Who Are the Nephilim?

The mysterious beings of Genesis 6

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 descendant 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 naïve 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.
 


 
ellen-whiteEllen White, Ph.D. (Hebrew Bible, University of St. Michael’s College), formerly the senior editor at the Biblical Archaeology Society, 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.
 


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


 

Posted in Hebrew Bible.

Tagged with , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Add Your Comments

5 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  • Robert says

    I am unable to understand what you said. How is it possible to achieve almost divine status while being an enemy of Israel?
    “The first thing to recognize is that these are not two separate titles”
    If they are not two separate titles. used to describe two separate groups of people, then they describe the same people, enemies of Israel who achieved almost divine status.
    Cannot make sense of it.

  • Daniel says

    Teófilo, You might want to look more closely at the article before insinuating that the author is a bozo. The term “sons of god” may not refer to the offspring of El Elyon “God most high.” In fact, you might agree with the author that these beings should not be taken as such. In the last paragraph, when ‘god’ indicates the God of the Bible, it is capitalized. So, your frustration and insult seem to be misplaced.

  • Veli says

    I think that Nephilim is just another tribe near the tribe of Adam, and sons-of-god is a third tribe

  • David says

    The Nephilum were destroyed during the flood, Their spirit was taken to Sheol to wait for the Resurection . Read carefully the text of the passage Only 8 people survived the flood no one else. the devil had other angels that became the evil spirits

  • Paulo says

    Could be the IGIGI mentioned in the sumerian and babilonian tablets?
    Congratulations for your work.

  • 1 2 3 42


    Some HTML is OK

    or, reply to this post via trackback.


Send this to a friend

Hello! You friend thought you might be interested in reading this post from https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org:
Who Are the Nephilim?!
Here is the link: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/hebrew-bible/who-are-the-nephilim/
Enter Your Log In Credentials...

Change Password

×