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  • Writer's pictureJohn Coleman

They Might be Giants

Updated: Jan 21


Genesis 6:4 (RSVCE): The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown

The demigod giants of the Bible were somehow skipped over in my Sunday School days as a child. I still remember when I first read the story of the Nephilim in Genesis. I thought that there must be some mistake. Surely there is not some mythological-esque offspring in Holy Scripture a la the Iliad. But there is was and there it is. How do we make sense of it without just conveniently skipping over it?


The passage about "giants" seems to drop out of nowhere as it doesn't have anything to do with what preceded it and not a whole lot to what follows. This points to this being a much longer story that likely came from another source. The story is very similar to others existing throughout Near Eastern literature and mythology (Hesiod, Pseudo-Apollodorus) with similar stories about gods, children and destruction. A major difference between these other stories being at no point in the Biblical narrative is there any question who created all and is in control of all-it is Yahweh. The other stories involve multiple gods at work.


The word Nephilim comes from the Hebrew word naphal which means "to fall." We are clearly looking at a disordering of God's creation. It also serves as an example of evil that leads to the Great Flood which follows. A reference to the Nephilim can also be found in the Book of Numbers, but it is a reference to the past as they would have been destroyed in the Flood.


There are some who look at the story of the Nephilim as a way to describe the differences in the progeny of Cain and that of his younger brother Seth, born after Cain killed his brother Abel. Seth produced righteous children like Enoch and Noah, while Cain produced those lesss than good like Lamech and, of course, Cain himself. The idea is that the Nephilim come from the "fallen" line of Cain. It seems like a big stretch to explain this fantastical imagery of demigod giants to be the fault of Cain's sin and that of his line of children. It is trying to make sense out of something that doesn't make a lot of sense to begin with and is dropped into Scripture without introduction.


I agree with Dr. Nahum Sarna who looks at this as a story that has mythological elements to counter the mythology that was so prevalent in most surrounding polytheistic societies. There is one God who controls all of creation. The Nephilim may have had special qualities but none of those including divinity. They are humans who the one true God controls.





Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis =: Be-Reshit: The Traditional Hebrew Text with New JPS Translation. 1st ed. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

















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