Unlike Hercules, Achilles, and Perseus, demigods were seen more negatively by ancient Israelites
Sandwiched between the genealogies of Adam’s descendants and the tale of Noah’s flood are a few enigmatic verses that leave many of us scratching our heads and wondering what it’s all about:
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in[a] man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:1–4)
More often than not it’s just easier to shrug our shoulders and move on to the story of Noah and his family. But the questions remain all the same: Who are these “sons of God” and their Nephilim children, and why would the author of Genesis choose to mention them at all?
In the text we discover that the “sons of God” (Hebrew Benai-Elohim) succumbed to their passions for the “daughters of Men” and had children with them. These offspring were known as the Nephilim (literally, “the fallen ones”), and they were the “mighty ones of old” and “men of renown.”
Though centuries of rabbinical and church tradition would say otherwise, the audience to whom the text was intended would have understood the “sons of God” to be the members of the divine assembly mentioned throughout the literature of the ancient Near East, including the Bible (see Job 6:1; Job 38:7; Psalm 29:1; Psalm 82). In the biblical texts, the “sons of God” are usually described as lesser heavenly beings in the service of the Most High. In the texts of the cultures that surrounded Israel, like the Canaanite literature found at Ugarit, the “sons of God” similarly appear as divine beings in the service to the king of the gods, El, and his queen, Asherah. They include the likes of Baal, Anath, Astarte, Yam, and Mot. The audience of Genesis would have definitely understood these so-called “fallen ones” to be the offspring of celestial beings and human women. (Coincidentally the root of the word Nephilimis used elsewhere for miscarriages and other strange births. Exodus 21:22)
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The reason the author chose to mention the Nephilim can be found in their description, which translated means something to the effect of “ancient champions who made a name for themselves.” Every society has myths and legends about gods having children with humans who become epic heroes and legendary kings. Many of us in the West are familiar with the exploits of Hercules, Achilles, and Perseus, and the Classical versions of their tales have been told and retold for well over two thousand years. However, many famous Classical stories are merely reimagined from earlier Near Eastern ones. There was a vast corpus of heroic literature available from Babylon to Egypt, including such tales as the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the ancient Israelites would have likely known these stories.
Readers of the Bible will be quick to point out the obvious problems with the Israelites’ enjoying the epic tales of demigods’ slaying monsters—they glorify a pagan culture filled with a slew of gods and goddesses far removed from the one true holy God of Israel. And just as my eighth grade Bible teacher thought my deep love of Star Wars was going to lead me into witchcraft one day, the religious leaders of ancient Israel likely feared the stories of Gilgamesh and other demigods would lead the people into idolatry. Unlike my teacher, however, the leaders of Israel did not threaten school detention. Instead, they chose a much more diplomatic solution to the Israelites’ love of stories about epic heroes. They gave an orthodox explanation for them and wove them into the context of their own narrative.
Instead of denying the existence of famous heroes altogether, the author labels them “the fallen ones” and all but blames them for the utter depravity that fell upon the world and necessitated the flood. As to how they corrupted the world we can only guess, but the concept of “making a name for oneself” is clearly at odds with the worldview found within the pages of the Bible, specifically the Book of Genesis, and calls to mind the human pride and wickedness that began in the Garden of Eden. Just after the flood, in Babel (Babylon), a place with a long association with epic tales and legendary kings, human beings decided to band together and build a tower to heaven to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11:1–9).
Were they trying to create their own legends to cement themselves in history alongside the Nephilim? We can only speculate. What we do know is that it isn’t the son of a god or goddess that steps onto the biblical stage soon after the folly of Babel, but a childless man with no strength or glory to speak of. His gift is not the power given by his divine lineage, but a promise of a future for his descendants. And it is God, not the man, who gives him a new name that will be remembered throughout the generations—Abraham.
The legacy of the Nephilim did not end with the flood, however, as the biblical texts go on to attribute them as the ancestors of some of the Israelites’ most feared enemies (Numbers 13:33). Another feared group that was legendary by the time the Israelites settled the land was the Rephaim, who were known to be powerful giants (Deuteronomy 2:11, 20, 3:11; Joshua 12:4, 13:12). It’s unknown if the Israelites originally equated the Rephaim with the Nephilim, but it is clear that by the Intertestimental period (the fourth–first centuries B.C.E.) the Nephilim were thought to be the monstrous giant offspring of fallen angels and humans, as described in the pseudographical Book of Enoch and Jubilees, as well as others found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The authors of the Greek Septuagint even chose to use the word gigantes in their translation of Genesis 6, a word that also invokes the monstrous Titans—the legendary giants that were destroyed by the gods in Greek myth. And like the Titans of old, the legend of the Nephilim only continues to grow in modern times.
