Yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow is Easter, which is of course reason enough to talk about Holy Saturday, the day on the Christian calendar commemorating the period that Jesus spent dead. For millennia, Christians have pondered what happened during those hours between the death and resurrection of Christ, and in medieval times it was widely believed that Christ spent that period in the “harrowing of Hell,” in which he broke open the gates of Hades and ushered the righteous dead from Limbo into Heaven. But not so fast, some Christians say. This belief is based on non-canonical Gospels from Late Antiquity and a single reference in 1 Peter 3:19-20: “After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” According to Calvinist and Charismatic pastor Sam Storms, these are none other than the Nephilim!
Storms interprets the passage in 1 Peter as referring not to Holy Saturday, as the Late Antique and medieval authorities believed but rather to a period following Christ’s resurrection. Similarly, he also believes that the reference to those who were disobedient in the days of Noah refers not to humanity in general, as Genesis 6:5 and 6:11-12 suggest (referring to “the wickedness of the human race”), but rather to the angels who couldn’t keep it in their pants in Genesis 6:4:
The point of our passage in 1 Peter, therefore, is that after his resurrection and through the power of the Spirit Jesus went to the prison where these "spirits" or demons are being held and he proclaimed to them the victory he had achieved through his death on the cross and his being raised from the dead.
So, rather than the loving and forgiving myth of Christ bringing the righteous dead to paradise, Storms envisions Christ as descending into Tartarus to thumb his nose at the Watchers and the Nephilim. It kind of makes Christ look a bit mean-spirited to go all the way to the Watchers’ prison to rub it in their face, especially since the Watchers already knew they were going to be judged before God on Judgement Day (Jude 1:6). This reading is entirely in keeping with the myth of the Watchers as given in the apocryphal Book of Enoch and alluded to in the Book of Jude, but it strikes me as also a convenient reading for the punitive version of religion Calvinists tend to favor. Calvin’s doctrine, after all, was that God either pre-saved or pre-damned your soul and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Speaking of the Nephilim, have you seen that South African crackpot Michael Tellinger has a new show called Hidden Origins on the Gaia TV subscription streaming service? In the preview trailer posted to YouTube, he discusses the Nephilim, and it’s kind of weird. (Disclosure: Gaia TV once asked me to write fringe articles for them, and I declined their offer.) In the video, Tellinger begins by telling his audience what it’s like to try to strike up a conversation about Nephilim and Watchers at the local pub:
And when you go down to the pub, and you strike up a conversation with the guy next to you, and you say, ‘Hey, how ’bout those Giants?’ they probably think you’re talking about some sports team, right? But no! You’d be talking about the giants in human history. And this, when you bring [it] up in conversation, normally brings up, you know, laughter and people giggling and thinking you’re joking.
I’m not sure what kind of bar he goes to, but I’ve never once had anyone walk up to me to start talking about a lost race of giants. Of course, I’ve never gone to a bar with Aaron Rodgers, so perhaps I’m missing something.
Tellinger, who seems to have had a makeover and a new hairstyle for his TV series, goes on to explain that he believes that the Bible is literally true and therefore any reference to giants is a reference to actual giants from human history. He shows us his typical evidence, including a carved “footprint” of a giant in granite which he takes to be a real artifact from Nephilim times, and introduces us to Austrian mystery-monger Klaus Dona, whom we encountered some time ago in passing off three megafauna bones he first saw in 1964 as those of a Giant. The “footprint” has been in Tellinger’s stock repertory of “evidence” since 2012, and despite having been known since 1912, no expert who viewed it thought it anything more than an interesting bit of erosion, perhaps enhanced by humans who carved it into more of a foot-shape. Tellinger accepts Dona’s megafauna bones as those of a human giant 25 feet tall (7.6 meters) (I checked, and he’s referring to the same set of bones), and the two men now assert that the bones were genetically tested and proved to be “humanoid” and 7.5 m tall. (How DNA would give height I can only imagine.) Those bones, regular readers will remember, became the basis for the “giant” skeleton statue at Erich von Däniken’s Mystery Park that creationists mistook for a real Nephilim skeleton.
