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Giants, Gods, and Dragons (Part 4): The Watchers and Genesis 6

Mount Hermon is the highest, most majestic peak in the Levant. At 9,200 feet above sea level, it dominates the Golan Heights on the border between Israel and Syria, anchoring the southern end of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. It has been considered sacred for most of human history.

Mount Hermon

Mount Hermon was a holy site as far back as the Old Babylonian period—the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, nearly two millennia before Christ, and maybe even earlier. In the Old Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh epic, which dates to the eighteenth century BC (roughly the time of Jacob and Joseph), “Hermon and Lebanon” were called “the secret dwelling of the Anunnaki.” The Ninevite version of the poem, written about six hundred years later, describes the monster slain by Gilgamesh, Humbaba (or Huwawa), as the guardian of “the abode of the gods.”[1]

Cylinder seal (c. 2300 BC) depicting three of the Anunnaki: Inanna, Utu (cutting his way through the mountains), and Enki, lord of the abzu (“abyss”). Click to enlarge.

The Anunnaki were the seven chief gods of the Sumerian pantheon: Anu, the sky-god; Enlil, king of the gods; Enki, god of the earth; Ninhursag, mother goddess of the mountains; Inanna (Babylonian Ishtar), goddess of sex and war; Nanna (Sîn in Babylon), the moon-god; and Utu (Shamash), the sun-god. They are mentioned in texts found in what is today southeastern Iraq that date back to the twenty-seventh century BC. So, it’s possible that the more recent versions of the Gilgamesh story from Babylon and Nineveh remember more ancient traditions.The name “Hermon” appears to be based on a root word that means “taboo,” similar to the Hebrew word kherem, or “devoted to destruction.” The word is often translated into English as “under the ban.”

The first appearance of the word in the Bible is Exodus 22:20:

Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction [kherem]. (Emphasis added)

But this condemnation, or “the ban,” wasn’t just invoked against disobedient Israelites. Some of the inhabitants of Canaan were also declared kherem by Yahweh—specifically those that were giants or descended from giants.

That begs the question: Where did the giants come from? A curious episode is recorded in the first four verses of Genesis chapter 6:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:1–4)

Scholars have debated the meaning of the term “Nephilim” for millennia. Most believe it comes from a Hebrew root, naphal, meaning “to fall” or “cast down”—literally, “fallen ones.”

However, Bible and ancient language scholar Dr. Michael S. Heiser (author of the excellent book Reversing Hermon), argues that this cannot be the case:

The form nephilim cannot mean “fallen ones” (the spelling would then be nephulim). Likewise nephilim does not mean “those who fall” or “those who fall away” (that would be nophelim). The only way in Hebrew to get nephilim from naphal by the rules of Hebrew morphology (word formation) would be to presume a noun spelled naphil and then pluralize it. I say “presume” since this noun does not exist in biblical Hebrew—unless one counts Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33, the two occurrences of nephilim—but that would then be assuming what one is trying to prove!

However, in Aramaic the noun naphil(a) does exist. It means “giant,” making it easy to see why the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) translated nephilim as gigantes (“giant”).[2]

In short, the Jewish scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek about three hundred years before the birth of Jesus clearly understood that the Nephilim were giants, not just men who “fell away” from God.

Bird-headed apkallu, a supernatural Mesopotamian sage scholars now identify with the Hebrew Watchers.

Likewise, the Hebrew words translated “sons of God” in the passage, bene elohim, refer to divine beings, not mortal men. Now, that hasn’t been the consensus among Christian scholars since about the fifth century, thanks to the great theologian Augustine. He popularized the “sons of Seth” theory to explain away the weird supernatural element of the passages above. In short, the Sethite view is that the sons of God were men from the godly, righteous line of Seth who began intermarrying with women from the corrupt, wicked line of Cain.

Frankly, this defies logic on several points:

    1. How likely is it that all the Sethite men were good while all the Cainite women were bad?
    2. Cainite men never married Sethite women?
    3. Why would these unions produce Nephilim, understood to be giants by Jewish rabbis and early Christians alike?
    4. Why would these unions lead to wickedness so great that God had to wipe out everything that walked the earth except Noah, his family, and the creatures in the ark?
    5. Every other use of bene elohim in the Hebrew Scriptures refers to divine beings.

Problems with the supernatural understanding of the text usually focus on whether angels and humans could successfully produce children. But the apostles Peter and Jude make it clear that the sin of the “sons of God” was sexual:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly… (2 Peter 2:4; emphasis added)

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 6–7; emphasis added)

Winged human type of apkallu. Like the Watchers, the apkallu were believed to have brought sacred knowledge to humanity.

If there was any doubt about what the angels did that such deserved punishment, Peter and Jude clarified things by specifically linking their rebellion to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is significant that the phrase translated “cast them into hell” in 2 Peter 2:4 is the Greek word tartaroo, a verb meaning “thrust down to Tartarus.” This is the only time in the New Testament that the word is used, meaning it requires special attention. Our Western concept of “hell” is vague and one-dimensional; we think of it as little more than an underworld domain with lots of fire and demons. But this is far different from the concept known to the Greeks. To them, Tartarus was an entirely separate domain from Hades, a place of torture and torment much lower than Hades in Greek cosmology. In fact, it was believed to be as far below Hades as earth is below heaven.

Let that sink in for a minute. Tartarus might be called the very center of the earth!

And Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose that specific word, tartaroo, to describe the punishment reserved for angels who engaged in illicit sexual relations with human women.

The extrabiblical books of I Enoch and Jubilees expand on this story, adding extra detail and context not found in the Bible. Mount Hermon is where two hundred Watchers, a class of angelic being mentioned in chapter 4 of the book of Daniel, descended and began cavorting with human women. From these unions came the Nephilim, the giants of Genesis 6.

