Are the Anakim the Same as the Nephilim?

This past Sunday I taught a message from Numbers 14 and Joshua 14, about how Joshua and Caleb understood something about obeying God by faith: that just as we need food to sustain our bodies and keep us healthy physically, we need challenges and steps of faith in our walk with God in order to stay healthy spiritually.

Here’s a link to that message if you’d like to watch it or listen to it.

One issue that comes up in the text, which I didn’t address in the sermon is the question of whether the Anakim (the sons of Anak), mentioned in Numbers and Joshua as the giants in Canaan, are the descendants of the Nephilim mentioned in Genesis 6. In Numbers 13:32-33, the 10 faithless spies claim that there are giants in the land of Canaan who are “from the Nephilim.” What does that mean?

Who are the Nephilim?

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 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.

Genesis 6:1-4

There are two main theories on who these Nephilim were:

Theory #1: The offspring of demons and human women

This theory, while perhaps seeming quite foreign to modern Westerners, has the support of extra-biblical Jewish literature. It interprets the above passage along these lines: the “sons of God” is a phrase used in the Bible to refer to angels, therefore the “sons of God” who had relations with the “daughters of men” which resulted in children being born means that these were fallen angels who manifested in physical form and had sexual relations with human women resulting in a race of half-human, half-demons – and that this is what, at least in part, precipitated the flood of God’s judgment in the time of Noah.

The challenges to this view are the question of whether it is possible for demons to have sexual relations with humans, resulting in offspring.

In Matthew 22:30, Jesus states that, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” However, this merely tells us that angels do not marry, it does not tell us whether or not they are capable of sexual relations with human beings, resulting in offspring.

This view is also interesting in that it seems to correspond with some other ancient stories of the “Titans” – a race of half-human, half-“gods” – who lived on Earth.

Some people see a possible connection with this in 2 Peter 2, where Peter says:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly

2 Peter 2:4-5

What’s interesting about this passage is that the word Peter uses for “hell” is the word “Tartarus” which was considered the deepest part of hell, reserved for fallen angels – or in Greek mythology, that reserved for the Titans. It is also possible that Peter is only referring to the judgment of fallen angels (demons) and not to any kind of unique race of mixed demon-human offspring, but it is interesting that it is tied to a discussion about the flood in Noah’s time.

Theory #2: The intermarrying of the godly line of Seth with ungodly peoples

This theory also has historical precedent, and states that the “sons of God” is a term which refers to the godly and messianic (AKA “kingly”) family line of Seth, because Genesis 4 ends with the words:

And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

It is from the line of Seth that the Messiah will come, and some people interpret this to mean that there was an intermarrying of the godly family line of Seth with the ungodly family lines of others like Cain’s descendents, who turned away from the Lord, not only as individuals but as clans and societies. Intermarriage between people who follow God and those who don’t is forbidden, and thus – according to this interpretation – this was a further sign of the depth of depravity at that time: that even the godly people were becoming unfaithful to the Lord, hence the fact that Noah was the only godly person to be found.

Those who argue with this position would say that it makes no sense that intermarriage would so upset God that it would precipitate the judgment of the flood, and that it does not explain the existence of the Nephilim, who must have been very tall people.

In response, those who hold this position would say that what precipitated the flood was that “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) God then states in Genesis 6:7 that He will blot out man from the earth, with the exception of Noah. In other words: the judgment of the flood was intended to blot out human beings, not to destroy a race of half-human, half-demons. Furthermore, they would argue that the statement about the Nephilim is simply an aside; it is merely stated that the Nephilim were on the Earth at this time during which the godly family line of Seth was mixing with the ungodly line of Cain – and this is not necessarily an “origin story” of the Nephilim.

Does Nephilim simply mean “giants”?

Another important factor in this discussion is the etymology of the word “Nephilim”. Genesis 6:4 never actually calls the Nephilim “giants”, but the Nephilim are understood to be giants because in Numbers 13:32-33, the giants in the land of Canaan are described as coming from the Nephilim.

Also, the Septuagint (Ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible {AKA: Old Testament}) translates both the Hebrew נְּפִלִ֞ים (Nephilim) and גִּבֹּרִ֛ים (gibborim, “mighty men” or “men of renown”) in Genesis 6:4 as γίγαντες (gigantes, “giants”).[1] (It may be that the Septuagint translated Nephilim as “giants” because of the account in Numbers 13, though some think Nephilim comes from the Aramaic word naphiyla for giant.[2]) (Source: [3])

If the word Nephilim simply means giants, then the statement in Numbers 13:32-33 that the Anakim are related to the Nephilim is easily understood, as simply meaning that they are giants.

The Nephilim and the Flood

One of the problems with the idea that the Anakim in Canaan are descended from the Nephilim in Genesis 6, is that in between Genesis 6 and Numbers 13 there was a giant flood that wiped out the entire population except for Noah and his immediate family.

