Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Who Were the Nephilim?

Alice C. Linsley

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.  Genesis 6:4

There is a simple explanation for this passage. The nephilim were the powerful ruling ancestors of Abraham's Horite Hebrew (the Horim). They are called gibbor-iym, which means the mighty ones. They are also called "the mighty men" of old.

The word "Nephilim" refers to "great ones," not giants. This is a reference to the "might men of old" (Gen. 10). Nephilim comes from the same root as the Aramaic npyl (nephil) which means giant as in great. This is equivalent to the Arabic nfy, meaning hunter. It is said concerning Nimrod that he was a “mighty hunter” or a “mighty man” before the Lord.

The reference is clearly to the early biblical kingdom builders such as Nimrod. They ruled over territories from Africa to Anatolia and from Arabia to Southern China. Among them were the ruler-priests, the Habiru (Hebrew) who served at the royal temples and shrines.

Among Abraham's ruler-priest ancestors, the high king was regarded as a "son of God" or a deified ruler. These "heroes of old" appear again in the book of Revelation where priests and angels are linked in the descriptions of the coming of the Son of Man. The Orthodox Study Bible (p. 1725) notes that the angelic powers represent the Old Testament priests who sounded their trumpets during the temple liturgy (Jos. 6:12; 1 Ch. 16:6; Ps. 97:6). The seven angels with their seven trumpets are accompanied by an angel who offers the prayers of the saints with a great amount of incense (Rev. 8:3). Their rulings houses, which originated in the Nile region, spread across the Levant and Mesopotamia and as far as Southern India. They were the great kingdom builders of the dawn of history, men such as Nimrod, the son of Kush (Gen. 10).

Two deified rulers about whom we have a good amount of information from archaeology are Ped-Isis and Pi-Hor, the sons of a metalworking ruler of Ku-pr. Kuper means "temple of Kush." The ancient Egyptian word for temple or house was pr. The Hapiru devotees of Horus called a temple O-piru, meaning "house of the Sun." Azu or Asa is an East African name for God. Sargon the Great's birth place was Azu-piranu which means “house of God” and is equivalent to the Hebrew word "Beth-el." The Horite Hebrew ruler-priests were called Hapiru in Akkadian Cuneiform, and the word actually means "human." The Egyptians called the temple attendants ˁprw, the w being the plural suffix.

Clearly belief in a deified son who would embody kindness and unite the peoples found fulfillment in Jesus Christ, a descendant of the Horite Hebrew ruler-priests, the divine son of the Virgin Mary, daughter of the priest Joachim of the line of Nathan. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham's Hebrew ancestors in Eden (Gen. 3:15).

Angels or Ancestors?

It is commonly believed that the Nephilim were fallen angels who had intercourse with human females in Noah’s time and produced a race of giants. The apparent intention of this reference is to highlight the disordered affairs of men and justify the destruction brought by Noah's flood.  The flood was perceived to be God's punishment of the unrighteous.  However, the nephilim were likely righteous rulers who were Abraham's ancestors.  The resurrection from the dead was believed to depend on the righteousness of the ruler.

The notion of one kind of created being mating with a distinct kind of creature is entirely foreign to the biblical wordview which maintains strict boundaries between "kinds" and would regard such an event as a violation of God-established boundaries.  In this sense, it is apparent that Genesis 6:4 is intended to show disorder in the creation.

However, this interpretation of Genesis 6:4 poses many difficulties. Those who hold to a worldwide flood must explain how there continued to be Nephilim after the time of Noah if all were destroyed in the Flood? Also, angels were not created to sexually reproduce. Jesus states that the angels neither marry nor are given in marriage. There is also the evidence of the words “and also afterwards” which suggest that a story about the time of Noah has been conflated with a story from Numbers 13:33: “there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, which come of the Nephilim”.

The intepretation of fallen angels rests on the assumption that the word nephilim is the masculine plural participle of Hebrew naphal, meaning to fall, but this is not conclusive. In the Book of Daniel the Aramaic term used to denote angels is "watchers" (`îrîn). Each is also called "watcher and holy one" (`îr weqadîsh). The term "watcher" implies that angels are to act as God's sentinels, as were the angels appointed to guard the entrance to Eden.

