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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Rise of the Nephilim

“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came into the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown.” These two brief sentences from the Book of [1]Genesis tantalize us. They suggest so much more than they tell, and we want to know more. Who were these mysterious Nephilim? And who were the ‘sons of God’ who sired them? The words hint at a powerful story, but the story does not continue further. It is as if we are in the middle of reading an exciting book – only to discover that the next several pages have been torn out. And in a sense, they have been.

One of the most intriguing names in scripture, the Nephilim have given rise to a whole body of speculative literature. They were giants. They were fallen angels. They were extra-terrestrials who visited our ancient Earth. Whatever their true nature, the devastation which these beings wrought seems to have been real enough.
Before the Bible became the book as we now know it, there were many such texts in circulation, each one with its own story to tell. One of these texts was the [2]Book of Enoch, the prophet who, we are told, was the seventh generation from Adam and the great-grandfather of Noah. As with other books bearing the names of the prophets of old, this does not mean that Enoch actually wrote the text, any more than Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel wrote the books which bear their names. In writing these texts at times in the first person (‘I was lifted up to heaven’, ‘then the angel answered me,’ etc.) the unknown authors of these texts were using a literary device which gave their texts both conviction and authority.

The prophet Enoch, said to have been the seventh generation from Adam. The parts of the Book of Genesis which mysteriously omit major narrative developments can be resolved by reading Enoch, even though the Book of Enoch appears nowhere in scripture.
This does not mean that these texts are less ‘authentic’ because we do not know who wrote them: we still can read them as accomplished pieces of ancient literature. And this is how we may regard the Book of Enoch. The mere fact that Enoch was presumed to have lived before the Flood, and therefore was describing events which happened prior to creation’s destruction, is enough to tell us that such events are fiction. But even fiction can contain elements of folktales and memories of events passed down through the generations as oral tradition before being committed to writing. So why does the Book of Enoch appear [3]nowhere in the Bible? It contains a truly visionary account of Enoch’s celestial journey to the heavenly realms at least as stirring as anything in Ezekiel, that other book of visions. And it significantly contains many details and even whole narratives that otherwise are [4]missing from Genesis. One of these is the complete story of those mysterious Nephilim.

The remarkable and vivid description of Enoch’s journey to the celestial realms is at least as stirring as anything comparable which we can read in the text of Ezekiel. And yet one is omitted from scripture while the other is not, and we are left to ponder the seemingly arbitrary nature of the reasons either for accepting or rejecting a particular text for inclusion in the canon.
His name, the writer of Enoch tells us, was Samyaza: one of the hosts of heaven. From on high Samyaza gazed down upon the earth, and his eye fell upon the comely ‘daughters of men’. Driven by a distinctly un-angelic lust, this rebel angel laid his plans. Samyaza got together a coalition of the willing: two hundred angels known as the Watchers, the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis, who swore a terrible oath of allegiance before descending through the heavenly realms to determine just how easy Earth girls were. By the time the company arrived on our planet they had acquired bodies of flesh and blood. And flesh and blood were what they were after.

Samyaza, the leader of the two hundred fallen angels described in Enoch as the Watchers, and in Genesis as the sons of God. The fact that Samyaza shares certain characteristics and story elements with Satan suggests that this particular fallen angel might have been an early version of the Prince of Darkness himself. 
But the Watchers were prepared to give as well as to take. One of their number, Azazyel, taught men the dubious arts of weaponry and warfare, and he showed women how they could enhance their beauty with trinkets, jewellery and makeup. The world became a place of lost innocence, of desecration, of suffering. And the half-angel offspring of the Watchers born to Earthly women, the Nephilim, proved to have insatiable appetites, gorging their way through every living thing: the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, crawling reptiles, and the fish that swam in the waters. But then the humans around them also went onto the menu. Enough was enough.

The nightmare visions of Hieronymus Bosch, with their desolate landscapes peopled by grotesque hybrid creatures and other monstrosities, powerfully suggest the world desecrated by the Watchers and their terrible offspring the Nephilim as described in the text of the Book of Enoch – which itself could have influenced such scenes in the Book of Revelation.
The cries of despair coming from the human world were heard in heaven. The five [5]archangels - Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Suryal and Uriel – descended to join battle with the wayward fallen angels. Raphael bound the troublemaking Azazyel fast, Gabriel incited the Nephilim to an act of terrible mutual slaughter, and [6]Michael bound Samyaza deep beneath the earth, where he shall remain until the End of Days before being thrown into the bottomless Pit of Fire.

It certainly makes for a tremendous story: an epic clash of forces classically portrayed as good pitted against evil, with our own Earth as the battleground. But is this primal battle the stuff of folk culture which simply belongs with other such texts and mythologies? Or is it something more? Supposing that these fallen angels were indeed more than just a story? Supposing that these beings really walked among us in those ancient times? If this was so, and if the Watchers and the Nephilim really existed, then who were they?

These two female figurines are from the pre-Sumerian Ubaid culture, and date from between 4,000 to 5,000 BCE. Archaeology cannot explain the strange reptilian faces, which are characteristic of all such Ubaid figurines, other than to comment that they cannot be masks: even the nursing infant has the same distinctly non-human face. Do these figurines suggest genetic deformities of some kind, or perhaps mysteriously hint at some distant truth to the story of the Nephilim?
Were the Watchers in reality perhaps all-too-Earthly visitors from a then-less familiar [7]geographical region, strangers come from a strange land? Or were they even extra-terrestrials visiting our planet to throw a few alien genes into the human mix, as has been speculated on the wilder shores of probability by some [8]credulity-stretching theorists? As with other such stories, it gets down to what we personally choose to believe. But the brief reason given in Genesis for the cause of the Flood – the ‘wickedness of men’ – seems way too vague and generic to be a justifiable reason for wiping out the whole of creation – with the exception, of course, of Noah and the contents of the Ark. As if things are any different now.