To discover more about the “sons of God,” and learn of other interpretations, read Jaap Doedens’s full article “Exploring the Story of the Sons of God,” published in the Summer 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Subscribers: Read the full article, “Exploring the Story of the Sons of God,” by Jaap Doedens in the Summer 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
This story originally appeared in Bible History Daily in July, 2020
When the Sons of God Cavorted with the Daughters of Men
Did Eve Fall or Was She Pushed?
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If you allow the Bible to speak for itself, the interpretation of this passage is clear and requires no demigods. It follows immediately after the successive listing of the line of Cain and the line of Seth. IMO, the origin of the Nephilim who filled the world with such evil that God intervened with the flood came about because the godly descendants of Seth forgot their principles in marrying for looks rather than character. This traditional interpretation has the advantage of fitting the context.
If you actual did allow the bible to speak for itself then you would know the sons of god it speaks of are actually the watcher angels and if you really did your research you would have found the explanation of this lies in The Book of Enoch, Book of Watchers, where it picks up right where Genesis 6:4 stops. These sons of god and watcher angels spoken of by Enoch are one in the same. They rebelled against God and left their home in heaven to come to earth and marry daughters of men, knowingly committing such a terrible crime. While here they taught the secrets of heaven to men like sorcery, astronomy, beautifying of the eyes, how to have wars…etc secrets that corrupted man so much that they only had evil thoughts continually. On top of that they procreated with human women creating giants that eventually could not be contained and they began committing sins against men and beast eating them , causing their souls to cry out to the gates of heaven. These caused the great deluge to be brought upon the whole earth which is why its spoke of immediately before.
If you still have doubts read the book of Jude, it confirms these things and also quotes from enochs book. Jude 1:4 speaks of these same sons of god as men here in secret, ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men. 2 verses later speaks of the angels which kept not their first estate, also the same as the sons of god and/or the watchers.
Read simultaneously; Enochs book of watchers, Genesis 6:1 and Jude, it all comes together quite nicely and makes perfect sense.
I concur. And 2 Peter 2:4-6 – who are the spirits in hell? It’s not Satan! The day of the Lord hasn’t come yet. It’s the watchers from Genesis 6 who are in the abyss.
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; 5 if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
The sons of God in the Old Testament are the divine council. And Peter and the author of Jude were quoting texts outside of the canonical Bible.
One raises the issue (non-issue) of the theory of ‘oral tradition’ as having authority over the Word of God. It is unbiblical to support any interpretation or theory that replaces the revealed will of God for man such as the so-called ‘oral tradition’ denying that Moses wrote with out authority or inspiration of God. So many ‘Christian’ ordained and lay, continue to debase scripture by referring to parts of scripture as ‘stories’ indoctrinating children with the secular word ‘story’.
Your point is a truth that is a suttle attack on the infallible word of God. Thank you for shining light on the fact that when we add to the word of God it dilutes its authority which brings confusion. We must study the elite, unique, word of God and rely on its authority. Jesus is the word. Gen.1::26, Let Us, make man in Our image…John 1:14, the Word became flesh…
Mixing the Word with the myths of the world is a compromise that difuses and diminishes its truth and power, which the Bible warns against doing.
If anyone wants to know the truth, they study ‘it’ to show themselves approved, lacking nothing. We do not look to the world for God’s truth. The Word of God will stand forever, even when this world passes away. It is the one tangible thing we have in this life that we can cling to that we can have forever. Cherish the Word; it is a treasure. 🙂
When you pray to God for wisdom, guidance and understanding as he tells us we can do, he makes us to understand the things that previously didn’t make sense. With his guidance he showed me the truth by using Enochs Book of Watchers, which the book of Jude even references. What a coincidence.
