Looking at Genesis 6:1-4
I began this examination of Genesis 6:1-4 in Part One. For review, the passage is rendered in the King James Version as:
And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. 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. (Gen 6:1-4 KJV)
I used the King James Version because of its reference in verse 4 to “giants.” Virtually all modern Bible translations use the transliterated Hebrew word, Nephilim, instead of “giants.”
In the previous segment, I raised three questions about this passage:
(1) Who were the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of men?’
(2) Who were the Nephilim?
(3) Is there a connection between the Nephilim and giants?
I dealt with the question about the ‘sons of God’ and the ‘daughters of men’ in Part One of this study. In this concluding article, I will address the final two questions and attempt an overall explanation of the passage and the issues associated with it.
Who Were the Nephilim?
Before we can arrive at the identity of the Nephilim we must first determine the meaning of the word, and that is part of the problem. The most probable root of nephilim is the Hebrew verb, naphal¸which means, “to fall.” Hence, some take the plural noun in Genesis 6:4 to mean, “fallen ones,” with the implication that they had fallen from heaven.1
However, that interpretation is not certain. The verb can also speak of someone falling, or dying, in battle. In another use, naphal can speak of “falling upon” others in the sense of attacking them. In that case, Nephilim could refer to those who ruthlessly attacked others.2
To further complicate matters, it has been proposed that nephilim is related to the Hebrew noun nephel, which means “miscarriage” or “deformed baby” and speaks of the children born to the angel-human relations discussed in Part One.3
Since the noun nephilim occurs in only one other biblical passage (Numbers 13:33), and that passage refers back to Genesis 6:4, we gain little from investigating other biblical uses of the word.
In short, it is difficult to determine the precise meaning of the Hebrew word nephilim. It was used to refer to a mysterious and noteworthy group of ancient people. However, not being able to nail down the exact lexical meaning of the word does not mean that we cannot identify those to whom the word refers.
Brown-Driver-Briggs (BDB), the venerable Hebrew lexicon, defines nephilim as “giants.” The newer and well-respected Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) gives, “giant, monster, deformed baby.” Even though the term “giants” is not in our modern translations in this passage, it is never far away from the meaning. We will further examine the issue of the Nephilim and giants in answering the last question of this study.
There is another issue that must also be resolved. Does the passage in focus allow us to determine the origin of the Nephilim?
The English Standard Version gives a quite literal translation of the Hebrew of verse 4.
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:4)
In Part One, I argued that the clearest meaning of “sons of God” and “daughters of men” was that of fallen angels cohabitating with human women. Genesis 6:4 states that the children born to these marriages became, from the standpoint of the writer of Genesis, the mighty warriors of antiquity (literally ‘mighty men’). They were “men of renown,” known and celebrated in legend and story.
Were the Nephilim the children produced by the marriages of angels and human women? That question is not explicitly answered by the text but it is implied. Literally, v. 4 says that the Nephilim were on the earth in those days when the marriages occurred and also “afterward,” which speaks of the time after the flood. It must be remembered that Moses wrote Genesis long after the flood.
Does this mean that the Nephilim were the children of the illicit unions? I think that it does. Otherwise, the use of Nephilim alone as a mythical group makes little sense. Gordon Wenham, in writing of the “mighty men who were of old,” offers that they were the Nephilim and indeed that is the implied meaning.4
Genesis 6:1-4 speaks of a time when fallen angels took human women to themselves and “went in” to them (a euphemism for sexual relations). The form of the Hebrew verb implies something that was a continuous activity.5 The children born from these relations were given the name Nephilim—possibly because of their fallen nature—and were mighty warriors that had been enshrined in legends of the past.
All ancient cultures have legends of mythical warriors. One of the oldest is the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian tale from over 4,000 years ago. The heroic warrior-king. Gilgamesh was purportedly one-third god and two-thirds man. The Greeks had many legends of heroes who were the offspring of gods and human women. Examples of this are Heracles (Hercules) and Achilles, half-gods who were legendary warriors. None of this is to give full credence to ancient pagan legends but to demonstrate that a common narrative appears across cultures and even religions of mythical and renowned warriors who had both divine and human origins.
Hesiod, the 8th century BC Greek poet, wrote that the “giants” (gigantes) came from the interaction of heaven (Ouranos) and earth (Gaia), another image of a heaven-earth encounter even though Gaia was believed to be a god.6
An interesting anecdote in this discussion is the use of Nephilim in Numbers 13:32-33.