This means that either:

  1. The flood in the time of Noah was local rather than universal, and therefore some Nephilim survived the flood
  2. What happened in the time of Noah with fallen angels having sexual relations with humans, producing half-human, half-demon offspring happened again after the flood
  3. The word nephilim is simply a general term for giants

The problem with the first option is that even if the flood was local rather than universal (which I don’t believe it was, and I the text seems makes it clear that it was not merely local), the point of the text seems to be that the Nephilim on the Earth at that time were destroyed in the flood either way. There is one other view on this, which states that perhaps a demon-child was able to survive the flood in the womb of one of Noah’s daughters, but this seems a bit far-fetched and has the same problem as the second option:

The second option brings up the obvious question of: if it could happen again after the flood, who’s to say it couldn’t happen now as well? Yet we have no evidence of any half-demon, half-human giants in the world today.

On the third option, if the word nephilim simply refers to giants in general, then it explains why Genesis 6:4 says that the Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward.

What is the connection between the Anakim the Nephilim?

Again, there are a few possibly explanations here, but since I don’t consider the view that some Nephilim survived the flood, these are the three remaining possibilities:

  1. The spies in Numbers 13 were exaggerating, and saying that the giants they saw in Canaan (the sons of Anak, AKA: Anakim) were the Nephilim of Genesis 6 in order to scare the people of Israel into agreeing with them that they should not enter into the land and fight the battles.
  2. These were indeed half-demon, half-human offspring who resulted from sexual relations between demons and humans after the flood.
  3. The spies were simply using a word which refers to giants in general. This is the way the (Jewish, pre-Christian) translators of the Septuagint interpreted it, and this is reflected in the Textus Receptus which is the basis of the King James and New King James translations in English, which don’t use the word Nephilim in Numbers 13, but rather the word “giants,”

I lean towards explanations 1 and 3, seeing in explanation 2 the same problems listed above in the previous section.

Certainly this is a tangential issue and not one related to the core of biblical faith, but I hope this helps bring some clarity and help for those who have wondered about it.

Does the Epic of Gilgamesh Undermine Our Trust in the Bible?

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In my previous post on Gilgamesh, Richard Dawkins and the “new atheism”, I mentioned how some people have made the claim that the Bible borrowed, copied, or stole certain stories from other Ancient Near East mythology. This argument essentially says that the Bible should therefore not be taken as an accurate historical account, but merely as “Jewish mythology.”

What is the Epic of Gilgamesh?

Considered one of the earliest works of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh is a Sumerian epic poem which tells the story of a cataclysmic flood, and the salvation of a righteous man on a boat. Portions of the story have been found, which archaeologists date back to 2100 BC. A full version of the poem was unearthed in the mid-19th century, dating back to 650 BC.

Similarities between the two stories

There are many similarities between the Epic of Gilgamesh and the story of Noah and the flood in the Old Testament. The story goes that the god Ea, the creator of the Earth, decided to end all life on Earth with a great flood. Ea selected Ut-Napishtim (or Utnapishtim) to construct a six-story square ark and save himself and a few others.

Further similarities:

  • God, or several gods, decided to destroy humankind because of wickedness.
  • A righteous man was chosen to build a boat in order to be saved, along with some animals.
  • Both end with a divine promise not to destroy the Earth again by a flood.

Differences between the stories

  • In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the flood only lasts 6 days and 7 nights, whereas in the Bible it lasts 40 days and 40 nights.
  • The Bible says that water didn’t only fall from the sky, but came up from beneath the surface of the Earth.
  • In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the boat come to rest on a mountain called Nisir, whereas in the Bible the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. The two are about 300 miles apart.
  • In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Utnapishtim received eternal life, whereas Noah died.

Other Flood Accounts

Hundreds of flood traditions have been preserved all over the world, with examples being found in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, as well as both of the Americas, and most share similarities with the Genesis account.

About 95% describe a global cataclysmic flood, 88% tell of a family of humans saved from drowning to reestablish the human race after the flood, 66% say the family was forewarned, 66% blame the wickedness of man for the flood, and 70% record a boat as being the means by which the family (and animals) survived the flood. More than one third of these traditions mention birds being sent out from the boat. [1]

Who Copied Whom?

If, as ALL these stories purport, we all descended from the one family that survived this world-wide cataclysmic flood, then it would make sense that this story would be passed on and re-told in people groups around the world. Thus, accounts like the Epic of Gilgamesh and others which tell the story of a flood only serve to reenforce the idea that such a flood did take place. Interpretation of why it took place, it could also be expected, would differ as each culture would run it through the framework of their particular religious beliefs.

The biggest question is: which account should be considered the authoritative one, which correctly conveys the facts and meaning of the flood?

For the answer, we would do well to consider the nature of the different texts, and this historicity of other Old Testament writings.

On my trip to Israel earlier this year, I was able to witness firsthand how archaeology is consistently proving that the Bible accurately portrays history. (See: Why Should Christians Visit Israel?)  In other words: the Bible purports to tell history (not mythology), and it has a proven track record of doing so accurately.

Given the Jews’ reputation for passing down information scrupulously from one generation to another and maintaining a consistent reporting of events, Genesis is considered by historians and archaeologists to be far more historical than the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is regarded as mythological because of its numerous gods and their interrelationships and intrigues in deciding the fate of humankind. [2]

Thus, we can be confident of two things: that a flood did happen, and that the Bible not only purports to tell history, but has been proven to do so accurately.

Does the Epic of Gilgamesh undermine our trust in the Bible? No. If anything it bolsters our trust in the historicity of the flood.