In Psalm 82 cited in the article it does not appear that angelic beings are in view but the judges of Israel as verses 2-4 make clear. Jesus put it (John 10:34), ‘those to whom the word of God came’ i.e., those to whom was given a delegated, God-like authority. They are called to account for their failures, and reminded that despite their high status they will be answerable to the One who gave them their authority. In Jesus’ use, the meaning is that if these unjust judges can be called Elohim (gods) in the inspired Scriptures, how much more fitting it is that he who was sent into the world by the authority of the Father, and does his will perfectly, receive that title?
In Genesis 6:1-8, admittedly a difficult section, we have ‘the sons of God’ taking wives from ‘the daughters of men’ on the basis of outward attractiveness (the description is the normal way of describing marriage in Hebrew). An older interpretation that intermarriage between the line of Seth and the line of Cain was involved has objections, not least that the line of Cain ending with the arrogant, vengeful and polygamous Lamech (4:23) has been passed from and the line of Seth is now the subject. It seems the most likely view that people in high places of leadership and power in the line of Seth took wives based on outward attractiveness (cf. 3:6) rather than the command of God and that polygamous marriages were also involved, although the narrative is somewhat cryptic as if the subject is distasteful. These privileged and powerful people established powerful families that were a law to themselves and were people of renown (6:4 cf Nimrod in 10:8). So they were like an already existing group called nephilim who, while not children of these marriages, were, like them, violent oppressors.
The Flood came because of the sin of humans. The angel view of the sons of God seems peculiar is this light as well as having other objections. The mighty hybrid men of old in the mythical tales of the ancients were in fact just corrupt people who perverted the order of society they were suppose to guard.
Just a thought, on the matter of the Sons of God or Nephilum taking human wives I can see where that is a possibility in leau of the fact that it kept Adam and Eves Sons from fornicating with their Sisters which is a sin. God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply …. When the daughters became of age God allowed the celestial sons to seed Adams Daughters thus becoming fruitful and multiplying for 120 years. Makes sense to me! Its the only way to be fruitful and multiply the earth without fornicating from Father to Daughter and Son to Sister..
The laws today are not the laws in the days of Adam, nor are they always the laws at the age of Noah, or Abraham or Moses, let alone those of the New Covenant. So that you may prohibit or find offensive the marriage of siblings in the first days, is not what binds the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
Then there is the Orthodox and Catholic understanding that the Bible is not a Science textbook, but includes allegorical tales to express how God is the Creator of the Universe and all of creation. That some of the Angels, as well as Adam our first father fell from communion with God and severed his relationship with Him. How Christ Jesus the Incarnate Second person of the Godhead came to us to suffer, die, rise from the dead for our redemption. This was also the understanding I was given by the Rabbinic commentaries that I was raised with at my grandfather’s (a Sephardic Rabbi) knee, before I came to accept that Christ Jesus is the promised Messiah.
You are only going by what was written first before things were written they were spoken. So basically this invalid, you absolutely have no proof. Please get a time machine thank you
You might investigate a possible connection between Lucifer and Quetzalcoatl in reference to “The bright and shining star of the morning”, as the latter was described as a “feathered serpent”. Further, in Exodus, Yahowah warns the Israelites not to inquire after other Elohims (mighty ones) or to speak their names “Lest they do onto Yahowah” what the pagans have done unto their mighty ones; that is to sacrifice their children by fire. I have a hunch that there definitely is some validity to the mythology we find in so many of the disconnected ancient cultures. . . too many coincidences, especially considering that the Father is referred to as “The Highest El” in Scripture and gave the aforementioned warning.
In order to understand what words like “sons of god” meant to the Israelites, we should look at how Moses used them elsewhere in the Pentateuch. Moses describes the Israelites as “sons (or children) of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1 & 32:3-6).
Nephilim in Hebrew is spelled from right to left as Nun – Pe – Yod – Lamed – Yod – Mem. There are two prongs of translation that usually have exclusive weight in the defining the word.
1) The first option put forth is that Nephil (Nun – Pe – Yod – Lamed )comes from a 3 letter root of Nun – Pe –Lamed is napal, and means “to fall, lie down, or be cast down”
2) The second option, which appears just as likely, places Nephilim as being an expansion of (Pe – Lamed – Alef – Yod) pil’i – “(to be) wonderful / incomprehensible” and finding for its 3 letter root word: pala – (to be ) wonderful / marvelous (Pe – Lamed – Alef).