So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13:32–33)
The twelve spies were sent into the promised land. The passage gives the report of the ten spies who saw only problems. The spies speak in the Hebrew of “men of great height” (anishi middot) and called them Nephilim. Some commentators see this as the spies bringing up a frightful term from the past to make their point. Ronald Allen wrote:
“The use of the term Nephilim seems to be deliberately provocative of fear, a term not unlike the concept of bogeymen and hobgoblins.”7
That is an understandable interpretation but it is complicated by the parenthetical note in the text, “The sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim.” If true—and it was written by Moses—then it allows only one of two interpretations. (1) Either some of the Nephilim survived the flood or (2) the activity before the flood that produced the Nephilim continued for a time after the flood.8
Clearly, (1) is incorrect as only Noah and his family survived the flood. (2) would seem to have support from Genesis 6:1:
The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. (Genesis 6:4)
If, for a period of time after the flood, further interactions took place between fallen angels and human women, it would go far to explain these passages as well as account for legends of semi-divine mythical heroes in many cultures.
It must be stated that God has chosen to limit the biblical account of this primeval time so very little can be stated with absolute certainty.
Is There a Connection Between the Nephilim and Giants?
The last question to examine is the connection, if any exists, between the Nephilim and the mention of giants in the Scripture. As related, modern translations do not have “giants” in Genesis 6:4 but the word appears elsewhere in almost all modern translations.
Did Giants Exist?
The Bible speaks of men of great stature but how can we account for such height from a time when people were generally shorter than they are today? It is usually explained in one of three ways.
(1) Skeptics, not accepting the Bible as inspired, see the gigantic height as an exaggeration much as appears in many ancient tales.
Those who accept the authority of Scripture either try to explain it (2) in accordance with a modern understanding or (3) as something unique to that time.
Many are quick to note that the account of Goliath given in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) gives his height as four cubits and a span (about 6 ft. 9 in.). That is more acceptable to the modern mind. In 1 Chronicles 11:23, we have the account of one of David’s warriors killing an Egyptian with a height of five cubits (7 ft. 6 in.).
Those uncomfortable with the great height and seemingly unique nature of the giants of the Old Testament would point to the condition known today as giantism or acromegaly. Giantism is a condition where the pituitary gland has uncontrolled secretions of growth hormones usually due to a tumor.
The tallest person in the world today is Sultan Kosen from Turkey who has this condition and is 8 ft. 3 in. tall. The tallest man in modern recorded history was an American, Robert Wadlow, who died in 1940 and grew to be 8 ft. 11 in. Modern giants with this disorder have many health issues and certainly do not fit the biblical description of fearsome ancient warriors.
Giants in Scripture were not singular people but existed in groups. There were tribes of giants and giants were born to giant ancestors. The Bible testifies to this.
After this there was again war with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, struck him down. These four were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants. (2 Samuel 21:18–22)
Giants in the Promised Land
Encounters with peoples of great height happened as soon as the Israelites entered the promised land. I have noted the report of the spies but it is not the only mention of giant people.
The twelve spies returned with stories of a fearsome and gigantic people named the “sons of Anak,” sometimes called the “Anakim.” This was not the only name that appears. The original inhabitants of Moab were the Emim, who were said to be “as great and as many and as tall as the Anakim.” (Dt. 2:10) Likewise, there were former giant inhabitants of Ammon with the ponderous name, Zamzummim, also a people as tall as the Anakim. (Dt. 2:20-21).
These passages in the second chapter of Deuteronomy introduce a new name to the discussion, Rephaim. All of these giant tribes were said to be Rephaim.
Like the Anakim they are also counted as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim. (Deuteronomy 2:11)
This name bears study. It first appears in Genesis 14:5
In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him came and defeated the Rephaim in Ashteroth-karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh-kiriathaim, and the Horites in their hill country of Seir as far as El-paran on the border of the wilderness. (Genesis 14:5–6)
This passage speaks of events that took place in the time of Abraham, several centuries before the Israelites entered the promised land. All of the peoples mentioned are those also written of in the second chapter of Deuteronomy. They are not called giants in Genesis but Moses, who wrote Genesis, refers to them as giants in Deuteronomy.
