"When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God say that they were fair; and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, 'My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.' The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown" (Genesis 6:1-4 NRSV).


I've been curious about this passage for years. It seems out of context with the rest of Genesis. Who are the Nephilim? Who are the sons of God? Thanks for clarifying!


We are still in early Genesis here—still telling the five great myths designed to answer basic human questions: Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we different from other peoples? What happens if God is angry at us? To focus on questions of literal, historical accuracy is meaningless; that wasn't the point of the stories. I think of them often in terms of a nomadic tribe sitting around a campfire at night, passing on tribal lore to the children by repeating beloved old stories of how all things began.   This particular passage has provided great fodder through the years for people who believe that we were preceded on the planet by a race of godlike superheroes who somehow left before or during the Great Flood that we are about to learn on in the next chapters of Genesis. Some tie it into ideas of extraterrestrials that came and went. Whatever.   Up to this point in the unfolding story, people were living for hundreds of years—in Chapter 5 we have Methuselah finally leaving at age 969. Even the youngest children hearing the story would have to wonder what happened. So we have the Lord deciding to limit a human lifespan to 120 years, and we have—as we do in many other cultures throughout the world, especially in Greek mythology—the story that this particular people are descended from intercourse between gods (or angels) and humans. These ancestors share their world with the Nephilim, uncouth giants and adversaries who are mentioned several times in the Bible (Numbers 13:33, Deuteronomy 2:10-11, for example)—and who are about to be destroyed by the flood.   Metaphysically, this particular story, I think, continues the challenge of anchoring our true spiritual nature in the limitations of a human experience. We come into life fully cognizant of our spiritual identity and power. But in order to accomplish the spiritual purpose that brings us into human form, we must allow ourselves to become increasingly dense, increasingly limited, and increasingly forgetful of whom in Truth we are. It's all part of the great creative process of God—and we tell stories such as this to cling to the Truth when we're in danger of forgetting totally.   Blessings!

Rev. Ed


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