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The Nephilim of Genesis 6: Monsters or Heroes?

The Nephilim, Monsters or Heroes?

One of the yet unsolved mysteries within Scripture stems from Genesis 6:4, where the “Sons of God,” or the “sons of the gods” [בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים], took the “daughters of men” to be their wives, resulting in the birth of mighty heroes. As Genesis 6:4 begins with a reference to the Nephilim [נְפִילִים], it is believed that these Nephilim are the children of these unions between the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men,” though the text does not clearly say as such.

History of Interpretation

Throughout the years, the mystery of the Nephilim has stirred the imagination. Modern interpretations are as many as there are websites to explain those interpretations, with the main culprits ranging from giants to alien hybrids to simple mixed race humans. The conspiracy-theorist-like search for what these Nephilim were has been undertaken by both Christians and non-Christians alike, and even some scholars have joined in the philosophical exploration.

Alien-Human Hybrid

Perhaps the most peculiar of the modern theories stems from a belief in extra-terrestrials, and in particular the belief that extra-terrestrials have long visited our planet. Although an attempt to conglomerate all ancient alien theories into one simple statement is impossible, several ufologists have made the connection between the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 and extra-terrestrials (Flaherty 2010: 88), linking the phrase to aliens in general (Sitchin 2010: 343) or to gray aliens, specifically (Roberts 2012: 47). A common theme within this theory appears to be the dispensing of alien DNA into humanity in order to guide the human race, some arguing that “The Adam,” himself, was a creation of these extra-terrestrials and that Genesis 6 shows further siring of the hybrid species (Sitchin 2010: 343).

Demon-Human Hybrid

Much of the Alien-Human Hybrid theory appears to have been based on the Demon-Human Hybrid theory, the belief that the “sons of God” were in fact angelic beings, in particular, fallen angels. This theory finds itself in both biblically conservative circles (Gromacki 2012: 61), where angels and demons are believed to be true, and in more liberal circles, where the story is understood as a myth (Gaffney 2007: 1044). The theory is also believed outside of Christianity altogether (El-Zein 2009: 35). One apparent theme held by some Christian theorists, a theme similar to the Alien-Human Hybrid theory, involves the contamination of the human bloodline, in this case the unsuccessful attempt to contaminate the lineage of Adam in order to negate the promise of a coming Messiah (Marzulli 2020: 151).

The “Sons of God” are even featured in the 2014 major Hollywood remake of the Flood story simply titled Noah, starring Russell Crowe and Sir Anthony Hopkins, where the fallen angels are seen as giant rock monsters, a play on the ancient Jewish myth found in 1 Enoch which involved fallen angelic beings called Watchers. This theory is a very old theory and a very popular supposition.

Mixed Race Humans

Perhaps the second most popular view on this matter (Meshach, Paul, and Nigeria 2019: 5) is the belief that the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” are not supernatural beings at all but rather the mixing of the lineage of Cain with the lineage of Seth, where Cain is understood to be ungodly and Seth is understood to be godly, but perhaps apostate based on the passage (Kober 1974: 18). This view, along with the belief that the “sons of God” were despotic rulers, originate in the second century AD and completely avoid the concept of supernatural beings having sex with humans (Beakley 2020: 81).

The Failure of the Supernatural Interpretations

The concept behind both supernatural theories necessarily exists outside of the realm of the empirical, historical, or exegetical sciences. Any theories involving extra-terrestrial or alien-seed arguments are impossible to ascertain scientifically as no sentient alien species have yet been discovered. Additionally, there is no historical evidence to suggest that extra-terrestrial species have visited our planet. While some have attempted to suggest alien interpretations both historically and biblically, none are accepted within academia and all evidences have been found to be lacking. Because of this, the Alien-Human Hybrid theory will be dismissed in whole. What remains to be discussed supernaturally is the Angel-Human Hybrid theory, a theory finding associations with demonology in both early Jewish and early Christian literature (McCraw and Arp 2017: 7).

