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. Greg Richard

    What is the difference between b’nai Elim and b’nai Elohim? Also, are you saying that the only Hebrew reference in the OT to b’nai Elohim is in Job 38:7?

    1. Julia Blum

      No, Greg, of course I am not saying that. Only in the book of Job we have it 3 times: Job 1:6, Job 2:1, Job 38:7. I have explicit references to these Scriptures in the article.

  2. Beth

    What about the Philistine giant that David fought and this Goliath’s brothers?

  3. Shoshi

    I appreciate as well, your sticking to the text.
    Regarding the angels of whom Yeshua refers, in Matt 22, I believe they chose not to marry.
    I, too see the sons of God, as referred to in Gen 6 and Job 38, as angelic beings.

  4. Brenda Hyde

    I like how you break this down but what throws me off is angels having children with humans. If that were true, angels would have had to be created to reproduce. It seems odd to me as I believe human creation was told to be fruitful and multiply….Maybe this will be explained in your next post.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Brenda, I know that many Christians are not so comfortable with this idea, angels having children with humans. However, I do believe that it’s exactly what the Scripture is telling us about; moreover, I do believe that this was the main reason for the flood. Definitely, you don’t have to accept it – but maybe you would still be interested to read my following posts on the flood.

    2. Andrew Sonne Ermocida

      Brenda, the angels (messengers) have power to assume human bodies, they are actually fallen from Celestial to terrestial. They were ‘Jealous and lusted for power over mankind rather than being ‘Servants as they had been created to be;

  5. ranto

    Hello,
    I must admit that your article is fascinating, however I would like to point out some of my thoughts on it.
    As already pointed out earlier :
    -The angels do not procreate nor marry (Matthew 22:30)
    -Sons of God (bnei Haelohim) could also refer to the posterity of Adam. If you look in Luke 3:38 says that Adam is son of God. Therefore, the Sons of Adam can be also considered the Sons of God.
    -Nephilim came from the hebrew word נָפַל naphal which means to fall/ fallen . If you compare Genesis 4 gives the posterity of Caïn (the fallen ones/the men) and Just right after Genesis 5 gives the posterity of Adam, the sons of God according to Luke 3:38. And continue the story in Genesis 6:4 stating that the Sons of God( posterity of Adam) took the daughters of men (posterity of Cain) as wives.

    The bible explained itself completely in that case.

    Of course the hosts of heavens can be called also Sons of God, but as stated earlier Luke 3:38 they do not marry nor procreate, so the verse is not talking about them.

    Best regards,

    1. Greg Richard

      Jesus is talking about the angels in heaven. Fallen angels are not in heaven. The Greek phrase for Adam as the son of God is not the same as the Hebrew phrase.

    2. NaCole

      They dont marry or procreate in HEAVEN. But when the fell to earth, different story.

    3. Shavon

      Hello Ranto. I’ve read your comment here and went straight to Matt 22:30. Isn’t is reasonable to interpret that scripture to say when the resurrection occurs, our relationships will get a “factory reset” and we’re just individuals that all serve the ultimate purpose to our source, instead of thinking that we will be resurrected lacking reproductive capacities?

      Even as I wrote this above my mind went to the story of where Lucifer the morning star of music fell along with 1/3 of heaven. It seems to me that the angels surely have a way they behave, unless they decide to rebel, where the consequence is to be booted out. If the angels could decide to sin, maybe it might be possible that they could sin by messing around reproductive. I know there’s probably no foolproof way to get at these answers, but gimme your best. Thanks