The Story Of Flood You Did Not Know (ii)

As I mentioned in the previous post, I hadn’t planned on writing on the Flood at this point. And definitely, I hadn’t planned on making a series on this subject. However, I received so many comments, questions and different opinions after my last article, that I’ve realized I have no choice but to go into more detail in this story. Thus – we have a new subseries THE STORY OF FLOOD YOU MAY NOT KNOW inside of the main series: THE BIBLE STORIES YOU DIDN’T KNOW.

These verses in Genesis 6 have been the subject of discussions for a long time. Many respected scholars have commented on this topic over the years, and the identity of the Nephilim and the sons of God is still being debated even today. So of course, I don’t expect you to accept my view as the only correct one. My goal here is to bring into this discussion some Hebrew insights and to make you familiar with some Jewish techniques and opinions. Judaism believes that every word of the Torah comes from God – but not that every word of it has a singular meaning. My articles attempt to reflect this open-ended quality of the Torah.

My last post was about the “sons of God”, and the following discussion opened a dissent of opinions. Therefore, perhaps I need to add a few words here. “The fallen angels” view – the one that I advocated – is one of the most prevalent interpretations of this story. In the previous article, we used the Derash technique and saw that this view stemmed from angels being called “sons of God”, or interpreted as such in Job 1:6, 2:1, and 38:7.

I already mentioned that this “angelic interpretation” (the idea that the “sons of God” were angels, or some kind of divine beings) is almost non-existent in modern Judaism. It’s important to note, though, that for a long time, “the angel view” had been predominant in many extra-biblical Jewish writings (the book of Enoch for example: 1 Enoch 6-11, usually dated c. 200 B.C, clearly identifies the “sons of God” as angels). However, later Jewish commentators choose to read the noun הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ (Elohim) as a plural form, and therefore b’nai ha Elohim here became “the sons of the rulers”, “the sons of the nobles”, “the sons of the princes” or “the sons of the Judges”.

We might note here that, if they were simply the sons of the rulers, or of the nobles, who took simple girls as their wives, their parents, the nobles and the rulers, might not have been happy with these unions – but why God? God doesn’t care about social differences and different statuses. As Dorothy Healy wrote in her comment here: “One thing does seem clear from the text: that ‘the sons of god’ are differentiated from ‘the daughters of men’ i.e. they came from a different sphere, and their procreation was certainly not according to the will of God”. Let us think logically: if “the sons of God” are opposed to “the daughters of men” – doesn’t that mean that they were not ‘sons of men’ and therefore not human: they were “angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode“.

In order to understand the nature of the Nephilim, let us turn again to our Derash technique and seek a comparative meaning – a deeper meaning obtained from a passage by comparing its words and content to similar passages elsewhere. We already know that the Torah also mentions Nephilim after the flood, in Numbers 13, when Moses sent twelve spies to scout out the land. All the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched. They were absolutely frightened by what (or whom) they had seen. Who did they see, then?
We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.
The words in the brackets are very interesting: what does it mean that the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim? Once again, we will need some Hebrew here. The original text says: בני ענק מן-הנפלים -bnei Anak min-haNephilim. The Hebrew word “Anak” ( ענק ) – simply transliterated as “Anak” in the English text – means “giant”. So, our Hebrew text literally says: “We saw giants from the Nephilim”.

The response that Joshua and Caleb gave to the congregation of Israel is even more interesting: “… do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them”

First of all, it is quite remarkable that, even though several parts of the ”bad report” were challenged by Joshua and Caleb, they did not challenge the information about giants. They didn’t say: ‘what are you talking about? There were no giants there, we haven’t seen any giants!’ It seems that these “giants from the Nephilim” were indeed in the Land, if Joshua and Caleb didn’t dispute the fact.

But there is some additional, absolutely intriguing information, that we discover in their answer in Hebrew. In English, we have this convenient, “normal” text: Their protection is gone, – but you wouldn’t believe what the original Hebrew text is saying here. Joshua and Caleb are saying about the people of the land: ‎”Their shadow is gone!” סָ֣ר צִלָּ֧ם מֵעֲלֵיהֶ֛ם The Hebrew text doesn’t speak of any protection, it speaks of shadow only: Their shadow is gone, and the Lord is with us!

