Who are the nephilim?


by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

(where are the Nephilim today? here, and nowhere)

Who are the Nephilim?

Come with me, and let’s solve an ancient Bible mystery. This will be an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones.

Who in the world are these strange people, the “Nephilim”?

Here are two passages in Scripture that mention them:

Genesis 6.4: The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.

Numbers 13.33 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.'

In our Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts last Friday evening, we heard about these mysterious people right before the account of Noah’s Flood. Remember that after Cain slew his brother Abel, he wandered into the chaotic space called the land “East of Eden.” If this reminds you of the story of the Prodigal Son, you’re right: sin always takes the direction of Cain, and that is why his script crops up over and over again. There, east of Eden, he established human culture as we know it today: clever, technological, but also God-rejecting, supposedly totally self-reliant. Cain is the proper father of secular culture that so many people want today.

Meanwhile, Adam and Eve produced a third son, whose name was Seth. The Bible says that he was different from Cain. He called upon the Name of the Lord, and “put his hope in God.”

Thus in these early times before the Flood there were two directions that humanity was taking -- the way of Seth, which was the way of humility and seeking God in the heart. Then there was the way of Cain, which was the way of self-centeredness, the way of rejecting God. The people of Cain soon found that there is no way that God could be known if the self is not first sacrificed in love. Seeking God in the heart requires pouring oneself out: that is exactly what God is like ... after all, this is God’s name, His personality, or -- as St Gregory Palamas would say thousands of years later, this is is “energy,” or uncreated Light of Grace.

Life was different back then. Seth’s family, at least, lived a very, very long time. Some lived almost a thousand years. The Fathers say that they still benefited from the human nature so close to Eden and its creation. And, it could be that the Earth itself was different. Before the Flood, it is possible that nature was a lot friendlier to life worldwide. Of course, there is no scientific proof for this (but then again, there is a lot of reality that science has no explanation for, so that doesn’t bother me).

Things would have been better if Seth’s people would have stuck to themselves. But they didn’t. The sixth chapter of Genesis recounts that the “sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair; and they took to wife such of them that they chose.” The “sons of God” are the people of Seth. And the “daughters of men” are those of Cain. This verse describes, in a short symbolic way, the tragedy of how Seth’s culture got mixed up with Cain’s culture. People not only intermarried, but more importantly, they gave up their belief. Seth’s people -- or most of them -- no longer sought God in their heart. They no longer prayed the old prayer of Adam and Eve that they prayed as soon as they left Eden: “Lord, have mercy on me.” Instead, Seth’s people started living the self-centered life of comfort, technology, power, greatness ... and violence.

Thus we hear of the appearance of the “Nephilim” in that mysterious, ancient age before the Flood. Most of the time, that word “Nephilim” is translated as the English word “giants.” But “giant” does not come close to the full meaning of the term. “Nephil” carries the meaning of “superiority,” “great and powerful,” and also “violent.”

And also “fallen” -- as in apostasy. As in, the people of Seth who had first believed in God, had “fallen away” from belief into the egocentric rejection of God of the culture of Cain.

The Nephilim were the people of the time before the Flood. They were far, far greater in intelligence, strength, attractiveness and skill than we humans are today. They are not “fallen angels” or space aliens (there are a lot of trashy TV pseudo-documentaries and blathering articles that suggest this).

Instead, the Nephilim were the original aristocrats. It could be that memories of them survived the Flood and have passed into legend: and thus we have stories of Hercules, Thor, perhaps the pagan gods in general. Later on, when people of great height and strength appeared, like Goliath (the Philistine who fought David), they were called “Nephilim,” because they reminded people of the old memories.

It is possible that the civilization of the Nephilim was more advanced than ours. There is no proof of this. And certainly, not a single paragraph of this essay would ever see daylight in school. It is an altogether “alternate” history, or story of the past.

But here is the main thing. The Nephilim were exactly what people, nowadays, want to become. They were beautiful, in an alluring way. They were strong and powerful, many times more than we are. They were long-lived, seemingly immortal. They were great, feared by the weak and the meek. They were important.

I imagine that the philosophy of the Nephilim could be summed up by the last two lines of a horrid little poem (called “Invictus”) that too many people have memorized, to their embarrassment: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” This piece of ugliness is certainly something that the Nephilim would have endorsed, enthusiastically.

