Category Archives: Genesis 6.1-4

“And also afterward”: An example of the interpretation of Genesis 6:4 after Nephilim DNA and the racialized Curse of Ham


J.D. Rucker runs a website called Judeo Christian Church, on which he publishes various sermon-style talks on various topics related to the Bible and Christianity. His talk published on March 16, 2015 discusses the meaning of Genesis 6:1-4, the strange episode in which “sons of god” have sex with “daughters of men” and thereby sire Nephilim (the heroes of old or warriors of renown).

Most of the talk involves an interpretation of the “sons of god” as angels. But what interested me was his setting out of three options for interpreting the phrase “and also afterward” in Genesis 6:4. The biblical phrase, considered an interpolation in many historical-critical studies, indicates that the Nephilim were not only in the earth before the flood (when Gen 6:1-4 is predominantly set), but also after the flood.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterward — when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. (Ge 6:4)

Rucker’s three options for understanding the phrase “and also afterward” are these:

1. The Flood did not kill all the Nephilim. They may have hid on the ark, or escaped somehow.
2. Other angels (“sons of god”) came down after the Flood and had sex with human women.
3. There was giant blood or giant genetics on the ark.

Rucker dismisses the first two options, as there is no explicit mention of this in the Bible. Instead, he suggests that the wife of Ham, the mother of Canaan, may have had tainted blood. She had “Nephilim coding” in her bloodline. Yet Rucker acknowledges that this is also speculation, not found in the Bible. On the face of it, then, he seems to give no distinct reason for favouring option 3 over the other two.

This is an interesting decision, I think, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the idea that there is a contamination of human DNA resulting from the Nephilim has been widely propagated in recent decades, in populist books and on websites. This idea can be found in end-times speculations, UFO speculations, and similar literature. Interestingly, Rucker seems to reject many of these theories. He doesn’t favour the idea of Nephilim DNA surviving today and the more conspiratorial versions of the Nephilim DNA theories. Yet he is still persuaded by option three in interpreting the phrase “and also afterward”. Second, the association of Ham and Canaan with tainted blood has a long history in racial interpretation of the “curse of Ham”. Rucker does not himself apply this racial line of interpretation, I emphasize. Yet he adapts the tradition (probably unconsciously) as an explanation, I suspect, of the mention of many giants in Numbers and Deuteronomy as inhabiting the land of Canaan (e.g. Anakim, Emim, Zamzumim, etc).

Rucker does claim to be simply interpreting the Bible. But his favoured interpretation in fact intersects with, and is a product of certain older and newer interpretive streams, including in particular traditions of the racial curse of Ham and Nephilim DNA. Reception history is a complex beast.


Filed under Ancient Jewish texts, Biblical Giants, Biblical Giants' relatives, Genesis 6.1-4, Heroes / Gibborim, Internet, Nephilim, sons of God

David Clines: “The Significance of the ‘Sons of God’ Episode (Genesis 6:1-4) in the Context of the ‘Primeval History’ (Genesis 1–11)”

David J.A. Clines: One of the גברים אשר מעולם?

David J.A. Clines: One of the the גברים אשר מעולם?

David Clines has made available a paper he wrote in 1972 on the unusual story found in Genesis 6:1-4 about “the sons of god(s)” who had sex with “the daughters of men” and sired Nephilim (the “heroes of old”, the “warriors of renown”).

The Significance of the “Sons of God” Episode (Genesis 6:1-4) in the Context of the “Primeval History” (Genesis 1–11), originally published in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 13 (1979): 33-46.

Scholars have made a few different suggestions regarding the meaning of the phrase “sons of god(s)” (בני האלהים). Does it refer to demigods or angels? or to the Sethite line of human beings (in Genesis 5) in contrast to the Cainite line (of Genesis 4), or vice versa? or to human rulers or princes? In general, there is a debate as to whether “sons of god(s)” refers to divine or human entities.

