What Scholars Wondered if Nephilim Hint at People Outside the Garden?

@NLENTS, @jongarvey, @davidson, @AJRoberts do you know?

Offhand, I can think of:

Reasons to Believe (Fuz and Hugh): Who Was Adam: A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity - Kindle edition by Fazale Rana, Hugh Ross, 789 Inc., Joe Aguirre, Sandra Dimas. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Our own @Davidson: Gregg Davidson: Genetics, the Nephilim, and the Historicity of Adam. https://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2015/PSCF3-15Davidson.pdf

Of course, I also reference this idea in the GAE too. Do you know of any others?


I realize that you are asking about scholars of recent generations—but I can’t help but reflect on how this ubiquitous topic of recent centuries has very old roots.

This was never my field of academic specialization and my memories are foggy but the earliest example I can recall would be Gregory of Nyssa, who studied under Origen, fourth century. He speculated that Adam’s physical body had descended from prior animals but God gave him a “rational soul” which made him an Imago Dei human. (Gregory also claimed that humans had a “plant soul” and an “animal soul”, so that the addition of the rational soul made humans soul-tripartite, so to speak. I don’t remember if he had a term for it but that was the idea and so I long ago tagged that term to my memory.)

Around that same time there was a Roman Emperor who was a well-educated philosopher and prolific writer who claimed that Adam had human contemporaries outside the garden. He was part of the Constantine line of Christian emperors but abandoned his Christianity early on, I think. I could only recall “the Apostate” title so I just now looked him up. It was Julian the Apostate.

I can’t recall if these scholars wrote about the Nephilim per se (Gregory of Nyssa probably did) but I’m fairly sure they assumed there were “people” outside the garden contemporary with Adam. [I put the word “people” in quote because the same ambiguities which apply to the English word today could probably be attached to the Greek and Latin synonyms when scholars of long ago wrote about creatures who may have differed in various ways from ancient and modern notions of “Imago Dei humans.” What word is appropriate for a non-Adamic Homo sapien contemporary, especially when such labels are fraught with potentially incendiary implications concerning racism and worse? Must one have the Image of God and the Gregorian “rational soul” to be considered human?]

I never read much of Giordano Bruno’s work but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was yet another scholar who wondered if the Nephilim hinted at people outside the garden.

The Age of Discovery as well as increasing knowledge of the great antiquity of various ancient civilizations led some scholars in those centuries to assume that not all humans started from Adam and that Cain got his wife among those non-Adamic contemporary people groups—and that such ancestors could explain the diversity of the tribes which Columbus, Magellan, et al discovered.

The French Enlightenment brought even more speculation about pre-Adamites and I vaguely recall the Roman Catholic hierarchies struggling to deal with some of the hard-to-refute exegetical writings dealing with Cain’s wife and the people who populated the city he built. Obviously, it is not hard to read the early chapters of Genesis and get the impression that non-Adamic peoples lived outside Eden’s garden. Indeed, I can’t remember a time in my life when that discussion was not fairly common, even if only discussed in “safe” contexts outside of one’s local church and Sunday School class. (My point is that not just the scholars were thinking about these topics.)

I have a vague memory of a text from the “Jewish apocrypha”—which was cited by some rabbinical scholars—where Adam and Eve following their eviction from the garden lived in a cave and occasionally had to deal with other tribes in the area. I thought at first that these stories came from The Life of Adam and Eve—but I did a quick check online and couldn’t find that tie. I would be grateful if someone could help me to identify the specific “outside-the-cave tribe” text I’m recalling.

I can recall occasional speculations in the 1970’s and 1980’s about a postlapsarian Adam encountering non-Imago-Dei neanderthals. Because the theologians and science faculty at evangelical and fundamentalist schools who were most interested in these topics usually had to whisper cautiously such speculations, for fear of losing their jobs, it might be difficult to find many published examples. Even today, I wouldn’t want to identify them by name without their permission.

