The Story Of Flood You Did Not Know (i)

Does Nephilim mean “Giants”?

My dear readers, I didn’t plan to write about “Nephilim” – at least I didn’t plan it for this post – however, since I mentioned the word in my last article several people have asked me about it, so I decided to address the subject here. For many people, the beginning of the 6th chapter of Genesis, where the word Nephilim comes from, is one of the most baffling passages of the Bible:

 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.[1]

Remarkably, some translations have here the word ‘giants’, instead of ‘Nephilim’:

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.[2]

As if to make this story even more complicated, scripture also mentions Nephilim after the flood: in the well-known story in Numbers 13, where Moses sent twelve spies to scout out the land, and all the spies, except Caleb and Joshua, brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched, saying:

 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.[3]

 Once again, King James Version translates the word “Nephilim” here as            “giants”:

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.[4]

For centuries,  people have debated whether the “sons of God” expression refers to angels or to men, and just who these Nephilim/giants were. As in the case of Melchizedek, this story also gains much more clarity when read in Hebrew.

 

PARDES

However, before we delve into our story and use some Hebrew, I would like to introduce here four different levels of Biblical interpretation in Judaism: PARDES. The term PaRDeS is an acronym formed from the initials of these four levels, which are:

Peshat (פְּשָׁט) “plain”, “straight” – the direct, literal meaning of Scripture;

Remez (רֶמֶז) “hint” – the deeper, symbolic meaning, beyond the literal sense;

Derash (דְּרַשׁ) “to inquire”, “to seek” – the comparative meaning: a deeper meaning obtained from a passage by comparing its words and content to similar passages;

Sod (סוֹד) “secret” ,  “mystery” – the deeper meaning, revealed only through inspiration or revelation.

Thus, Peshat means the literal interpretation; Remez is the non-literal, or allegorical meaning; Derash refers to the expanded comparative meaning; Sod represents the hidden, secret meaning of the text.

There is something I should add here: This word pardes ( פַּרְדֵּ֣ס) that was chosen by our sages to symbolize the different levels of  interpretation of  scripture, means “garden” or “orchard” in Hebrew, and comes from the Song of Solomon:

Your plants are an orchard (pardes) of pomegranates
With pleasant fruits,
Fragrant henna with spikenard [5]

An orchard might be filled with the most fragrant scents and the most delectable tastes, but one has to walk through it and sample the fruit of the trees in order to appreciate the tastes and smells. Yes, even from  outside you can peek in , even from outside, you can  try to recognize which trees grow there – however, it is only when you go inside, when you walk through the garden, when you really see and taste the fruits, that the garden also becomes for you an orchard, or pardes. (If you are interested to see the examples of PARDES interpretation, you can read my book, Abraham had two sons[6], which is written according to the four levels of PARDES).

 

SONS OF GOD

Now we have all the necessary tools to delve into our story. First of all, let us try to understand who “the sons of God” were. The Hebrew words translated “the sons of God” are b’nai ha Elohim, ‎בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙. Does the Torah mean angels, or just “the sons of rulers”, or “the sons of the nobles”, as some Jewish translations translate b’nai ha Elohim here? We have “the sons of the princes” in Targumim, and “the sons of the Judges” in Midrashim[7] in fact, the “angelic interpretation” (that they were angels, or some kind of divine beings) is almost non-existent in Judaism. Many of you probably know that the noun הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ (Elohim) is in a plural form, and it can be read not only as “God”, but also as ‘gods” or even “lords, rulers”, and this is exactly how the Jewish commentaries choose to read this word in this particular verse.

However, if we study the use of this expression   בְנֵי־הָֽאֱלֹהִים֙ in Tanach, we will see a completely different picture. There is no better commentary to the Bible than the Bible itself, and for that reason, we will use the “derash” technique to compare our passage with other similar passages.

The expression “sons of God” doesn’t occur many times in Tanach. The next time we encounter this expression is in Job 1:6:  Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them. We have the same expression again in Job 2:1: Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.

 Nobody questions the meaning of “the sons of God” here: We all know that these verses describe the Divine Council – a meeting in Heaven – therefore, the “sons of God” here are obviously not humans, but angels, who are meeting with God.  Notice that the words in Hebrew translated as “the sons of God” here, are exactly the same as in Genesis 6:2: בְּנֵ֣י הָאֱלֹהִ֔ים  – b’nai ha Elohim.

The next (and the last, at least in Hebrew[8]) reference to “the sons of God” in Tanach is again in the book of Job, in chapter 38. Speaking about the creation of the universe, God is saying: I laid the foundations of the earth… When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.[9]

From this verse[10],  we can see that the sons of God existed even before the earth itself was created.  This indicates that every use of the term: b’nai ha Elohim or b’nai Elohim in the Old Testament, is, in fact,  a reference to angelic beings. Thus, we can conclude that “the sons of God” in Genesis 6 also refers to angels.

Now, that we’ve established that “the sons of God” were angels, we can try to understand the story of Nephilim – and we will do it in our next post.[11]

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Gen. 6:4, NIV

[2] Gen. 6:4, KJV

[3] Num 13:33, NIV

[4] Num 13:33, KJV

[5] Song of Solomon 4:13

[6] You can get the book from my website:  readjuliablum.com

[7] Gen. Rabbah 26:5

[8] In Ps 29:1, we have B’nai Elim (בְּנֵי אֵלִים) – sons of elim.

[9] Job 38:4,7

[10] In Hebrew, it is b’nai Elohim here, without the definite article.

