Parashat Bereshit Studies

Garden Temple

The following course handout is a brief introduction to the view posited by archaeologist Ernest L. Martin with regard to the probability that the structure of the Garden (and greater Eden) was a representation and reflection of the Heavenly Temple, and that Adam and Even were installed (placed) into it as priests with the duty to “labor in the Torah and to keep its commandments.”  The popularity of this view has moved far beyond Dr. Martin, and though popularized in large part by him, did not originate with him.  His charts are used simply because he has charts (and most other proponents do not).  The footnote on the handout below indicates a fairly ancient presentation of the view in Targum Neophyti, generally thought to be a product of the 1st or 2nd Century CE [1], though some place it as late as the 4th. [2]

Click images below to pull up PDF versions for printing or easier reading.
(all documents attached to this page are copyright 2011 by Brian Tice)

Garden Temple pdfNephilim

At the tail end of this week’s parashah, we encounter an obscure word: “nephilim.” [3]  This word occurs only three times in the canon of Scripture — once at Bereshit/Genesis 6:4 and twice in B’midbar/Numbers 13:33 (with two different spellings in the latter passage).  This word has been a cause for confusion and contention for many centuries, but it need not be.

The two different spellings for the word are best explained as a defective (incomplete) spelling and a maley (plene) spelling, since both are encountered in the same verse in B’midbar and are obviously both referring to the same class of people.  It is helpful, linguistically, that we have both spellings, in terms of identification of the shoresh (root).  Though it has been claimed, principally by James Strong, that the shoresh of nephilim (נְפִילִים ,נְפִלִים) is naphal (נָפַל), the forms found as substantivals in Genesis and Numbers cannot be found in any conjugation patterns known to occur in a I-nun Hebrew verb, and thus it is grammatically impossible for נָפַל to be the shoresh.

To be a substantival derivative of a verbal root, a participial form would have to be in view (which is what Strong claims in his interpretation of “fallen ones”).  The Hebrew plural participial forms for I-nun verbs, however, include neither of the forms נְפִלִים and נְפִילִים as possibilities.  The masculine plural passive forms required for the rendering of “fallen ones” (across the various binyanim) would be naphulim (Gp-stem), niphalim (N-stem), nuphalim (Hp-stem).  None of these matches the forms encountered in Bereshit/Genesis 6 or B’midbar 13. [4]  Koutoupis, in agreement with my own analysis, asserts, “…with an understanding of biblical Hebrew, it is physically impossible for naphal to ever form nephilim…. Understanding Hebrew grammar, naphal can never be its root.” [5]  The roots palalpala’, and palah (in the niphal stem) have also been proposed, but the same conjugation issues found in attempting to use naphash equally plague those three roots.  None of the paradigms allow for any of them to produce a derivative in the form nephilim.

Qumran Cave 4

Qumran Cave 4

It is, however, very easy to get from the Aramaic noun נְפִיל (untimely birth, not viable, something outside of G-d’s design) to the plural noun we find in these passages (נְפִילִים) by changing the Aramaic plural ending to the Hebrew one.  In fact, in the Aramaic text of the Genesis Apocryphon from the Qumran cache, we find the word spelled just as we find it in the maley form in Numbers 13:33, but with the Aramaic ending. [6]  It is not an absurd jump to allow for an Aramaic word to occur in the Torah, since we have other words already well-established as being loanwords throughout the Torah — most from Egyptian, admittedly, but we do encounter a clearly Aramaic term in the Hebrew text of Genesis 31:47, i.e. the place-name יְגַ֖ר שָׂהֲדוּתָ֑א (Yegar Sahadutha; i.e. “stone-pile of testimony”), which is the much simpler גַּלְעֵֽד in Hebrew. [7]

The reading of nephilim  as fallen angels (which is the agenda behind Strong’s insistence upon the shoresh being נָפַל) fails on every level.  The p’shat (simple) reading of Genesis 6:4 even tells us that the nephilim are not fallen angels.  It does not matter how “sons of G-d” is interpreted, the nephilim are a different group of people (or beings depending on your interpretation).  Even if one understands the “sons of G-d” to be fallen from heaven, the nephilim (their offspring) are not.  They are born on earth. [8]  Other issues with this “demon-spawn” view are listed on page 1 of the summary sheet found provided below.  Girdlestone’s contribution to the confusion is his assertion that nephilim is a hiphil (H) participle from naphal, suggesting a meaning of  “those that cause others to fall down.”  The obvious problem with his theory is that the hiphil form would actually be manphilim, not nephilim.

