Who are the Nephilim in the Bible?
In the Hebrew Bible, the Nephilim were the progeny of sexual encounters between God’s sons and men’s daughters. They are a mysterious race of creatures or humans with extremely big stature and strength that lived both before and after the Great Flood. The word Nephilim is loosely rendered as “giants” in some Hebrew Bible translations but left untranslated in others. Some traditional Jewish views, however, regard them as fallen angels. They later occupied Canaan during the Israelite invasion of Canaan, according to Numbers 13:33.
The term Nephilim is found a total of two times in the Bible; the first being in Genesis 6: 1–6, and then again in Numbers 13:33. However, there exists much debate on who or what the Nephilim were, with some scholars seeing them as Giants and others seeing them as fallen angels.
Some even see the Nephilim as renowned heroes and figures of virtuous strength. Genesis 6 tells us about wickedness in the world, but also about human beings who began to increase in number in the old times.
The Origin of the Nephilim
We are told that the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful and that they marry any of them they chose. Non-canonical biblical texts such as the Book of Enoch tell us that the watchers, sometimes inferred to as the ‘sons of God’ or angels, became infatuated with the mortal women and took them for their own.
While this concept isn’t explored here in Genesis in too much detail, we are told in Genesis 6:4 that,
‘The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterwards—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them.’
This further links to the Enochian idea that the sons of God were some beings, not of humankind but instead were likely angels that copulated with the mortal women and produced a new sort of offspring—a Nephilim.
What Were the Nephilim like?
In the Book of Enoch, these Nephilim offspring are monsters that caused terror and destruction, but in Genesis, they are quite the opposite. We are told in Genesis 6:4 ‘They were the heroes of old, men of renown.’ But unfortunately, the exploits that make them heroes or men of renown is not explored here, nor anywhere else for that matter.
Meanwhile, in Numbers 13, we see God tell Moses to send forth men to explore the land of Canaan which he is giving to the Israelites. So, Moses sent out several leaders in the many tribes of the Israelites to explore Canaan, more specifically, the Desert of Paran.
The men explored the area, learning about the landscape, the terrain, the civilizations who live there, and anything else that was of interest. When they came back to Moses, they told him all they had seen.
It is Caleb from the tribe of Judah who suggests to Moses that they should take the land by force for they certainly had the means to do so. But the others who went with him told Moses that this would be foolish, for the people they had seen were much stronger. They state in Numbers 13:33,
‘…the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.’
By this, we can see where the idea that the Nephilim were giants came from. The tribe leaders had seen them first-hand, except for Caleb, who was intimidated by their size.
But despite these two clear-cut mentions of Nephilim, we are no closer to understanding who they were? What their intentions were? And, what happened to them?
Who are the Fathers and Mothers of the Nephilim?
One of the most popular views is that, as Genesis states, the Nephilim were the product of the sons of God, or angels, or even fallen angels, who had relations with the mortal women, creating the supernatural beings that would be considered either renowned heroes or Giants.
We see some reference to these sons of God who would father the Nephilim in Jude 1:6–7, assuming the sons of God are indeed angels, where Jude states,
‘And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.’
By this, we understand that the angels left their domain, or heaven, and descended upon earth to lust over the mortal women, or strange flesh.
In the Book of Enoch, we see the Watchers do the very same thing—impregnating the women, despite understanding that this was taboo, and thus, bringing forth the Nephilim into the world.
Others even see the Nephilim as direct descendants of the righteous line of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, and this has become known as the Sethite view. It’s understood that while Seth line was righteous and walked with God, Seth’s brother Cain and his line walked away from God, and/or found other gods to worship.
Somewhere along the lines though, Seth line merged with Cain‘s. The line in Genesis that states the ‘sons of God’ are thought to be the line of Seth, while the line ‘daughters of men’ are thought to be the line of Cain. Through the mingling of these two lines, the Nephilim are thought to have been born.
It’s important to note though, that there’s no scriptural support for this belief, and some people do see this version as a bit of a stretch in explaining the origin of the Nephilim.
Another theory is that the Nephilim were children of men who had become possessed by fallen angels, who in turn become demons. This sometimes goes together with the translation of Nephilim in Hebrew which would be a similar-sounding word known as Naphal meaning ‘fallen’, and some link this idea that the Nephilim are a result of the mingling between humans and fallen angels—but again, there is no scriptural support for such an idea.
How tall were the Nephilim?
According to the Book of Enoch, they were described as “huge giants, whose height was three hundred cubits” in 1 Enoch. A Cubit is 18 inches (45 cm) tall, hence they are 442 feet 10 61/64 inch tall (137.16 metres).
How did the Nephilim Survive the Great Flood?
One point of contention surrounding the Nephilim is how they survive the great flood which God brings upon the earth. We know they survived the flood because Caleb and the other tribe leaders of the Israelites report seeing them in Numbers 13:33. But there are a few reasons to explain this.
One simple idea is that there would always be sons of God or fallen angels and that there would always be mortal women. After the flood, there would be nothing to stop the Fallen Angels from pursuing the mortal women again and getting them pregnant, thus filling the world with Nephilim again.
Besides these accounts, the Bible doesn’t tell us much more about the Nephilim. To understand more about their nature, we need to look to the non-canonical Book of Enoch that sees the sons of God, or the Watchers come to earth and lust over the mortal women.
The Nephilim in the Book of Enoch
After impregnating them, the women gave birth to the Nephilim or Giants. These Giants were not warriors of renown, nor do they demonstrate any virtues of heroism as specified in Genesis. Instead, these Giants are described in Enoch 7:12 as,
‘These (Nephilim/Giants) devoured all which the labour of man produced until it became impossible to feed them.’
This shows us that they were a destructive bunch, with animalistic appetites which could not be sated. It would lead them to commit malevolent acts as Enoch goes on to say in 7:13–14,
‘They turned themselves against men, to devour them; And began to injure birds, beasts, reptiles, and fishes, to eat their flesh one after another, and to drink their blood.’
This shows us a far more graphic side of the Nephilim; one that paints them in an antagonistic light and sets them out to be more like beasts than man.
Interestingly, the Nephilim appear to be far less civilized than Genesis and Numbers suggest, showing no signs of humanity as they quickly turn to butcher everything when they become discontent.
Unlike other biblical texts, the Book of Enoch describes the Fate of the Nephilim, whereby God tasks Archangel Gabriel to,
‘Go to the biters, to the reprobates, to the children of fornication; and destroy the children of fornication, the offspring of the Watchers, from among them bring forth, and excite them one against another. Let them perish by mutual slaughter; the length of days shall not be theirs.’
What is meant by this is that Archangel Gabriel is sent down to earth to turn the Giants against one another, to get them to use their brutality against each other so they have destroyed themselves.
Interestingly, Archangel Gabriel doesn’t physically get involved in this vanquishing of the Giants, but it is implied, he manipulates them into destroying each other—some might say delivering God’s will by communicating to the Giants who respond accordingly.
This seems quite fitting for Archangel Gabriel’s character, one who would be seen to deliver messages and ideas from God instead of engaging in a physical brawl with the Giants—something more suited to Archangel Michael, perhaps.
We know little about the very true nature of the Nephilim given the various descriptions of them in the biblical text, and only becomes more convoluted when you consider the other races of Giants in the Bible, such as the Rephaim, an ancient race of giants in iron age Israel.
There are also figures such as Goliath, though despite being a giant, is never referred to as a Nephilim. In essence, the Nephilim, if they were giants, were a very distinct kind when compared to the other Giants in the Bible.
Art Sources: JW.ORG, Douglas Deri, SARYTH, PeteMohrbacher.