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The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Hieronymus Bosch is based on Genesis 6:1–4

The Nephilim (play /ˈnɛfɨˌlɪm/) were on the earth when the "sons of God" (either fallen angels or those from the line of Seth) and the "daughters of men" (either men or those from the line of Cain) began to inter-marry according to Genesis 6:4; and were giants who inhabited Canaan according to Numbers 13:33. A similar biblical Hebrew word with different vowel-sounds is used in Ezekiel 32:27 to refer to dead Philistine warriors likely referring to the Philistine giant Goliath.


The etymology of the Hebrew word נְפִילִים (nephilim) means "fallen ones."[1][2][3] (cf. Nephele and Neptune).

Abraham ibn Ezra proposes that they were called fallen ones because men's hearts would fail at the sight of them. Some suggest that they were giants and when they fell, the ground shook, causing others to fall too. Jean Leclerc and Peter of Aquila among others suggest that it is derived from the warlike nature of the Nephilim, comparing the usage of Naphal in Job 1:15 "And the Sabeans fell upon them" where Naphal means "to take in battle". Alternatively, Shadal understands nephilim as deriving from the Hebrew word פלא Pele which means wondrous.[4] Another possibility is that the term is a generic term for "giants" in general,[5] which is consistent with the Septuagint and Vulgate translations of the word. Some expositors believe it may refer more to the ferocity and strength of the people who are referred to, rather than their physical height,[6][7] though in the Book of Numbers intentional stress on height is apparent, whether metaphorical or actual (see below on Anakim).

Origin and identity

Genesis Chapter 6, verses 1 through 4 mentions Nephilim:

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." 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. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.
Genesis 6:1–4[8]

They are mentioned again in Numbers chapter 13, verses 32–33, in a description of the inhabitants of Hebron:

So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, "The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.
Numbers 13:32[9]

There are four common views regarding the identity of the Nephilim.

  • They were the hybrid offspring of fallen angels and human women.
  • They were the offspring of descendants of Seth with those of Cain.
  • Webster's 1913 Dictionary defines the word simply as "Giant." Thus, any especially tall, powerful, large, or mighty man would be described in ancient times as Nephilim. Nephilim may simply mean "giant," champion, or strong man.
  • They are not historical figures and are ancient imagery with questionable meaning.[10]


Fallen angels

The Targum Jonathan states that the Nephilim were given this name because they were descended from fallen angels.[11]

The New American Bible commentary draws a parallel to the Epistle of Jude and the statements set forth in Genesis, suggesting that the Epistle refers implicitly to the paternity of Nephilim as heavenly beings who came to earth and had sexual intercourse with women.[12] The footnotes of the Jerusalem Bible suggest that the Biblical author intended the Nephilim to be an "anecdote of a superhuman race".[13] Genesis 6:4 implies that the Nephilim have inhabited the earth in at least two different time periods—in antediluvian times "and afterward." If the Nephilim were supernatural beings themselves, or at least the progeny of supernatural beings, it is possible that the "giants of Canaan" in Book of Numbers 13:33 were the direct descendants of the antediluvian Nephilim, or were fathered by the same supernatural parents.

In Aramaic culture, the term Nephila specifically referred to the constellation of Orion, and thus Nephilim to Orion's semi-divine descendants (cf. Anakim from Anak);[14] the implication being that this also is the origin of the Biblical Nephilim.

Some Christian commentators have argued against this view[15], citing Jesus' statement that angels do not marry.[16] Others believe that Jesus was only referring to angels in heaven.[17]

Descendants of Seth and Cain

Many Jewish commentaries and translations describe the Nephilim as being from the offspring of "sons of nobles" rather than from "sons of God" or "sons of angels".[18] This is also the rendering suggested in the Targum Onkelos.

