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  • Michael Filipek

An Overview of the Word "Nephilim"

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

(From the study "The Identity Of The Nephilim")

In this article, we will undertake an examination of the Hebrew word “Nephilim” that we see used several times in the Bible, in order to gain a basic understanding of who these beings were.


There are two passages in the Bible that explicitly mention the Nephilim by that name. However, there are a multitude of passages that refer to the greater subject of the Nephilim – many often being overlooked by those who are unfamiliar with this topic. But the two passages in which the Hebrew word Nephilim explicitly appear are Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33.


Let’s take a look at the first of those two – Genesis 6:4. The context of this passage is the time before the Flood of Noah, in which the wickedness of the pre-Flood world is being described. Genesis 6:1-4 reads…


“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. There were giants (many versions simply say “Nephilim”) 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.” -Genesis 6:1-4

In the King James Version, as well as certain other English Bibles, we find this Hebrew word “Nephilim” loosely translated as “giants.” However, because it’s unknown for certain what this Hebrew word means, some English Bibles have left it untranslated, simply carrying over the Hebrew and transliterating it into English – yielding the word “Nephilim.”


The second mention of Nephilim in the Bible is found in Numbers 13:33, as the Israelites were getting ready to enter into the Promised Land of Canaan. However, many of the spies Moses sent to search out the land returned with the conclusion that they were unable to conquer it. To support this conclusion, they referenced the giant inhabitants of the land, whom they called Nephilim, and descendants of the Nephilim. The spies reported feeling like grasshoppers in comparison to this evil race of giants. Numbers 13:32-33 reads…


“And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants (Nephilim), the sons of Anak, which come of the giants (Nephilim): and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” -Numbers 13:32-33

Let’s now explore the possible meaning of the word Nephilim. This term is often translated as “those who fall,” “the fallen,” or “those who descended from heaven to earth.” However, Dr. Michael Heiser, an adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at Liberty University who holds a PhD in Hebrew and Semitic studies, disagrees with this interpretation. In his critique of an author who defined Nephilim as “those who fall,” Heiser explains…


“Sitchin assumes ‘Nephilim’ comes from the Hebrew word ‘naphal’ which usually means ‘to fall.’ He then forces the meaning ‘to come down’ onto the word, creating his ‘to come down from above’ translation. In the form we find it in the Hebrew Bible, if the word Nephilim came from Hebrew naphal, it would not be spelled as we find it. The form Nephilim cannot mean ‘fallen ones’ (the spelling would then be nephulim). Likewise, Nephilim does not mean ‘those who fall’ or ‘those who fall away’ (that would be nophelim). The only way in Hebrew to get Nephilim from naphal by the rules of Hebrew morphology (word formation) would be to presume a noun spelled naphil and then pluralize it.
I say ‘presume’ since this noun does not exist in biblical Hebrew – unless one counts Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33, the two occurrences of Nephilim – but that would be assuming what one is trying to prove! However, in Aramaic, the noun naphil(a) does exist. It means ‘giant,’ making it easy to see why the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) translated Nephilim as gigantes (‘giant’) … It is most likely that Nephilim is an Aramaic term imported into Hebrew during the final editing of the Hebrew Bible in Babylon (where Aramaic was the lingua franca) and then the ending was corrected to Hebrew rules of word formation. [1]

Based on Heiser's explanation, it would seem clear that the word “Nephilim” is a term originating from Aramaic, meaning “giant,” which was brought into Hebrew and given the “-im” ending, indicating plurality. The translators of the King James Version seem to have been aware of this, as they translated Nephilim as “giants” and did not call them “the fallen,” or anything similar.


In addition, the majority of ancient Bible versions – including the Septuagint, Theodotion’s translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, the Latin Vulgate, the Samaritan Pentateuch, Targum Onkelos, and Targum Neofiti – all interpret the word to mean “giants.” [2]


Of course, we understand that the term “giant” refers to a man of extraordinary size and strength. We may therefore conclude that the evidence clearly shows that the Hebrew word Nephilim referred to giants.


 

[1] -Michael Heiser, “The Nephilim,” SitchinIsWrong.com. (https://sitchiniswrong.com/nephilim/nephilim.htm - Retrieved 4/10/21)

[2] -Jacques Van Ruiten, Primaeval History Interpreted: The Rewriting of Genesis I-II in the Book of Jubilees, Brill, 2000, p. 189.



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