A Tentative Look at Nephilim

Theology

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

@deuteroKJ, @Philosurfer, @jack.collins and @jongarvey, what is your thoughts on this excerpt of my manuscript? Is this too speculative? Or is it sufficiently qualified and coherent?


It would be unwise to hinge any model of origins on a specific understanding of Nephilim. These passages have never had a settled interpretation in traditional theology. This is one of the puzzles of Genesis.

There is, nonetheless, reason to take another look at Genesis 6:1-4. Several hermeneutical and theological moves were made in the Genealogical Adam model. These moves were made for independently justified reasons. Do they bring coherence to the mystery of the Nephilim? Can we explain why their interpretation has been so difficult?

The precise words used in this passage are important. Remember, the word “adams” is usually understood as the descendants of Adam. Significance, is also found in the distinct usage of Elohim and Yahweh Elohim. With this in mind, Genesis 6:4 can be written,

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of [Elohim] went to the daughters of [Adam] and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, [enowsh] of renown.

Grammatically ambiguous, the Nephilim might be associated with reference to either the “Sons of Elohim” or their mixed offspring with the “daughters of Adam." Likewise, the grammar is ambiguous in the final part of the verse, and it need not refer to Adam’s descendants. Nephilim is a Hebrew word of uncertain meaning, that is associated with the Hebrew word for “fall,” and might be translated “fallen.”

In one tentative reading, perhaps this verse teaches that the daughters of Adam (from Genesis 2) began to intermix with those outside the garden (from Genesis 1). These hybrid offspring, who are all of us today, are Nephilim, the Fallen. Early on, God might have opposed this intermixing because of the fall, even if interbreeding was part of His original plan. Taking this further, in a regional flood, God might destroy all the visibl e descendants of Adam in this area, the civilized world hete. Then, God might then permit interbreeding after the flood, in a new Noahic covenant, even endorsing it in the story of the Tower of Babel.

Why would this verse be so difficult to interpret? Perhaps the original readers were well aware of people outside the garden. If so, they might have immediately understood it in this way. Subsequent readers, over 1,000 years later, might have forgotten about those outside the garden in the distant past. This verse might have been clear to the original readers, but then become unclear as the original context was forgotten.

Proposing a new interpretation of Genesis 6:4 is risky. This should only be taken as highly speculative, even if it is within the range of traditional theology. It is only present this here to see what exegetes might think of such a proposal. If this is a reasonable reading, it might increase the coherence of the Genealogical Adam.


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(Jon Garvey) #2

Josh

For the most part this seems suitably cautious and tentative.

Though I have no settled view on the passage, however, it seems to me not to require that the Nephilim were anything directly to do with this business at all, being are simply said to be on the earth at the time, and also afterwards when the sons of elohim and daughters of God did their thing.

Nephilim are mentioned after the Flood as a formidable race, so it may not be that the text considers us all Nephilim, but just dates the hybridization to the time when the notable Nephilim were around. That move makes it even more tentative, but retains your conjecture without having to commit to a specific meaning for nephilim.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #3

That is another option. I might offer that too. Though in what sense do you connect The eytemology of Nephilim (fall) to those outside the Garden? Those who fell into Adams line?

I think either possiblity makes sense of a difficult passage and also gives an account of why it was so difficult. That should be a strong selling point, even if tentative…What do you all think?


(Jon Garvey) #4

OK - if there’s no particular connection to the “intermarriage” tale, they are just a particular race of people with no indication of beoing Adam’s descendants, and therefore of some evidential value for GA, as if it should say, “The Russians were pretty dominant at that time.”

The text is highly compact and underdetermined, so I’d seek to use that to advantage by excluding what the nephilim aren’t, and whatever remains is non-Adamic!


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #5

Flesh out how you’d make that case to your advantage?


(Jon Garvey) #6

Briefly,
(1) your explanation of sons of God and daughters of men - opens up the vista of people beyond Adam’s line, and explains us.
(2) Uncertainty about nature of Nephilim, except they seem to be after the Fall.
(3) Unceratinty about place of Nephilim in story, ie grammatically they might be one of the two (sons/daughters), or the offspring of the unions, or quoite possibly simply mentioned to give historical referents - in which case they’d be another group of non-adamic people.


