Who Are the Nephilim?

The mysterious beings of Genesis 6

This Bible History Daily article was originally published in 2014. It has been updated.—Ed.


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,

  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)).

  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

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