Because whatever they wanted, they went out and got. Immediately.

Which is always an evil thing, and always involves the “collateral” pain and suffering of the weak.

The Nephilim were therefore violent and God-rejecting.

They had become demonic.

The rest of Creation -- from the sky to the seas, from the mountains to the green fields, from the blue whale to the lambs -- depended from the beginning of time on mankind to bring the grace of Christ to it: “Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8.19). Creation has always needed the true culture, the ethos, of Seth and his people.

But now, instead of God-seekers, they who sought the uncreated light of grace in their hearts ... now, instead of Seth’s children, Creation was afflicted by a human population that had become dark, violent, and not human at all, but demonic instead.

Creation is allergic to the demonic. Remember the story of the Gadarene demonic, when the Lord permitted a thousand demons to enter into a herd of pigs. They had the sense to stampede off a cliff and dive into the sea. Remember, more importantly, the fact that the sun itself darkened at the sight of the Artist of Creation raised to the dark sky on Golgotha.

Creation waits for the “sons of God,” the descendants of Seth. It reacts to the violent, demonic God-rejection of Cain with utter revulsion.

And thus, the floods came.

* * *

Better to go the ethos, the way of Seth, which is now even better, more beautifully formed, better known, as the Way of the Cross. Since the Incarnation, now the old prayer of Adam and Eve -- “Have mercy on me” -- has been improved: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Now the way of Seth has been expanded into the fullness of beauty and peace.

It is known, today, as Orthodoxy, which is a lifestyle of Christ making you shine like Him, having given us the “power to become children of God” (John 1.12), receiving and living in His uncreated light of Grace, and broadcasting it to our neighborhood and the universe.

This is what Creation waits for.


Not in the horrible demonic form of the grotesque Nephilim.

But only you as cross-bearing, self-sacrificing, in the likeness of Christ. You as meek, not violent. You as peace-making, not self-worshiping. You as truly beautiful, not vulgar. You as cruciform, not egocentric.

You, only as deified, not demonic.


The only way you were meant to be.