(Kenneth Turner) #7

While this is a common assumption, the morphology better links it to the Aramaic word (nephila) for “giant” (supported by LXX and other versions; though Fallen would still fit the divine view).

Because I take “sons of God” as divine beings, the rabbit trail is off base IMO. However, if one assumes a non-divine reading, then there’s at least logic to the rabbit trail, as there is to the more traditional competing human (sons of Adam) interpretation. Still, what of the “giant” connections to Nephilim in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua? (part of why I think the divine view is correct…but the non-divine view needs to address the later intertextuality)

You recognize the speculative nature of this. It could be supporting “what if” to GA, but I don’t see it becoming a main plank in the argument.


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #8

Absolutely. Merely an auxiliary argument.

I just want to be sure it is as coherent as possible so it does not detract. How would you change it? Or cut it out? Or leave as is?

@Eddie what are your thoughts?


(Kenneth Turner) #9

On a quick read it seems coherent as is. It’s a little interesting, however, that GA, on the one hand, wants to maintain traditional reading of the text as far as is possible, but then would suggest a unique reading of an already disputed text. This is just an observation, not a criticism.


(Kenneth Turner) #10

Sailhamer takes a very tame view of the whole text. Nothing nefarious about the sons of God, daugthers of men, or Nephilim!


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #11

I suppose part of the argument is that this is a lost reading, that we do see in tradition. It seems clear that Genesis provokes curiousity about those outside the garden, and traditionally speculation has been welcomed, not passed over.


(Edward Robinson) #12

Joshua:

You ask me my thoughts. I’m hesitant to say much about Genesis 6:1-4 in part because I haven’t looked at it closely in a long time, and in part because I think that the meaning of the Hebrew text is far from clear. This makes relating the passage to things outside the Bible (e.g., to modern discussions of ancient hominids as they are now known to us through digging up remains) very difficult.

There is possible verbal association going on with “fall”, but one needs to be cautious about referring this to “the Fall” – a term not used by Genesis 2-3 itself to describe what happened to Adam and Eve.

Is it possible that the Biblical story here preserves a dim, partial memory of the mingling of earlier races of human beings? It’s possible, but I hesitate to put any weight on such an explanation.

I also have not made up my mind regarding Jon Garvey’s two-creation notion, in which Genesis 2-3 describes a later event, distinct from the earlier creation of the bulk of human beings (Genesis 1). It has its advantages, but, as Jon himself will concede, it wasn’t the view of most of the early commentators, who tended to treat Genesis 1 and 2-3 as two different views of the same event.

If Genesis 2-3 represents a later creation event, then it would make sense to speak of two different groups of human beings mingling, and presumably that mingling would have started even before the Flood, regardless of what any “sons of God” might have done. In fact, if the “sons of God” are supposed to be angelic beings, members of the heavenly courts, fallen angels, or whatever, Jon’s view (in which the mixing of Adamites and pre-Adamites would occur quite naturally) gets tangled up with this new factor, and you have both human/human and divine/human mixing going on before the Flood. It’s a messy picture.

So on either Jon’s view or the more traditional view, I don’t see any easy way to understand the passage even in its own terms, let alone in connection with what we know from modern anthropology. Sorry to be so useless, but honest agnosticism is better than feigned knowledge!


(S. Joshua Swamidass) #13

Really helpful.

I have another likely crazy thought to run by you. Is it possible these verses could reference Enkidu and Shamhat? This fits the pattern of an innocent wilderness man inducted to Adam’s civilization by the work of one of his daughters…

Yes, I know this is backward from Walton’s reading of Enkidu as an anti-model of Adam. Both could be true. Perhaps this passage can be read as the fall of those outside the Garden into Adams line.


(Daniel Deen) #14

I’ll give you my knee-jerk philosophical reactions. I’ve seen much more substantive discussion already below (I suppose above my post)! However, let me know when you have a final draft of the project. I’ll take a look over it and give you a philosophers perspective.

Correct, partly due to the fact that the cross-references allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture are less than to be desired in this case.

might it be that this exploration is better set as an appendix or something to that effect. You need pre-adamites, not necessarily a solution to difficult passages. There will always be tension in the texts and interesting conversations to be had. But if this is not central to your argument, it may be best to “bury” it in interesting further conversations. I believe you scientists do this under the rubric of “discussion” in your scientific papers… :wink:.