These watchers appear in literature that post-dates the earliest material in Genesis. They are mentioned in Vedic (Sanskrit) texts which tell of gods begetting children with humans. They appear in the Epic of Gilgamesh, in the Lamech scrolls, and in The Book of Enoch which states that 200 "Watchers" descended to earth in the time of Jared and instructed men in the arts and sciences. The term appears in the book of Daniel which has a Babylonian context.

The evidence then points to a gloss on the text by someone versed in extra-biblical Babylonian texts. This conception of the Nephilim isn't consistent with the worldview of the African Noah. However, because both the Babylonians and Abraham's people are Afro-Asiatics, there must be some points of contact and an older layer that points to Africa. This is found in the hint that the watchers might be ancestor spirits or the souls of deified persons. In this view the word nephil is related to the Hebrew nefesh (soul) and to the Swahili nafsi (soul).

An ancestor in traditional African religion is someone who died a good death, practiced the traditions of his people and faithfully transmitted them to his descendants. A first-born son is most likely to become an ancestor because he is able to maintain the chain of the generation in a long genealogy.This African view of the nephilim fits the author's identification of the nephilim with the gibborim or "heroes of old" who are "men of renown" (Gen. 6:4). These rulers were regarded as "sons of God", as was the case with the rulers of ancient Egypt who were required to make a pilgrimage to "The Land of the Gods" prior to their ascent to the throne. They are believed to have the power to visit their descendents in dreams and visions and to interceed for them in death.

Peoples of central Africa believe that the greater a ruler in life, the more powerful his spirit after death. Deified ancestor rulers stand between the living and the Creator. The spirits of righteous ancestor rulers continue after death to seek good for their people. Malevolent spirits bring evil and can "sleep" with human women. In west Africa these dream visitors are called 'night husbands' or 'spirit husbands.' (The Latins of antiquity similarly believed in sexual encounters with incubi and succubi.) The African notion is the more primitive layer and the most likely background for Genesis 6:1-4.

Consider Tswana poet Gabriel M. Setiloane's words:

Ah, . . . yes . . . it is true.
They are very present with us
The dead are not dead; they are ever near us;
Approving and disapproving all our actions,
They chide us when we go wrong,
Bless us and sustain us for good deeds done,
For kindness shown, and strangers made to feel at home.
They increase our store, and punish our pride.

[Excerpt from "How the Traditional World-View Persists in the Christianity of the Sotho-Tswana," in Christianity in Independent Africa, Edward Fashole-Luke, ed., Indiana University Press, 1978, p. 407].

This description of watching ancestors fits the Genesis depiction of the Nephilim as the "heroes of old" or "men of renown". A 2008 discovery in southeastern Turkey of the funeral stele of a royal official indicates that Abraham's Nilotic ancestors believed the soul of the ancestor survives after death. The Aramaic word for soul that appears on the stele is "nabsh". Aramaic was spoken throughout northern Syria and parts of Mesopotamia in the eighth century BC.

The Nephilim probably originally related to human ancestors, not to angelic beings. The Genesis 6:4 reference appears to be a later gloss on the text and serves the purpose of highlighting disorder in the creartion.  However, it reflects a worldview quite contrary to that of Abraham's Kushite ancestors and comes instead from a time and culture like that of the dualistic Persians or the Helenized Jews.

Nonetheless, the question remains: are Daniel's "watchers" angels or the deified ancestors who the Bible might speak of as resting in the bosom of Abraham?

Related reading: Righteous Rulers and the Resurrection; The Seventh Seal and Silence in HeavenHorite Deified Sons; Why Does Genesis Speak of Gods?Abraham's Kushite Ancestors; Angels and Demons: The Prometheus Connection; UFOs in Genesis; The Bosom of Abraham


Osmund Kilrule said...