I also remember very well the various conversations on Amazon book review threads long ago about a “genealogical and theological Adam” in the sense of an ancestor who could conceivably appear in the family tree of all humans but not as the sole progenitor of all humans. Several atheist scientists were involved in those discussions [David Levin of Boston University and paleontologist Christine Janis were among them. I don’t recall the others.] but only the Christian participants were all that interested in what was nothing more than interesting casual speculation. Nevertheless, the scientists did concede that such a “theological Adam” of that sort would not be in conflict with the science, especially since it mostly involved speculation about a non-genetic trait called the Imago Dei being passed down by Adam to all of his descendants without interfering with evolutionary processes and the usual genetics. Nobody used the term “genealogical Adam” but it was a similar idea.

Of course, I would never claim that those casual forum discussions originated the “genealogical Adam and Eve” idea. As with the question in this thread’s OP, speculations about Adamic lines and non-Adamic lines, Cain’s wife, Cain’s townspeople, and the Nephilim as well as how to integrate evolutionary biology and Genesis have been percolating for a very very long time. Obviously, nobody even began in the slightest to tackle the GAE topic with the kind of tremendous scientific depth which @swamidass has undertaken. I’m absolutely elated that a concept which has percolated for so long is about to get its due in his soon-to-be-released book. These are exciting times.

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This is only a question in search of an answer if one assumes that the bible is a coherent whole, not a set of stories written at various times and places, with no necessary connection, assembled into various pieces also at various times and places, and finally into the collection we see now. If Genesis 1 is not intended to harmonize with Genesis 2, and Genesis 2 with the story of Cain, and so on, there’s no need to make them all fit a single narrative. The question is whether a Christian, or perhaps even an evangelical, could come to accept that idea.

I can see your point. Yet, keep in mind that even though many scholars consider Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 to be based on pre-existing oral traditions (perhaps already extremely ancient at the time the first Genesis scroll was written), many would say that the act of compilation—and the editing which accompanied it—wove them into a carefully structured whole. As a result, the Book of Genesis can indeed be seen as a coherent whole or “single narrative” theologically.

Yes. That is a good question. And many Christians, including lots of evangelicals, can and do accept that idea.

Your mileage may vary. :slight_smile:

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The textual evidence would argue against this careful structure.

I was trained in depth by some very hardcore, traditional JEDP Documentary Hypothesis scholars—well before that once bedrock theory got eviscerated by a new wave of Ph.D. students and tenure-minded scholars who went into a virtual feeding frenzy against it. So I think I understand where you are coming from.

Of course, “careful structure” means different things to different people. To avoid sidetracking the OP on a topic which probably deserves its own thread, I’ll just say for now that lots of evangelical scholars (and non-evangelical scholars, for that matter) don’t see “the textual evidence” as being a problem.

I do recall a colleague from the 1980’s who used to emphasize that ancient editors/compilers should not be evaluated according to our modern standards of what constitutes appropriate “thematic harmony” and a structured whole. Anachronistic thinking as well as cultural bigotries have often intruded (always intruded?) in critiques of ancient documents. However, I’m neither an Old Testament scholar nor a textual criticism specialist. I can give my impressions but I’m certainly not an expert at addressing these kinds of excellent questions.

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To quote myself from the second post of this thread:

@Swamidass, I don’t recall if we have anyone on PS with strong background in Patristics, but I consider this a fascinating topics with much relevance to evangelicals considering the Book of Genesis and evolutionary biology. I find it fascinating that Gregory of Nyssa in the fourth century could have considered Adam’s descent from prior animals. I don’t think I ever read Gregory’s words on this topic (even in English translation) but only a few JSTOR or JBL academic journal mentions of this idea.

What led Gregory to think in such novel ways? Was he influenced by Origen? Or some other Church Father? Rabbinical sources? How often did such speculations arise among those scholars willing to ponder the Nephilim and the possibility of people outside the garden?

I wonder if Kenneth Turner has any insights on this. (I haven’t seen here in a while and I sometimes hate to “summon” someone with a asterisk-tag. Depending on their account setting, it can unnecessarily add to the email load of someone who is very busy with other projects.)

Anyway, it seems like a potential topic for some curious grad student or some seminary professor willing to do a guest essay for PS.


Hi everyone. Thanks so much for chiming in. Some interesting discussion here, but I am really looking for something concrete. I need a reference (I guess a book would be okay, but maybe not a pop one?) to back up the statement, “Some scholars even suggest that the Bible hints that the Nephilim may be pre-Adamite people that existed outside the garden.” Does anyone know of a clean reference for that statement?


