Who Are the Nephilim?

The mysterious beings of Genesis 6

This Bible History Daily article was originally published in 2014.—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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  • Daryl says

    The Bible makes no reference to a book written by Enoch and there is no way to validate the Book of Enoch floating around these days. On the other hand; we are warned by Paul:1 Tim. 4:1 (KJV) “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;” If we read the text about the “men of renown” from a Biblical perspective, that is let Scripture interpret itself, we will gain a better understanding. Genesis 6:4 (KJV) “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”
    Yes, there were giants in those days and there still are today. What follows that statement is another statement or thought, as indicated by; “and also after that,”. This other thought was of the present for the author of Genesis, that would be Moses as directed by Yahushua [a.k.a. Jesus] our Redeemer. This was proven when the children of Israel were to entered the land of Canaan but were afraid of the GIANTS. The word Nephilim is Hebrew for “giants” and nothing more.
    Sadly, some authors are getting rich off of this “doctrine of devils”. Answering the Sadducees, our Saviour said; Matthew 22:30 (KJV) “For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” Are we, weak and erring humans, going to call our Saviour a liar? He said angels can not procreate. So who then are the “men of renown”? Please, study Scripture and not the writings of men. Go back to the beginning. First there was Adam, Cain killed his brother Abel so we go on to their brother Seth. From Seth came Enosh, etc. down to Noah and from Noah on down to Abraham. Did you know that Noah was over 100 years old before Adam died and that Abraham was over 100 years old before Noah died? The Word of the Most High had been given to Adam and he passed it down through the line of Seth to Abraham and from Abraham to Issac and then Jacob who were the men of renown for their time. Those spoken of in the above text were, like the angels of heaven, called the “sons of God” just as all those who believe in and follow Yahushua are today.
    The children lost the Truth during their 400 years of slavery and hence the Sinai experience. Because Seth and his line followed the Word they were healthier, more intelligent and much wiser, by nature, than the surrounding heathen. Some of those walking in the Light saw that the heathen women were very beautiful and began intermarrying with them. Because they were advanced their children inherited good health and much intelligence and wisdom from them. And these became the “men of renown.”

  • Angela says

    The book of Enoch is false.So are the dead sea scrolls.This is a simple hoax.To fool even you into believing when “aliens” appear you will believe they are the God(s).They are not even real.It will all be made up.Videos,Audio and magical illusion.This is my opinion.The world is being programed into believing in UFOs and aliens.

    • SM says

      however, the Bible is very real and very true. There is an actual museum of the red-haired giants that have been found. The giants are very real, it was all over the news in the 1800’s when they were first discovered. I believe there have been many skeletons found in California, North Dakota, and Europe.

      God Bless

  • Nathaniel says

    Read the book of Enoch! Enoch was Noah’s grandfather! He wrote all about the Giants! Not to mention the remains of Giants unearthed by the Smithsonian institute in the mid 1800’s and the ones spoken of in Rockwall, Texas as well as American Indian tribes that were being eaten by Giant tribes. Also research Sardinia. Teens of thousands have been unearthed and hidden by the government and Catholic church.

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