DC Link3/2/2023 1:57 am
Nikolai DaguKoffka, actually, no, Jude does not refer to the Book of Enoch. He merely states a prophecy of the Biblical character Enoch. This is not something Jude needed the fictional work of the "Book of Enoch" for because he grew up with Jesus, the Risen Son of God.
Nikolai DaguKoffka9/6/2022 4:48 am
I’ve read the Ethiopic text of Enoch and Jubilees, (Both in their canon, and also discovered at the caves at Qumran aka The Dead Sea Scrolls) which tells me that the book is far more ancient (speculated by academics 300 BC) If the Essenes, who though completely flawed in their ideological beliefs about the Messiah (more on earth physically and Roman’s wiped out) broke away from Jewish society BECAUSE they were dedicated to what they saw as “true Judaism” think Doomsday Cult with that Judaic backdrop. These people kept this book for a reason, Saint Jude Cites it and from what I’m gathering the early church fathers were in disagreement, but as far as I know personally no Ecumenical Council, Holy Synods, Or Holy Encyclicals condemn reading it, and the message is very clear, the righteous will be with God The Son of Man sits in full Glory as Judge The Gentiles will be saved also And all evil will be destroyed and both man, demons, and their offspring will be destroyed once and for all. King Jesus Reigns Forever tells the entire story. Not only that it is quoted in Jude, this book goes much deeper into the subject, and exposes Ridley Scott’s borderline heretical by definition interpretation, the “rock men” were not good or forgiven, they were bound in chains one by one thrown into a bottomless pit, their children being an abomination of celestial and flesh, when they died their souls wander the earth (the difference between unclean spirits and demons. To give a breakdown on Enoch Enoch is taken to heaven, guided by Uriel, and before the Most high he is shown vision after vision of Azazel, who it says joined Satan’s ranks, leading angels down after discussing the beauty of the women. In doing this as above said, all the devices of wickedness were given to the women they took as wives. God is furious, and by the end of the story not only are the watchers in question are not only bound in chains but are forced to watch their children, who oppressed man (Jubilees speaks of 3 tribes of them, the Naphi, Eljol, and the Giants who oppressed man, the other two fought each other (sounding familiar?) This served Satan’s purposes by wiping out the seed of woman (Blessed Theotokos bearing Christ) he foolishly thought, then came the flood. Enoch also gives a more intricate picture of Noah’s line as well as parables repeating the story of the watchers, and even Methuselah is mentioned as a child dreaming of the things to come, Noah at birth? They thought he was the son of a watcher because when his eyes opened it filled the room with light. His parents were terrified and consulted with Methuselah who spoke to Enoch(Enoch kinda goes back and forth from heaven to earth repeatedly) and says that through him, humanity would be saved from the flood and all the unrighteous and the offspring of the watchers wiped out.
Yeshareg1/2/2021 3:01 am
I don’t want to have to ask question or go deeper when it comes to GOD I know enough to say i love him and he is my father and my creator and he does any thing even without me asking because like any of us doing for our children without them asking because we know what they want.
Rebecca11/6/2020 8:24 pm
This is the first sensible explanation I have heard on the topic of the Nephillim. Thank you.
Fr. Vincent Lehr8/5/2020 7:49 pm
The issue here is the Church’s interpretation of Genesis 6. The text says, “When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in [or with] man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.” The interpretive question that the Church faced was, “Who were the sons of God that enabled these nephilim (“giants” in LXX) to be born?” The writings of Second Temple Judaism and the early Church Fathers teach that these “sons of God” were Divine spiritual beings, gods who were once loyal to Yahweh, and members of His Divine Council (Ps. 82:1), who later rebelled against him and became the gods of the various nations. All of the Church Fathers of the first three centuries (the ones that we have extant writings from) believed and taught this as part of the Orthodox Faith. St. Irenaeus’ book, “On the Apostolic Preaching”, which was a catechism among his people, teaches this very clearly. (BTW, this book was lost by the 3rd century, but an Armenian copy was discovered in 1904; today it is available in English). In the 4th century, starting with the writings of Augustine, the tide of this interpretation began to change. He taught that the “sons of God” were actually human beings, “sons of Seth” who married the “daughters of Cain”. This new interpretation began to take hold, and all the Church Fathers of that era began to teach this view (except St. Ambrose of Milan, who held to the Angelic view). Some of the Church Fathers, most prominently St. John Chrysostom, began to teach that anyone who held to the Angelic view, instead of the Sethite interpretation, was in heresy. So, in effect, what St. John (and others of that day) did, was to call St. Ambrose, St. Irenaeus, St. Justin Martyr, and many other Saints, heretics (at least in regards that one teaching). Today, the Church primarily, although not exclusively, holds to the Sethite interpretation. However, this is beginning to change as more of the writings of the early Church Fathers, and the understanding of Second Temple Judaism that the early Apostles subscribed to, are coming to light.
john zamer5/11/2020 6:29 am
I agree 100% however there is in fact scientific evidence about humanity living longer before the flood, please check out Charles baugh of creation evidence museum.
Justin Rubio9/11/2019 7:39 pm
I agree that their needs to be more emphasis and work put into both Churchs east and west to the degree of the sons of disobedience referred to by St. Paul. Similarly it's in his teaching about were at war not with flesh and blood but with the principalities or rulers of the air. I have heard that Gilgamesh was one the the first Kings or Hanor year 0 post flood that survived the flood and continued on and the book of Enoch with is non canonical describes these sons of disobedience as Rephilim so The angels can change appearances is a true Orthodox teaching Fr. Seraphim Rose Student of John Maximovitch whose a 19th century saint says so! This also goes into "toll house" controversy that says demons or rulers of the air (spirits of the dead men of reknown) try to prevent our souls from Ascending on high after our bodily death. John Climacus ladder of ascent and all of that. Its been omitted but how can explain skeletal remains of apparent dragons with 18 ft wings being discovered and the like not to mention Egypts Kings all had elongated heads probably from incest but could gene pool have been the issue or cause? Who knows! God Knows! Son of David help us to have right faith! Glory be, ever and ever.
Pelagia Gilchrist6/17/2017 3:59 am
I have a nagging questions regarding the idea that fallen angels mated with human women. Were not angels, holy and fallen, created as spiritual beings without material bodies?