Anticipating an issue which has come up in the current debate about monotheism and polytheism in ancient Israel and classical and later Greece and Rome, David Clines suggests that this split between human and divine options may not be so clear-cut, in particular with respect to rulers, and even more in particular to antediluvian rulers:

[T]he author of Gen. 6.1-4 in its present form did not work with a system of closed categories in which ‘sons of God’ must be either human or non-human. Are the בני האלהים here then both divine beings and antediluvian rulers?
(p. 4)

Interpreted this way, the strange episode does not appear to be such an intrusion into the Primeval History (Genesis 1-11). Clines goes on to document other connections that he sees Gen 6:1-4 as sharing with the remainder of Genesis 1-11 and with the following Flood Narrative (Genesis 6:5-9:17).


Filed under Biblical Giants, Genesis 6.1-4, Nephilim

John Day on Giants, Sons of God, Daughters of Men

There’s a relatively new academic journal on the block called Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, which may be of interest to readers. It is published by Mohr Siebeck and its editors are Gary N. Knoppers, Oded Lipschits, Carol A. Newsom, and Konrad Schmid.

The December 2012 issue features an article by John Day tackling that old problem: just what on earth (or beyond it) is Genesis 6:1-4 talking about?

John Day, “The Sons of God and Daughters of Men and the Giants: Disputed Points in the Interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4.” HeBAI 1 no. 4 (Dec 2012): 427–47.

Sons of God and Daughters of manThis essay offers a comprehensive analysis of the many problems of interpretation in Gen 6:1-4. Although the Nephilim were the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men in the underlying myth, contrary to a widely held view this is no longer the case in Gen 6:1-4, where they are already in existence at the time of the sexual liaisons. Even though 1 Enoch preserves the original notion of the origin of the Nephilim, the more elaborate story there is in general a later midrash on Gen 6:1-4, contrary to some recent suggestions. Genesis 6:1-4 is not based on Mesopotamian or Greek mythology but contains an Israelite myth utilizing and transforming Canaanite concepts. Not only do the heavenly sons of God derive ultimately from the Canaanite “sons of El,“ but the name of the Canaanite giant Nephilim (literally “fallen ones”) is a retrospective term comparable to that of the giant Rephaim, a word originally used of the dead (Ugaritic rp’um), implying the giants have passed away. Contrary to some, v. 3 is an original part of the text; it indicates that the humans’ descendants were in danger of becoming immortal as a result of the infusion of the divine spirit from the marriages. ידון in this verse derives from a Hebrew verb, דנן “to be strong.”

While not everybody will agree with his conclusions, he provides a good recent treatment of the critical issues in this controversial passage.

And as a special treat, here is Nick Cave performing at Coachella. The version of Stagger Lee at 28:00 is particularly inspired. Stagger Lee even has a show-down with the Devil.


Filed under Genesis 6.1-4, Nephilim, Rephaim

Why didn’t the female angels have sex with man?

Today, this Google query ended up here. It’s an interesting question, given that the rich reception of Gen. 6.1-4 only depicts male angels having sex with human women.

But the answer is simple: there are no female angels. In early Jewish literature, all angels are male.

Update 1: This important issue seems to have provoked interest. Jack Collins (Worthless Mysteries) comments below that Na’amah, the subject of speculation since being listed as the one female Cainite in Gen. 4:22b (see the genealogy in Gen. 4:17-22), ends up as a fallen angel in the Zohar. As she has sex with Adam, this counts as a female angel having sex with a man. But we’re well into medieval Judaism here. The same would go for Lilith traditions, which SP discusses in the comments section.

Update 2: And the Greek goddesses become angels in late Christian tradition. Nike, already winged in Greek iconography, is easily angelified, given the conflation of angels with the winged creatures.

Update 3: Jim Davila (Paleojudaica) points out “the four Hayyot (“living creatures” or “beasts”) of Ezekiel chapter 1 are grammatically female”.  Grammatically, that is, but not in gender. Yet, what this means is a bit mysterious, as Jim points out, and they’re not precisely angels.

Update 4: Also in the comments section, SP points out that “in Targum Neofiti (on Gen. 6), the bene [ha]elohim take (אנשי(ן instead of women”. That is, the sons of the gods have sex with men rather than women. This might be a result of a problem in textual transmission, though, as the final nun is missing.

