Genesis 6: The Nephilim

Published by DonDavidson on

Last week I pointed out that Genesis 6:4 refers to the “Nephilim.” Who were the Nephilim?

When the Israelites came to the Wilderness of Paran, following the Exodus, Moses sent out 12 spies—one from each of the 12 tribes—to scope out the land of Canaan. After 40 days, the spies returned. Two of them—Caleb and Joshua—encouraged the Israelites to go conquer the land. But the other ten had a different message, as we read in Numbers 13:32-33:

So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”

Numbers 13 mentions that “the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim.” Deuteronomy chapter 2 tells us more about these sons of Anak. In the context of a warning from God not to attack the Moabites, Moses mentions the prior inhabitants of the land of Moab—a people called Rephaim:

The Emim lived there formerly, a people as great, numerous, and tall as the Anakim. Like the Anakim, they are also regarded as Rephaim, but the Moabites call them Emim.

—Deuteronomy 2:8-11

Similarly, God warned the Israelites not to bother the Ammonites, and Moses mentions that the Rephaim also lived in the land of Ammon before the Ammonites:

It is also regarded as the land of the Rephaim, for Rephaim formerly lived in it, but the Ammonites call them Zamzummin, a people as great, numerous, and tall as the Anakim, but the Lord destroyed them before them. And they dispossessed them and settled in their place.

—Deuteronomy 2:16-21[1]

Deuteronomy says that the sons of Anakthe Anakimwere a tall and mighty people who lived in and near the land of Israel, probably from before the time of Abraham. These sons of Anak were apparently a subset of the Nephilim (based on Numbers 13:33)—just as Texans and Californians are also Americans—and may have been descended from them. The Rephaim (also known as the Emim or the Zamzummin), who lived east of the Dead Sea, seem to have been descended from the Anakim.[2]  

So the Nephilim, the Anakim, and the Rephaim were tall people, probably related to each other, who were regarded as fearsome and powerful. The Rephaim had been defeated by the Moabites and the Ammonites. But Numbers 13 says that some of the Nephilim—perhaps the Anakim—were still alive and living in Canaan at the time of the Exodus.

If you believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis, then the Nephilim of Numbers 13 cannot be descendants of the Nephilim of Genesis 6, because the latter would have perished in the flood that destroyed everyone except Noah and his family. Those who take this view say that the Nephilim of Numbers 13:33 were so named because they reminded people of the Nephilim that lived in Noah’s time—that is, a tall and mighty people. On the other hand, scientists have been unable to find any support for a truly worldwide flood, so perhaps the Nephilim of Genesis 6 and those of Numbers 13:33 were the same people.

If you like reading about the Old Testament, in easy to understand language, you might enjoy my books on the topic: The Old Testament Made Simple, Parts 1 and 2. You can find more information about those and my other books here, including descriptions of the books and sample chapters.

[1] The Moabites and the Ammonites were the descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, from his incestuous relations with his two daughters, as described in Genesis 19:30-38.

[2] Per Deuteronomy, the Moabites called the Rephaim “Emim,” but the Ammonites called them “Zamzummin.” Ancient Egyptian inscriptions listing enemies of the Pharaoh mention the tribe of Anak, while ancient Ugarit inscriptions mention the Rephaim. Ugarit was a city along the Mediterranean coast of Syria.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *