Nephilim -- thoughts?

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a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
I noticed that the reference to 'nephilim', fallen ones according to Robert Alter, occurs immediately after the limiting of human life to 120 years. All of this happens before the account of the flood.

I had always assumed that the environmental changes with the flood were associated with the change in lifespan. But now I am wondering if it was the human frame that changed, well before the flood. There would have been longer lived humans right up to the flood, along with many fragile, short lived ones. The longer lived ones would probably have had a stature and strength that the fragile ones did not. Plus there would be transitional traits, and a potential even after the flood (Noah having the longer lived frame) for traits of that old frame to reappear in Noah's lineage -- 'nephilim' could reappear after the flood (as in Numbers).

So 'nephilim' might be related to having fallen not from angels, perhaps not only in a religious sense (though that too), but from ancient human physique?

It may well be a dumb thought, but there it is ... I understand the 'children of Seth' view, but am wondering more particularly about what might have happened to the human body when God limited human lifespan. Certainly the 'nephilim' are a phenomenon associated with this change (Genesis 6:1-4).

(I can't help thinking a long lived, powerful frame would have seemed almost godlike to shorter lived, more fragile humans. Especially where these people were running about in violence and lust, it could possibly give rise to a lot of myth about badly behaved deities?)

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Any thoughts on the problems with taking the 120 years of lifespan, or other explanations for the mention of nephilim in these particular unions?

-- I understand that the 120 years are often read as referring to the remaining time left before the flood, though that introduces some difficulty reconciling all the figures mentioned (Shem, Ham, and Japheth seem to exist, even with wives, before and when God commissions the ark, 6:10,18 -- but they aren't born til Noah hits 500, and the flood comes in his 600th year). YLT actually makes it seem rather like God determined 120 years into human history as a whole that the world would have some sort of end ... but nothing else puts the tenses that way?


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
The literary order of the names of the sons (so often: Shem, Ham, and Japheth) does not mean that they must be for that reason listed in birth-order--though I think they are. Moreover, the list does not mean that they were all born after Noah turned 500, but they might have been so, and I think they were. The point would be, that the text is not explicit. And what it says is quite deliberately less explicit than the data presented in the immediately preceding 30vv.

If we look at the verbal pattern of ch.5, it is broken with the announcement of Noah's age and the existence of his three sons. In other words, the genealogical listing is complete with v31; and v32 is a coda to it. The story overall has arrived at a point with Noah alive at about the age of 500yrs, together with his three sons. Such is the meaning of Noah plus three looking ahead.

What follows as ch.6 opens is a description of the world as it was in its general frame. Vv1-2 obviously look back a little ways, to one of the clearest evidences for and stimuli of the steady corruption of the human race: mixed marriage, the godly and the ungodly. This has apparently been going on for a while, as men have been "multiplying on the face of the earth."

And then, as I interpret the words of v3, we have the Lord's prophecy. Whose mouth it came from, I don't know. Methuselah and Lamech are both alive with Noah nearly up to the year of the flood (according to the chronology at face value). It needn't have been any of the three to speak it, if there were other prophetic voices; or if God chose to speak in Person. There just came a time when he spoke; and personally I think the explanation is best which says: he spoke with 120yrs to go until the end promised.

Gen.6:8 brings an end to the "genealogy of Adam," begun 5:1. V9 begins the Noahic saga. "This is the genealogy, the family-history of Noah." Thus, the superscription that comes over and over to mark the Genesis divisions. Again, v10 does not say the ages of the sons, or his age when they are born, but that they are born to him.

We tend to assume the word comes in Noah's 500th year, the flood coming in his 600th. So that "while the ark was a preparing," 1Pet.3:20, was the full century. What do we NOT find? Something like this: "In Noah's 500th year, he began building the ark." That language is not present. What are some of the possibilities, then, of faithfully and reasonably interpreting the data we do have?

1) God tells him to build the ark in the same deliverance we read already in 6:3, that is with 120yrs to go as I interpret that phrasing. On this timeline, it would mean that Noah possibly didn't even have a single son yet. Noah wouldn't even need to have a wife yet if there were none alive. God could be telling him to find a wife, and begin a family; and God would provide wives for three sons yet to be born, and they should all get on the ark that he should build. One thing that would be most clear: this would be Noah, the man of faith, Heb.11:7.

2) God tells him to build the ark after his sons are grown and married. This would seem to shorten the time available to build the ark to around 80yrs at most. Still a long time. A related possibility is that Noah got betrothals for his sons when they were very young, perhaps even adopting the women into his own house. This would be analogous to the legal-structures of "servant-girl" marriage we read about in the Law of Moses. Other cultures may do things very different from the way we (in our time and place) are used to. Little kids are betrothed in arranged marriages to this day in some parts of the world, with the weddings taking place at physical maturity. All I'm saying here is that we can suppose maturity for the sons, or not; it does not really affect any fact of the story.

3) God tells him to build the ark at about 500yrs old (the closest age reference being within the previous family-history), when he has but one son, or triplets, or all three as babies. But in v18 he tells him who should eventually get into the ark with him. It is certainly the case that he is telling him who should eventually get into the ark with him--it hasn't happened yet, it's prophecy--because the ark isn't even built. In other words, the whole narrative at the moment of revelation is of things to come. Very little must already be in place; and the more time there be, the more room to fill out the particulars of the prophecy.

In conclusion: I do not think the 120yrs is a limit on the human lifespan--a "limit" that is only reached in decline after many generations according to the Bible's timeline. This observation is independent of whether there may have been "outstanding" genetic specimens quite common before the flood, and less common afterward.

Those today who are burdened with "giantism" seem prone to other frailties, and generally do not live the longest lives. But in the world that perished, and for a time afterward, comparatively impressive physique (and long lives) could contribute to certain persons commanding deference from others less strong, and imposing their will. It could contribute to the stories of the "gods" (who are usually only too human in their pursuits).

a mere housewife

Not your cup of tea
Thank you Rev. Buchanan. That is very helpful in sorting it all out. It makes sense for me of the prophetic take of 120 years -- especially what you said about the way the text gets divided between the genealogy of Adam and that of Noah.

Those today who are burdened with "giantism" seem prone to other frailties, and generally do not live the longest lives.

I wasn't entirely sure how to put it: that maybe shortening/enfeebling of a long lived frame may have caused a certain gigantism (above whatever may have been normal for healthy stature before the flood) to appear in some way. I'm not a scientist so I wasn't sure if it was a dumb suggestion. The two statements came together there in the text, which made me wonder if there were a connection between this limitation (which may possibly have been worked out differently, in more or less generations, in different families, if it were to apply to human life) and the mention of giants. But your explanation works here also.
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