So it is still correct to say that, as far as the evidence of early Judaism goes, there are no female angels – and therefore no angels who have sex with men. Or have I missed some evidence of female angels in early Judaism….?


Filed under Fallen angels, Genesis 6.1-4, sons of God

Michael Heiser: Putting the Aramaic Cart before the Hebrew Horse

Michael Heiser - Putting the Aramaic cart before the Hebrew horse

Michael Heiser – Putting the Aramaic cart before the Hebrew horse

This response is further to an earlier post on Remnant of Giants, “Michael Heiser’s (Mis)interpretation of “Nephilim” as “Giants” not “Fallen Ones”“, which was followed by a comment from Michael on the same post and Michael’s post, “My Thoughts on Nephilim: Answering a Criticism” on The Naked Bible:

Thank you for your reply in the comments section of my earlier post, Michael, and for your post. What you have written here and in your post helps me understand how you have come to your conclusion, which I continue to consider is unsound.

Of course, I quite agree that there is no simple morphological basis for preferring my explanation that “Nephilim” is a Heb. qatil or your explanation that it is a loanword from the Aramaic usage attested in the Genesis Apocryphon and Book of Giants. The form would be the same in either case. So this is not at issue between us. But your claim faces much more substantial problems than morphology.

What is at issue is the cogency in claiming that “Nephilim” is an Aramaic loanword into Hebrew, when the only passages in Aramaic which employ the purported Aramaic loanword are so obviously dependent on Gen. 6:4. Both Genesis Apocryphon and Book of Giants are rewritings of the Genesis narrative. The obvious conclusion is that their employment of the term Nephilin is dependent on the use of Nephilim in Gen. 6.4. So of course the Aramaic would have the same form as the Hebrew: the occurrences of “Nephilin” are all dependent on the Hebrew “Nephilim”. You have put the Aramaic cart before the Hebrew horse! My argument is not merely that there is an absence of Aramaic evidence that precedes Genesis – but that the Aramaic evidence we have is clearly dependent on Genesis. So your reliance on the Aramaic “meaning” of Nephilin faces what I consider is an insurmountable problem, and I hope I have made this problem clearer to you.

If you wish to continue to make an argument that the Aramaic meaning of the term “Nephilin” is “giants” and that this meaning influenced the Hebrew, the onus is on you to provide the evidence. But there is no evidence – is there? Furthermore, the only evidence we have in Aramaic suggests the opposite conclusion: the Aramaic term “Nephilin” is only used in contexts which are dependent on the Bible’s use of “Nephilim”. Your argument from Aramaic “meaning” is circular at best.

Furthermore, I do not follow your logic in mentioning that the gloss in Num. 13:33 is “quite late”? First, Nephilim is not a gloss in Gen. 6:4 – or do you also date Gen. 6:4 “quite late” (whatever that means)? Second, for what I think is your argument to have any cogency, the three mentions of “Nephilim” in the Hebrew Bible must all be later than the earliest evidence of Nephilin in Aramaic – later, that is, than the approximately second century BCE works, the Genesis Apocryphon and Book of Giants. Are you really saying that all the occurrences of “Nephilim” in Gen. 6:4 and Num. 13:33 are this late? Third, your statement “basically everyone takes Num 13:33 as a gloss” is either inaccurate or incorrect. It is normally understood that only the words “the sons of Anak from the Nephilim” comprise the later gloss within Num. 13:33. But it is incorrect to say that Num. 13:33 is widely interpreted as a gloss, And there is still one occurrence of the term “Nephilim” in Num. 13:33 which lies outside of the later gloss. So if you are attempting to argue here (and I confess, it is not clear to me if it is your argument) that Num. 13:33 is later than the Aramaic occurrences of Nephilin, you face a number of significant problems.