I highlight the “one tentative” in that, historically, the verdict is out on pre-adamites and Nephilim. Do you plan on engaging with the church fathers on interpreting said passages? Meaning, putting your “tentative” interpretation into a larger theological conversation? I know you want to tread lightly, and @deuteroKJ has given you a bit of license, but you ought to make the reader aware how “tentative” the reading might be and be very specific as to HOW what you are suggesting is within the range of “traditional theology” as handed down from the Fathers.

What is the intended audience of your book? Will this be for general undergraduate and laity? Will it be for specialists in science/religion? Will it be for pastors shepherding a congregation? I think giving us a bit of background as to where and who you are publishing for may allow us to offer a bit of specific feedback on any passages you’d like us to look at.

That is an interesting observation and something that deserves a little thought… Perhaps @deuteroKJ isn’t giving you as much license as I first thought!

Correct, but when I queried Paul Elliott (OT guy on my floor) about those outside the garden, he mentioned that much of the early enthusiastic support came from guys that were outside the pale of “orthodox” theology, whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim. I’m hopping Paul joins us for the Crosswise Open Office so you and perhaps @deuteroKJ can pester him about that a bit more.

Cheers!


(Jon Garvey) #15

Ken

Although the “divine beings” interpretation has a good pedigree in 2nd temple Judaism, and though the divine council is inherent in the early chapters of Genesis (but neither under that name nor “sons of God”), there are inherent difficulties simply conceptually, it seems to me.

(1) Jesus says that angels neither marry nor are given in marriage, the implication being that that is their nature, not their custom.
(2) And since angels are spiritual, unembodied beings, it is hard to envisage how they would have successful intercourse with humans and produce children. Which really means, did the God who created all things only capable of procreating “after their kinds” create the disembodied angels and embodied mankind with genetic compatibility?
(3) They didn’t simply mate, after the manner of Zeus on a high libido day - they married the daughters of men. Somewhere in the ANE, a new neighbour knocks at the door and says, "Lamech, I’m Myrtle, and this is my husband - he’s an angel, which is why he’s flashing on and off…
(4) Why would such unions produce giants, rather than demons (which is what the 2nd temple guys said was the eventual outcome)?
(5) Are we to believe that the populations gradually merged and that all the angels are now genetic ghosts?
(6) We know Nephilimn survived the Flood, and so under genealogical science they would now be common ancestors of all, or most, of us, as Joshua says. So does the Bible really teach that the human race is descended from angels as well as Adam? If we are, will we not be liable to the lake of fire created for Satan and all his angels, since the atonement does not cover angels, to our knowledge?

For those reasons, and the underdetermined nature of the text, I don’t buy 1 Enoch’s story!


(Jon Garvey) #16

I’m less up to speed on that myth than I’d like to be. However, I’ve myself tentatively used the known literary parallels of the proto-history and ANE stories to suggest interpretations.

For example in God’s Good Earth, having argued from Genesis that the curse on the land was not about the world today but a specific punishment for Adam, reversed at the flood (and thus fulfilling the birth-prophecy for Noah), I point out that the gods in the Atrahasis myth tried starvation and infertility before they decided on a Flood.

In other words, if you can make a case for a meaning from Scripture, it might be helpful if Enki and Co, as a corrupted version, bring additional light. As a reader I’d not enthuse much (unless I were a Goddamned Liberal!) that the Nephilim might be some kind of parallel to a pagan myth.


(Kenneth Turner) #17

No wonder this has been a disputed passage! It’s a great example of how competing lines of evidence must be weighed, and readers weigh it all differently to reach a conclusion. I’ll provide a few thoughts:

It also has multiple parallels in ANE literature (definitive work by Amar Annus here or here). This comparative evidence alone suggests a good argument from an ancient Israelite thought world. It’s hard to see the parallels and then think the OT is doing something completely different (other than polemical differences). However, I’m aware of parallelomania with ANE comparisons, and we have to allow the possibility that the OT is unique despite seeming parallels. I should note, for the sake of honesty, that even ANE giant (!) John Walton does not take a divine view, at least directly. At least in one commentary, he takes sons of God as tyrant kings (since “son of God” is a royal term); but with the ANE conception that a king is semi-divine, it still my not be too far off. In The Lost World of the Flood, Walton and Longman gave different options to Gen 6 (presumably because they disagree with each other), but, if I recall, gave a general conclusion that included divine involvement.

