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For other uses, see Nephilim (disambiguation).

The Nephilim Philistine warriors.


The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon gives the meaning of Nephilim as "giants."[1] Many suggested interpretations are based on the assumption that the word is a derivative of Hebrew verbal root n-ph-l "fall." Robert Baker Girdlestone [2] argued the word comes from the Hiphil causative stem, implying that the Nephilim are to be perceived as "those that cause others to fall down." Adam Clarke took it as passive, "fallen," "apostates." Ronald Hendel states that it is a passive form "ones who have fallen," equivalent grammatically to paqid "one who is appointed" (i.e. overseer), asir, "one who is bound," (i.e. prisoner) etc.[3][4] According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, the basic etymology of the word Nephilim is "dub[ious]," and various suggested interpretations are "all very precarious."[5]

The majority of ancient biblical versions, including the Septuagint, Theodotion, Latin Vulgate, Samaritan Targum, Targum Onkelos and Targum Neofiti, interpret the word to mean "giants."[6] Symmachus translates it as "the violent ones"[7][8][9] and Aquila's translation has been interpreted to mean either "the fallen ones"[7] or "the ones falling [upon their enemies]."[9][10]

In the Hebrew Bible

The term "Nephilim" occurs just twice in the Noah's ark:

The second is the Twelve Spies report that they have seen fearsome giants in Canaan:

The nature of the nephilim is complicated by the ambiguity of Genesis 6:4, which leaves it unclear whether they are the "sons of God" or their offspring who are the "mighty men of old, men of renown". Richard Hess in The Anchor Bible Dictionary takes it to mean that the nephilim are the offspring,[11] as does P. W. Coxon in Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible.[12]


There are effectively two views[13] regarding the identity of the nephilim, which follow on from alternative views about the identity of the sons of God:

  • Offspring of Seth: The Qumran (Dead Sea Scroll) fragment 4Q417 (4QInstruction) contains the earliest known reference to the phrase "children of Seth", stating that God has condemned them for their rebellion. Other early references to the offspring of Seth rebelling from God and mingling with the daughters of Cain, are found in rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, Augustine of Hippo, Julius Africanus, and the Letters attributed to St. Clement. It is also the view expressed in the modern canonical Amharic Ethiopian Orthodox Bible.
  • Offspring of angels: A number of early sources refer to the "sons of heaven" as "Angels". The earliest such references[14] seem to be in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Greek, and Aramaic Enochic literature, and in certain Ge'ez manuscripts of 1 Enoch (mss A–Q) and Jubilees[15] used by western scholars in modern editions of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.[16] Also some Christian apologists shared this opinion, like Tertullian and especially Lactantius. The earliest statement in a secondary commentary explicitly interpreting this to mean that angelic beings mated with humans, can be traced to the rabbinical Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and it has since become especially commonplace in modern-day Christian commentaries.

Fallen angels

Main article: Fallen angel

The New American Bible commentary draws a parallel to the Epistle of Jude and the statements set forth in Genesis, suggesting that the Epistle refers implicitly to the paternity of nephilim as heavenly beings who came to earth and had sexual intercourse with women.[17] The footnotes of the Jerusalem Bible suggest that the Biblical author intended the nephilim to be an "anecdote of a superhuman race".[18]

Some Christian commentators have argued against this view,[19] [20]citing Jesus' statement that angels do not marry.[21] Others believe that Jesus was only referring to angels in heaven.[22]

Evidence cited in favor of the "fallen angels" interpretation includes the fact that the phrase "the sons of God" (Hebrew, בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים; literally "sons of the gods") is used twice outside of Genesis chapter 6, in the Book of Job (1:6 and 2:1) where the phrase explicitly references angels. The Septuagint's translation of Genesis 6:2 renders this phrase as "the angels of God."[23]

Second Temple Judaism

The story of the nephilim is further elaborated in the Book of Enoch. The Greek, Aramaic, and main Ge'ez manuscripts of 1 Enoch and Jubilees obtained in the 19th century and held in the British Museum and Vatican Library, connect the origin of the nephilim with the fallen angels, and in particular with the egrḗgoroi (watchers). Samyaza, an angel of high rank, is described as leading a rebel sect of angels in a descent to earth to have sexual intercourse with human females:

In this tradition, the children of the Nephilim are called the Elioud, who are considered a separate race from the Nephilim, but they share the fate as the Nephilim.

According to these texts, the fallen angels who begat the nephilim were cast into Tartarus (Greek Enoch 20:2),[24] a place of 'total darkness'. However, Jubilees also states that God granted ten percent of the disembodied spirits of the nephilim to remain after the flood, as demons, to try to lead the human race astray until the final Judgment.