@davidson is one reference:

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The link doesn’t work. I need to be able to link to an article that people can access.

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@NLENTS their website is down . Check out this abstract:

EBSCOhost | 101123985 | Genetics, the Nephilim, and the Historicity of Adam.

Great, thanks!

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I guess that’s a case where the brevity of a thread OP title inevitably asks a much broader question than this more specific one. Identifying the Nephilim as a pre-Adamite people brings up lexicographic/etymological and exegetical issues which “Nephilim hint at people outside the garden” does not.

Of course, @NLENTS is most likely writing for a scientific audience—and not a
Ancient Near Eastern Literature academic audience—so I’m not trying to be an annoying pedant. I’m just saying that I would necessarily address the two questions in two very different ways.

Technically speaking, of course, all of the Nephalim so labelled in the Bible are post-Adam. Also, I would say that because words tend to change both their denotations and connotations over the centuries, the Nephilim of Genesis 6 are not at all the same as the Nephilim of Ezekiel 32:27 and Numbers 13. Applying that Hebrew word to contemporaries of Adam or to pre-Adamites can be confusing at best and an anachronism fallacy at worst. Indeed, applying such labels at all is fraught with complications.

Of course, all of this is why the OP is a great topic and so is @NLENTS’ more specific question. I can’t help but approach it in all of its technical senses. I come from a world of scholarship where that is the nature of the beast (i.e. the career path.)

[I will also mention yet another time on these forums that I am personally inclined to think that “the Sons of God” label in Genesis 6 should not be over-analyzed—and thereby manufacturing angels-mating-with-humans theories—when it is the kind of phrase found in languages all over the world in both ancient and modern times for a people-group which is larger or stronger. And that is among the reasons why some people have wondered if “the Sons of God” were Neanderthals.]

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In early Colonial America people dug up enormous mastodon fossil bones. I recall one of the Mathers (famous Puritan ministers) enthusiastically identifying them as Nephilim bones.

It is interesting that various Young Earth Creationist museums and ministries today still like to claim that various huge femurs are powerful testimony of the Bible’s truth because they are traceable to the Nephilim or “the Sons of God” or “the Sons of Anak.” (See conquest of Canaan.) If a post Noahic Flood volcano could propel a platypus pair through the atmosphere and all the way from Mt. Ararat to Australia, moving a few bones around the global ain’t nothin’.

One might wonder how Nephilim bones found their way to America—but a global flood and even the hyper-speed plate tectonics of that Noahic deluge can do amazing things. (I’m not satirizing anything. These are all claims easily found online and I’ve even heard some of these from pulpits.)

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Not sure you do. I’m not talking about the documentary hypothesis. I’m talking about mutual inconsistencies in the stories, not about what name God has.

Makes sense. In other words, the stories can’t be considered as factually true, because that isn’t what they were going for.

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In terms of my publications, the paper Joshua sent you works. The idea that the Nephilim might be a reference to pre- and contemporary hominids with Adam is also discussed in my book coming out with Kregel Publications in November - Friend of Science, Friend of Faith: Listening to God in His Works and Word. (Your book Human Errors gets a citation when I discuss human biological design.)
Are you needing an excerpt?


I should add that the possibility of a biblical reference to pre-Adam hominids, for me, is not an attempt to find concordance between the scientific and biblical accounts. No one reading my book will come away with that sense. But a non-concordist view does not preclude the possible mention of real individuals.


I agree. This is not concordist, at least it does not have to be. We know this too because for over 2000 years readers have wondered about people outside the Garden.

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Where does the idea that there were people outside Adam/Eve???
Its so clear. if one denies the bible as gods word it surely is clear the human authors were describing the origins of all mankind! Any audience would understand that.
Why would other people of been created? Would they not be under the fall?
these Nephilim were always said to be used words to describe the people who strayed from God as opposed to those who stayed with God. Cains relatives verses Abels.

You would think that the word of God would be clearer. Is it all just bad translation? If only God were omniscient, he could have foreseen how people would misinterpret the text and arranged to make it harder to misunderstand.