Rephaim appears many times in the Old Testament and usually refers to the spirits of dead men in the underworld (Sheol). Isaiah, writing of the fall of the king of Babylon wrote:
Sheol beneath is stirred up
to meet you when you come;
it rouses the shades (Rephaim) to greet you,
all who were leaders of the earth;
it raises from their thrones
all who were kings of the nations. (Isaiah 14:9)
One cannot make a conclusive case connecting the words Nephilim (if it is taken as “fallen ones”) and Rephaim (dead spirits) but it seems less than coincidental that the terms are co-joined with respect to the same group of people, descendants of wicked angels sentenced to judgment.
The word Rephaim and its related term, Rapha, became synonymous with the giant inhabitants of the land of Canaan and is translated as such by all modern versions of the Bible with the exception of the NIV (which uses the transliterated name, Rapha).
The Holy War in the promised land was not only against Canaanites but also the Rephaim, resulting in their near eradication. The mention of Og of Bashan is noteworthy not only for his status as part of the Rephaim but also for his great size.
(For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit.) (Deuteronomy 3:11)
Taking the cubit to be 18 inches, Og’s bed was 13.5 feet long.
At the end of the war, the few Rephaim remaining fled to familiar places.
There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. (Joshua 11:22)
It is hardly coincidental that the remnant of the giants fled to Gath and that Goliath the giant came from Gath. What is interesting is that three to four centuries after Joshua’s defeat of the giants and their flight to Gath, in the time of David the giants are still there.
In concluding my study of this fascinating but mysterious passage, I have reached several conclusions over the two articles:
(1) The “sons of God” of Genesis 6:1 were fallen angels who (through means that we cannot know) took to themselves wives from human women and produced children.
(2) These children were given the mysterious name, Nephilim, which, coming from the Hebrew verb which means, “to fall,” could refer to their fallen status as descendants of angels who had fallen. They were later referred to as Rephaim, a word meaning dead spirits, perhaps because of their origins.
(3) These strange offspring were giants and also mighty warriors from antiquity, known in legend, at the time Moses was writing.
(4) The Nephilim of Genesis 6:1 were destroyed in the flood but giants were also seen after the food, perhaps indicating that the illicit activity between fallen angels and humans continued for a time after the flood.
(5) Giants were indeed upon the earth but not from pituitary disorders among individuals. There were giant tribes and families. There was a giant king, Og, whose enormous bed became famous.
(6) One of the tasks of Joshua as he entered the promised land was to defeat the Rephiam Some survived and fled to cities that would later be occupied by the Philistines. Among those was Gath, from which came Goliath, the opponent of David. Goliath was among the last of the Rephaim.
1 Mathews, Kenneth A, (1996) Genesis 1-11:26, (p. 336), Nashville, Broadman & Holman. Mathews notes that the interpretation as “fallen ones” is itself ambiguous. “…does this refer to their expulsion from heaven, their death as ‘fallen’ in battle, or to their moral degeneracy?”
2 The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testamant, Logos version.
3 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 587. Also, Brown-Driver-Briggs.
4 Wenham, Gordon J., Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (1987), Waco, p. 143.
5 Biblical Studies Press. (2006). The NET Bible First Edition Notes (Ge 6:4). Biblical Studies Press, Logos Version. “The Hebrew imperfect verbal form draws attention to the ongoing nature of such sexual unions during the time before the flood.
6 Hesiod, Theogony, Trans. by Apostolos N. Athanassakis, (1983), Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 17.
Lines 176-188 read:
Ouranos came dragging with him the night, longing for Gaia’s love,
and he embraced her and lay stretched out upon her.
Then his son reached out from his hiding place and seized him
with his left hand, while with his right he grasped
the huge, long, and sharp-toothed sickle and swiftly hacked off
his father’s genitals and tossed them behind him—
and they were not flung from his hand in vain.
Gaia took in all the bloody drops that spattered off,
and as the seasons of the year turned around
she bore the potent Furies and the Giants, immense,
dazzling in their armor, holding long spears in their hands
and then she bore the Ash Tree Nymphs of the boundless earth.
7 Allen, Ronald B., Numbers, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 2 (1990), Grand Rapids, Zondervan, p. 812.
8 Mathews, op. cit., p. 336. The phrase, “the sons of Anak who come from the Nephilim,” appears in the MT but is absent from the LXX.
All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version
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