However, I would like to present a third alternative, one by which both definitions above are actually derived from, and why both three letter options are equally applicable to the Nephilim as both the “fallen ones” and the “wonderful / incomprehensible” ones. That is the word root of Nun – Pe – He / NaPaH.
In the word derivatives, NaPaH is an assumed root for TeNUPaH (Tav – Nun – Vav – Pe – He) / a “shaking or wave offering.”
In Isaiah 19:16,
16 “In that day shall Egypt be like unto women: and it shall be afraid and fear because of the shaking of the hand of the Lord of hosts, which he shaketh over it.”
TeNUPaH is used to describe GOD “shaking” His Hand in a manner that proscribes Judgment.
In Isaiah 30:32,
32 “And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the Lord shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps: and in battles of shaking will he fight with it.”
we are informed of “battles of shaking” where an earthquake replaces the awesomeness of an army without number whose great weight of the horses and amount of humanity actually shakes the earth under the feet of the participants as they wage war on one another. Read in context within the passage of Isaiah 30:27-33, an earthquake as the means by which the LORD brings about the use of the elements of Creation / Nature against his enemies, is quite clear: lightning, great winds, hailstones, deafening thunder, blasts of great heat and torrents of magma / hot lava….these all place in context that the battles of shaking are great earthquakes and great aftershocks that are used to wage war on those who infuriate the LORD.
When an object is heavy and concentrated enough, its movement can make the earth rumble or shake under one’s feet. I believe that is what is in the word picture of Nephilim as seen from the root word of NaPaH. It is a combination of a height and a shaking that is experienced through a specific set of human beings we must by necessity call giants, whose very movements were not only loud, but because of the concentration of their height and weight, they shook they earth beneath their feet as they moved hither and thither.
Og of Bashan’s bed was that being 9 twenty-one inch cubits long and 4 twenty-one inch cubits wide.
In other words 189″ long = 17′ 4″ and 84″ wide = 7’. If we make an allowance of at least one foot at the head and at the feet, Og was about 15 feet tall, the tallest human that we know of to have ever walked the Earth. However, Scripture calls Og the remnant of the giants; and this means that others at least equal to, and almost undoubtedly many even taller than he, preceded him.
So when we read Genesis 6, we are to understand that by GIANTS, we are talking generally about statures of 15 feet or more in height, who when they walked, shook the earth beneath their feet. When looked at, Moses himself can be showed to have been attributed a height of 8’11”& reckoned among the Hyksos giants of Egypt (the Exodus being historical literary shown to be 1551BC in both Hebrew & Greek reckonings) but since real history discredits the conflicting timelines of so many millions of $ in books & works, that information is suppressed from formal recognition though it be privately acknowledged in upset whispers.
How would Nephilim exist after the flood? Everybody would be a descendant of Noah, surely?
If you read the text in Scripture, reference is made to the sons of God being there (earth) before and after the flood. Interesting that some of our current earth population having Neanderthal genes and Dr. Oz made reference to “Our reptilian ancestors”. So much to learn and so little time to do it! Jon K.J. Bartz
You are correct John Hayworth. It’s true that the Nephilim are mentioned at Numbers 13:33, but the speakers quoted there in Numbers were the faithless Israelite spies, telling tall tales designed scare the Israelites away from entering the Promised land. One reference work says:
“No doubt there were some large men in Canaan, as other scriptures show, but never except in this “bad report,” which was carefully couched in language designed to strike terror and cause panic among the Israelites, are they called Nephilim. Because of these distortions, a wave of fear spread through the camp. The people even wanted to return to Egypt, the land of their slavery!”
These men of extraordinary size, called the sons of Anak (probably meaning “Long-Necked [that is, of tall stature]”), were only unusually tall men, for the Nephilim, the offspring of angels and women (Ge 6:4), perished in the Flood.
I have not been able to access the full article but, according to scripture, Sons of God is a description applied to mortal believers. This passage records the consequences of believers marrying those who are outside that covenant relationship with God. This passage from Genesis merely records the first overt record of this practice; later forbidden to those under the Law of Moses and Christians alike. This disobedience invariably brings about the corruption of the true church in whatever dispensation you like to consider.
I agree with Martin – see my comment above.