Gregg Davidson: Genetics, the Nephilim, and the Historicity of Adam

One article by a friend of @Joel_Duff, Gregg Davidson, has not been fully engaged by us. I’d like to invite comment on it from the forum.

Of note, this came out before my work on genetic and genealogical ancestry. There are rough spots here. There is also a lot that is good here. What is the wheat and what is the chaff?

Considerable controversy exists at present over the apparent inability to reconcile modern population genetics and the fossil record with a genuine first human couple and first act of disobedience against God. Genetic data argue strongly for not only shared ancestry between humanity and animals, but also that the effective human population never dropped below a few thousand. A unique model is proposed, along with a discussion of its strengths and weaknesses, for how a first human pair (Adam and Eve) could have existed without contradicting the findings of current genetics. The argument is not made in defense of any particular interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, other than the existence of a first human couple and initial act of disobedience. In the proposed model, God chose an individual hominid pair to endow with souls, separating them spiritually, relationally, and cognitively from their otherwise biologically equivalent contemporaries. After being removed from Eden, limited (and forbidden) interbreeding took place between Adam and Eve’s progeny and still-extant hominids, including more distantly related hominid species such as Neanderthals, resulting in offspring with unique characteristics referred to as Nephilim. Such unions can potentially account for a present human population that derived from a genuine fi rst human couple, while also carrying genetic evidence of contributions from a much larger hominid population. This model simultaneously offers a plausible explanation for Cain’s fear at the time of his banishment, and the enigmatic identity of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6.

Any thoughts @John_Harshman, @deuteroKJ, @jongarvey, @Joel_Duff?

It’s been awhile since I read it (I read the pre-published version), but my initial thoughts were that it provided a reasonable, semi-concordist approach for those needing the specific connection to Adam and Eve (as an historical pair). I don’t doubt there are rough edges…as expected for a newish proposal (and without the benefit of the interaction your GA is getting). I don’t have time to re-read right now.

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Greg’s idea seems to be about as far as one can take something like Derek Kidner’s suggestion, before factoring in GA.

Because of the latter it necessitates considering Neanderthals etc, and therefore places Adam well back before recorded history and the cultural context of Genesis, which seems to me a weakness. But it would be interesting to hear how Gregg sees things now.

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First, a question: why the assumption that the nephilim must be the result of forbidden love? Is that biblical?

The scenario isn’t well fleshed out, but I still see problems. First, it tries to integrate a flood, which just won’t work. Second, it seeks to limit the extent of interbreeding between the descendants of A&E and the rest of the population to comparatively small numbers of events, which I don’t think would work with the population genetics. Third, it demands a lot (even though comparatively small) amount of bestiality, which I have previously characterized by “ewww”. And yes, intermarriage with anatomically similar but soulless hominids is bestiality. Can’t really be marriage, either, unless we’re allowing marriage to goats now.

Finally, it seems an odd way for God to work. Why choose a single couple to give souls to? Why not distribute them through the population, avoiding the bestiality problem? Why go to all the work of evolving a population ready to receive souls but make almost no use of it and in fact try to forbid use of it? Why, after all that forbidding, still give souls to the results of forbidden unions?

And is this a sensible concept of “soul”? Is it not a soul of the gaps, vulnerable to future discoveries that show brains to be capable of the cognitive functions here attributed to souls? I will add that the idea that we have souls so that they will be capable of future eternal torment is also highly distasteful.

It’s based on trying to piece together data from Genesis 6. Note specifically v. 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.”

But the text does not state explicitly the Nephilim are the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men. (Nor does the text. Nor does the text explicitly state that the sons of God (or daughters of men) were evil. The reason most (but not all, e.g., Sailhamer) assume something doubly nefarious is:

(a) the sequence In Genesis 6 (as prelude to the flood) of “saw [they] were attractive” (v. 2) > YHWH’s limitation to 120 years (v. 3) > introduction of Nephilim that are set aside sons of God & daughters of men (v. 4) > statements of human wickedness, divine regret, and divine intention to blot out (vv. 5-7).