Jewish Demonology

Within Jewish mythology, specifically, within the Book of the Watchers which is the first part (Chs. 1-36) of 1 Enoch, the “Watchers,” angels, saw the beauty of human women, they desired them, and then they chose wives from among them so that they could bare children to the Watchers (1 Enoch 6:1-2). These fallen angels defiled themselves through the women, teaching the women sorcery and charms and then siring giants. These giants, in turn, begat the Nephilim (1 Enoch 7:1-2).

Although named after the antediluvian patriarch Enoch, 1 Enoch is very clearly a composite piece, likely including multiple periods and writers (Isaac 1983: 6), but a plausible completion date for the Book of the Watchers as a whole, based on paleographical evidences, is sometime from the late third century to the early second century B.C. (Wright 2013: 15), not too long before the time of Christ. This places the composition quite late and disallows for the patriarch Enoch to have been the original author, and the content of the book occurs after the time of the patriarch Enoch. Partially because of these, 1 Enoch is considered to be Pseudepigraphal, or having a false title. Although 1 Enoch is a fascinating work that can impress second century B.C. Hebrew apocalyptic writing upon the scholar, the writing itself is non-canonical and can not be used for theological discovery.

Early Christian Demonology

Early Christian authors such as Athenagoras, Commodianus, and Origen have also commented upon the belief that angels mated with humans. These, appearingly based upon a reading of 1 Enoch, discuss the impure love that some angels had for human virgins, according to Athenagoras (ca. A.D. 177: 24), which banned the angels from returning to heaven, according to Commodianus (ca. A.D. 240: 3), resulting in wickedness and impiety towards God, according to Origen (ca. A.D. 248: 92).

Of course, nothing within Scripture reveals any of this, and in fact it is not certain that the Nephilim are the children of the “sons of God” and “daughters of men,” although this author agrees that they are. Additionally, the children of these unions are not said to be evil or wicked; in fact, Genesis 6:4 only notes positive aspects of the children, calling them “mighty heroes” and “famous men.” Thus, although the Angel-Human Hybrid theory is an acceptable theory, it is a theory that appears to be based on ante-Nicene writings which were in turn based on Jewish mythology.

Scripturally, believers are not told whether angelic beings can sire children. Matthew 22:30 suggests that angels do not marry, and Luke 20:34-36 further suggests the same, adding that angels can not die. Hebrews 1:14 mentions that angels are spirits, and Luke 24:39 notes that spirits do not have flesh and blood. Of course, there are several examples of angelic beings appearing as flesh and blood, including the Hebrews 1:14 passage noted above, which describes some angels as ministering to humans in such ways that humans may not even be aware of the angelic nature of the beings, and thus it can be assumed that in those instances the angels appeared to be physiologically human, likely even to the point of containing sexual organs.

With that said, angels in human form are said to have suddenly appeared before humans (Numbers 22:31-35) and also to have suddenly disappeared (Judges 6:21), no doubt owing to their spiritual existence, but every example within Scripture is linked to Yahweh willing the appearances to happen. Angels are no where said to have created anything, including their own physical bodies, and examples of demons within Scripture appear either as spiritual beings or as possessing individuals, but never with a physical body of their own. To suggest that angelic beings, whether good or evil, can reproduce with humans is extra-biblical, and it can actually be argued that the concept is unbiblical, as it appears to violate Genesis 1 which describes living creatures reproducing only after their own kinds.

The Superiority of the Natural Interpretations

Thus, theories involving a supernatural reproduction in Genesis 6 seem, to this author, to be unfounded and inferior to the naturalistic interpretations, these ranging from the mixture of Godly and ungodly races (being ‘unequally yoked’) to the rape of citizens at the hands of kings (law of the ‘first night’-type concept).

Mixed Races

The theory that the “sons of God” and “daughters of men” were unequally yoked marriages is seemingly a favorite among many Evangelical churches. The unequal marriages, according to theorists, may represent either apostate Sethite-descendants marrying the ungodly Cainite descendants (Kober 1974: 18) or possibly simply Godly men in general who took pagan women as wives resulting in children who followed their mothers’ gods rather than following Yahweh (Hodge 2008: 54).