As your argument for the etymological meaning of Nephilim as “giants” faces these significant problems, I can understand why you might want to switch to the fertile history of the reception of Gen. 6:4, and in particular the Greek Septuagint (LXX). But, evidentially, this is also putting the cart before the horse. As is widely acknowledged, Gen. 6:4 is famously obscure, and gives rise to sometimes quite bizarre later interpretations. One can fairly easily surmise that a translator familiar with Greek literature – writing in, perhaps, the third century BCE – might leap to the conclusion that Gen. 6.1-4’s odd story of dalliances between sons of the gods and human women sounded like something from Greek myth. But this tells us a lot more about the Greek-influenced reception of Gen. 6:4 than it does about Gen. 6:4 itself. This is why Lothar Perlitt cautions that the LXX mixed two quite different worlds in translating historisierenden Notizen des Alten Testaments (‘historicizing notices in the Old Testament’) with terms which were weitgehend mythologisch in sensu stricto (‘largely mythological in sensu stricto’). If hard cases make bad law, obscure stories make bad translations – and Gen. 6:4 is a prime case in point. Perlitt’s conclusion is correct: Kurzum: die Frage nach den Riesen im Alten Testament fände auf dem Wege über die griechische oder lateinische Konkordanz nur falsche Antworten (‘In short: the question concerning Giants in the Old Testament would find only wrong answers by looking in a Greek or Latin concordance’). And of course, the wrong answers are only compounded by looking at interpretations of the Nephilim which come even later than LXX.

So for these reasons, I still cannot see how you could reasonably rely on Aramaic evidence in order to arrive at the meaning of “giants” for Nephilim. You may certainly raise the conjecture that the term “Nephilin” was used in Aramaic to mean “giants” before the composition of Gen. 6:4 and Num. 13:33. Or you can feel free to raise conjectures that there were similar words in Egyptian, or Akkadian, or whatever – which I am sure would be based on just the same amount of evidence (that is, none). But I will continue to prefer the facts that exist – and that includes the fact that Nephilim follows a Hebrew form, the qatil, with an etymological meaning of “fallen ones”. I am, however, most willing to be persuaded otherwise, if you are able to present a sound argument for the etymological meaning of “Nephilim” as “giants” from the Aramaic evidence.


Filed under Biblical Exegesis, Genesis 6.1-4, Nephilim, Numbers 13-14

Is Nephilim Romantic Fiction a Sign of the End Times?

First it was the Twilight series, now it is the Nephilim. Can’t be long now.

We have arrived at a particular time in history, spoken of by Jesus (‘as it was in the days of Noah so shall it be in the days of the coming of the Son of Man’) – in other words, this ancient bit of history in which the Nephilim descended to Earth and took human wives is about to be replayed. And it’s being presaged by a number of book and movie themes that are centred on the supernatural and now by this new book, The Age of Eve: The Return of the Nephilim, written by Ms. Pratt, is something that is trying to do for the Nephilim what other novels have done for vampires, werewolves, other types of supernatural effects and phenomena. This is the world in which we live, folks.

– Gary Stearman, Prophecy In The News, 1 March 2013

See also: Remnant of Giants, “New Nephilim Paranormal Romantic Fiction from Quantum Leap writer”.

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Filed under Genesis 6.1-4, Nephilim

Michael Heiser’s (Mis)interpretation of “Nephilim” as “Giants” not “Fallen Ones”

Michael Heiser - Giant?

Michael Heiser – Giant?

In a number of recent publications, Michael Heiser has claimed that the etymological sense of the term “Nephilim” found in Gen 6.4 and Num. 13.33 is “giant”.

Most academic attempts to explain the sense of “Nephilim” derive it from the Hebrew root נפל (n-f-l: “to fall”). There is a relatively straightforward explanation for the form of the term Nephilim. It appears to be a reduction of the passive adjective (qaṭīl), קְטִיל. Joüon-Muraoka notes that ‘hardly anything but substantives are found in this form’ (Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, 250, §88E g). So in this form, the meaning of “Nephilim” is something like “fallen ones”. Or, as Victor P. Hamilton translates it: ‘those who were made to fall; those who were cast down’ (The Book of Genesis, 269; cf. Ronald S. Hendel, ‘The Nephilim were on the Earth’, 21; Brian R. Doak, The Last of the Rephaim, 63).