An actual substantival participle that would (and does) derive from naphal (נָפַל) is indeed attested in Scripture, but absolutely not in the context of “giants,” “demon-spawn,” or “alien-human hybrids.”  The participle nophelim (נֹפְלִים) occurs in Ezekiel 32:27, where (of course) human beings are in view [9], i.e., “… the mighty men who fall from among the circumcised [Gentiles] and are gone down to Sheol with their weapons….”  Were that verb in view, this would be a form that would convey the meaning sought by naphal-proponents.

Most attempts to make the nephilim into demon-spawn rely on the pseudepigraphical book of 1 Enoch (generally simply called Enoch in the commentaries and journals).  It must first be understood what genre of literature Enoch is.  Pseudepigrapha is a genre popular from the 2nd century BCE to the 8th Century CE characterized by the attribution of the name of a well-known figure from the past to one’s work in order to explore what that person might have said on a subject he or she had never addressed. [10]  Pseudepigraphy (false attribution) was a literary device that was well understood by the audience, and in most cases no deception was intended by it (though modern audiences can tend to be confused by the device).  Some pseudepigraphic works, however, clearly overlap with the “propaganda” genre and are intended to deceive, e.g. the agenda-driven Letter of Aristeas (written to spread the fabricated “story” of the creation of the Septuagint).  The now-popular Book of Jasher is likewise classified as a pseudepigraphon. [11]

Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel

Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel

Medieval discussions of the nephilim and “sons of G-d” primarily held that human subjects were in view.  Rabbi Don Yitzchak ben Yehuda Abarbanel insisted on this in the 15th Century. [12]  The principal deviant from this view is the Kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism) text the Zohar (1:58a).  Dr. Kaiser’s observation in regard to the Greek translations is that of the several variant Septuagints, only one (the Alexandrian recension) inserts “angels” into its translation of the text.  Rahlf’s authoritative critical edition shows that the rest do not. [13]  Bernard Bamberger, regarding the fallen angel interpretation, asserts, “As this dualistic myth does not appear in the apocalypses of Baruch and Esdras nor in the aggadah of the talmudic period, it was apparently rejected as incompatible with Jewish monotheism.” [14]  His non-Enochian view (Believer-pagan intermarriage) reflects what was dominant in the Jewish commentaries until after the release of Milton’s fictional novel Paradise Lost resurrected the Vulgate-influenced “giants” reading in 1667.

If the nephilim were giants, as the Vulgate and translations dependent upon it insist, certainly that rendering would have emerged before the 5th Century CE, but Jerome’s Vulgate (which famously translated the light which shone from Moshe’s face as “horns,” inspiring Michelangelo’s goat-horned Moses) is the first work to suggest such a reading.  That Latin work is not even consistent in its treatment of the word, translating it twice by gigantes (giants) and in the other occurrence by monstra (monsters).  If “giants” were the correct understanding, why did it take almost 2000 years for that reading to emerge (1400 BCE to 405 CE)? 

Attempts to date Enoch prior to the inception of the pseudepigrapha genre, such as the claim of postmodern Norwegian author Helge Steinar Kvanvig that the text was written in Babylon in the 6th Century BCE (three centuries before pseudepigrapha were in vogue) [15], are disingenuous and deprecated.  The discoverer of the oldest fragments of Enoch, Józef Milik, dated them to only 150-200 BCE. [16]  It should be remembered when analyzing any claim regarding the date of a text that dating a document is much like any other exegetical task in that the exegete brings with him or her certain presuppositions which often “bend” the data toward an expected result.  This is just as true in assigning a date to an archaeological element as it is in assigning a meaning to a Biblical text.  It is a phenomenon called “archaeological bias.” [17]

Since the genre is a speculative approach, guessing at what a famous figure what have to say on a matter, it is generally categorized under the meta-genre of fiction.  Pseudepigraphical works are not included in the Jewish canon, nor in the Christian canon, but these do not comprise all the non-canonical writings of the time period.  Australian scholar of Armenian studies Michael E. Stone lists examples of writings from this genre in his Jewish Virtual Library article. [18]

LXX (Septuagint) is also cited in arguments for the “fallen ones” rendering.  It should not escape our attention, though, the tendency of LXX, observed by Perlitt, to translate (especially in the Torah portions) in a quite unorthodox and deprecated manner reliant on „historisierenden Notizen des Alten Testaments mit weitgehend mythologisch in sensu stricto,“ i.e., the pollution of historical events recorded in Scripture with influence from mythological non-canonical texts.  The same source concludes „Kurzum: die Frage nach den Riesen im Alten Testament fände auf dem Wege über die griechische oder lateinische Konkordanz nur falsche Antworten,“ i.e., that the conclusion that “giants” are in view (a claim that often runs in tandem with the “fallen angel” assertion) cannot be legitimately deduced from the Hebrew text before us, or even from the Greek, as problematic as it is in its own way, but only from Jerome’s flawed Latin of the Vulgate (completed in 405 CE, nearly 2000 years after the Torah was written). [19]

The phrase from Bereshit 6:4 which is even messier to sort out is “sons of G-d” (בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים).  Most conservative scholars, however, stand in agreement that it is not a reference to promiscuous angels. [20]  Though this has been interpreted a number of ways, it is not as difficult to parse as one might suspect.  The term occurs in several passages throughout the Scriptures (both testaments), always in discussions about human beings.  A chart is provided on page 2 of the summary sheet below.