Are you surprised by this expression? Trust me, I was also infinitely surprised when I made this discovery. And I am not claiming anything – I am just letting you know that the literal meaning (Peshat) of these words refers to Nephilim’s shadow: ‘their shadow is gone!” Definitely, we can still understand it at Remez (allegorical) level, as an implied meaning of “protection” – and to read it as “protection”, of course, would be much more convenient and traditional; we have to remember, though, that one of the main rules of the Jewish hermeneutic states that all the higher levels (starting from Remez/Allegory) should not contradict Peshat: As a general rule, the extended meaning never contradicts the base meaning.

This expression: ‘their shadow is gone!” – occurs only once in the whole Torah, only here, and I think you will agree that it is very peculiar remark. I don’t know about you, but it gives me chills. As Michael Heiser wrote in his wonderful book, “seeing the Bible through the eyes of an ancient reader requires shedding the filters of our traditions and presumptions”. And our study of Nephilim is not even finished yet: next time, we will continue (and hopefully finish) this research. Only after that, with all this knowledge obtained, can we really delve into “the Story of Flood that you may not know”.

If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew Bible, I would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount) regarding eTeacher courses. I also encourage you to read my book, Abaraham had two sons: this is the first (and the only) Messianic book that is written according to PARDES layers of meaning, and it will give you a taste of this approach to Jewish biblical exegesis (click here to get the book: Read Julia Blum )

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. M. Weizmann

    First, I must disagree and say that b’nei Anak is actually speaking of the sons of Anak, which are also mentioned in v.28 of Numbers 13…yelidei ha’anak (descendants of the Anak).

    Second, I disagree that 14.9 means “shadow”. The same word (tzilam) is used in Genesis 1:26 (betzelem) meaning “in [the] image”. Now this word, tzilam may very well be from the root word meaning “shadow” but that kind of language here is very confusing. All images are shadows of something else. It would make sense that v. 9 is speaking about their image being gone, that is, their idol. As if to say, “look their protection is gone (their idol) but we still have our G-d with us”.

    Finally, the word nephilim is in a part of Pesukei D’zimrah in Ashrei that is said every morning by us during Shacharit. For those who are not familiar with Ashrei, then this part is also in Tehillim (Psalms) 145:14 “The L-rd supports all ha-nophim (the fallen)…” So then only one question remains: Did the descendants/sons of Anak fall? Joshua 11:21-22 states they did.

  2. Dorothy Healy

    Whilst I commented above on the ‘shadow’ perhaps being the ‘image of God’, perhaps I could throw another thought into the mix with regard to the ‘shadow’ of the Nephilim.
    We read in v.9, the words of Joshua and Caleb: “…for they are bread for us: their ‘defence’ is departed from them, and the LORD is with us: fear them not.” I think we need to take this whole sentence into consideration in our deliberation. There seems no doubt to me that they are saying there is no need to fear them BECAUSE their ‘shadow/defence’ has departed, and WE have our God with us. If we read this as a literal ‘shadow’, or indeed the ‘image of God’, then I can’t see the connection to NOT needing to fear them.
    I can, however, see another possibility: that, if they had heritage from the ‘sons of god’ – supernatural (spiritual) beings – they would have inherited their “image/shadow” – their evil ways, power and strength. Quite possibly, these inhabiting spirits would have KNOWN they were no match for God Himself, and when they saw the power of faith in Joshua & Caleb, the evil spirits inhabiting the Nephilim (the image/shadow of the sons of god) may have fled, knowing they had no right to be there, leaving them weak and helpless before God Almighty.

  3. Ken Ammi

    Just as an FYI I have posted a chart which elucidates which early Jewish and also Christian writers took the “angel view” and which did not:

  4. Bödvar Björgvinsson

    Thank you!
    Very enlighening.