Within these theories, then, the “sons of God” phrase is understood similar to Exodus 4:22-23, where Israel is said to be God’s son, as well as several other Old Testament passages including 2 Samuel 7:14, 1 Chronicles 17:13, and 1 Chronicles 22:10. Within the New Testament, peacemakers are described as “sons of God” in Matthew 5:9, and in Luke 20:34-36, Jesus describes the dichotomy between the “sons of this age” and the “sons of God.” More to the point of this theory, John 1:12-13 explains that those who receive Christ (believers) become “children of God,” a concept mirrored in the Mixed Marriage theory showing that believers, the godly, are sons of God.

Of course, this view says nothing of the resulting mighty and famous men who came as a result of these unions. These men are described, in Genesis 6:4, as הַגִּבֹּרִים, warriors or heroes, like the הַגִּבֹּרִים of King David found in 2 Samuel 23:8–38 and often translated as “mighty men.” The singular of this word, גִּבֹּר, is used to describe Nimrod in Genesis 10:8, who was said to be not only a mighty man but the first mighty man on the earth, but possibly, if the phrase “before the Lord” in Genesis 10:9 is used as a superlative, the mightiest of all men, whether this means post-flood or if it includes the so-called Nephilim of Genesis 6. Interestingly, the word “hunter” used here, צַיִד, is also used of hunting men (e.g., 1 Sam 24:12), and it is believed by some that Nimrod’s skill in hunting animals led to his skill in battle (Keil and Delitzsch 1971: 105).

Whatever the Nephilim were, assuming that they were the children of these unions, there does not appear to be anything supernatural about their prowess. Instead, they appear to have been simply mighty warriors whose fame had spread across the land, similar to David’s mighty men or perhaps Achilles as found in Homer’s Iliad. There also does not appear to be a connection with their parentage and their mighty acts, at least not within the Mixed Race theory. The fact that their fathers were either godly or apostate believers and that their mothers were pagan or unbelievers would not necessarily result in their status as famous men, let alone warriors.

The Hero Interpretation

A final interpretation, and one that this author wishes to put forward, is that the so-called Nephilim were children of pagan rulers or kings and whose paternal parentage allowed them access to leadership roles in military campaigns or possibly royal hunting parties. This theory stems from a reading not of “sons of God” but rather “sons of the gods” (בְנֵי־הָאֱלֹהִים), understanding the plural אֱלֹהִים as a reference to pagan deities or rulers rather than a plural of majesty as is often seen when the word is used of Yahweh.

The word in reference to pagan deities has provenance within Scripture, as seen in Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 4:28, Joshua 23:16, and a great number of other passages. For instance, in Judges 10:13, Yahweh notes that even though He had saved the Israelites from Egypt, the Amorites, and several other peoples, the Israelites abandoned Yahweh and served other אֱלֹהִים, gods.

Concerning the word in reference to non-divine beings, Psalm 8:5, quoted in Hebrews 2:7, uses the term in reference to angels, noting that mankind was created a little lower than the אֱלֹהִים, and in Psalm 138:1, David praises God before the angels (אֱלֹהִים). Additionally, several passages in Exodus use the word in reference to judges, and it is suggested that this use reflects either divine representatives or divine power (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 2000: אֱלֹהִים).

Although no antediluvian documents have survived, nor would they be expected to, post Flood examples of ancient rulers being referred to as children of gods are many, including the well-known Sargon (Bachvarova 2015: 182), Shulgi, and Gilgamesh (Bachvarova 2015: 80). Of note, it is not being argued here that these rulers were Nephilim but that ancient rulers were routinely referred to as children of deities.

Gilgamesh, Son of a Deity

Perhaps Gilgamesh, son of the goddess Ninsun (Gromacki 2012: 28), can be understood as the greatest example as much has been written about him, including the infamous Gilgamesh Epic, an ancient myth that went through a rather long Sumerian (Maisels 2005: 165) development before its final form (Mieroop 2015: 408).

