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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  • Shannon says

    That which is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven in Enoch the fallen were bound here yes here on Earth be careful what you loose or scientific term archeological find dig up because that which is loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven…war of the worlds

  • Shannon says

    The book of Enoch explains the death of the fallen and the sites in which they are bound and speaking of being bound in Matthew 18:18 that which is loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven and that which is bound on earth shall be bound in heaven but these scholars already know this archeologists seek it for sake of science by the way if you read the book of Enoch it will fill in the blank for kjv God was displeased with the fallen he had become jealous so to speak because of their desire for the daughters of men he felt betrayed.They were also teaching mankind about fire colors and their meanings for trade of their daughters so to whomever this site belongs you may need to study some more the flood was gods way of killing the seed of the nephilim.he said in the book of Enoch he would kill their seed as they watched.misinterpretation I think not but good luck with that

  • paul says

    there is only one nephilim left in exsistance today,the last one.and he is here on earth,and he is not a enemy of our lord jesus.or god.he is not like the others that god and lord jesus killed off.he is a servent of the lord.you may of got the others right that i know,but u all wrong about this last one.lord jesus doesnt lie.

  • Kali says

    I understand now

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