Genesis 6:1ff - bene--ha'elohim, nephilim

David Gray david_gray at
Tue Dec 11 08:06:14 EST 2001

This is a really thorny passage, as I'm sure you'll all know. Now I've read
the article by S. Hre Kio in The Bible translator (Pr Papers Vol. 52, No. 2)
and he presents three possibilities for bene--ha'elohim:

1. The heavenly-earthly mixed race view (heavenly beings)
2. The religious mixed marriage view (descendants of Seth)
3. The ruling class "harem" view (rulers, royal aristocracy)

He then rejects 2, and says that 1. is unlikely due to theological problems
caused by the idea of angels having intercourse with human beings, and lands
on 3. as the best possible compromise or the least unlikely solution.

Meanwhile both Wenham (Word BC) and Cassuto (Magnes Press) favour the first
view, seeing it as fitting in with the overall theme of Gen 1-11 and more
specifically 3-11 - sin entering creation at various realms, including the

The second problem is what to do about the nephilim in verse 4, and how long
they had existed - what is the relationship of the Hebrew phrases in 4a:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days
and also afterward
when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans
who bore children to them

Cassuto and Wenham agree that 'were on the earth in those days' refers to
the period before the flood 'and also afterwards' the period after the
flood. Others (e.g. Kidner's commentary, Russian Synodal translation, many
other formal equivalence translations) take it to mean that the Nephilim
were around before the sons of God went into the daughters of men. The
latter view would make the children something other than Nephilim, the
former is more harmonious with the passage as a whole (and other occurences
of 'those days' in the Tanakh).

The third problem - who are the nephilim? Giants, or heroic warriors,
princes, rulers (under the bene--ha'elohim or equivalent to them)? The
occurence in Numbers might or might not help us here. I have put this
problem here as it seems to me if you don't solve the logic of the Hebrew
phrases in v4 you can't solve this problem.

Fourth problem - how to divide up Genesis 6 i.e where does this section end
(at the end of verse 8 or earlier e.g. end of 4) and the flood narrative
begin? Perhaps this should have been the first problem. Make it so in your
thinking as you work through this passage, if you will.

Any answers please? Has anyone written about this previously?

David Gray

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list