In addition to Enoch, the Book of Jubilees (7:21–25) also states that ridding the Earth of these nephilim was one of God's purposes for flooding the Earth in Noah's time. These works describe the nephilim as being evil giants.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan identifies the nephilim as Shemihaza and the angels in the name list from 1 Enoch.[25] b Yoma 67, PRE22 and 1 QapGen ar ii 1 also identify the nephilim as the angels that fell.

There are also allusions to these descendants in the deuterocanonical books of Judith, Sirach 16:7, Baruch 3:26–28, and Wisdom of Solomon 14:6, and in the non-deuterocanonical 3 Maccabees 2:4.

In the New Testament Epistle of Jude 14–15 cites from 1 Enoch 1:9, which many scholars believe is based on Deuteronomy 33:2.[26][27][28] To most commentators this confirms that the author of Jude regarded the Enochic interpretations of Genesis 6 as correct, however others[29] have questioned this.

The descendants of Seth and Cain

Orthodox Judaism has taken a stance against the idea that Genesis 6 refers to angels or that angels could intermarry with men. Shimon bar Yochai pronounced a curse on anyone teaching this idea. Rashi and Nachmanides followed this. Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 3:1–3 may also imply that the "sons of God" were human.[30] Consequently, most Jewish commentaries and translations describe the Nephilim as being from the offspring of "sons of nobles", rather than from "sons of God" or "sons of angels".[31] This is also the rendering suggested in the Targum Onqelos, Symmachus and the Samaritan Targum which read "sons of the rulers", where Targum Neophyti reads "sons of the judges".

Likewise, a long-held view among some Christians is that the "sons of God" who fathered the nephilim spoken of in the text, were in fact the formerly righteous descendants of Seth who rebelled, while the "daughters of men" were the unrighteous descendants of Cain, and the nephilim the offspring of their union.[32] This view, dating to at least the 1st century AD in Jewish literature as described above, is also found in Christian sources from the 3rd century if not earlier, with references throughout the Clementine literature,[33] as well as in Sextus Julius Africanus,[34] Ephrem the Syrian[35] and others. Holders of this view[36] have looked for support in Jesus' statement that "in the days before the flood they (humans) were marrying and giving in marriage"[37]

Some individuals and groups, including St. Augustine, John Chrysostom, and John Calvin, take the view of Genesis 6:2 that the "Angels" who fathered the nephilim referred to certain human males from the lineage of Seth, who were called sons of God probably in reference to their prior covenant with Yahweh (cf. Deuteronomy 14:1; 32:5); according to these sources, these men had begun to pursue bodily interests, and so took wives of the daughters of men, e.g., those who were descended from Cain or from any people who did not worship God.

This also is the view of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church,[38] supported by their own Ge'ez manuscripts and Amharic translation of the Haile Selassie Bible—where the canonical books of 1 Enoch and Jubilees differ from western academic editions.[39] The "Sons of Seth view" is also the view presented in a few extra-Biblical, yet ancient works, including Clementine literature, the 3rd century Cave of Treasures, and the ca. 6th Century Ge'ez work The Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan. In these sources, these offspring of Seth were said to have disobeyed God, by breeding with the Cainites and producing wicked children "who were all unlike", thus angering God into bringing about the Deluge, as in the Conflict:

Arguments from culture and mythology

In Aramaic culture, the term niyphelah refers to the Constellation of Orion, and nephilim to the offspring of Orion in mythology.[40] However the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon notes this as a "dubious etymology" and "all very precarious".[1]

J. C. Greenfield mentions that "it has been proposed that the tale of the Nephilim, alluded to in Genesis 6 is based on some of the negative aspects of the apkallu tradition".[41] The apkallu in Sumerian mythology were seven legendary culture heros from before the Flood, of human descent, but possessing extraordinary wisdom from the gods, and one of the seven apkallu, Adapa, was therefore called "son of Ea", despite his human origin.[42]

Ezekiel's "mighty fallen": nephilim as ancient warriors

Ezekiel 32:27 speaks of "the fallen mighty (gibborim nophlim, גִּבֹּורִים נֹפְלִים) of the uncircumcised, which are gone down (yardu, יָרְדֽוּ) to the grave with their weapons of war"; a change to the vowels would produce the reading gibborim nephilim.[43][44][45]

Identification with fossilized remains

Cotton Mather believed that fossilized leg bones and teeth discovered near Albany, New York, in 1705 were the remains of Nephilim who perished in Noah's flood. He wrote that "The Giants that once groaned under the waters are now under the Earth, and their Dead Bones are lively Proofs of the Mosaic history." Paleontologists now classify these as mastodon remains.[46][47]

Related terms

In the Hebrew Bible, there are a number of other words that, like "Nephilim", are sometimes translated as "giants":

Popular culture

Main article: Nephilim in popular culture

See also


External links

  • Jewish Encyclopedia: Fall of Angels
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: Angels
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