(b) The negative connotations associated with Nephilim elsewhere (Num 13;33).

So “biblical” comes down to probabilities for each reader rather than 100% certainty.


I find your use of the word “data” slightly amusing. But that aside, would you agree that the idea of forbidden unions has very tenuous support (close to none) from Genesis? And, as far as I can see, none from Numbers?

Only if the text and its terms were read naively/neutrally. But if the Genesis story is set within the context of its ANE cognitive environment, I think the idea of forbidden unions has strong support. What I mean is that the notion of mixing between divine beings (called “sons of God”) and humans is evidenced elsewhere in parallel stories (outside the Bible). Even if one discounted the supernatural view, the imbalance between “of God” and “of men” (in a context introducing the flood) suggests a negative mixing. If somehow I were to reject the supernatural view, the next best option IMO is to see the sons of God as tyrant kings who force themselves on women (the singular “son of God” is often used for a king).


You never explain what that strong support is. You only refer to the idea of mixing between demigods and humans, never to any idea that such mixing is forbidden.

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Nor did you explain what very tenuous support is :slight_smile: That such mixing would be forbidden is based on God’s ordering and purposes in creation. The three-tiered structure (heaven, earth, netherworld/sea) assumes boundaries for the natural inhabitants of each. Later, the Torah will specify warnings and prohibitions about mixing of all types. Not to mention Jesus’ comment about angels not marrying (Matt 22:30). But, again, the specific context of Genesis 6 suggests to most that the mixing was not a good thing.


Happy to: “tenuous” was a euphemism for “none”. Still don’t see any. Warning about mixing of all types? You refer to mixed fabrics, not seething a kid in its mother’s milk, and such? And you extend that to any mixing of any two things, anywhere? And I see no necessary connection between the nephilim and the later wickedness of people, just because one happens some time before the other. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy.

I wasn’t referring to this type of mixing, but issues related to witchcraft, necromancy, etc. (BTW the mixing you mentioned does have a connection b/c of the sexual overtones stemming from pagan religious practices.) If you’re only looking for chapter-and-verse support then you won’t see a lot of things that relate to theology.

Not sure what this refers to. The only connection I made was the specific context of Gen 6, which literarily ties the issues together.

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Literally? How, exactly?

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Read more closely: I said “literarily” not “literally.” As in, within the literary structure of the text.

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Oops. So what does “literarily” mean here? Anything more than that one topic follows the other? Hey, isn’t the original reason for the flood that people were making too much noise?

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As we’ve been discussing, Gen 6:1-7 mentions several characters interspersed with divine thoughts, emotions, and intended actions resulting in the flood. However, the text does not make explicit connections between all these things, leaving the reader to infer the best way to piece it all together. If the breeding and the Nephilim are unrelated (to each other and to the flood), it’s unclear to me and most why they are raised in the text.

Noise (due to overpopulation) is the reason ascribed to the flood in the Mesopotamian tradition, not the biblical one. I don’t regard the latter as a borrowing of the former (original), bu as a theological polemic against it (based on ethical monotheism).

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Ah, so you don’t believe that this stuff actually happened, then. That’s comforting.

It can be a polemic and refer to things that actually happened too.

@John_Harshman you are a very black and white thinker. There is middle ground.


This is proto-history, so I don’t have the same expectations as for texts of events related to recorded history. I think a massive flood did take place. I don’t know the extent (definitely not global) or the “historical” details. I do assume there is an historical core to the stories in Genesis, but give a lot of latitude to the authors to write with imagination and creativity.


I might retort, were I uncharitable, that there are some very fuzzy thinkers around here. Now, if the Genesis story is a polemic against the Utnapishtim/Ziusudra/etc. story, it must logically come after that story. And so to claim that the Genesis story has true elements is also to claim that the Utnapishtim story is the source of those elements and is itself true to at least the same degree.


Why not?

Hello all. So - Josh is a friend, who also surprised me with the launch of this thread. (What is that saying about “with friends like this …”?) I am in the midst of our bi-annual advisory board meetings at Ole Miss, so it may take me a day to catch up and comment. Stay tuned!