tempt man through them, sleep with them and created giants like Goliath. Giants exist today due to genetics and growth gland malfunction. Trust God not the strenght of giants. Giants fall! Angels fall, Jesus doesent, he ascended and is seated at the right hand of God and will return to judge the living and the dead. If you deny him here he will deny you in heaven.

  7. Henock says

    i heard that the flood is meant to wipe out the giants(which Satan plans to mix human DNA so that Jesus wont be born.(gen 3:25)).
    True?

  8. Lis says

    There is no genesis 3:25

  9. igan says

    Stacey, how was your childhood? I feel very much the same way but I know he reason was iresponsible te3rrible parents

  10. The says

    The Fallen ones represent exactly that. King Davids mighty men hunted those abominations. Why didn’t you go on to say that in this article, its like you were paid to say this. After David slew Goliath and cut off his head, he hunted down Goliath brothers. You offer none of those future events in this article. You don’t mention how the bloodlines branched off before and after the flood and why Jesus and a clean bloodline was so important. Satan’s plan was to pollute the bloodline as to prevent salvation so the Messiah couldn’t be born. At the very beginning of Genesis The Creator already mentions a way out for mankind. Did you write this article to deliberately mislead people?

  11. Robert says

    I did not think “Nephilim” was used in Ezekiel 32:27? Could someone shed more light? Thanks!

  12. John says

    I can’t wait til ancestry.com comes out with a test to see how much nephilim DNA one has.

  13. Sharon says

    All this is interesting but the main fact is there are giants in the world today and they are not all genetically large because of glandular or other physical problems. But the main concern is do you know who your Messiah is? He is just around the corner from coming again to gather his chosen ones who have accepted Him in a personal way as Savior and Lord of their life. The question is, are you ready to meet Him? He will only accept the ones who have accepted the plan of Salvation the Father set out through His Son Yeshua as the one who paid for our sins by His sacrificial Act. Isa. 52-5bless you in your decision4 tells of its coming and Mathew 26-27 was the fulling of the Prophecy. God Bless

  14. Ina says

    As we know, for every Spirit God created in a beginning he made a body for us to be born of blood and water and it is our bodies we are given in our mothers womb that makes us Male or female. God is neither male or female God is a spirit. So knowing this where did the original giants get their earthly bodies? As we know, The demons of satan can do nothing without a body so they influence and tempt man to do their will. Unlike the angels of God who can appear in a body to do God’s will in our life. The giants are the power and principalities of power of the air. They are the walking dead because when their earthly bodies died they had no place to go. If anyone has a bibical reference pleas give it to me here

  15. Christopher says

    Stacie, please, if possible, contact me at logicofchrist@yahoo.com.

    I’ve been haunted with this very feeling since I was probably 17 or so (I am now 33 years old). And since, I could write novels of the oddities I’ve seen – some while flying life solo, others in the company of others (I’m not crazy!).

    The answer to everything has always, in every scenario, been God. I used to think I was “waiting” for the end to come, but I’ve become less convinced of a definite end, and more convinced by the ever-present, ever-growing compulsion to do something on behalf of God’s Kingdom which has begun to exist among man for many moons.

    If you care to elaborate on the vague sensations you’re having, please do not hesitate to reach out. Otherwise, know that God has called upon your life, and should you obey, your life will become abundant, full of zest and purpose. If you deny, your life will become more empty than previously conceived as being possible (I myself am going through a period of spiritual stagnation, and it’s absolutely dreary…).

    May the peace of God be found in your midst,
    Christopher

  16. Ladonna says

    I know that u will feel different to what I say but I felt the same way. I was always kick out of the church’s I went to when I was a child. I was disliked by the members. I grown afraid of Chirstians.But when I got older I met the Great Goddess. Be for you judge. Learn about her 1st.
    I have many Chirstians threating me when I decided to become a Wiccan. You must fine your own truthfulness and don’t let others threaten you. I find this all funny since I was 5 the church didn’t want me. Now I’m going to hell, because I found where I’m wanted and love. May you find the happiness you are looking for. Lk

  17. Victor says

    The Bible is about a King, a Kingdom, and His royal family. If you get the understanding of that then everything will be ok. To all that commented and posted

  18. Lance says

    Nice one Victor.

  19. Cory says

    I have 41 years experience with the Bible. I believe that when this happened they were already sinners. Don’t forget the Sin of Satan. This was why Cane killed his brother Abel. PRIDE

  20. Vedat says

    Nephillim, as it sen to me is a composed world of the acient pellasgic language that is even world ‘Zeus’ that is explained by Albanian lanuage ‘Ze-u’ > ‘the-Earth’ and ‘s’ an ending of Greek language= God of Earth. Analogically:
    [ ‘Nephilim’ => ‘ne + fill-uar + im’ => ne = in, + fill-uar = to — begin, + im = ing ] Then it in Albaian is ‘ne fillim’ = ‘in begining’.

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