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Falling Afoul on the Fallen Ones

May 5, 2008

Dr. Claude Mariottini has a new post on those troublesome Nephilim. Since everyone loves a good human-angel lovechild, I was interested in the post. However, I’ve got some disagreements with his conclusions.

While Mariottini’s discussion mainly deals with Bruce Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), he does outline his own views near the end (his full article on the subject is here):

After the people of Israel left Egypt, they came to the borders of Canaan, the land that Yahweh their God had promised to them. Before they entered the land, Moses sent 12 spies to investigate the land and its people (Num. 13). In a later passage Moses seems to place responsibility for the spies being sent on the people of Israel (Deut. 1:22). With the exception of Joshua and Caleb, the spies brought back a pessimistic report of their survey of Canaan. To 10 of the spies, the fortified walls of the Canaanite cities were an overwhelming obstacle for their conquest of the land (13:28). The spies also were terrified by the size of the inhabitants of Canaan. “They said, ‘The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 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’” (Num. 13:32-33 NIV). In their exaggeration of the situation, the spies spoke to the assembly of the leaders of Israel of the terrible predicament awaiting the people of Israel. The spies added that, in addition of being people of gigantic stature, the Anakim were the Nephilim, the dreadful people who lived on earth in the days before the flood.

This then allows Mariottini to state emphatically that “the spies did not see any Nephilim for the Nephilim had died in the flood.”

While there are many points I places I disagree with Mariottini’s discussion, the one I’d like to focus on is his off-handed dismissal of Num 13.32-33. It isn’t simply that the situation of the spies is exaggerated. The text states in a parenthetical statement that the Anakim descent from the Nephilim. Let’s look at the text of v.33:

ושם ראינו את הנפילים בני ענק מן הנפלים ונהי בעינינו כחגבים וכן היינו בעיניהם

While one could possibly argue that the initial statement by the spies was an exaggeration (ושם ראינו את הנפילים) and the statement of the their feelings would definitely appear to be so (ונהי בעינינו כחגבים וכן היינו בעיניהם), neither of these concessions deals with the root of the problem: the genealogical information that the sons of Anaq came from the Nephilim.

Even if we allow the rest of the verse to be hyperbole (which I’m disinclined to do for the initial description of the inhabitants) one still needs to wrestle with this ancestral factoid. The information is not needed if the point is merely to add to the the hysterics. That is to say, it makes little sense for the spies to throw this in. Further, the fact that intertestamental works such as 1 Enoch as well as later rabbinic commentaries wrestled with these issues points out that it cannot be simply discounted as exaggeration.

The example of Og king of Bashan might be instructive at this point. According to Deut 3, Og was the last of the Rephaim and had a bed nine cubits by 4 cubits (roughly 13’x6′). Rabbinic tradition linked Og up with the Nephilim but ran across the problem of the flood. The rabbis generally held that Og had survived the flood (Niddah 61a) and came up with several ways to explain how he survived, ranging from him holding onto the back of the ark (Pirḳe R. El. xxiii.; Gen. R. xxxi. 13) to the assertion that the flood waters only came up to his ankles (Midr. Peṭirat Mosheh, i. 128). I want to be clear: I’m not making the claim that the rabbis did — that Og was somehow a Nephilim — but rather pointing out that there are ways to get around the issue of the flood and the continued existence of the Nephilim’s descendants.

So in the end, we’ve got a parenthetic statement in Num 13.33 that links the Nephilim with the Anaqim. The text does not seem to be a deliberate exaggeration that is to be taken metaphorically nor has the history of interpretation taken it that way. This of course blows the doors wide open for interpretations of who and what the Nephilim are and how their status endured into later days. But, that’s a post for another time.

  1. May 5, 2008 11:25 am


    You better write that post soon. I want to read how you propose to solve the problem about the Nephilim surviving the flood.

    Another question: if the Nephilim did not survive the flood, how did the spies know what a Nephilim looked llike? I still believe that the ancestral fact can be explained by equating all tall people with the Nephilim.

    Claude Mariottini

  2. May 8, 2008 9:37 am


    If it’s any consolation, I’m still trying to figure out how you discount בני ענק מן הנפלים.

    There are many ways they could have survived the flood — look at the example of Og.

    There, of course, is also the possibility of continued divine-human coupling in the post-deluge world that would bring about more Nephilim; but the text is silent on that.

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