Friday, May 30, 2008

What's Up With The Nephilim?

After a little break to plug the upcoming NDY fund raiser for Providence ministries and then show off my new granddaughter, it's time to get back to trying to explain why God ordered the slaughter of the Canaanites.

I'll warn you ahead of time: this reflection is a bit "out there." But I believe in leaving no stone unturned. Over the last few weeks a dozen or so people have sent e-mails expressing their conviction that many of the Canaanites were not really human. Some, at least, were Nephilim -- giants who were the hybrid progeny of fallen angels having sex with women.

I told you this was going to be "out there."

In light of these suggestions I looked into this possibility. I found a good deal of truly bizarre stuff (e.g. linking the Nephilim to the building of the Pyramids, the Easter Island Statues, UFOs and so on). But I also learned some things I didn't know before. Here's the theory (or at least my novice take on this theory) in a nutshell

In Genesis 6:4 we are told that the "sons of God" (ben elohim) had sex with the "daughters of the human beings" and had offspring. These were "the Nephilim" (meaning giants) whom the author says are "the heroes of old, men of renown." All ancient interpreters of the Bible agree that the "sons of God" in this passage refers to angelic beings who were supposed to watch over humans but who instead rebelled against God and used their position of authority to corrupt the race. (This is referred to as the "watcher tradition." It was widespread in the ancient Jewish world and early Christian tradition. It's possibly alluded to in Jude 6. It's fully expressed in 1 Enoch, which is quoted in Jude 14-15). As I argued in my book God at War, viewing the "sons of God" as angels squares with biblical terminology and explains why the offspring of their unnatural union with women were supernaturally large. It also accounts for why the Genesis author shares this bizarre episode as a prelude to the story of the flood. He's demonstrating how hopelessly screwed up the human race was getting to justify God sending a flood and starting over with Noah's family.

As an interestingly aside, many ancient cultures have stories of semi-divine warriors who fought in the past (e.g. the Titans). Many people argue these fables are rooted in actual history -- which, they argue, is what the Genesis author is giving us in 6:4.

Anyway, I always assumed the hybrid Nephilim were killed in the flood. But several people drew my attention to the fact that the Genesis author says, "the Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward... "(Gen. 6:4, emphasis added). This means that either some Nephilim survived the flood (which is possible if you hold to a local flood, as most Bible scholars today do) or that the rebel angels went back to work creating hybrid offspring at some point after the flood.

What's this got to do with the Canaanites? Well, there are a number of references to exceptionally large people among the Canaanites, linking them to the Nephilim. Here's a summary.

* When the spies returned from scouting out the land, they told the people, " 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" (Nu. 13:33, emphasis added). They also brought back "a single cluster of grapes" from the land that were so large it took two men to carry it (Nu. 13:23). Don't ask me.

* There are several other references to the descendants of Anak (Anakites) that make mention of their incredible size, as well as other Canaanite tribes that are said to be "as tall as the Anakites"( Duet 1:28; 2:10, 21; 9:2). Some argue these also are descendants of the Nephilim.

* We find a reference to Og, King of Bashan -- a Raphite (who are also said to be as tall as the Anakites -- Rapha means "giant") -- whose bed was nine cubits long and 4 cubits wide . That's a bed that is somewhere between 13 to 18 feet long and six to eight feet wide! (Note, some argue that all the references to the "Raphaim" are actually references to "giants," not the proper name of a tribe. (This is how the KJV translates the term. See Deut 2:11, 20; 3:11, 13; Josh. 12:4; 13:12; 15:8; 17:5; 18:16 [KJV])

* Later in the biblical narrative we read about descendants of the Raphites (= "giants?") as well as others who were incredibly large -- including, of course, Goliath, whom David slew (e.g. 2 Sam. 21:15-22; I Chron. 20:4-8).

On the basis of this evidence, some argue that the "Watcher" angels were once again trying to undermine God's objective for human history by creating hybrids. When God commissioned the Israelites to slaughter these "folks," he was protecting the human project from further corruption, just as he had done with the flood.

Now, I'm frankly not sure what to think of all this. Its weird -- to the point that I'm tempted to dismiss it. But I've learned that reality is usually more weird than my western mind likes to admit. If we take the narratives seriously, we can't deny there were some incredibly large people (and grapes!) in the land of Canaan. And we can't deny this largeness is related to their being descendants of the Nephilim. But I'm not yet sure this entails that some of the Canaanites were actually hybrids, just like the pre-flood Nephilim. But even if they were, I'm not sure how far this gets us in giving a plausible account for why Yahweh had whole towns slaughtered. Clearly, many (if not all) of these victims were full humans -- as evidenced, for example, by the fact that sometimes the Israelites were allowed to keep some women as wives.

I'm trying to keep an open mind. I don't know how much more time I'll invest in this topic. But I just today received in my e-mail a book-in-process (called The Myth That is True) from a friend of mine named Michael Heiser that defends something like this thesis. I plan on giving it a read as soon as I can and may get back to you on whatever light it sheds on this weird and fascinating subject.