This 19th-century depiction of the Deluge by Gustave Doré manages to include every element of the drama. Even the very waves reach up like wrathful fingers to snatch the despairing figures from the last rock where they have taken refuge. We can read the story of the Flood in Genesis (which itself is borrowed from Mesopotamian sources), but it is in Enoch that we learn of the true reasons for the destruction of God’s creation. 
Again, it is not Genesis but the text of Enoch which suggests the true reason for the cause of the Deluge. The frightful Nephilim were half-fallen angel, half-human. They were malicious hybrids whose ruthless appetites consumed and despoiled everything around them. Nephilim greed had laid waste to the earth, and the lust of the Watchers had defiled the purity of human genetics. Creation had become tainted. Creation must begin anew.

We do not need to resort to conspiracy theories featuring interbreeding aliens to see the uncomfortable parallel with our own times. It is we, with our insatiable corporate-greed appetite for consuming all the natural products of our world and despoiling the very environment on which we depend, who are behaving like the Nephilim. Twenty-three centuries after it was first written, the Book of Enoch, and the vivid story of the Nephilim which it contains, carries an urgent and startlingly topical warning for us all. We have encountered the new Nephilim, and they are us.

[1] This quote from Genesis 6:4 is from the Revised Standard Version. The King James Version offers a different nomenclature: “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” This comparison raises the gnarly question of translation, and what the term ‘Nephilim’ might actually mean. ‘Nephilim’ and ‘giants’ are not necessarily interchangeable terms, with the original Hebrew suggesting the term might mean ‘fallen ones’, although there is no scholastic consensus on this.

In 2004 Worth1000, a website which hosts contests for digital artists, created a competition on the theme of 'Archaeological Anomalies'. An artist with the web identity IronKite Photoshopped a clever image which went on to lead a life of its own. The image (above) subsequently appeared (with its source uncredited) on various pro-scriptural conspiracy theory websites and in videos, claiming to be ‘proof’ that the ‘giants’ of Genesis 6:4 had been discovered: not the first time that hoaxed claims have attempted to ‘prove’ the truth of scripture with misrepresentation. Please see note [2] of my post A Simple Misunderstanding for another such example.

[2] The Book of Enoch is actually five different texts taken together. There are enough stylistic differences between these five texts to regard them as being by different authors at different times.

[3] The question of the Book of Enoch’s non-canonical status is complex, and provides a good example of just how arbitrary is the choice of texts which make up the scriptural canon. Various denominations or branches either of the Christian church, the Coptic church, or the Jewish community either partially include it or omit it, and for equally various reasons. One reason for its omission – the objection to angels having corporeal bodies – hardly holds up when we remember that the two angels (left, with Lot, by James Tissot) who entered the city of Sodom also had material bodies. Please see my post Lot and his Daughters: The Inside Story.

[4] It is in Enoch that we find a more detailed description of the fruit of the tree in Eden than is provided in Genesis. Please see my post Forbidden Fruit.

[5] The substance of my post is taken from the Richard Laurence translation of the Book of Enoch. The names of the five Archangels and the Watchers are taken from this translation.

[6] That the story tells us that it was Michael who bound Samyaza, and Samyaza’s own rebellious and troublemaking nature, suggests that Samyaza was an early archetype who later would evolve into Satan. The Book of Revelation was very nearly dropped from the canon because of its obvious resemblance to this passage in the text of Enoch, from which it presumably was derived.

[7] The case for the Watchers actually being humans from a different geographical region is cogently argued by Andrew Collins in his book From the Ashes of Angels. Collins mentions that early Judaic literature assigns specific physical characteristics to the Watchers as being extremely tall with white skin, hair ‘white as wool’, ruddy complexions, piercing eyes and serpent-like faces.

[8] The books of Zechariah Sitchin, particularly his first book The 12th Planet, claim an extra-terrestrial involvement in human affairs. Sitchin equated his extra-terrestrials, whom he called the Anunnaki, with the Nephilim, and postulated that they come from a planet as yet unknown in our own solar system which he called Nibiru (right), orbiting in a distant pronounced elliptical orbit around the sun. Weirdly enough, as recently as January 2016 a team of scientists suggested that an unknown giant planet might indeed exist in such an orbit, and which planet’s existence could account for gravitational anomalies observed in outer solar system bodies. That article may be read here.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet: Fallen Angels and the Origins of Evil: Why Church Fathers suppressed the Book of Enoch and its startling revelations. Summit University Press, 2000. This title contains the complete Richard Laurence translation of the Book of Enoch, as well as a concordance citing references to Enoch in other texts, both canonical and ex-canonical.

Andrew Collins: From the Ashes of Angels: the Forbidden Legacy of a Fallen Race. Michael Joseph Ltd, 1996.

Zechariah Sitchin: The 12th Planet. Stein and Day, 1976. I am aware that Sitchin has a huge fan base out there, but it must be said that his theories contain fundamental inaccuracies both astronomical (to do with his calculations for the orbit of his hypothetical planet Nibiru) and cultural (to do with his misrepresentation of Mesopotamian mythology and texts).