Watchers, Nephilim and other bizarre Bible stuff
First of all, I’m a fiction writer. I deal in speculative worlds. The “literary license” I employ is the equivalent of a driver’s license that lets me drive on the sidewalk and up the sides of buildings too.
But with the upcoming release of Forsaken, I believe it is time to talk about some of the biblical aspects of the Forlorn series and where they came from, especially as they are somewhat controversial.
In the series, the character Jared Lorn is one of the Nephilim. The Nephilim make their first appearance in the Bible in Genesis 6:1-4:
1Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, 2that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. 3Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4The Nephilim were 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.
I have embraced the notion, often shunned by modern theologians, that the Nephilim were the product of angels mating with humans. The “sons of God” in Genesis 6:4 is a clear reference to angels. Both Peter and Jude in their letters use this intepretation, as well as most Jewish and early Christian commentators.* “Sons of God” is also used in the Book of Job in reference to angels. To me that is the simplest and most sensible interpretation.
Yet over the years theologians, perhaps offended by the idea of angels procreating, have attempted to reinterpret “sons of God” to refer to some pristine human race, the Sethites in particular. (In that case, wouldn’t the wording have been “the sons of Seth?”)
But angels can’t get married! Jesus said so! Right?
“For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Matthew 22:30
Jesus was speaking here not of angels but of humans in the future world, when marriage and procreation would not be necessary, because everyone will live forever. We will be like angels in that sense. Throughout the Bible we see angels eating and talking and looking so human that many actual humans don’t even realize they are angels. So they could have fully functional bodies in our earthly dimension (unless they are all Ken dolls.)
Furthermore angels, like us, have free will. Satan himself led a rebellion against God. These particular angels had committed a great sin. They were disobedient.
A Brief History of the Nephilim
Genesis 6 is tantalizingly sketchy on details. There is much more about these fallen angels (known as Watchers**) and the Nephilim in the Book of Enoch. While not part of the biblical canon, the Book of Enoch was widely read and accepted by early Jews and Christians, and was quoted by Peter and Jude in their epistles. Fragments of the book were even found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.***
Enoch, in case you were wondering, was the son of Jared (get it?), the seventh in the line of Adam. He was also the great-grandfather of Noah. The Bible says that because he walked with God all his life, he didn’t die but was “taken up” to heaven.
The Book of Enoch doesn’t contradict scripture, it just gives more detail. Gruesome detail, actually. It recounts the disobedience of the Watchers and their downfall, as well as the evil deeds of the Nephilim.
According to the Book of Enoch, the Watchers arrived on earth in the days of Jared. There were originally two hundred of them, and they made a pact that they would commit this “great sin” of marrying human women together, even if they got caught. They were caught, of course, and punished by being imprisoned in the Abyss until the End of Days. The Abyss is not the same as hell; it is exclusively reserved for the fallen Watchers. It’s deep underground, a “bottomless pit” filled with fire and “sharp rocks.” The Abyss is central to John’s visions in Revelation.
The Nephilim, being fathered by angels, were extremely powerful beings. Genesis 6 doesn’t refer to them as evil—they were “mighty heroes,” “famous warriors,” and “men of renown.” Whether they were actual giants is not very clear, but the Nephilim are usually considered to have been very large in stature. According to Enoch, they soon became the scourge on the earth.
And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood. (Enoch 7:12-14)
Pretty nasty. The great flood of Noah was designed to rid the earth of the Nephilim. But they still existed after the flood. The spies Moses sent to scout out Canaan claimed to have been them.***
“The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size. There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” (Numbers 13:27-29)
The Anakites (“long-necked ones”) were connected to the Rephaim (“the dead ones”), descendants of the Nephilim. They were also called Zamzummites (“buzzers”) or Emim (“fearful ones”) (Deut 2:10-11). It’s hard to know the relationship between these various tribes, but they all lived in Canaan at one time or another. King Og of Basham was said to be the last of the Rephaim kings (Deut 3:11). Goliath was a Gittite, another tribe known for great stature, so it’s possible he was a descendant of Nephilim as well.
We know that God commanded the Israelites to completely wipe out the inhabitants of Canaan during the conquest. This has caused many people to question God’s goodness or to reject Him altogether. But what if the people in those lands were so thoroughly evil because of this fatal genetic corruption of the Nephilim?
In the Forlorn series, I play the “what if” game: What if the Nephilim were driven out of Canaan (they were) but a remnant survived and went to other lands? Thanks to ancestry.com, we know that almost all humans have some Neanderthal DNA, despite the fact that the Neaderthals have been extinct for thousands of years. So why not Nephilim DNA? And what if, like recessive genes, just the right combination would cause a Nephilim to be born in modern times? And what if that Nephilim, a member of a cursed race, wanted to escape his fate and become a true child of God?
Are the Nephilim stories true?
It’s easy in our rational world to discount the supernatural aspects of the Bible as myth or fairy tale. Richard Dawkins, the famous neo-Darwinian atheist, believes it more likely that aliens, not God, created human life on earth. Elon Musk believes we are living in a gigantic computer simulation created by—you guessed it—aliens. In our scientific age, aliens are apparently more plausible than fallen angels. But even these two super-smart men seem to admit that our world did not create itself. That there’s something outside of the box we live in, something bigger, with a power far beyond anything we can imagine.
The idea of divine beings mating with humans and giant roaming the earth and causing a great flood are not exclusive to the Bible. Other ancient civilizations have similiar stories. Does this mean the Bible is not true, that it actually took its account from other places? Or could it be that these events were known to everyone in the world? That they all point to a singular truth?
This is the position of J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, both scholars in mythology. In fact, this very notion was how Tolkien finally convinced his friend Lewis that the Bible was true:
Tolkien believed that all myths, pagan or otherwise, contained an element of truth for they were the ideas of God being expressed in man. They all represented the true myth: that of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the other stories found in the Bible. (The Imaginative Conservative)
There’s a lovely little scene from the movie “Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: A Catholic Worldview” that recreates the debate between Lewis and Tolkien on the nature of myth and biblical truth. It’s only 8 minutes—I encourage you to watch it.
At the end of this scene, Tolkien sums up the whole human experience: “The story (of Christ) has everything man’s heart desires. Because it is being told by the One who is the fulfillment of desire itself. It is a story that begins and ends in joy… This story has the supremely convincing tone of primary art. Not fiction, but of creation. To reject this leads either to darkness or to wrath. And in my own life, it has led me from darkness to light.”
Tim Keller gave a powerful sermon about Lewis and Tolkien which brings all of this together better than I ever could—here’s the link.
In the words of Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The Bible says something similar: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding.” I may be totally wrong about the Nephilim, in which case I will whip out my “literary license” and beg for forgiveness. In the meantime I will continue to imagine what the world is, and was, and might have been.
*”Sons of God” is used differently in the New Testament, either to refer to believers in Christ (by Paul) or to refer to Jesus, though interestingly, Jesus never used the term for himself.
**The term Watchers is also used in the Book of Daniel in reference to angels. There are other similarities between Enoch and Daniel, including the use of the title “Son of Man” in referring to the Messiah, a term Jesus used for himself.
***A distinction is often made between the first Book of Enoch, which contains the story of the Watchers, and the second and third, which were probably written long after and are much more problematic in terms of authorship. It should be noted also that the Book of Enoch is included in the biblical canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
****It’s unknown how the Nephilim reappeared after the flood. One theory is that while all the living Nephilim had been destroyed, there may still have been Nephilim DNA, perhaps carried by a member of Noah’s family. Other scholars discount the idea altogether and claim the spies just exaggerated.