The Nephilim are an endless source of fascination for fringe history types, but they tend not to be big players in crackpot claims until the end of the twentieth century, when Creationists started to get in on the ancient astronaut craze and proposed Nephilim as an evangelical counterweight to more secular aliens, something like the way evangelical Christians proposed that flying saucers were really demons in shiny chariots. That’s why I was fascinated to find a nineteenth century text that ascribed many of the wonders of ancient history to—you guessed it—the Nephilim!
In 1883, the Vicar of Ashchurch, H. S. Warleigh, published anonymously a tract called Genesis in Advance of Present Science, in which he expanded on an idea he had been formulating since the 1870s. At that time, Warleigh, then in his 60s, had become deeply disturbed by the new sciences of geology and evolutionary biology, and he tried mightily to discover a way to harmonize archaeological and paleontological evidence with the chronology of history given in the Book of Genesis. “I firmly believed that God was the author of the Book of Nature, and of the Book of Revelation,” he wrote, “and I could not think that there was any inconsistency between them.” Warleigh scoured the Biblical text for answers, and he found them, allowing him to propose that Genesis perfectly predicts each new scientific discovery.
On Tuesday April 4, 1876, Warleigh presented a paper to the Society of Biblical Archaeology in which Warleigh conceded that the ancient evidence for prehistoric works of art antedating the Biblical chronology did in fact exist. However, he ascribed this artwork to the Tertiary Period (i.e., what we would call the Paleolithic) but denied that human beings were responsible. Instead, he proposed that the Nephilim were the gigantic, monstrous people of the Tertiary Period (he meant literal giants, not just large Neanderthals) and were responsible for all of the anomalous ancient material that could not comfortably fit into the Biblical human framework. He placed their homeland in the Nile Valley and suggested that they “emigrated northward and built the giant cities of Bashan,” the biblical area around Mt. Hermon, the home of the Watchers.
The great anthropologist E. B. Tylor was in attendance, and I would have loved to know what he thought of Warleigh’s suggestion. Tylor, in his Primitive Culture (1871), had made plain his belief that “giants” were sometimes mythic distortions of hostile tribes and slightly taller strangers, and more frequently something else entirely: “There is plenty of evidence that giant-legends are sometimes philosophic myths, to account for the finding of great fossil bones.” It must have made for quite the discussion since Warleigh argued that gigantic bones like those described by Flavius Josephus were the actual remains of Nephilim. “The strength, the stature, and the capabilities of the giant races have ever been spoken of as superhuman,” he later wrote. “Indeed, they would not have been deemed giants at all, but for these uncommon qualities. But they were uncommon, and were never found amongst mankind.” The Society’s Proceedings only note that Warleigh’s paper was “controversial,” without elaboration.
Warleigh became more convinced of his idea over the next seven years, and he included much of his 1876 paper in revision as the section of his Genesis book explicating the famous four verses of Genesis 6:1-4 in which the Sons of God mate with the daughters of men and Nephilim roam the earth. The argument is a bit, well, perverse, but it runs like this: Adam and his kith and kin were the first fully human beings, Homo sapiens, but there were earlier races of less fully human creatures (“non-human, bodily-erect, sensal, intellectual, moral race of beings”) who provided wives to the Sons of God as well as to Adam’s sons, and were the mothers of the Nephilim. He says that because Moses included no Nephilim in the human genealogy, they can only be from premodern semi-humans, but like humans, these creatures, too, fell into sin and wantonness.
At this point, our esteemed cleric begins to speculate that ancient people were too small and too weak to have been responsible for the works of antiquity. Get a load of this:
But there is a further suggestion. May it not be, that the Nephilim race were the builders of those mighty structures around which so much mystery has ever rested, and which have drawn forth so much speculation and research? Take, for instance, such structures as Stonehenge, but especially the great pyramid of Egypt. This was ancient when history or even human tradition began; and its design, as well as the mode of its erection, appears to have been as unknown and as mysterious then as now. Tradition handed down surmises, and really nothing more. Egyptologists of the past generation were men of immense research, and so are those of the present day; but the varied and widely distant dates which they assign to this pyramid, show that they know nothing certain about it. Could a structure so mighty, so peculiar, so indestructible, so prominent, and especially noticeable, ever have been raised after the human era began, and yet the period of its erection be lost before history began? It appears impossible. Let scientists begin their investigations afresh, and let them start on the supposition of a Tertiarian race of mighty gigantic beings. A less clue than this has often led to satisfactory results—results which have supplied the missing link and harmonised the discrepancies and contradictions, not of science itself, but of scientiflc deductions.
I place the whole 10,000-word explication of Genesis 6:4 in my Library.
This is the argument used in the 1960s to claim aliens as the builders of the pyramid, and in the 1990s to attribute it to Atlantis. It remains as wrong today as it was in the 1990s, the 1960s, and the 1870s, and even Warleigh should have known that Manetho clearly described the Great Pyramid as having been built by Suphis (Khufu) in the Fourth Dynasty. His claims are more closely aligned, ironically, to medieval Islamic views of the Pyramid, which attributed its construction to the pre-Flood Giants. (Christians of the same era thought them the granaries of Joseph.) How deliciously ironic that Warleigh, in attempting to prove the truth of Genesis and Christianity, ended up agreeing with Islamic folklore! (Also: His Nephilim theory helps to reconcile Christianity with claims from pagan, Islamic, and secular writers for pre-Adamite races; Islamic lore made them non-human djinn, giving Warleigh another unintended endorsement of Islamic folkore!)
Warleigh, incidentally, believed that the giants’ fathers, the Sons of God, were a mystery school of disciples of a pre-Incarnation Christ, including Seth, Enoch, and their worthy heirs. Warleigh denies that the Sons of God are the fathers of the Nephilim, preferring to read the mating of Sons of God and daughters of men as a separate event from the Giants who were on the Earth in those days. Squint, though, and you can see in this the progenitor of the brotherhood of Nephilim that Andrew Collins and Graham Hancock argued was responsible for the ancient wonders of the Near East. “I believe there is strong evidence to suggest that the Watchers, and their offspring the Nephilim, were indeed the shamanic elite that founded the early Neolithic cult centers of Upper Mesopotamia,” Collins says.
This is a slightly more sophisticated version of the Sethite view of the Sons of God (that they were the godly offspring of Seth, in contrast the sinful seed of Cain), but one Warleigh considered more appropriate because it takes the “sons” more literally by excluding women, who would otherwise have been necessary to have a robust holy Sethite order. If their holiness came from Jesus rather than from genes, the women can be safely excluded. Collins and Hancock are largely silent on women, for whom their prehistoric visions have little room beyond being incubators for the next generation of cultists, just like their Victorian forebears!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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