The ancientest understanding in Judaism is that the “sons of G-d” in Bereshit/Genesis 6:4 are believers (the usual meaning of the term), and the daughters of men” are pagans, and that it is the intermarriage between the two that leads to the moral corruption described in Bereshit/Genesi 6:5.  Other explanations have been bandied about, but this is the one with the greatest Scriptural support.  This is evidenced in the Bible’s use of the term בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים and its Aramaic equivalent always in where the subject is human beings (never angels or demons).  See the handouts below covering the Nephilim discussion, esp. the table on page 2.

Rabbi Shim'on bar Yochai

Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai

A slight variation on this is found among the oldest commentaries covering Bereshit, a 3rd Century BCE text titled 4Q417 (also called 4QInstruction or מוסר למבין), which informs its readers of “sons of Seth,” i.e. righteous human descendants of the Biblical figure, who “rebelled against G-d” by intermarrying with daughters of Cain.  In fact, despite the Ethiopic insistence that 1 Enoch is Scripture, the Amharic Ethiopian Orthodox Bible also presents as fact the Sethian view of the בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים (“sons of G-d”). [21]  Though it is not logically necessary, as a mandate of Scripture, for someone who is righteous to be descended from Seth rather than Cain, that seems to be among the earliest Jewish understandings. [22]  Tannaitic Sage Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai (Rashbi) taught in the 2nd Century CE, “… from Seth were born and descended all the generations of the just; from Cain were born and descended all the generations of the wicked,” and he famously and publicly cursed anyone who dared interpret the phrase בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים as anything non-human. [23]  This is the same sage who was a student of Rabbi Aqiba, father of Rabbi Eleazer bar Shim’on, and is credited with sparking and leading the revival of Torah learning following the Bar Kokhba Revolt. [24]  The table on page 2 below illustrates the reason for Rabbi Rashbi’s insistence on the בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים being human beings rather than angels or demons.

Another interpretive option is presented in the Targumim.  Onqelos, Neophyti, Symmachus, and the Samaritan all insist that the “sons of G-d” are men of the noble class.  Dr. John H. Walton is the most vocal proponent of this view in modern scholarship (see page 3 of handout below for this view).  The present author, however, finds the Enochian and alien views untenable, and prefers the position that forbidden intermarriage between Believers and pagan women is in view over the “nobility” understanding.  The present author’s view does not depend on righteous being descended from Seth, necessarily, nor on the pagan wives being from Cain, but finds the Hebrew of the text to indicate merely that Believers with pagan wives are indicated.

Below are summary sheets which provides some tables and bullet-point lists for quick reference.  Pages 1-2 are a single PDF (click page 1), and page 3 is separate (click that page to access the corresponding PDF).

Nephilim Study pdf

Nephilim Study pdf p2

More Recent Views (Nephilim)Nota bene:  The reference on page 2 (above) to Marcus Jastrow’s tome, though dated, is still the most comprehensive Aramaic lexicon available for less than $100.  It is used here not for the Rabbinical literature (which is admittedly late), but rather for Rabbi Dr. Jastrow’s attention to works from much earlier time frames than that of his immediate focus in the preparation of his work.  It is this diachronic approach which gives this lexicon value beyond the time period specifically covered by its title.  Cross-reference to Sokoloff’s several Aramaic tools uncovered no different data than found in Jastrow.  The late Dr. Jastrow was a highly-esteemed rabbi and professor at Maimonides College, and his dictionary is still widely held in high regard.

