Study Guide

Book of Genesis Chapter 6:1-4

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Chapter 6:1-4

The Nephilim or Giants

  • Boy would Noah have a killer college admissions essay.
  • We all know the story of the flood, but sometimes we overlook the little prequel.
  • Ready? Go. The "sons of God" think that human females are hot tickets. We've been suspecting that God's not alone (remember the plurals of 1:26 and 3:22), and now other divine beings play an active role in the story. 
  • Take a time out to join us in recognizing that some of these archaic strands within the Hebrew Bible reveal a degree of—big word alert!—"polytheism," that is, the acceptance of several deities, opposed to "monotheism" or the affirmation that God is singular.
  • So these sons of God start marrying these ladies. Greek myth is full of gods like Zeus who fall in love with mortal women, so this isn't out of the ordinary. 
  • In response, God decides to limit the lifespan of mortals to a mere 120 years. Here again the Hebrew is back to God's nickname YHWH (the Lord).
  • The gods make it with their mortal brides, and they give birth to the "Nephilim" (6:4 NRSV), who are part-divine beings who walked the earth in pre-flood times. Nephilim is more or less a straight transliteration of the Hebrew word, which literally means "fallen" (without the connotations of the Christian concept of "the fall"). 
  • In a vestige of ancient Hebrew myth, the narrator simply says of these fellows that they "were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown" (6:4 NRSV).

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