The Bad Seed
Chapters 12 and 13 are grouped together on this site since the two chapters jointly deal with the same subject matter: the sons of God episode in Gen 6:1-4 and the nephilim.
Note that the nephilim are linked to the giant clans of later biblical history (i.e., the era of the conquest). Discussion of the giant clans and nephilim connections are the subject of Chapters 23, 24, and 25. Certain points of controversy regarding the nephilim are therefore discussed in those chapters.
Bibliography Included in the Book
Amar Annus, “On the Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 19.4 (2010): 277–320
Helge S. Kvanvig, Primeval History: Babylonian, Biblical, and Enochic (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism 149; Leiden: Brill, 2011)
- As I noted in the page for Chapter 12 on this site, in my judgment, the work of Annus and Kvanvig (above) are the most important contributions for understanding Gen. 6:1-4 in its original context. Annus’ treatment of the Mesopotamian parallels supersedes all work done on that subject to date. He shows with great clarity how the Mesopotamian apkallu traditions are the backdrop to Gen. 6:1-4 (and therefore the supernatural backdrop against which it was written and must be understood), along with how Second Temple Jewish writers comprehended the Mesopotamian backdrop. Subsequent Christian tradition (i.e., the church fathers) knew nothing of this backdrop, and so early church interpretations that produced the Sethite view violate the text’s original context. Any work on Gen 6:1-4 that seeks to defend a non-supernaturalist view and does not seriously interact with the treatment of the original context for the passage discussed by Annus and Kvanvig via primary sources can be safely ignored. See other work by Kvanvig below under additional bibliography.
- The recent work by Doak (see below) unfortunately does not interact with either Annus’ “Watchers” article or Kvanvig’s Primeval History study. Doak asks (p. 65) why an Israelite author would write such a story as Gen 6:1-4. Annus (in particular) and Kvanvig have answered that question, and I’ve distilled their work in Chapters 12-13 of Unseen Realm.
- Annus’ work and conclusions have been strengthened by detailed work on one item he brings up but does not develop — the connections between the giant offspring and the evil spirits (demons) in the Akkadian bilingual texts known as Utukkū Lemnūtu. Those texts are the focus of Drawnel’s article in the additional bibliography (“The Mesopotamian Background of the Enochic Giants and Evil Spirits”). Here is the abstract for Drawnel’s essay:
In the myth of the fallen Watchers (1 En. 6–11) the giants, illegitimate offspring of the fallen angels, are depicted as exceedingly violent beings that consume the labour of all the sons of men. They also kill men, devour them, and drink blood. Finally, they sin against all the animals of the earth. The violent behaviour of the giants in 1 En. 7:2–5 continues in 1 En. 15:11 where the spirits of the giants attack humanity, thus it appears that the spirits behave in a manner similar to that of the giants. The present article argues that the description of the giants in 1 En. 7:2–5 and their spirits in 15:11 is modeled after the violent behaviour of the demons found in the Mesopotamian bilingual series Utukkū Lemnūtu. The giants, therefore, are not to be identified with the Mesopotamian warrior-kings, but their behaviour rather indicates that they actually are violent and evil demons.
