Let me preface today’s blog with a quick note reminding readers that I was not personally involved in the production of Ancient Aliens Debunked and do not endorse the filmmaker’s personal beliefs about the reality of Noah’s Flood or the Nephilim.
This does tie in, however, to what I was writing yesterday about Andrew Collins. Collins—who, incidentally, believes in “sentient” “light beings” composed of plasma that can be contacted by buying his most recent book—also wrote a tome about the Nephilim in 1998. He claimed that these beings were in fact a “shamanic elite” from the last Ice Age who sparked the Neolithic Revolution and reigned as a parasitic ruling class until the end of the Bronze Age. These same Nephilim are also found in Zecharia Sitchin’s work as space aliens.
This is quite a bit to read into a single line from Genesis (6:4), the only Biblical description of these creatures. (They appear again in Numbers 13:3, but in a different context.)
Scholars have differed on the origin and meaning of the specific word nephilim. Some claim that it means “fallen” and refers to fallen angels; Mike Heiser has made a persuasive case that the King James translators had it right in following the Greek text in assigning the meaning of “giants.” He identifies the Hebrew term as a loan word for giants taken from the Aramaic. But in Chariots of the Gods, Erich von Däniken, reading the passage in Genesis, immediately smelled aliens at work:
The passage in Genesis, and later tradition, actually differentiate between the “sons of God” and the giants, who were their offspring. In the earliest interpretations, the “sons of God” were identified with angels, though later commentators came to favor a more earthly interpretation in which the “sons” became “sons of Seth” (i.e. the righteous), who mated with the daughters of Cain (i.e. the sinful). Simeon bar Yochai is said to have cursed any attempt at an interpretation of Genesis 6:4 other than this in the first century CE.
The later Book of Enoch and Book of Jubilees favor the fallen angel version, explicitly identifying the “sons of God” with angels who descended from heaven and taught men such forbidden arts as metallurgy and cosmetology (yes, I mean make-up: 1 Enoch 8:1). According to these texts, the angels rebelled against God because they were overcome with sexual desire for human females.
I’m going to admit here that what follows is mostly speculation, though I hope based on fact. I find Genesis 6:4 interesting, but I think it belongs in the broader context of early Near Eastern myth. Literally, the phrase “sons of God” in Hebrew says “sons of the gods,” in the plural. This has been rationalized as something akin to the Royal We, but many have suggested it refers to pre-Judaic references to a polytheistic pantheon. We know than in other Near Eastern cultures, the gods had sons and these sons were considered superhuman beings. The most famous is Gilgamesh, two-thirds god and one-third man, the hero who built the high walls of Uruk. Another is Humbaba, the terrifying, radiant giant who was the child of Hanbi and the ward of the sun god. The Greeks, too, imagined that the race of heroes that preceded their own—mostly the sons of the gods—were of gigantic stature, which they “confirmed” by claiming the bones of prehistoric elephants to be the remains of the giant heroes.
But here is where it gets interesting. By 100 BCE, the writers of the Jewish apocryphal text called the Book of Giants—a sort of sequel to the Book of Enoch—included both Gilgamesh and Humbaba as two of the antediluvian giants. This in and of itself is not conclusive, since it is centuries after Genesis, but it suggests that there was a tradition that the giants of Genesis reflected a Jewish interpretation of the widespread Near Eastern claim that the giants of old were the sons of the pagan gods. Since we know that other widespread Near Eastern myths had Biblical versions, including the Near Eastern Flood myth and the battle between the storm god and the chaos monster, it seems to me that the origins of Genesis 6:4 are to be found in Near Eastern hero stories that would have been the common folk culture of the region.
I’m not the only one to see such a connection; unfortunately, though, most of the others who see the same connection claim that Gilgamesh is one of the Nephilim and therefore is an alien hybrid! It comes down to the key assumption one makes in thinking about ancient myth: are these stories to be taken as literature, or as fact? Until some skeletons of these giants show up—and no, the elephant bones don’t count—it is terribly dangerous to take literally stories that have been told and retold in countless forms across time and space.
Bonus: Alternative theorists like to take ancient texts literally, but for those paying attention, this poses a problem. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh lives after the Flood, but in the Book of Giants, he lives before the Flood. Clearly, both ancient texts can't be right, and if one is wrong, this calls into question the practice of using ancient texts uncritically as literal reports of mythic events.
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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