The Hebrew word for “God” is ÕEloµhiÆm. In other Semitic languages, and occasionally in Hebrew, this word means “gods” in the plural, The general usage in Hebrew is in the singular, referring to Yahweh, the god of Israel. The singular usage is clear in these contexts, since ÕEloµhiÆm takes a singular verb, as in this passage. Why the plural form was originally used to signify the single god, Yahweh, is unclear. Probably the shift in religious belief from the worship of a pantheon of gods to the worship of a single god is involved. In a sense we might say that, for the Israelites, Yahweh takes over the functions of the whole pantheon. Here we have the transition from “gods” to “god.” The “Sons of God” still exist in Israelite mythology but they are no longer the object of worship and of the cult.


The Hebrew form ÕeµliÆm is a variant form of ÕeûloµhiÆm, “God.” The –oµh– in ÕeûloµhiÆm is a particle that originally added an emphatic or particularizing quality to the plural form çeµliÆm.


See “An Appreciation of Claude Frederic-Armand Schaeffer-Forrer (1898–1982),” by James M. Robinson and “The Last Days of Ugarit,” by Claude F. A. Schaeffer,“ BAR 09:05. See also the review of Ugarit and the Old Testament by Peter C. Craigie in Even Briefer, BAR 09:05.


The crucial passage has recently been restored:

“Enki opened his mouth

and addressed Nintu, the birth-goddess,

‘[You], birth-goddess, creatress of destinies,

[create death] for the peoples.’ ”

[For the restorations in this text, see W. G. Lambert, “The Theology of Death” in Death in Mesopotamia, ed. B. Alster (Copenhagen: Akademisk, 1980), pp. 54–58. The restorations are based on the Gilgamesh Epic, tablet 10, column 6, lines 28–32, where the gods’ decree of human mortality after the flood is recalled.]


This double dimension of the Nephilim need not disturb us once we understand the essential fluidity of mythological traditions. Just as Goliath can be killed by Elhanan or by David in different stories, so the Nephilim can be destroyed by the Flood or by the conquest. In either case, the semidivine Nephilim are no longer here in the present world. They are “the fallen ones.”



Most modern English versions translate this troublesome verb as “abide” or “remain.” This is simply a guess from the context. I read the verb (Hebrew yaµdoÆn) as a perfectly normal formation from the root dnn, “to be strong.” It has not, I believe, been noticed that this same root appears In the name of an Israelite village in the Judean hill country, Dannah (Joshua 15:49). The name of this village means “stronghold.” The root dnn is therefore attested in Biblical Hebrew, both in the place-name and in Genesis 6:3.


For a more detailed discussion of what follows, with complete references, see Ronald S. Hendel, “Of Demigods and the Deluge: Toward an Interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4, ” forthcoming in the Journal of Biblical Literature, 106 (1987), pp. 13–26.


Julius Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, transl. J. S. Black and A. Menzies (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1885), p. 317.


See also (beûneÆelyoÆn) and Daniel 3:25 (bar ÕeûlaµhiÆn).


The Septuagint reads literally “the angels of God” (aggeloµn theou); this, however, is the usual and normal Septuagint translation of the Hebrew “Sons of God.”


Arslan Tash (KAI 27.11) and Karatepe (KAI 26.A.III.19). Translations of the Karatepe inscription and one of the inscriptions from Arslan Tash may be found in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard (3rd ed; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 654 (Karatepe), and p. 658 (Arslan Tash).


Siegfried H. Horn, “The Amman Citadel Inscription,” BASOR 193 (1969) pp. 2–13.


For other descriptions of Yahweh’s divine assembly, see 1 Kings 22:19, Isaiah 6, Psalm 82 and, from a later era, Daniel 7:9–10. References or allusions to the divine assembly are found in many texts, including Jeremiah 23:18 and the plural addresses (“let us…” or “like one of us…”) in Genesis 1:26, 3:22 and 11:7. For more discussion, see E. Theodore Mullen, Jr., The Assembly of the Gods, Harvard Semitic Monographs 24 (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1980).


Some of my readings in this passage diverge from the traditional translations for textual and linguistic reasons. For a discussion of this passage, see Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), pp. 168, 176.


In 2 Samuel 21 it is a warrior named Elhanan who defeats Goliath. This story is more familiar to us in 1 Samuel 17, where David is Goliath’s opponent. This is an example of a story that “floats” in oral tradition from a lesser hero to a greater hero.


Moses: Joshua 12:4–6, 13:12. Joshua: Joshua 11:21–22. Caleb: Joshua 15:14; Judges 1:20.


2 Samuel 21:18–22 1 Chronicles 20:4–8.


Note that the giant aboriginal inhabitants of Seir, Ammon and Gaza are also utterly annihilated, generally by Yahweh (Deuteronomy 2:12, 20–23). See also Deuteronomy 9:1–3; Amos 2:9.


Compare Mario Liverani’s remarks on the function of the Amorites in Israelite tradition, “The Amorites,” in Peoples of Old Testament Times, ed. D. J. Wiseman (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973).


W. G. Lambert and Alan R. Millard, Atrahasis: the Babylonian Story of the Flood (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), pp. 66–67, 72–73.


Several scholars have suggested that the increase of population referred to in Genesis 6:1 is a vestige of the theme in Atrahasis of human overpopulation. See Alexander Heidel, The Gilagamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1949), pp. 225–226; Alan R. Millard, “A New Babylonian ‘Genesis’ Story,” Tyndale Bulletin 18 (1967), pp. 11–12; Claus Westermann, Genesis I/l, BKAT (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1974), pp. 500–501; see also H. Schwarzbaum, “The Overcrowded Earth,” Numen 4 (1957) pp. 59–74. The connection seems rather forced, however, since an increase of population is to be expected in myths of primeval humanity. The distinctive features of the Atrahasis myth—excess of population and its accompanying noise—are both absent in the Israelite tradition. For a nuanced view of the contrast between the Israelite and Mesopotamian traditions, see William L. Moran, “Atrahasis: The Babylonian Story of the Flood,” Biblica 52 (1971), p. 61.