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The Nephilim: Their Origins and Evolution (cont.)
By Petros Koutoupis

The biggest clues to the identification of the nephilîm will come from Numbers 13:33 [5] :

And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

Taking an interpretation of the nephilîm as the 'people of the fiery rockets' again holds no credibility when examining the term itself and the surrounding grammar of Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33. Historically, the Hebrew word was left untranslated by the Revisers, the name of one of the Canaanite tribes. The Revisers have, in fact, translated the Hebrew גברים (gibbōrîm), in Genesis 6:4, as 'mighty men'; which will be a key point in the coming conclusions. When the Old Testament was first translated to the Greek language, the word for nephilîm read γίγαντες (gigantes), the Greek word for giants. This is confirmed in Numbers 13:33 [6] with the description of the Israelites when compared to the race of giants.

It is extremely important for the reader to understand that in Hebrew grammar the singular nāphal cannot form the plural nephilîm. If we were to follow grammatical rules within the language we would end up with the plural nōphelîm. Clearly this is not the same as nephilîm, and we can now see that it is impossible for nāphal to be the root word used. A detailed analysis of the characteristics held by the nephilîm will further prove this in the section below. One other area of concern is that nōphelîm is not in the plural passive form but instead a plural active indicating that these beings are 'falling' and have not 'fallen'. Now what have the nephilîm fallen from? The answer is nowhere. If a link were to be established for someone(s) falling from God's grace it would have to go to the sons of God as is apparent in the Post-Exilic and not in the Pre-Exilic literature. The biggest clue to the identification of the word's root can be found in Numbers 13:33. In the Masoretic Texts (MT), the word nephilîm is used twice in this verse, but oddly enough is spelled differently. Many have wondered what this could mean. In the first occurrence we find:

נפילים

NFYLYM

The spelling comes with the matres lectiones throwing in an extra י (yod) to give us a proper pronunciation of the word nef-ee-leem. This is the only instance of this spelling found throughout the entire Old Testament. The second spelling holds (which is consistent with Genesis 6:4):

נפלים

NFLYM

This is without the extra yod. It is extremely important to understand how these matres lectiones (or mother of words) work and Hebrew orthographical analysis to see the evolution of these matres lectiones. The purpose of the matres lectiones was to preserve the proper pronunciation of words in the consonant only Hebrew language. Specific characters are used to act as vowels. For example, a yod, depending on the structure and form of the word can be used to indicate an 'ey' or 'ee' sound. In this case we see the 'ee' forming the second syllable's vowel. Orthographical analysis of the evolution of these matres lectiones show that the Israelite script, which evolved from the Phoenician, did not originally use their characters as vowel markers. We do not see this until the 9th century BCE [7] in the surrounding regions. Literary evidence seems to indicate that the role of the matres lectionis originated from regions to the south of Phoenicia and Israel, more specifically Moab and Judah. Our earliest examples of it come from the Meša` Stela. Scholars studying Hebrew orthography in the Old Testament have noted attempts by many scribes, when copying texts over time, rewriting older words with newer spelling forms so that they may be able to preserve pronunciations for future readings. There have been cases where we have seen that scribes would overlook words to rewrite and it would seem that the verses containing the nephilîm were no exception. This is why we see a modified spelling in Number 13:33. Oddly enough all three occurrences of the nephilîm in the Samaritan Pentateuch preserve only the latter form of spelling. This may hint at a revision of the spelling taking place during the Post-Exilic period and after the Samaritan adoption of the Pentateuch; believed to have taken place ca. 400 BCE.

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  1. JPS translation. [back to text]
  2. See above. [back to text]
  3. It is highly recommended to read the extensive research on Hebrew Orthography under the direction of Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman in their book Early Hebrew Orthography: A Study of Epigraphic Evidence. [back to text]

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