In surveying the options to answer the question, “Who were the Nephilim?,” we last looked at the view that the Nephilim were the offspring of rebellious divine beings. In his book The Unseen Realm. Michael Heiser mentions how 1 Enoch informed the worldview of Peter and Jude. He tells us
“Jewish literature like 1 Enoch that retold the story shows a keen awareness of [the] Mesopotamian context” of Genesis 6, and “Jewish thinkers of the Second Temple period [the period between the testaments] understood… that the story involved divine beings and giant offspring. That understanding is essential to grasping what the biblical writers were trying to communicate” (102).
Genesis 6.1-4 is a polemic, a strong attack on someone or something. It is an effort to undermine the “credibility of the Mesopotamian gods and other aspects of that culture’s worldview” (102). This involves borrowing ideas from the Babylonian culture and changing them to illuminate a correct theology of Yahweh while at the same time discrediting other gods.
“Gilgameche” in History 151
It was in university where I first heard the idea that there were other flood stories (e.g., the Epic of Gilgamesh) besides the biblical story of Noah. While this didn’t shake my faith, it struck me as odd. It wasn’t so much hearing that there were other flood stories, but that I had never even heard of this before! But it is true. Mesopotamia is replete with other flood stories that deal with a large boat and the salvation of animals and people. Below are a few notable mentions.
The Supporting Cast
The apkallus: In the time before the flood, a group of divine beings who possessed profound knowledge. Many were considered evil and were integral to Mesopotamian demonology.
Marduk: the chief god of Babylon
The Apsu: “subterranean waters deep inside the earth” (103).
As some of the Mesopotamian stories go, the apkallus mated with women and “produced quasi-divine offspring” which were considered to be two-thirds apkallu (102). This matches the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the hero Gilgamesh “was considered a giant who retained knowledge from before the flood” (103).
In another text, the Erra Epic, Marduk punishes the evil apkallus with banishment to the Apsu (also a part of the underworld). In doing this Marduk commands that the apkallus never come up again (reminding us of 2 Pet. 2.4 and Jude 6-7). The fact that this link is found not in the OT but in the NT (2 Peter and Jude) shows that the intertestamental Jewish writers were keenly aware of the Mesopotamian background.
No, I’m kidding!
Were the Nephilim really offspring of divine beings who rebelled against Yahweh and had sex with human women? Why do we need to know this? How is it relevant to the rest of Genesis? In my next post it only gets weirder. I’ll look at Genesis 6.1-4 in its original context, along with what we are to do with the Nephilim, some watchers, and why the Israelites cared.
Don’t worry. This won’t become a soap opera with characters who have no business being in the show.
- Who Were the Nephilim?
- Why This Topic?
- Three Interpretations on the Nephilim
- Why is Genesis 6.1-4 in the Bible?
- Weird Texts of the Bible
Dividing the Nations
The OT Trinity
- The Trinity in the Old Testament
- And He Struggled With the Angel
- He Rides the Clouds
- The Holy Spirit
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And also Heiser’s more condensed version,