Folklore Thursday: The Nephilim

Yesterday on Twitter, an author asked about sources on Nephilim, and I had just enough time to shoot her a few links and suggestions. When I was wracking my brain about blog posts this week, I figured that Folklore Thursday might be a good place to elaborate on some of those sources.

So ... *coughs* ... I present to you a very brief [and I do mean BRIEF] history of the nephilim in canonical and non-canonical texts:

The Nephilim are only mentioned twice in the two books of the Bible; once in Genesis and again in Numbers. The first time is in Genesis 6:4:

3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
5 The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

And again in Numbers 13:33:

32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 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.”

Neither of those references seem particularly helpful, probably because portions of Genesis, and in all probability Numbers as well, seem to be heavily edited and cobbled together from multiple sources. A good example is the differentiation between the creation story in Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 and the continuation, or elaboration of the story in Genesis 2:4 - 2:24. In both Genesis and Numbers, the Nephilim are mentioned as if the reader should be familiar with them from the context of a larger narrative.

A longer rendition of the Nephilim narrative can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly in 1 Enoch and the Book of Jubilees.* Here, in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, the Nephilim are linked to the fallen angels and the Watchers. In Enoch, the reader can find the story of a high ranking angel called Samyaza, who allegedly led a group of two hundred angels to earth in order to couple with mortal women.

Needless to say, this was frowned upon.

So Samyaza and his angels were banished to Tartarus, and the Nephilim were condemned to wander the earth in spiritual form as demons, whose task is was to torment and lead humankind astray. The antediluvian children of the Nephilim were called the Elioud, and they are what the non-canonical texts considered to be a part-angel hybrid.

My Nefilim in my Los Nefilim stories are more akin to the Elioud in nature; although, I never use the word Elioud. This is because I got into a lot of trouble with Miserere by sticking too close to actual texts and practices. What I learned from writing Miserere, and applied in Los Nefilim, is that the general reader doesn't have all of the necessary background information about the non-canonical texts, and it is a bit too much in terms of backstory. With too much backstory, the pacing of a story is slowed to crawl and totally bores the reader into a coma.

Sort of like this post.

But just in case you're one of those weird people like me that really gets into reading about angels and demons, you can find much more about the Nephilim in the Dead Sea Scrolls1 Enoch, and The Book of Jubilees.


*The Book of Jubilees is canonical in both the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and by Beta Israel, Ethiopian Jews.