Notes & References

  1. Said to be 1st Century by Alejandro Díez Macho, Neophyti 1: Targum Palestinense MS de la Biblioteca Vaticana, Vol. 1: Genesis: Edición Príncipe, Inroducción General y Versión Castellana (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1968); but in Gabriele Boccaccini, “Targum Neofiti as a Proto-Rabbinic Document: A Systemic Analysis,” The Aramaic Bible: Targums in their Historical Context (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 254-263, a 2nd Century date is argued.
  2. Martin McNamara, Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis (The Aramaic Bible, Vol. 1A; Collegeville, Minn.: Michael Glazier, 1992).
  3. This text derives from lecture notes from a collegiate “Tanakh Exegesis” course taught by the present author in Fall 2011 (nota bene: this summary should not be taken as an exhaustive transcript of the course lecture, as such a product would amount to roughly 40 typed pages of text, i.e. an unfeasible amount for this medium… thus more interested readers should consult the works footnoted and/or take the present author’s “Tanakh Survey” course at IMTI).
  4. Duane A. Garrett & Jason S. DeRouchie, A Modern Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), Appendix 8; Allen P. Ross, Introducing Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 549; Choon-Leong Seow, A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (rev. ed.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 346-47.
  5. Petros Koutoupis, The Nephilim: Their Origin and Evolution (Edinburgh: Graham Hancock, 2007).
  6. Florentino Garcia Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (eds.), The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition Vol. 1:Q1-4Q273 – Vol II: 4Q274-11Q31 (DVD; Logos Bible Software, 2010), Genesis Apocryphon.
  7. Miles Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Aramaic (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011), 165n1.
  8. Michael S. Heiser, The Meaning of the Word Nephilim: Fact vs. Fantasy (n.d.).  Nota bene: Though the present author disagrees with Heiser’s final conclusion, his analysis raises some important linguistic considerations.
  9. Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37 (The Anchor Bible 22A; New York, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1997), 665.
  10. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online:; S.v. ψευδεπίγραφος, Liddell & Scott Greek-English Lexicon (online:  Nota bene: Though some parts of this article are flawed, Stone’s definition of pseudepigrapha (comprising the 3rd paragraph) is accurate and in agreement with Liddell & Scott (as indicated here) and with responsible 2nd Temple scholarship in general.
  12. Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel, Quaest iv; Comm. in Pent. fol. 31.
  13. Walter Kaiser, Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 106-07.
  14. Bernard J. Bamberger, Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan’s Realm (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1952), 3-59.
  15. Helge Steinar Kvanvig, “Roots of Apocalyptic: The Mesopotamian Background of the Enoch Figure and the Son of Man;in Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament 61 (Neukirchener: Neukirchen-Vuyn, 1988).
  16. Józef T. Milik (with Matthew Black). The Books of Enoch: Aramaic Fragments of Qumran Cave 4 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976).
  17. Scott T. Carroll, Course lectures, HIS-491: Coptic Language and Early Egyptian Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Cornerstone University, Fall 2008).
  18. Michael E. Stone, “The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha,” Jewish Virtual Library (online:  Nota bene: Though flawed in his dating of the text (agreeing with Kvanvig; cp. fn. 8), Stone is correct in classifying 1 Enoch as belonging in the pseudepigraphal genre.
  19. Lothar Perlitt, „Riesen im Alten Testament,“ in Forschungen zum Alten Testament 8 (Tübingen, 1994), 205-246.
  20. Sven Fockner, (Jun 2008), “Reopening the discussion: another contextual look at the sons of God,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32(4): 454; John Walton, Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan , 2001), 296; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15 (Word Biblical Commentary 1; Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987), 139, 143; et al.
  21. Ethiopian Orthodox Bible (2001); cp. H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis 1 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Wartburg Press, 1942), 250.
  22. Ibid.; 4Q417 (4QInstruction); Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai in Archie Wright, The Origin of Evil Spirits, (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2005), 64.
  23. Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai, Pirqei de Rabbi Eleazer, 22.
  24. Ronald L. Eisenberg, Essential Figures in the Talmud (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012), 227ff; citing Yev. 62b.

About Prof. Brian Tice, B.Sci., M.Sci.

Brian Tice is currently a Hebraica research scholar and education facilitator with Manuscript Research Group in Michigan and a Jewish Studies and Ancient Languages professor with MJR Yeshiva. He received his rabbinical semikha in 2000. His formal education includes studies in Music and Modern Languages (Kalamazoo Valley Community College); Bible, Youth Ministry, and Ancient Languages (Cornerstone University); Divinity and Practical Ministry (Grand Rapids Theological Seminary); Higher Education and Classical Hebrew Andragogy (Purdue University Global/Kaplan); and Jewish Studies (Tel Aviv University/Coursera)... culminating in B.Sci. and M.Sci. degrees. Professor Tice has been an avid volunteer with Little Mary's Hospitality House critically-ill children's camp, Habitat for Humanity, Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kalamazoo, several schools, and several homeless outreach ministries. In 2001, he was awarded a Governor's Commendation for service to the community and extraordinary academic contributions. View all posts by Prof. Brian Tice, B.Sci., M.Sci.

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