Last night while I was at dinner with one of our congregation’s retired pastors , I received a request to write about one of the more intriguing mysteries relating to origin in the Bible, that of the pre-flood Nephilim and the post-flood giants. Both the pre-flood fallen ones (as their name is translated from the Hebrew) and the post-flood giants are particularly well known, and the obvious question is how this is the case, especially given that the Bible itself draws a connection between them. Given that much of the material of the Bible concerning giants is either very well known and heavily interpreted or very obscure, I think it is worthwhile to lay down all of the verses that give insight into the identity of the giants in both the pre-flood and post-flood world, and seek to come up with a reasonable connection between the two that is consonant with the biblical record. Let us proceed to do that.
First, the pre-flood nephilim are mentioned most notably in Genesis 6:1-8: “Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” Let us note briefly that this verse explicitly connects the giants that were on the earth before the flood with the giants that were on the earth after it, and comments that both were to be found among those who were evildoers with a great deal of violence and hostility against God’s ways.
Our next clue about the identity of the giants in the post-flood world comes in Genesis 14:5-7 that can easily be ignored or disregarded when it is read: “In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him came and attacked the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Horites in their mountain of Seir, as far as El Paran, which is by the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and attacked all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazezon Tamar.” Before attacking the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, the four heathen rulers of the coalition that Abraham defeated attacked other peoples that would eventually become enemies of the Israelites. Of these people, both the Zuzim and the Emim are explicitly mentioned as giants in other biblical texts and the remainder of the peoples are mentioned as being persistent enemies of Israel. Deuteronomy 2 lets us know of the identity of the Emim and Zuzim as giants in various territories near Israel, in Deuteronomy 2:10-22: “(The Emim had dwelt there in times past, a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. They were also regarded as giants, like the Anakim, but the Moabites call them Emim. The Horites formerly dwelt in Seir, but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their place, just as Israel did to the land of their possession which the Lord gave them.) “ ‘Now rise and cross over the Valley of the Zered.’ So we crossed over the Valley of the Zered. And the time we took to come from Kadesh Barnea until we crossed over the Valley of the Zered was thirty-eight years, until all the generation of the men of war was consumed from the midst of the camp, just as the Lord had sworn to them. For indeed the hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them from the midst of the camp until they were consumed. “So it was, when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people, that the Lord spoke to me, saying: ‘This day you are to cross over at Ar, the boundary of Moab. And when you come near the people of Ammon, do not harass them or meddle with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the descendants of Lot as a possession.’ ” (That was also regarded as a land of giants; giants formerly dwelt there. But the Ammonites call them Zamzummim, a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. But the Lord destroyed them before them, and they dispossessed them and dwelt in their place, just as He had done for the descendants of Esau, who dwelt in Seir, when He destroyed the Horites from before them. They dispossessed them and dwelt in their place, even to this day.”
Again, this is a passage that is easily overlooked, and we note that the Bible states there having been several different but related tribes of giants in the area around Canaan that were given different names by the people who ended up taking over the lands that had previously been ruled over by the giants. It is in this light that the cowardice of the ten spies apart from Joshua and Caleb may be understood in Numbers 13:33: “There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” Eventually, of course, the people of Israel would start defeating the various remnant populations of giants that existed in and around the Holy Land, beginning with King of Of Bashan, of whom it was said in Deuteronomy 3:8-11: “And at that time we took the land from the hand of the two kings of the Amorites who were on this side of the Jordan, from the River Arnon to Mount Hermon (the Sidonians call Hermon Sirion, and the Amorites call it Senir), all the cities of the plain, all Gilead, and all Bashan, as far as Salcah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the giants. Indeed his bedstead was an iron bedstead. (Is it not in Rabbah of the people of Ammon?) Nine cubits is its length and four cubits its width, according to the standard cubit.” Far from viewing this as a myth about large peoples, an editor of Deutueronomy notes that the bed of Og, which was of enormous size, was present at a later date in the current capital of Jordan where it could be seen by the curious as a demonstration of the prior existence of giants in the area.
Later on, of course, the people of Israel encountered the remnant population of giants in other parts of Israel. In Joshua 17:14-15, we read of Joshua urging the children of Joseph to expand their territory by taking on the giants in their tribal allotments: “Then the children of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, “Why have you given us only one lot and one share to inherit, since we are a great people, inasmuch as the Lord has blessed us until now?” So Joshua answered them, “If you are a great people, then go up to the forest country and clear a place for yourself there in the land of the Perizzites and the giants, since the mountains of Ephraim are too confined for you.”” Given Joshua’s lack of fear of the giants when he was a spy it is little surprise that he should tell his discontented relatives that if they wanted more land they could take it from the giants who were in the forests in the lands of Manasseh and Ephraim.
