The Bible Says What: ‘Giants and fallen angels are real’

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The Bible Says What: ‘Giants and fallen angels are real’

 Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild looks at a controversial issue in Jewish texts and applies a progressive response

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

Early in the book of Genesis, God sees that the earth has become corrupted and violent and tells Noah it must be destroyed: only Noah and his family will survive the flood that is to come. 

It is a strange and frightening story. The verses preceding it may be less well known, but are infinitely more mysterious and bizarre. 

“The Nephilim were in the earth in those days, and also after that, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them; the same were the mighty men that were of old, the men of renown”. 

Who were these “Nephilim”? They appear three times in the Bible: When the spies report back to Moses, they say: “And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” and also in Ezekiel: “They lie with the warriors, the Nephilim of old, who descended to Sheol with their weapons of war.” 

Nephilim is translated by some as “fallen” or “causing others to fall”;  it is also understood in context to mean “giants” and “warriors”.  They appear to be ancient,  maybe even semi-divine figures, mythic and terrifying. Are they in some way connected with the flood God is about to bring to cleanse the earth? How is it they clearly survive it? Are they angelic? Heroic? Sinful? A remnant of a previous creation? The questions pile up and tantalise us.

The Bible is never a book of answers. Instead, its texts contain allusions encouraging us to understand we live in a complex world we cannot fully comprehend, that time and space are fluid and mystery is normal and expected.  

  •  Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild has been a community rabbi in south London for 30 years
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