Yes, on occasion, angels appear to people; however, such an appearance does not necessarily give them physical substance, like the complex substance of the human body. In other words, when an angel temporarily appears to someone, does the angel have a temporary human body, complete with all bodily functions such as a reproductive system?

Is not the angelic strictly spiritual and not physical? As quoted above, angels neither marry nor are given in marriage. This seems to suggest that at their creation, angels were not given the gift of procreative ability. (I've harbored the thought that what roused Lucifer's hatred toward humanity is exactly this divine gift- our ability to bring forth beings who are both physical and spiritual. Who, by the grace of God, bear the image of God and have immortal souls.)

Therefore, Fr. Jonathon's explanation seems to be in accord with the teachings of scripture. Yes, some patristic fathers describe Nephilium as fallen angels; however, was this the generally accepted interpretation of most, if not all, of the Church Fathers? Were there differing interpretations?

Thank you for any and all responses to my questions.
Fr John McMonagle4/6/2016 8:00 am
Jesus said angels neither marry nor are given in marriage. What is important in the Genesis story is what happened to mankind that led him to the logical conclusion of sin. It is the preface to the law and its impartation to mankind (through the Jews). While Irenaeus stated what Mark quoted above, it is also true that Irenaeus taught recapitulation of all things (though not to the extent of Origen, thankfully). The sons of God are a type or shadow of the sons of God in Paul's and John's writings. The daughters of men is beginning of a theme mentioned over and over in the OT about the dangers of the faithful "marrying" the unfaithful. Samson comes to mind as a quick example but there are many. Too much to be said here but I think that the author of this article is going in the right direction. Also, this article appears to be a sermon not an academic, peer-reviewed treatise where deeper research would be expected.
Mark4/2/2016 1:30 pm
The article is not supported by Patristic reference. St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in his "Demonstration on the Apostolic Preaching" refers to the Nephalim as "Angels" not "Seth" or his "descendants" as being those who took the "daughters of men" as wives: "And for a very long while wickedness extended and spread, and reached and laid hold upon the whole race of mankind, until a very small seed of righteousness remained among them and illicit unions took place upon the earth, since angels were united with the daughters of the race of mankind; and they bore to them sons who for their exceeding greatness were called giants. And
the angels brought as presents to their wives teachings of wickedness, in that they brought them the virtues of roots and herbs, dyeing in colors and cosmetics, the discovery of rare substances, love-potions, aversions, amours, concupiscence, constraints of love, spells of bewitchment, and all sorcery and idolatry hateful to God; by the entry of which things into the world evil extended and spread, while righteousness was diminished and enfeebled."
jun admana3/30/2016 1:17 am
You are wrong there. Adam and Eve had many children. Imagine them reaching the age of 900 plus? Imagine how many children can be sired.
It was the angels that took the daughters of men as wives and bore children. These children were the Nephilims and were great(huge) and powerful men. But they were all evil.
Roland J Ford3/29/2016 10:31 pm
I'm not contradicting Fr Jonathan's work on the nephilim, but to get a better understanding of it. If the "children of God" were the children of Seth, wouldn't Moses have said as much. He didn't hesitate to declare any of the lineages of the latter members of Noah's progeny. Now this was the style that Moses wrote Genesis. In Chapter 10 the genealogy of Noah's sons was listed with each generation identified as "the son of..." and a name of that particular member of the family. I would think that if the sons of God in chapter 6 were the sons of Seth, wouldn't it be prudent to think that Moses would have written as much? "The sons of Seth saw the daughters of Cain..."

The only other option as to who the sons of God were would be the fallen angel. They cohabitated with the humans and sired a monster called the nephilim. I use the word monster in the vernacular that this was a creature not ordained by God. It's purpose was to spread their seed to all humans and by doing so they would have stopped the birth of the "man" promised by God to cleanse away the original sin. The entirety of mankind was to be corrupted had it not been for Noah who was perfect (without the corruptive blemish).

And so the flood came and destroyed most of the nephilim and those who fell in with the fallen angel thus allowing the Christ to be born. These are my thoughts on the subject, with the question that needs clarification as to who the "sons of God" were.
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