The most famous biblical giant, of course, is Goliath, of whom it was said in 1 Samuel 17:4-7: “And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels; and a shield-bearer went before him.” Of course, he was not the only giant listed at this time that fought with Israel. 2 Samuel 21:15-22 tells of the end of the giants as a recognizable force, as David and his soldiers eliminated their presence in Israel: “When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” Now it happened afterward that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbechai the Hushathite killed Saph, who wasone of the sons of the giant. Again there was war at Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. Yet again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also was born to the giant. So when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, killed him. These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.”
Having laid out what the Bible says explicitly about the giants, let us see if there is any connection between the Nephilim in the pre-flood world and the giants of the post-flood world whose hearts were similarly set on violence and hostility against God until they were eliminated during the times of David. We know that if there is to be a connection between the two groups of people that it has to come from one of eight people who were in the Ark: Noah, his wife, or his three sons and their wives. Given that Noah was “perfect in his generations” according to Genesis 6:9, it is particularly unlikely that the connection would involve Noah, his wife, or their three sons. It is more likely that the connection would involve Noah’s daughter-in-law by Ham. Let us now construct the circumstantial case that connects giants in and around the area of Canaan and Ham.
Among the Nephelim, there is one obvious candidate for being the connection between the pre-flood and post-flood world, and that is a woman named Naamah. The reason this is an obvious candidate is because she happens to be the only named woman listed among the descendants of Cain in Genesis 4:16-22: “Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son—Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad; and Irad begot Mehujael, and Mehujael begot Methushael, and Methushael begot Lamech. Then Lamech took for himself two wives: the name of one was Adah, and the name of the second was Zillah. And Adah bore Jabal. He was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal. He was the father of all those who play the harp and flute. And as for Zillah, she also bore Tubal-Cain, an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron. And the sister of Tubal-Cain was Naamah.” Now, comparatively few women in the Bible are named as opposed to the men, and it is unlikely that Tubal Cain’s sister would have been named unless there was a good reason for it, like her marrying into the line of Seth as a result of her marriage with Ham. Why else would a woman from the pre-flood world be remembered at all in the historical record? Within Cain’s family the tendency for violence, corrupt music, excessive urbanization as well as violent nomadic herding, and even early weapons technology, we see the general patterns that corrupted the family of Ham in the post-flood world.
Canaan is specifically and ominously mentioned in Genesis 9:18-27 relating to a curse because of some unseemly behavior involving Noah and his drunkenness. Without speculating as to what this may have been, let us note what it says in these verses: “Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated. And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.” And he said: “Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.”” And so it was, that Canaan’s curse would linger on until they became either exterminated or the slaves of Israel.
Likewise, it is little surprise that among the descendants of Ham we would find the first notorious rebel against God in Nimrod, as it is written in Genesis 10:6-20: “The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.” And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city). Mizraim begot Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, and Casluhim (from whom came the Philistines and Caphtorim). Canaan begot Sidon his firstborn, and Heth; the Jebusite, the Amorite, and the Girgashite; the Hivite, the Arkite, and the Sinite; the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite. Afterward the families of the Canaanites were dispersed. And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; then as you go toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. These were the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations.” Indeed, we see the hallmarks of the oppressive violence and religious fraud that marked the pre-flood Nephilim in the cultures that followed after Ham. The cities Nimrod built would later be the cities of the violent and oppressive Assyrians and Babylonians. Mizraim, or Egypt, would be a place of slavery and oppression for Israelites and others, the people of Sidon and Tyre would be symbolic of false religion, and even in the contemporary world Put, or the land of the horn of Africa, would be a place that is still synonymous with violence.
There is one other hint that we find here about the reasons why the Nephilim as well as the post-flood giants were able to create a class of giants that oppressively ruled over other peoples. Among the noted traits of the post-flood descendants of Ham (and others), we find a relentless tendency towards endogamy. Intriguingly, we find this tendency present in both the family of Ham as well as the family of Abraham. Abraham notably married his half-sister Sarah, and his son Isaac married Rekekah, his cousin, and his son Jacob married his cousins Rachel and Leah. The family tree didn’t fork very much, in other words, and the same tendency was found in the family of Ham. Of Nimrod, the stories we have from ancient history (and told in such books as Babylon Mystery Religion and the like) point out that Nimrod apparently married his mother Semiramis. Likewise, the Pharaohs on down to the Ptolemaic dynasty frequently married their own whole or half-sisters (as did the rulers of Hawaii) as a way of preserving their power and their privileged genetics. From this we can see that a privileged and powerful family could easily marry among themselves and thus preserve the genes that made them larger than the rest of their people. The fact that this occasionally involved genetic mutations like having six toes and six fingers was perhaps unsurprising after many generations of endogamy that would have made the Spanish Hapsburg dynasty jealous. And so we have a plausible way that the blood and culture of the pre-flood Nephilim survived into the post-flood world and contributed to the misery suffered by ordinary people as a result of their corrupt and ungodly and likely inbred rulers in the area in and around the promised land.