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The Nephilim // (Hebrew: נפילים) were offspring of the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" before the Deluge according to Genesis 6:4; the name is also used in reference to giants who inhabited Canaan at the time of the Israelite conquest of 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.
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon gives the meaning of Nephilim as "giants." Many suggested interpretations are based on the assumption that the word is a derivative of Hebrew verbal root n-ph-l "fall." Robert Baker Girdlestone  argued the word comes from the Hiphil causative stem, implying that the Nephilim are to be perceived as "those that cause others to fall down." Adam Clarke took it as a perfect participle, "fallen," "apostates." Ronald Hendel states that it is a passive form "ones who have fallen," equivalent grammatically to paqid "one who is appointed" (i.e., overseer), asir, "one who is bound," (i.e., prisoner) etc. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, the basic etymology of the word Nephilim is "dub[ious]," and various suggested interpretations are "all very precarious."
The majority of ancient biblical versions, including the Septuagint, Theodotion, Latin Vulgate, Samaritan Targum, Targum Onkelos and Targum Neofiti, interpret the word to mean "giants." Symmachus translates it as "the violent ones" and Aquila's translation has been interpreted to mean either "the fallen ones" or "the ones falling [upon their enemies]."
|Hebrew (MT)||English (JPS)|
|ד הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ, בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם, וְגַם אַחֲרֵי-כֵן אֲשֶׁר יָבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים אֶל-בְּנוֹת הָאָדָם, וְיָלְדוּ לָהֶם: הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעוֹלָם, אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם.||4 The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.|
|Latin (Vulgate)||English (KJV)|
|4 gigantes autem erant super terram in diebus illis postquam enim ingressi sunt filii Dei ad filias hominum illaeque genuerunt isti sunt potentes a saeculo viri famosi||4 There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare [children] to them, the same [became] mighty men which [were] of old, men of renown.|
|Hebrew (MT)||English (JPS)|
|לג וְשָׁם רָאִינוּ, אֶת-הַנְּפִלִים בְּנֵי עֲנָק--מִן-הַנְּפִלִים; וַנְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים, וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם.||33 And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.'|
|Latin (Vulgate)||English (KJV)|
|33 ibi vidimus monstra quaedam filiorum Enach de genere giganteo quibus conparati quasi lucustae videbamur||33 And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, [which come] of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.|
The nature of the nephilim is complicated by the ambiguity of Genesis 6:4, which leaves it unclear whether they are the "sons of God" or their offspring who are the "mighty men of old, men of renown". Richard Hess in The Anchor Bible Dictionary takes it to mean that the nephilim are the offspring, as does P. W. Coxon in Dictionary of deities and demons in the Bible.
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. The footnotes of the Jerusalem Bible suggest that the biblical author intended the nephilim to be an "anecdote of a superhuman race."
Evidence cited in favor of the "fallen angels" interpretation includes the fact that the phrase "the sons of God" (Hebrew, בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים; literally "sons of the gods") is used twice outside of Genesis chapter 6, in the Book of Job (1:6 and 2:1) where the phrase explicitly references angels. The Septuagint's translation of Genesis 6:2 renders this phrase as "the angels of God."
The story of the nephilim is further elaborated in the Book of Enoch. The Greek, Aramaic, and main Ge'ez manuscripts of 1 Enoch and Jubilees obtained in the 19th century and held in the British Museum and Vatican Library, connect the origin of the nephilim with the fallen angels, and in particular with the egrḗgoroi (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...
In this tradition, the children of the Nephilim are called the Elioud, who are considered a separate race from the Nephilim, but they share the fate as the Nephilim.
According to these texts, the fallen angels who begat the nephilim were cast into Tartarus (Greek Enoch 20:2), 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 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. These works describe the nephilim as being evil giants.
In the New Testament Epistle of Jude 14–15 cites from 1 Enoch 1:9, which many scholars believe is based on Deuteronomy 33:2. To most commentators this confirms that the author of Jude regarded the Enochic interpretations of Genesis 6 as correct, however others have questioned this.
Orthodox Judaism has taken a stance against the idea that Genesis 6 refers to angels or that angels could intermarry with men. Shimon bar Yochai pronounced a curse on anyone teaching this idea. Rashi and Nachmanides followed this. Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities 3:1–3 may also imply that the "sons of God" were human. Consequently, most 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". This is also the rendering suggested in the Targum Onqelos, Symmachus and the Samaritan Targum which read "sons of the rulers", where Targum Neophyti reads "sons of the judges".
Likewise, a long-held view among some Christians is that the "sons of God" were 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. This view, dating to at least the 1st century AD in Jewish literature as described above, is also found in Christian sources from the 3rd century if not earlier, with references throughout the Clementine literature, as well as in Sextus Julius Africanus, Ephrem the Syrian and others. Holders of this view have looked for support in Jesus' statement that "in those days before the flood they [humans] were… marrying and giving in marriage" (Matthew 24:38).
Some individuals and groups, including St. Augustine, John Chrysostom, and John Calvin, 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 prior covenant 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.
This also is the view of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, supported by their own Ge'ez manuscripts and Amharic translation of the Haile Selassie Bible—where the books of 1 Enoch and Jubilees, counted as canonical by this church, differ from western academic editions. The "Sons of Seth view" is also the view presented in a few extra-biblical, yet ancient works, including Clementine literature, the 3rd century Cave of Treasures, and the ca. 6th Century Ge'ez work 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, as in the Conflict:
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 bear them giants.
In Aramaic culture, the term niyphelah refers to the Constellation of Orion and nephilim to the offspring of Orion in mythology. However the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon notes this as a "dubious etymology" and "all very precarious".
J. C. Greenfield mentions that "it has been proposed that the tale of the Nephilim, alluded to in Genesis 6 is based on some of the negative aspects of the apkallu tradition". The apkallu in Sumerian mythology were seven legendary culture heroes from before the Flood, of human descent, but possessing extraordinary wisdom from the gods, and one of the seven apkallu, Adapa, was therefore called "son of Ea", despite his human origin.
Ezekiel 32:27 speaks of "the fallen mighty (gibborim nophlim, גִּבֹּורִים נֹפְלִים) of the uncircumcised, which are gone down (yardu, יָרְדֽוּ) to the grave with their weapons of war"; a change to the vowels would produce the reading gibborim nephilim.
Cotton Mather believed that fossilized leg bones and teeth discovered near Albany, New York, in 1705 were the remains of Nephilim who perished in a great flood. However, Paleontologists have identified these as mastodon remains.
In the Hebrew Bible, there are a number of other words that, like "Nephilim", are sometimes translated as "giants":
The rendering "he fell upon, attacked" [in Symmachus, Genesis 6:6] is something of a puzzle...If it has been faithfully recorded, it may be related to the rendering of Aquila for the Nephilim in 6:4, οι επιπιπτοντες.