But what tips it for me is the NT itself. Peter and Jude seem to fit within the Enochian perspective. Otherwise, I don’t know what they’re saying.

(Also, as I mentioned elsewhere, plural “sons of God” refers to divine beings everywhere else [also in Ugaritc], or at least in the obvious passages. Seems best to stick with consistency unless the counter-evidence is overwhelming.)

This is one of the better arguments against the divine view. However, it’s not enough IMO. If we took one-off statements from Jesus’ preaching as the cornerstone of a position, we’d be in trouble all around. A possible interpretation is that Jesus is saying that no longer is this allowed (i.e., God put a stop to the divine invasions). Another is to say that “good” angels don’t do this, and it is the “good” angels that redeemed humans will become (cf. Jude 6).

I should also add that the OT and NT speak somewhat differently with respect to supernatural beings. In the OT, technically, sons of God, angels, cherubim, seraphim, etc. are not synonyms; rather, there’s a whole taxonomy (and some terms, like “angel/messenger,” refer to job descriptions, not ontological categories). That the satan in Job is among the sons of God clearly shows there’s a difference than the NT terminology. On the other hand, the NT reduces the categories to (good) angels and (bad) demons–no such clear good-vs.-bad dichotomy existed in the OT world. There’s even a taxonomy of “bad guys” (e.g., Satan is not a demon), but I won’t chase that rabbit here.

Perhaps difficult, but I don’t see need to understand the biology or physics involved in crossing realms. We could say the say thing about the virgin birth, about God and angels appearing on earth, about live men going into heaven, etc. What we do see is (1) angels always appear as men and do things typical of men (e.g., eat), and (2) even in the heavenly realm, spirits can be seen and perform physical things (e.g., Micaiah’s vision in 1 Kings 22; cf. Gen 18; Judg 6; Isa 6; Dan 7).

The phrase “after their kinds” is not used of humans or angels, so I’d be cautious here. Even so, it is a violation of the divine order that is envisioned in Gen 6:1. All it takes is God giving these angels a measure of freedom power to do things they shouldn’t (like become embodied and do all the things embodied creatures do). So, I agree it’s weird and hard to fathom, but I could say that about a lot of things. (Some of this is alleviated if the bad angels are behind the tyrant human kings.)

The idea of giants or superhuman abilities goes with the trope, not just in ANE but also Greek mythology. If the divine view is correct, I’d expect something like this. Demons are the spirits of dead Nephilim (cf. 1 Pet 3:19), not living Nephilim. Even though “half breeds,” the Nephilim would’ve been considered fully human while alive (but with obvious superhuman capabilities). Though this appears to be discrepancy to us, it’s how the literature speaks.

How does a non-divine view explain the giants? Why/How would normal human procreation, even among good and bad lines, produce these creatures?

We know there were Nephilim (add Anakim, Emim, Rephaim) after the flood. Whether these are the same as Gen 6 (e.g., they hitched a ride on the ark or were not in the flood zone) or the result of another divine invasion, we don’t know (assuming that these descriptions are not mere perception of the Israelites). A major reason IMO for the conquest, which breaks the normal “rules of engagement” for war, is to get rid of these guys so that the larger divine plan is not thwarted. I don’t know or care about the genetics here. Since they were considered human, I don’t know what mixing downstream would’ve done or mattered. Obviously, the ancient texts aren’t thinking of this.


(Jon Garvey) #18

This, at least is relatively easy (especially if the Nephilm are simply mentioned as co-existent): giant is a relative term, and a variety of genetic mutations can produce relative gigantism: compare the dinka people with pygmies.


(Mark M Moore) #19

Think about how Leviathan was treated in ANE vs. Genesis. It is not a chaos force that is a rival to the gods. It is just a creature created by Him in the course of filling the oceans. They take some of the same themes, but treat them differently. Then let’s us argue over which view came first and was a corruption or improvement of the other.