The Watchers, according to I Enoch, were led by Semjâzâ, whose name is thought to be a combination of shem (meaning “name”) and azaz (possibly meaning “rebellion”). Some list Semjâzâ as one of the archon class of elohim, a ruler. But whatever his name meant in heaven, his choice to descend to Mount Hermon certainly made him infamous.

Apparently, this former ruler in heaven worried that his companions might soon regret their rebellious choices and allow their leader to take the fall for what they’d all proposed to do. After all, each of them knew how the Lord of Armies had dealt with Chaos, and they’d probably heard God pronounce judgment upon the nachash in the garden, vowing to one day crush his head, just like the heads of Leviathan will be crushed.

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Here is the excerpt from the Book of Enoch:

And Semjâzâ, who was their leader, said unto them: “I fear ye will not indeed agree to do this deed, and I alone shall have to pay the penalty of a great sin.” And they all answered him and said: “Let us all swear an oath, and all bind ourselves by mutual imprecations not to abandon this plan but to do this thing.” Then sware they all together and bound themselves by mutual imprecations upon it. And they were in all two hundred; who descended ⌈in the days⌉ of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon. (Book of Enoch 6:3–6a; R. H. Charles, trans.)

The third type of apkallu was fish-cloaked. (Contrary to popular belief, this is not the Philistine god Dagon, who was a grain-god.)

The gift these Watchers offered for sexual favors was forbidden knowledge, the same deal the nachash offered Adam and Eve in Eden. As payment for the pleasures of the flesh, Semjâzâ and his rebellious companions offered charms, enchantments, astrology, metallurgy (read that as weaponry for warfare), cosmetics, and writing, among other things—presumably arts that humans would have developed or discovered on their own, given time.

However, the products of these illicit unions were giants, the Nephilim, whose stature and abilities far surpassed their human relatives. Believing themselves gods, these “men of renown” pillaged the earth and endangered all of humanity. The Nephilim consumed everything that men possessed; when that wasn’t enough, they began to eat people, and they finally turned on one another. Enoch describes these cannibalistic colossi as creatures of insatiable desire who threatened to pollute and even terminate the bloodline of the future Messiah by violence—but also by corrupting the human genome. It was a military move by the fallen realm, who thought to remove any possibility of defeat by polluting human DNA, while at the same time, creating their own army of superhumans. They probably thought themselves pretty clever—but the Lord of Armies had seen their ploy long before, for He knows all and sees all, even from the foundation of the world.

But wait, as they say on television, there’s more! Did you know that these giants didn’t completely perish—that they are still with us today? The physical forms of the Nephilim certainly died, but their illicitly begotten spirits became what we now call demons:

And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. (I Enoch 15:8–9; R. H. Charles, trans.)

The church today doesn’t deal much with the topic of demons, but it’s clear the early church understood that they were real and distinct from angels. The term “angel” implies a mission, but those who live within the unseen realm are generally called elohim, written with a small e to distinguish them from the uppercase E in Elohim, one of the names of Yahweh. Whenever the elohim appear in the Bible as messengers from God, they are described as looking like men. Other classes of elohim, like the nachash, cherubim, and seraphim, are entities of a different kind; these also possess a “nonhuman” physicality—that is, an outward appearance that can be observed and described by the prophets.

Demons, on the other hand, have no innate physical presence. They are spirits only, but they seek physicality through possession. The consensus view among Jews and Christians until the time of Augustine (the late fourth/early fifth centuries) was that demons are the spirits of the dead Nephilim, who now roam the earth (boldface added for emphasis in the excerpts below):

PHILO: “And when the angels of God saw the daughters of men that they were beautiful, they took unto themselves wives of all of them whom they chose.” Those beings, whom other philosophers call demons, Moses usually calls angels; and they are souls hovering in the air.” — Philo, On the Giants 6

ORIGEN: “In my opinion, however, it is certain wicked demons, and, so to speak, of the race of Titans or Giants, who have been guilty of impiety towards the true God, and towards the angels in heaven, and who have fallen from it, and who haunt the denser parts of bodies, and frequent unclean places upon earth, and who, possessing some power of distinguishing future events, because they are without bodies of earthly material, engage in an employment of this kind, and desiring to lead the human race away from the true God.” — Origen, Against Celsus 4.92

JUSTIN MARTYR:God…committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He appointed over them. But the angels transgressed this appointment, and were captivated by love of women, and begot children who are those that are called demons… — Justin Martyr, 2 Apology 5

Justin Martyr not only understood that the Nephilim were the source of the demons that plague mankind, he also clearly knew that the rebellious members of the divine council were the false gods of the pagan world.

The takeaways here are:

    • Rebellions lead to judgments, which then lead to rebellions, leading to judgments, and so on.
    • Prisoner Zero’s first rebellion caused the earth to become “void.”
    • The Nachash’s temptation of Eve and Adam led to their expulsion from Eden and the judgment upon the Nachash.
    • The Watchers descended to Hermon, taking human wives and creating the Nephilim.
    • The inevitable judgment came again through a worldwide Flood.

But neither the Watchers nor the spirits of the Nephilim were destroyed, only restrained—the Watchers in Tartarus and the Nephilim as the demon spirits venerated as Rephaim by the Amorites, and as the demigod heroes of Greece and Rome.

And the Hebrew prophets foretold their ultimate destruction—the death of the gods.


[1] Edward Lipiński. “El’s Abode: Mythological Traditions Related to Mount Hermon and to the Mountains of Armenia,” Orientalia Lovaniensa Periodica 2 (1971), p. 19.

[2] Dr. Michael S. Heiser. “The Nephilim,” SitchinisWrong.com (http://www.sitchiniswrong.com/nephilim/nephilim.htm), retrieved 12/16/16.

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