Yet the difficulty is not with the sense of the term, but with determining its precise significance. Unlike in later retellings, there is no indication in Gen. 6:1–4 that בני האלהים (the sons of god(s)) had previously resided in the heavens or had ‘fallen’ to earth or were ‘spiritually’ fallen. Even if such an interpretation is imposed on Gen. 6:1–4, the description ‘the fallen ones’ would presumably apply to the בני האלהים, not their earth-born offspring, the Nephilim. But there is at least one other good explanation for describing these “mighty men” who lived “long ago” (Gen. 6.4) as “fallen ones”. As heroes, the Nephilim would probably have been described as dying in heroic deaths, perhaps to have “fallen” in battle. This explanation was proposed by Hartmut Gese in Vom Sinai zum Zion (p. 110), and provides what I think is the better sense of the “fall” of the “Fallen Ones”.

Yet in a number of publications, Michael Heiser casts doubt on the derivation from n-f-l. These publications include his draft book, The Myth That is True, an article on “Nephilim” for the online FaithLife Study Bible,, and this video from Heiser does so by criticising scholars who have derived Nephilim from the Hebrew participle of n-f-l. He’s right that the term Nephilim does not meet the standard form for a participle. But he either does not mention or quickly dismisses the fact that “Nephilim” perfectly fits the passive adjectival form in Hebrew.

Instead, Heiser argues that the term Nephilim most closely resembles the Aramaic term נפילין (Nephilin). Heiser points out that the “meaning” of the Aramaic term Nephilin is “giant”. So his conclusion is that the Hebrew “Nephilim” was derived from the Aramaic term for “giant”, and that the meaning of the Hebrew term Nephilim is also “giant”. After all, as Heiser claims, the Jews were quite familiar with Aramaic as  the lingua franca of the ancient Near East and as a language closely related to Hebrew.

But there is a giant problem with this reasoning, even if we leave aside the fact that “Nephilim” has a perfectly acceptable Hebrew adjectival form. For when Heiser claims that the “meaning” of Nephilin in Aramaic is giant, he appears to overlook the fact that this Aramaic “meaning” only occurs in works which are even later than the biblical texts in Gen 6.4 and Num. 13.33 and which are dependent on the Hebrew biblical texts. A “meaning” is only as good as its particular uses. And you can’t claim that a biblical word derives from Aramaic if the Aramaic usage is later than the Bible!

I am aware of no instances of the Aramaic term Nephilin from Old or Imperial Aramaic – that is, from before the writing of the Pentateuch The first attested examples of the term Nephilin (or variants) occur in post-biblical documents from Qumran: Genesis Apocryphon and the Book of Giants. What’s more, these texts from Qumran are dependent on the Enochic version of the story in Gen 6.1-4. They are retellings of retellings of Gen. 6.1-4. Although some scholars have claimed that 1 Enoch predates Gen 6.1-4, Michael Heiser does not, so this is not an issue here. These  Aramaic retellings are certainly interesting developments in the reception of Gen 6.1-4, and it is true that the Nephilim were characterised as “giants” in much of their early reception. Yet it remains the case that there is no intimation of the height of the Nephilim in Gen 6.1-4 itself. The idea that the Nephilim were giants originates in Num 13.33’s comparison of the Nephilim to the gigantic Anakim; it is not present in Gen 6.4. Instead, in Gen 6.4 the Nephilim are identified with “mighty men”/”heroes” of remote antiquity, who were famed for their heroic deeds. The descriptions fit well with the conception of the heroic “fallen dead”, and the derivation of the term Nephilim from n-f-l. But the idea of giants is absent in Gen. 6.1-4 and must be imposed from Num 13 in order to be seen there.

The Aramaic foundation for Michael Heiser’s interpretation of Nephilim is anachronistic: the Aramaic term Nephilin is only attested later than the Hebrew term Nephilim, so cannot be supported as the basis for the Hebrew Nephilim.  Moreover, the Aramaic term Nephilin is first attested only in Jewish texts from Qumran which are clearly dependent on the Hebrew stories in Gen. 6.1-4 and Num. 13. Based on the evidence as we have it, the Hebrew term “Nephilim” gave rise to the Aramaic term “Nephilin” – not the reverse.

See also: Michael Heiser: Putting the Aramaic Cart before the Hebrew Horse


Filed under Biblical Exegesis, Genesis 6.1-4, Nephilim, Numbers 13-14