Likewise, a long-held view among some Christians is that the sons of God did not birth the Nephilim spoken of in the text, but the formerly righteous descendants of Seth who rebelled, while the daughters of men were the unrighteous descendants of Cain, and the Nephilim the offspring of their union.[19] This view dates to at least the 3rd century AD, with references in Sextus Julius Africanus,[20] as well as throughout the Clementine literature.[21] Holders of this view[22] have looked for support in Jesus' statement that "in the days before the flood they (humans) were marrying and giving in marriage"[23]

Similar terms

In the Hebrew Bible, there are a number of other words that, like "Nephilim", are sometimes translated as "giants":

the fearful ones
the dead ones
  • Anakim
the [long]-necked ones


Anakim (or Anakites) are the descendants of Anak, and dwelt in the south of Canaan, in the neighbourhood of Hebron. In the days of Abraham, they inhabited the region afterwards known as Edom and Moab, east of the Jordan river. They are mentioned during the report of the spies about the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. The book of Joshua states that Joshua finally expelled them from the land, excepting a remnant that found a refuge in the cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. The Philistine giant Goliath, whom David[24] later encountered, was supposedly a descendant of the Anakim.

The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.
Numbers 13:32–33[25]

It is more commonly suggested by traditional Jewish sources (such as the Midrash) that the spies saw large and powerful inhabitants in Canaan and because of their own fears, cowardice, and inadequate faith in Yahweh, saw themselves as grasshoppers in the eyes of the Canaanites, whether they were actual "giants" or not.

In other texts

The story of the Nephilim is chronicled more fully in the Book of Enoch (part of Ethiopian biblical canon). Enoch, as well as Jubilees, connects the origin of the Nephilim with the fallen angels, and in particular with the Grigori (watchers). Samyaza, an angel of high rank, is described as leading a rebel sect of angels in a descent to earth to have sexual intercourse with human females:

And it came to pass when the children of men had multiplied that in those days were born unto them beautiful and comely daughters. And the angels, the children of the heaven, saw and lusted after them, and said to one another: 'Come, let us choose us wives from among the children of men and beget us children.' And Semjaza, who was their leader, said unto them: 'I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.' And they all answered him and said: 'Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.' Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended in the days of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon, and they called it Mount Hermon, because they had sworn and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it...
Book of Enoch[26]

According to these texts, the fallen angels who begat the Nephilim were cast into Tartarus/Gehenna, a place of 'total darkness'. However, Jubilees also states that God granted ten percent of the disembodied spirits of the Nephilim to remain after the flood, as demons, to try to lead the human race astray (through idolatry, the occult, etc.) until the final Judgment.

In addition to Enoch, the Book of Jubilees (7:21–25) also states that ridding the Earth of these Nephilim was one of God's purposes for flooding the Earth in Noah's time. The Biblical reference to Noah being "perfect in his generations" may have referred to his having a clean, Nephilim-free bloodline, although it may be inferred that there was more diversity among his three daughters-in law.

These works describe the Nephilim as being evil giants.

There are also allusions to these descendants in the Catholic deuterocanonical books of Judith, Sirach, Baruch, and Wisdom of Solomon and in the non-Catholic 3 Maccabees.

Some individuals and groups, including the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, St. Augustine, John Calvin, and the Latter-day Saints, take the view of Genesis 6:2 that the "Angels" who fathered the Nephilim referred to certain human males from the lineage of Seth, who were called sons of God probably in reference to their being formerly in a covenantal relationship with Yahweh (cf. Deuteronomy 14:1; 32:5); according to these sources, these men had begun to pursue bodily interests, and so took wives of the daughters of men, e.g., those who were descended from Cain or from any people who did not worship God. Not only is this unequivocally stated in Ethiopian Orthodox versions of I Enoch and Jubilees, but this is also the view presented in a few extra-Biblical, yet ancient works, particularly the Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan. In these sources, these offspring of Seth were said to have disobeyed God, by breeding with the Cainites and producing wicked children "who were all unlike", thus angering God into bringing about the Deluge.