Now I don’t know what 2nd Peter and Jude are talking about either when they speak of the sin of angels and leaving their proper domain. I presume that they went from what they were supposed to be - messengers who carried God’s Word for the benefit of humanity, to the deceivers and corrupters of humanity. Now if the form of that sin became co-habitation with human women then I do wish the text had said so, for it flies in the face of what Jesus said of angels. And as Jon pointed out, they married these women in Genesis 6. That is, they treated them with more dignity and respect than Western men often do today. it doesn’t “fit the template” of how demons would treat people. Perhaps Peter and Jude were purposely being vague about what happened because they wanted the example of God’s judgement without bothering to set the record straight about the details of what brought on that judgment.

This reminds me that I owe you an answer for a question you asked of me on some lost thread. Below is an excerpt discussing the idea that the “sons of God” referred to men before the captivity…

When it was thought that Genesis and Job were written at about the same time in the same culture it made sense to connect the usage of the term to the same meaning. We now know better. Perhaps some of the ancients knew better too, for the Septuagint uses “angels” in Job 12:6 and 2:1 but retains “sons of God” in Genesis chapter six.

Moses was not shy about using the term for angels- maloch . It is used in the Pentateuch at least a dozen times. So is the term Cherubim. The guard of the way back to the Tree of Life was so identified in Genesis chapter three. These terms were available to use for angelic beings, but they are not used in Genesis six. On the other hand, several scriptures describe men as sons of either the LORD or God.

When it comes to equating the sons of God to human beings, Hosea 1:10 uses similar though not exactly the same language in this famous verse:

10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God.

The term for “living God” there is “ El-hay ” which is the singular version of Elohim combined with the word for living. Still, God’s sons are shown to be humans, not angels.

But we don’t even have to go that far from Genesis. Deuteronomy 14:1 says “ Ye are the children of the LORD your God .” They are told this in the context of a command not to participate in certain practices that other peoples engaged in. This is what I have been saying. They called themselves “by the name of the LORD.” Their Elohim was Yahweh . Other peoples had other names, and perhaps even other, false, Elohim. The foreigners were the “sons of Elohim”, but the sons and daughters of Adam called themselves by the name of Yahweh .


(Kenneth Turner) #20

There is no explicit Leviathan in Genesis (I’m aware of the suggested etymological connections), though I get your point about the chaos theme being treated differently (but the absence in Genesis is telling of the polemic). But Leviathan is treated in a more ANE traditional way in Psalm 74 and Isa 27:1 (in Job, it may be more mediated, but I’d still think chaos monster is being alluded to). Ps 104:26 is the only reference that is more tamed (which is significant b/c of it’s connection to creation).

Read it with 1 Enoch and it’s hard to miss the connection.

That’s not explicit at all, or even implicit. It says “they took them as their women/wives.” The phrase could be “take by force” (i.e., rape)–note the specifics concerning physical attraction and “as many as they chose” (this would also fit the tyrant kings view). Even if consensual, it could show the women were complicit in the wicked action.

That may or may not be helpful. The LXX can’t be treated as a unit (actually saying “the LXX” is too simplistic and anachronistic) The Greek translation(s) of each OT book were done by different and even multiple authors. I’m not saying you’re wrong to raise this observation, but it’s unclear what to do with it.

But “sons of God” is a typical ANE phrase for some supernatural beings. As I stated to Jon, these are not synonyms. It’s a complex picture on who is who/what in the divine realm. The way the Greek texts handle each (i.e., inconsistently) shows that the Greek translators themselves were operating from a different lexicography on how to describe the divine realm. This makes sense, since LXX is halfway to the NT, which clearly uses different terms, some of which (e.g., angel) have different semantic ranges from the Hebrew.

This is a good observation. I’d suggest the eschatological nature of the text fits perfectly with the NT fulfillment, in which we shall becomes sons/children of God. This is the larger metanarrative point, or at least here’s a way of viewing it: A&E in the Garden (meeting place of the divine council) were called as potential members of the council (causing jealousy to the Serpent), but they lost that privilege by their sin. The final redemption includes a readmission to the council for believers…where we will be “like angels” and will even “judge angels” (1 Cor 6:3).

Not the same phrase. We’ll have to agree to disagree about how significant the differences are.

But thanks for taking up the challenge. I still maintain that the language favors the divine view of Gen 6. Even if unsettled at this point, I still can’t get around the larger ANE parallels and the Enochian connections in Peter and Jude. In the end, not that big of a deal and whatever Gen 6 is doing, it doesn’t take away from larger models.