Oddly, back in 2010 Dona had claimed that these same bones were “too old” to yield useful DNA. “It turned out [to be] impossible to get a DNA-sample form the bones and the archaeological DNA-expert thought they might be too old,” Dona wrote. So how is it that somehow the bones are now yielding Giant genes? Something isn’t right.
In 2015 radio host Kristan Harris said that Dona had had one of the bones tested on Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and it yielded human DNA. I can’t find any record of this. Instead, he appeared on Just Energy Radio on May 21, 2015 and described the DNA testing a second time. Here he explained in a somewhat confused way that “three or four years ago”—and here he seems to mean 2010—he had an Austrian lab test one of the bones, which yielded no usable results. In 2015 he sent a sample from one bone fragment to a Japanese lab, which performed a carbon-14 test on it and dated it to “23,300 to 23,800 years,” though he did not specify radiocarbon or calendar years, or BCE or BP. (His English is not good.) He said that “they also could get a DNA out of that bone, and it does not fit the DNA of Homo sapiens sapiens.” That is exactly what we’d expect from a megafauna bone. Dona declined to explain whether the DNA matched any animal DNA, saying he needed to wait for a report from the Japanese lab, which he expected in June 2015. That was, so far as I can find, his last public word on the “giant” DNA, and Dona did not make public the comparison (if any) with animal DNA that he thought the Japanese might have done, though he couldn’t remember whether he had asked them to do it.
So, given that “humanoid” is not a scientific classification, and we can’t use DNA to calculate height, it sounds like Tellinger has conflated and confused a number of data points. The bones were genetically analyzed, and they are non-human, but the shape and size of the creature that used them seems to have been reconstructed by fringe figures from what was likely a giant sloth or some similar creature. Sloths are “humanoid” in shape and of the right height, since giant sloths could grow up to six meters. If our heroes misunderstood the bones as belonging to humans and thus tried to adapt ground sloth anatomy to the human form, that discrepancy would easily account for the addition 1.5 m Dona and Tellinger attribute to the bone fragments. That said, I know from the 1986 book High Altitude Tropical Biogeography that the region where these bones were found is known for its mastodon fossils, so that’s another and perhaps most likely explanation for the bones.
But why would they assume the bones are human(ish)? Because that’s what the Ecuadoran owner of them had already been claiming when Dona came across them.
The set of bones isn’t Dona’s “discovery” as he and Tellinger have recently tried to paint it. Dona isn’t even the first to popularize them. The bones were allegedly found by a priest named Carlos Vaca in Ecuador in 1964, as part of a larger skeleton that had emerged from within a collapsed mountainside. The priest kept some of the pieces of the bones, though not the full skeleton. These fragments remained hidden away until 1992 when Vaca publicized the artifacts he had collected in Ecuador. Unnamed “scholars” who looked at his collection declared one “enormous” tooth in it to be human, which seems to be the warrant for assigning all of the bones to one creature and a giant. The interesting thing is that Vaca claimed that an entire cabinet of giant bones had come from the area around his parish in Changaimina, which some sources say is associated locally with a “cemetery of the gods.” This sounds a lot like the very similar giants’ cemeteries found in Ecuador and Peru and always associated with megafauna assemblages.
Incidentally, what is it with Ecuadoran Catholic priests and Noachian archaeology? This is the same country where Father Crespi fooled himself into thinking the land was rich with pre-Flood Nephilim toilet floats.
An old Ecuadoran TV clip from the 1990s provides a glimpse at Vaca’s collection, and the objects he has in his cabinet seem to be megafauna bones, though the show—a UFO fringe program—had a forensic expert on to declare them the bones of giants, while an archaeologist suggested they were animal fossils.
Dona took a handful of bones in 1999 after the priest died to use in a for-profit sideshow of ancient “mysteries.” It’s unclear who the legal owners are, but if they are really “human” or “humanoid” as Tellinger now claims, Dona would be admitting, in essence, to trafficking in human bones, seemingly against Ecuadoran and international law, which is another good reason to suspect that these are nothing but animal fossils.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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