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The Nephilim: Their Origins and Evolution
By Petros Koutoupis

Since the very beginning of biblical study the נפלים (nephilîm) have been the topic of great controversy. Who are they and what do they represent? Are they biblical giants? What does the term literally translate to, and why does the brief mention of them in the Book of Genesis show resemblance to other mythologies? Many scholars, both independent and accredited, have dedicated much of their lives to answer the questions listed above. It wasn't until the discovery and translation of the Book of 1Enoch [1] that we were finally given a better understanding of these nephilîm; but is it a proper understanding? I was intrigued by these nephilîm and wanted to know more. Independent researchers have inappropriately linked them with ancient astronauts, an elder culture that long predated our own, and even to the builders of the pyramids. As I will explain below, these theories hold no grounds and the nephilîm had a specific role which eventually corrupted over time. This detailed analysis will incorporate the theology during the proposed time of writing for the verses, grammatical study in Hebrew and Aramaic word forms, and even external influences that would have played a role in the region; but before I delve into these topics I would like to inform the reader that I am an advocate of the Documentary Hypothesis which proposes that the biblical scriptures which we have come to know as the Pentateuch were written and edited by more than one scribe over time, disproving any notion of Mosaic authorship. I cover a lot of this evidence against a Mosaic authorship, more detailed information on the Documentary Hypothesis, and the topics of the nephilîm in my book, An Adopted Legacy: Neo-Assyrian Origin to Hebrew Lore. I would also like to recommend the following books on the Documentary Hypothesis:

Friedman, Richard E. The Bible with Sources Revealed. 1st ed. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.

Friedman, Richard E. Who Wrote the Bible?. 2nd ed. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1997.

Campbell, Antony F., and Mark A. O'brien. Sources of the Pentateuch. Minneapolis: Fortress P, 1993.

An Identification to the Race in Question

The easiest way to start this topic is by briefly explaining what the nephilîm are not and reveal the evidence as this research progresses. Note that I am not attacking these authors but merely pointing out their misinterpretations and misunderstandings. The nephilîm are not, as Zecharia Sitchin proclaims, (1) those who came down from above, (2) those who were cast down, and (3) people of the fiery rockets. The Hebrew verb for 'to go' or 'to come down, descend' is ירד (yārad) [2] which shows no relation to the term in question. He then goes on to identify the nephilîm with the Sumerian deities, claiming that the Sumerians knew of their existence and that they came from a planet called Nibiru.

A quote taken from Andrew Collin's book, From the Ashes of Angels, shows that some confuse the the nephilîm with the sons of God and use the term interchangeably to signify one and the same race:

This implies that nephilim, a word meaning the 'fallen ones', or 'those who have fallen', was the original name given by the Israelites to the fallen angels. Strange confirmation of this suggestion comes from rereading Genesis 6. Verse 2 speaks of the Sons of God coming unto the Daughters of Men, while in contrast verse 4 states firmly that: 'The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men.'

It would seem that most of these authors attempt to link the root word for the nephilîm with the Hebrew word of נפל (nāphal). Nāphal means 'to fall' or 'to fall in battle, by the sword', 'to be killed', 'to be fallen' and also 'to fall unto/upon'; all of these definitions display characteristics not held by the nephilîm or, as I make the argument in my book, the sons of God.

We first read of the nephilîm in Genesis 6:4. This is one of two verses to mention the nephilîm three times throughout the entire Pentateuch. These three occurrences have been credited to the Yahwist (J), a scribe from the Southern Kingdom of Judah to whom a good part of the Pentateuch has been attributed. In my research, I have personally dated J from the middle of the Neo-Assyrian Empire to just before its decline; starting just after the fall of Samaria and Exile of the Israelites at the hands of Sargon II [3] . Genesis 6:4 reads [4] :

The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.
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  1. The phrase Book of Enoch refers to 1Enoch, which is wholly extant only in the Ethiopic language. There are also 2 other books called Enoch, 2Enoch (surviving only in Old Slavonic, c. 1st century CE) and 3Enoch (surviving in Hebrew, c. 5th-6th century CE.) The numbering of these texts has been applied by scholars to distinguish the texts from one another. [back to text]
  2. I first noticed this in an untitled paper from Michael S. Heiser found at [back to text]
  3. Reference my book An Adopted Legacy; I cover these details within. A lot more evidence and analysis will be given in the second installment of the series to confirm all the findings in the first. [back to text]
  4. JPS translation. [back to text]

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