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.
 


 

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  • Joshua says

    These Nephelim ‘fallen angels’ were spiritual in nature thus survived the flood

  • Jon says

    Joyce, apparently Ham’s wife or other wives carried the DNA. Noah was perfect in his generations or fully human. This is a ridiculous argument and article. The Bible records talking animals, people resurrecting from the dead, countless miracles and a whole slough of other paranormal events and yet we can’t take it at it’s word about the fallen angels? “The angels that kept not their first estate (form.) in the abyss.” The Book of Enoch is a good read and Jude quotes directly from it. Let’s just throw out the worldwide legends of these beings, Josephus wrote that the skeletons were still on display in his time. The natives all have legends of red haired cannibalistic giants. The bodies have been found all around the world. They were responsible for all the ziggarats (stepped pyramids) found all over as they were worshiped, demanding human sacrifice. The had a viper look to them because their fathers the fallen angels were Seraphim class angels which are reptile in form and appearance. The Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites….. were all nephilim tribes. Which is why Joshua reported back the promised land was filled with giants and they appeared to be grasshoppers in their sight.

    • Jon says

      Also, if you remove the giants from the bible then God does become genocidal. The giants are the reason why the Israelites were sometimes ordered to kill everyone of a certain tribe, He didn’t want the giants and their ways to spread. Seraphim – fiery flying serpent The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl – feathered serpent God, hmmm.

  • Prophet_Forest says

    Because their presence is of the earth, grounded; therefore their souls never enter Heaven. They remain in the soil for eternity, to sprout forth and become giants once more.

  • BAS says

    In understanding the issue of the nephilim we must first state who the sons of God are. Luke3:38b “Adam, who was the son of God. Adam was a son of God. Many biblical scholars have stated that the race of Adam may well have been up to 15feet tall(giant?). when we read gen5:1-” this is the book of the GENERATION of ADAM in the day that GOD CREATED MAN ,in the LIKENESS of GOD made he him(emphasis applied)” then when we compare this to vs3 “And Adam…begat a son after his own LIKENESS, after his IMAGE and called his name seth” meaning ADAM was GOD’s son being in the likeness of God so to was Seth Adam’s son being in his likeness. A being in Gods likeness is the ideal son of God that is why gen6:3 states “my spirit shall not always strive with MAN for that he also is FLESH but his days shall be 120years(emphasis implied)” the nephilim aren’t exactly devine beings but rather “man” that the “spirit strives with”. Another thing when you read gen6:4 “there were giants(nephilim) in those days and also after that…” Meaning that the nephilim were a race of the giants that had come up during and afta the apostacy in verse5 of chap6. The word for nephilim means “fallen ones” :fallen from God’s image or apostate. Then if we read the verses that follow they have statements like “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” in verse 5, and “it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth”, verse 4 also “giants in the earth” all were of earth not heaven. All were human. Conclusive evidence as to the true identity of the Sons of God can be understood by what God said in verse 3b-“his days shall be 120 years”. Why so? Because chapter 5 contains people that could live up to +/-950 years but after the global flood no one lives that long. This had an effect on both races from gen5-(sons of God in Gods image) and the race of gen4-(the sons of man or cain in his image). These two races are the only two mentioned and no other class of angels or devine beings are found mentioned in the chapter.

  • Joyce says

    What i don’t understand is this, if these Nephilim where wiped out during the flood, then how could their lines be continued? Only Noah and his family survived.

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