S. Bhayro, The Shemihazah and Asael Narrative of 1 Enoch 6-11: Introduction, Text, Translation and Commentary with Reference to Ancient Near Eastern Antecedents (Alter Orient und Altes Testament 322; Münster: Ugarit Verlag, 2005)
George W. E. Nickelsburg, “Scripture in 1 Enoch and 1 Enoch as Scripture,” in Texts and Contexts: Biblical Texts in Their Textual and Situational Contexts: Essays in Honor of Lars Hartman (Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1995), 333-54
Victor Matthews, Old Testament Parallels (rev. and exp. ed.; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2007), 21–42
John H. Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994)
Bill Arnold and Brian Beyer, Readings from the Ancient Near East: Primary Sources for Old Testament Study (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2002)
Richard S. Hess and David Toshio Tsumura, eds., I Studied Inscriptions from before the Flood: Ancient Near Eastern, Literary, and Linguistic Approaches to Genesis 1–11, SBTS 4 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1994)
Alan Millard and W. G. Lambert, Atra-Hasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood with the Sumerian Flood Story (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2010)
Anne Draffkorn Kilmer, “The Mesopotamian Counterparts of the Biblical Nepilim,” in Perspectives on Language and Text: Essays and Poems in Honor of Francis I. Andersen’s Sixtieth Birthday, July 28, 1985 (ed. Edgar W. Conrad and Edward G. Newing; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1987): 39–44
Andrew George, The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic: Introduction, Critical Edition and Cuneiform Texts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)
Andrew George, “The Gilgamesh Epic at Ugarit,” Aula Orientalis 25 (2007): 237–54
Wayne Horowitz, Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1998)
Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “The ‘Angels’ and ‘Giants’ of Genesis 6:1–4 in Second and Third Century BCE Jewish Interpretation: Reflections on the Posture of Early Apocalyptic Traditions,” Dead Sea Discoveries 7.3 (2000): 354–77
John C. Collins, “Watcher,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 2nd ed. (ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst; Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1999)
J. C. Reeves, “Utnapishtim in the Book of the Giants?” Journal of Biblical Literature 112 (1993): 110-15
Matthew Goff, “Gilgamesh the Giant: The Qumran Book of Giants’ Appropriation of Gilgamesh Motifs,” Dead Sea Discoveries 16 (2009): 221-53
Brian Doak, The Last of the Rephaim: Conquest and Cataclysm in the Heroic Ages of Ancient Israel, Ilex Series 7 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013)
Ida Frölich, “Mesopotamian Elements and the Watchers Traditions,” in The Watchers in Jewish and Christian Traditions (ed. Angela Kim Hawkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John Endres; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014), 11–24
Henryk Drawnel, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Enochic Giants and Evil Spirits,” Dead Sea Discoveries 21:1 (2014): 14-38
James C. VanderKam, “Genesis 6:2-4 and the Angel Stories in The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36),” in The Fallen Angels Traditions: Second Temple Developments and Reception History (ed. Angela Kim Harkins, Kelley Coblenz Bautch, and John C. Endres, S.J.; Catholic Biblical Monograph Series 53; Washington, D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Association, 2014), 1-7
G. Cooke, “The Sons of (the) God(s),” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 35 (1964): 22–47
David J. A. Clines, “The Significance of the ‘Sons of God’ Episode (Genesis 6: 1-4) in the Context of the ‘Primeval History’ (Genesis 1-11),” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 13:3 (1979): 33-46
Willem A. VanGemeren, “The Sons of God in Genesis 6:1-4 (An Example of Evangelical De-Mythologization?),” Westminster Theological Journal 43:2 (1981): 320-348
John J. Collins, “The Sons of God and the Daughters of Men,” in Sacred Marriages: The Divine-Human Sexual Metaphor from Sumer to Early Christianity (ed. Marti Nissinen and Risto Uro; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 259-274
Helge S. Kvanvig, “Gen 6, 1-4 as an Antediluvian Event,” Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament 16, no. 1 (2002): 79-112
Helge S. Kvanvig, “The Watchers Story, Genesis and Atra-hasis: A Triangular Reading,” Henoch 24, no. 1/2 (2002): 17-22.
Michael S. Heiser, “Rephaim,” Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA, 2015)
There are a few items to take a bit further that were part of this chapter.
First, I noted in this chapter that it’s my view that the word nephilim is best understood as an Aramaic noun (naphiyl / naphı̂l / emph: naphı̂la) used by the biblical writers, who then, naturally, gave it a plural Hebrew ending (-im). My reason for this position should be clear. This is the only understanding of the word that accounts for all the necessary elements below:
a) pays attention to the morphology (the vowel pointing) of nephilim (middle i vowel, written fully / plene in Num. 13:33);
b) produces a meaning of “giant” (i.e., honors the descriptions that go with the term and those people said to descend from the nephilim);
c) is consistent with the Mesopotamian (apkallu) contextual backdrop of the Gen 6:1-4 polemic.
No other understanding of the term accounts for everything.
Understanding the term as meaning “those who fall upon” or “those who fell” requires a different morphology: נֹפְלים (nōphelîm). Likewise, the passive “those who are fallen” requires נְפוּלִִים (nephûlîm).
Some scholars refer the discussion to Ezek 32:27, where we have the term נֹפְלים (nōphelîm). The verse has some other terms found in Gen 6:
And they do not lie with the mighty (gibborim), the fallen (nōphelîm) from among the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war, whose swords were laid under their heads, and whose iniquities are upon their bones; for the terror of the mighty men (gibborim) was in the land of the living.
