“The Nephilim were on the Earth in Those Days”
by Judd H. Burton, Ph.D.
The stage is now set for the entrance of the Nephilim, the offspring of the Watcher angels and human females. “The Sons of God went into the daughters of men” as Genesis 6:4 relates. The product is the first generation of giants: the Nephilim. While the Watchers—the members of the Sons of God in question—were certainly a corruptive influence, the Nephilim were the bane of antediluvian man’s existence. Genesis 6:5 alludes to their impact on humanity, stating humanity had become so wicked that it grieved Yahweh, and that “every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” However, it is 1 Enoch again that provides additional commentary on the situation. In chapter 7, the women became pregnant and bore great giants, towering monsters whose appetites exceeded what humanity could produce. When humanity’s resources ran low, the giants turned on mankind, and began to devour them during a period marked by gore and terror. To add to the offenses, the giants committed atrocities against animals, and eventually turned on one another, turning to cannibalism and blood-drinking.
Chapter ten outlines a change in the reign of the giants and Watchers. The Watcher angels loyal to Yahweh—in this case, at the behest of Gabriel—incited a civil war amongst the giants so that they might annihilate one another. Altogether a tremendous judgment is exacted upon them, and their remnant prompts the deluge: the great flood of the Bible.
There is certainly no small amount of debate concerning the actual morphological construction of the word “Nephilim” and the very definition for that matter. It’s a controversial topic to begin with, compounded by the different interpretations of the word. The meaning in the public circles in which this topic circulates is often taken as “fallen ones” (which may be accurate in terms of what there state was). However, the word itself literally means “giants,” and may also—interestingly enough—refer to lizards or serpents (thought-provoking,eh?). Dr. Michael Heiser has demonstrated the linguistic reasons behind translating the word as such in his very worthwhile essay “The Meaning of the Word Nephilim.” What is also telling, and of interest to me as an early Christian historian and classicist, is the word selection in translating “Nephilim” into the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (3rd-2nd centuries BC). I love this—this is the deal-sealer for me (maybe because my Greek is so much better than my smattering of Hebrew, ha ha). The word that the storied Seventy translators chose in place of “Nephilim,” was something a Greek audience would know instantly, and which conveyed EXACTLY the same concept behind the Hebrew “Nephilim.” The word was “gigantes,” from which we derive “gigantic” and “giant.” In Greek mythology, these creatures were large in stature and often born of divine and human parents. The Jews translating lived in Alexandria, Egypt and were Hellenized, and were very familiar with Hebrew and Greek tradition, and could thus select an appropriate Greek analog for “Nephilim.”
Giants. On the earth. Long ago. Outside of fairy tails, in a tangible reality. Let that sink in.
Well, the next phase in giant history is largely spelled out in the Bible. God sends the flood, and the remnant perish. Or do they? Some may have survived, but likely there were subsequent incursions into the ancient Levant, additional generations of Nephilim produced afterward, as suggested by Genesis 6: 4: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—AND also afterward (emphasis mine).” Taking the Biblical text for its historicity, we also learn that their were other Nephilim and a very specific branching into tribes and clans in the Levant during the Bronze and Iron Ages, as evinced by the Anakim encountered by Joshua and the spies (Numbers 13:33), Og and the Rephaim (Deut. 3), and, amongst other examples, Goliath of Gath (1 Sam. 17). So, there were subsequent generations.
Once a giant perishes, what happens though? This also is a matter of some contention. However, I think the answer can once again be found the pages of 1 Enoch, specifically 1 Enoch 15. Here the author relates that the spirits of giants were to be called “evil spirits” on the earth. Verse 11 states clearly that “The spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth and cause trouble.” The term “evil spirit’ is routinely used to describe demons in the New Testament. It would seem that at the very least, a substantial portion of giants killed in the flood became demons, the evil spirits of later millennia.
© Judd Burton, Burton Beyond, 2011