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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Join the conversation (44 comments)

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  1. Pip Corteen

    some interesting comments! So far Julia, I am in total agreement with your exegesis! I am glad I learnt about the pomegranate!
    I also take a bit of notice of the entertaining and intrepid LA Marzulli and his research on the sons of Anak. More strange things on this earth than we can know! It IS interesting though to consider myths and legends from other cultures.

    However I’m glad that you are sticking to the text, and what I would have called ‘hermeneutics’.

    Glad I found your blog.
    Shalom
    Pip

  2. Lynn Craig

    Hi Julia Blum:
    I just read your installment and all the comments, can hardly wait for tomorrow to come and read the further study on this subject….
    I was thinking perhaps the angels cannot breed between themselves but discovered they can with humans….a so called forbidden fruit for angelic beings.
    I have found that the Bible traces the bloodline of one family and the flood not only rid the earth of “Nephilim offspring “but also of Cains’ bloodline…God being Omnipotent is then, now and not yet….If he did not interfere with the “breeding stock” and his plan for it then Cain’s tainted bloodline or the Nephilim offspring may of intersected and polluted Mary’s bloodline and Mary would not be born to bore our Saviour to be the ONLY Begotten “Son of God”.

  3. Ofenia Antonini de Souza

    Querida Julia, boa tarde. Não estudei Teologia e nem Hebraico. Fiz Faculdade de Letras, sem traço algum de Bíblia e sou competente apenas como professora. Amo a Palavra de Deus, desde minha tenra infância e um livro intitulado “O Outro Sinai”. Essa afirmação de Gn 6.4 tem muitas vezes tirado meu sono. Tenho uma Bíblia Hebraica Completa traduzida, mas nessa passagem a afirmação de que “eles também são carne” me incomoda. Eles, quem? Fico pensando em, quantos anos Adão e Eva viveram no Jardim? Eles foram ordenados a “crescer e se multiplicar” Pergunto, e preciso de um sim, ou não, ou talvez. Não seriam “eles” filhos de Adão e Eva antes do pecado? Eles parecem ser especiais, só por serem gigantes, pois havia outros. Minha ideia é pertinente? Aguardo seu feedback com entusiasmo. Abraços, sua, Ofenia Antonini de Souza.

  4. Ralston bishlaam Jansen

    Shalom Ma’am

    Thank you for the article, I am battling to reconcile a few issues thought.

    1. Reproduction is always according to its kind – why were only men reproduced and no angels (besides the fact the angels do not marry not take in marriage) The laws of DNA dictates that the stronger DNA during procreation dominates within the created.

    2. The designation Son of GOD was to CHRIST and the WORD clearly states to no angels has this designation been given.

    3. After CHRIST those who are lead by the SPIRIT are Sons of GOD (Rom 8v14, Gal 4v6, Phl 2v15, 1 John 1-2)

    4. If the the Nephilim were destroyed in the flood, did Noah’s daughters have sex again with Angels after the flood.

    5. We find no judgement on the angels or the result of their procreation. Noah preaches to man, but no mention of these hybrid beings. Further JESUS mentions the days of Noah, but is surprisingly silent on the Hybrid beings. Surely HE would warn us of this immorality since our day will be as those day. Notice JESUS here speaks only of men marrying and giving in marriage.

    I think Gen 4,5 and six have a chronological order. Gen 4 clearly describes a men choosing a wicked path. Gen 5 clearly describes the sons of GOD (faithful at that point) and the Gen six picks up from their.

    1. Carlos Miller

      Read the book of Enoch it explains it.

      1. Julia Blum

        Amazing timing Carlos! I just started a new series, and the series is on the Book of Enoch. I just published my first post from the series.

  5. Susan Schinzig

    Are they coming again? Will it all happen again (soon)?

  6. Gari Spire

    Neanderthals?

  7. Dolores

    I find your study very interesting and plan to keep on continuing on following your research. Thank you for sharing.
    Some comments are very thoughtful also. Is there more clarification about whom the Nephilim are or were? I guess I cannot be rigid in my thinking.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Dolores, for your kind words. In this week’s post, we will discuss Nephilim, so – stay tuned and come back Thursday!

  8. Dellareese

    Very very interesting.

  9. Evan

    Some interesting food for thought that few people seem to consider is the fact that in virtually every primitive religion or belief system or ancient mythology, regardless of where on the globe we look, there’s always a story of a catastrophic flood associated with “gods” mating with human women, producing offspring with astonishing capabilities. We know that angels can take on human form from the story of Abraham literally feeding them a meal before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And of course, we know what the men of Sodom wanted to do with them when they got to Lot’s house, clearly indicating a physical, corporeal form. Perhaps the hybrid angelic/human offspring was a creature unintended by the Creator, which would be a plausible explanation for why God went to such extreme measures as a global flood to mitigate the problem. And perhaps that explains what Peter and Jude are referring to in the New Testament when they speak of angels sinning by leaving their assigned habitation, or transgressing some type of boundary, that are now imprisoned awaiting judgment (2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 1:6).

    1. Julia Blum

      Absolutely! Thank you, Evan! This “angelic ” view helps us understand some additional places in the Bible (both Tanach and NT) that otherwise seem vague and “strange”. And you are right, of course, regarding the Flood: in many cultures we find stories about great flood, and there is agreement between biblical and other flood stories on many details – however, the biblical account presents God’s view of the event, and all these stories are the human reflections of the same event.

  10. Dorothy Healy

    This post has certainly sparked some interest and, like Shelley and others, I look forward to the unfolding story. 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.