Would the "Watchers" connect with the cabalist idea of egregore?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Eliphas Levi refers to egregors in his book The Great Secret, Thorson Publishers Ltd., 1975. Chapter 10. For Levi these are not ancestor spirits but cosmic powers of nature. He states, "These colossal forces have sometimes taken a shape and have appeared in the guise of giants: these are the egregors of the Book of Enoch." (p. 127). There is a connection between the Book of Enoch and cabalistic mysticism, certainly.

Later Levi calls the egregors "the celestial watchers." (p. 129) His conception is influenced more by the Babylonian Talmud than by Genesis. Given the African cultural context of Abraham's people, I think the original idea was ancestor spirits, which to this day are reverenced in Africa.

Both views are found in the Bible, in Genesis and in Daniel. This simply highlights the fact that the Bible presents an Afro-Asiatic worldview.

Good question, Momomakh! It is always good to hear from you.

chas0x01 said...

I'm wondering if this blog is still being monitored? I have an alternate theory on the identity of the Nephilim that I'd like to relate.

Michelle said...

Thank you for researching and sharing your thoughts on this most interesting topic!

Alice C. Linsley said...


Thanks for reading!

chas0x01 said...

Hello Alice. I was reading through 1st Enoch and what struck me was that this story of Watchers and Nephilim might be an Aryan creation myth. Nephilim seems to be very similar to Niflheim, which in Norse/Germanic mythology is the icy underworld of the 'Giants' that's ruled by a Goddess named Hel.

And from Genesis 6, Japheth appears to be a corruption of Japetus, who was the lone Titan (and his family) who survived the flood.

So from this it occurred to me that the Nephilim might actually be Aryans, or to be specific, a proto-Scythian people known as the Dnieper–Donets.

Here, Revelation 20 seems to associate Magog with Satan:

"7 When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth—Gog and Magog"

And Magog is identified as Scythia by ancient historians like Flavius Josephus. So there would seem to be a great deal of continuity of this 'Satanic' theme from the antediluvian period into the post-flood world.

I was just wondering what you thought of that possibility.

Thanks, cg.

Alice C. Linsley said...

There are similarities in names across many peoples. The names of Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sara, for example, appear in Hinduism. This indicates that the names pertain to very ancient material, stories, myths, accounts, etc. However, the cultural context changes the meanings.

The Book of Enoch and the Norse Myths are fairly late, compared to the material in Genesis. The later the material, the more likely it has morphed.

The tendency to see a certain groups of people or a line of descent as satanic, or under a curse, is contrary to what the Bible teaches.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article. The Niflheim seem like you said are great men of old. How in the world did we get to a point to even suggest that they were the result of angels and human females mating? My general concern beyond Great men of old --the more I read your blog--the more I go into deeper reflection and thought is are there some historians who have tried to wipe out any and all references to red, black skinned tone people? My current thought is as follows: what are they teaching in seminary to students? I am sure there are preaches who somewhat agree with you but they must satisfy the masses in their congregations. My father-in-law who is a scientist told me some time ago that there are myth stories in the bible. I did not understand him at the time. I may not agree with all your points but I am in deep reflection about them. My African-American background and just general intuitive tells me that many have tried to erase any type of skin tone from the bible that is red, black, hues of such, etc. My heart tells me that, regardless-- my faith is strong. It saddens me that so much of biblical history was presented to my generation down in the southern states of America as all white. Those who have the power controls the stories--- your blog is interesting and soemtimes I don't know what to make of it, but it is interesting. All of this makes me question and will always think about the preacher in the pulpit and how that person may view anthropological data concerning Genesis. So much to think about---

Alice C. Linsley said...

The problem is much bigger than racism. The whole of American academia is blind to the history of ancient Africa and the Nilo-Saharan roots of Messianic expectation. They persist in ignoring the evidence of linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, DNA studies, climate change that drove migration, and marriage and ascendancy pattern of the Kushite rulers and their ancestors that also drove expansion out of Africa.

Hang in there! The Truth - Jesus Christ is Truth - will prevail in the end and all the world will known when our Righteous Ruler appears.