Nowhere is the Ethiopian view presented more explicitly than in the Conflict of Adam Book 3, chap. 4[27]:

Certain wise men of old wrote concerning them, and say in their [sacred] books, that angels came down from heaven, and mingled with the daughters of Cain, who bare unto them these giants. But these [wise men] err in what they say. God forbid such a thing, that angels who are spirits, should be found committing sin with human beings. Never, that cannot be. And if such a thing were of the nature of angels, or Satans, that fell, they would not leave one woman on earth, undefiled... But many men say, that angels came down from heaven, and joined themselves to women, and had children by them. This cannot be true. But they were children of Seth, who were of the children of Adam, that dwelt on the mountain, high up, while they preserved their virginity, their innocence and their glory like angels; and were then called 'angels of God.' But when they transgressed and mingled with the children of Cain, and begat children, ill-informed men said, that angels had come down from heaven, and mingled with the daughters of men, who bare them giants.

In ancient Aram (from which we get the Aramaic language), the constellation Orion was known as Nephila, and Orion's descendants were known as Nephilim.[1][2]

See also


  1. Aufarth Christoph; Loren T. Stuckenbruck The fall of the angels Brill (22 Feb 2004) ISBN: 978-9004126688 p.34
  2. <Marks, Herbert "Biblical Naming and Poetic Etymology" Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 114, No. 1 (Spring, 1995), pp. 21-42
  3. Professor Michael S. Heiser The Meaning of the Word Nephilim: Fact vs. Fantasy
  4. Hamishtadel (his Bible commentary ad. loc.)
  5. Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, M.E.J Richardson, Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, 709 s.v. נְפִילִים
  6. John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis, notes 1–4.
  7. Robert Jamieson, Andrew Robert Fausset, David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, note 4.
  8. "Genesis 6:1–4"., from the New American Standard Bible translation. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  9. "Numbers 13:32–33"., from the New American Standard Bible translation. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  10. Wickstrom, Mark (2008). The Gospel of Grace. Beaver's Pond Press. pp. 46–47. ISBN 13:978-1-59298-232-5. 
  11. Targum Yonathan
  12. New American Bible, footnotes page 1370, referring to verse 6.
    The angels too, who did not keep to their own domain but deserted their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains, in gloom, for the judgement of the great day. Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the surrounding towns, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual promiscuity and practiced unnatural vice, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
    Jude 1:6–7, New American Bible.

  13. The author does not present this episode as a myth nor, on the other hand, does he deliver judgment on its actual occurrence; he records the anecdote of a superhuman race simply to serve as an example of the increase in human wickedness which was to provoke the Flood.
    Jerusalem Bible, Genesis VI, footnote.

  14. Peake's commentary on the Bible
  15. Who are the sons of God and the Nephilim?
  16. "Matthew 22:30"., from the New American Standard Bible translation. 
  17. Bob Deffinbaugh, Genesis: From Paradise to Patriarchs, The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men
  18. "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of the nobles would come to the daughters of man, and they would bear for them; they are the mighty men, who were of old, the men of renown."—Genesis 6:4 ( translation)
  19. Later Judaism and almost all the earliest ecclesiastical writers identify the "sons of God" with the fallen angels; but from the fourth century onwards, as the idea of angelic natures becomes less material, the Fathers commonly take the "sons of God" to be Seth's descendants and the "daughters of men" those of Cain.
    Jerusalem Bible, Genesis VI, footnote.

  20. Julius Africanus at CCEL
  21. Kitab al-Magall
  22. Rick Wade, Answering Email, The Nephilim
  23. "Matthew 24:38"., from the New American Standard Bible translation. 
  24. Samuel 21:19, some translations have brother of Goliath rather than just Goliath, though the latter is more accurate to the masoretic text.
  25. Numbers 13:32–33, English Standard Version
  27. Conflict of Adam and Eve p. 146, 147

External links

This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Nephilim. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.