Presuming that this passage in Ezekiel is speaking of the nephilim of Gen 6:4 and Num. 13:33 in order to justify saying nephilim means “fallen ones” (and not “giants”) is flawed, for it fails to address these points:
1) Gibborim as a term is often used of normal-sized warriors. That is, it’s a term that doesn’t have to be describing people of unusual height — people who’d descended from the rebel sons of God and were therefore quasi-supernatural enemies of Yahweh and Israel. It’s rather easy to demonstrate that this context simply cannot be taken to other occurrences of gibbor / gibborim. In Deut 10:17; Neh 9:32 God is referred to as a gibbor (the singular of gibborim). This description of God occurs elsewhere several times. When Joshua invaded Ai, he chose 30,000 gibborim from among the ranks of the Israelites for the fight (Josh 8:3; cp. Josh 10:7). Boaz, in the line of David (and thus Jesus) was a gibbor (Ruth 2:1). Saul’s son Jonathan is referred to as a gibbor (2 Sam 1:25, 27).
2) The fact that the Septuagint translates gibborim in Ezek 32:27 with gigantes (“giant”) decides nothing. The Septuagint renders gibborim (and rephaim) inconsistently since (per the examples above) gibbor / gibborim very obviously doesn’t have giants in mind in many passages. The Septuagint translators choice in Ezek 32:27 isn’t an inspired interpretive commentary on the content.
3) The biblical writers who pointed the text of Ezek 32:27 obviously knew how nephilim was spelled in those passages where the contextual descriptions include giantism (i.e., Num 13). Had the Masoretic scribes wanted to telegraph that the consonants n-p-l-m were to be understood as those giants referred to back in Num 13:33 (which refers to Gen 6:4), they would have pointed the text that way. They didn’t.
4) Arguing that נֹפְלים (nōphelîm) in Ezek 32:27 means “nephilim” means “fallen ones” (and not giants) requires ignoring the biblical tradition about Sheol that ignores the Rephaim presence in Sheol. Recall that, in biblical tradition, the Rephaim were not only warriors, but giants. (This was not the case at Ugarit – see my article on Rephaim in the additional bibliography above). This added element in the biblical tradition builds off the Underworld apkallu context behind Gen 6:1-4. (Scholars have been stymied as to why the OT has Rephaim as giants when they aren’t in other Canaanite texts; Annus’ work answers that question as well). Having the Rephaim giants in hell, so to speak, was part of the web of ideas that contributed to the Second Temple Jewish belief that demons were the disembodied spirits of giants. If you want nephilim in Ezek 32:27, you still have to see them as giants to honor both the ancient apkallu context and the Second Temple Jewish context that, as Annus shows, understood the apkallu polemic. You also have Peter and Jude’s reference to Tartarus to contend with — the term identifies the Underworld as (at least in part) the residence of the rebel angels of Gen 6:1-4 and their giant offspring (recall that Tartarus was the term the Greek stories of giants use for their imprisonment).
In short, this escape valve thought by some to allow a “non-giant” meaning for nephilim just doesn’t work. But by way of summation, I’m inclined to agree with the cautionary note of Stuckenbruck on Ezek. 32:27:
Although an allusion to Gen. 6:4 is not impossible, the reference in Ezek. 32:27 to the גבורים נפלים, which is translated as οἳ γιγάντων τῶν πεπτωκότων in the Greek tradition [Stuckenbruck’s text has οἳ γιγάντων, whereas Rahlfs has τῶν γιγάντων] neither refers to the flood nor specifies when this group “descended to Sheol with their weapons of war.” (Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “The ‘Angels’ and ‘Giants’ of Genesis 6:1–4 in Second and Third Century BCE Jewish Interpretation: Reflections on the Posture of Early Apocalyptic Traditions,” Dead Sea Discoveries 7.3 : 356, note 5).
On Gilgamesh and the apkallu
In Chapter 13 I reference Gilgamesh, who is described as 2/3 divine and quite tall, as an illustration of the hybrid nature of the post-flood apkallu, who were also of hybrid parentage after the flood and very tall. I neglected to note that Gilgamesh is specifically linked to the apkallu in a Mesopotamian cylinder seal that refers to him as “master of the apkallu” (see the DDD entry on apkallu).