Gilgamesh was the actual, historical third king of the First Dynasty of Uruk (Maisels 2005: 165), dating to the Early Dynastic Period in Mesopotamia (Black and Green 1992: 90), some time around 2700 B.C. (Getty et al. 2015: 80). He was an alcoholic, womanizer, battler of monsters, and the equivalent of a Mesopotamian King Arthur whose quest for the Holy Grail of immortality (Kriwaczek 2012: 40) ended in failure. By the end of his myth, he was resigned only to be remembered via his story (Charpin 2010: 24). The first evidence of the deification of the man dates to the mid third millennium B.C. (Bachvarova 2015: 79). Of note, Gilgamesh, along with Assurbanipal, was claimed to have been able to read pre-flood inscriptions (Mieroop 2015: 414), a boast of scholarly literacy but a possible acknowledgement of pre-flood culture that had been passed down orally through the generations.

Gilgamesh, The Rapist

In relation to Genesis 6, within the first tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is stated:

"Gilgamesh does not leave a girl to her mother(?)!"

The daughter of the warrior, the bride of the young man

The concept of oppression toward his people is understood by most scholars, and this oppression ranges from forced labor to sexual assault and rape, and in fact, this oppression, according to the epic, is the reason that the people of Uruk called out to the gods to save them, resulting in the creation of Enkidu, an uncivilized brute sent to kill the king but who would eventually befriend Gilgamesh (Black and Green 1992: 90-91).

This seemingly complete lack of a moral compass stems from Gilgamesh’s demigod status, being a son of the gods who, in Sumerian mythology, were not particularly moral deities to begin with (Getty et al. 2015: 7). Thus, Gilgamesh raped any woman he chose, and nothing could be done about it.

These historical and literary examples lend toward a better understanding of what may had been at play in Genesis 6, that is, earthly rulers who oppressed their people, took their women, and most likely sired countless offspring. While nothing is noted about the children of Gilgamesh sired through these rapes, no doubt their status as children of the king gave them positions of power and perhaps military leadership roles, but this is conjecture.

Gilgamesh, In Relation to Genesis 6

It should be noted that the word Nephilim, נְּפִלִים, is not well understood. Within the Biblical text, the word appears only twice, Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:32-33, and the context of these passages does not make a translation truly viable. This is the reason that some Bible translations chose to simply transliterate the term, including the New International Version (NIV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New Living Translation (NLT), and more. Other translations, such as the King James Version, translate the word as “giant” based on the LXX use of the Greek word γίγαντες (Flaherty 2010: 90).

Although there is no biblical connection between Gilgamesh and any characters within the Genesis narrative, there is an astrological connection. Interestingly, the word Nephilim, נְּפִלִים, in Genesis 6:4 is the same word used in ancient Babylonian and is understood as a heavenly shepherd and associated with the constellation Orion (Gesenius 1974: 556), which is termed the Shepherd of Anu (Black and Green 1992: 190). The word is also used in Aramaic in reference to the same constellation (Brown, Driver, and Briggs 2000: נְפִלִים). In Mesopotamian literature, Orion is associated with Gilgamesh, who was said to have superhuman strength and was able to kill the Bull of Heaven, associated with the constellation Taurus (Vahia 2023: 7), which was sent to fight Gilgamesh by the goddess Inana, most likely after Gilgamesh rejected the goddess’ sexual advances (Black and Green 1992: 90).

It is unclear whether or not Moses intended to make a connection with the myth of Gilgamesh, but the connection may make an interpretation of the word more plausible, namely the concept of kings or rulers initiating a notion similar to jus primae noctis, or the “right of the first night,” a type of legal rape used by royalty throughout history.

The result of these unions in Genesis 6:4 was the siring of children who would become mighty men, heroes in a similar vein to Nimrod, Achilles, or perhaps Chris Kyle, warriors of renown. Although not directly stated within the passage, these heroes may have obtained negative reputations through immoral practices, similar to Gilgamesh, or they may have had positive reputations, such as David’s mighty men.

Nephilim existed post-flood as well, but since none but Noah’s bloodline survived the deluge, the term was likely used not of a race of beings but the status of individuals, such as Goliath, a rather tall and strong man who utilized the mixed armor and weapons (Canaanite, Philistine, and Egyptian) most likely of those whom he had bested. These were most likely heroes, in the Greek sense.


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