That “bigger is better” view of giants is rather uncomplicated and, I think, a minority view among those who take an active interest in the topic. It enjoys little direct support from the Bible itself, which makes no statements about the height of Adam or Noah or any other key pre- or post-Flood humans. (Attributing a large stature to Adam – “more than twice as tall as men” living today – was one of Seventh Day Adventist Ellen White’s controversial additions to the Bible). But the idea is out there. This forum has an informal discussion of the origin and popularity of the idea that Adam was 15’ tall and that humans have degenerated since creation (note the similarity to the size of the giant human suggested by Joe Taylor’s 47” femur sculpture based on an anonymous letter from Turkey, or Egypt, or Syria, or somewhere over there).
What's more popular than this Sunday School version of giants?
One word: Nephilim.
A Google search on "Nephilim" returns over 3.7 million results. I have not had the opportunity to read all of these pages, but I've seen enough to take a stab at a summary of what's going on.
The Nephilim are first mentioned in Genesis 6:4. The term was translated as "giants" in the King James Version of the Bible:
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”
Later translations left the term "Nephilim" in place. The New International Version reads:
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
There are some additional mentions of the Nephilim and/or giants in the Old Testament, particularly in the stories about the conquest of the Promised Land by the Israelites (in Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua).
The few ambiguous mentions of Nephilim in the Old Testament have provided ample room for speculation about what they were, where they came from, and what happened to them. In more pedestrian interpretations, the Nephilim were badly behaved humans who were doing ungodly things. Nothing supernatural was involved. An article on the website Answers In Genesis (a fairly mainstream Young Earth Creationist site) considers some possibilities for the Nephilim and states that “Answers in Genesis officially doesn’t take a particular stand on this issue as a ministry.” Further, this site also clearly states that the Nephilim don't really matter in terms of biblical teachings. The Nephilim were wiped out and have no bearing on our world today.
That’s boring. And boring, for Nephilim enthusiasts, is just not acceptable. Boring doesn't sell books and DVDs.
In the interpretation most favored by proponents of giants, the Old Testament Nephilim were inhuman hybrids produced by matings between humans and fallen angels (or demons, or extraterrestrials). Well, hey, that's not boring. And you can sell books about it. Here is a description from the website Rapture Forums:
"Many folks today try to dismiss the Nephilim completely by attributing this assault on humanity as the result of the co-mingling of the sons of Seth with the daughters of Cain. Try and support that idea using Scripture. An acrobat would be hard pressed to perform such a stretch.
There were Nephilim (giants) in the land in those days and also after that. The procreation of human beings can create little monsters, but they aren't monstrous. The Nephilim hybrid – the offspring created from the union of fallen angels and human women – brought about the most evil the world had ever experienced. To this very day we've not been subjected to such evil – but it is coming."
It is the corrupt nature of the mating – the union of a supernatural entity and a human, so the story goes -- that was responsible for the inhuman size of the Nephilim. These giant creatures did not have a soul and were part of Satan’s plan, not God’s. And multiple attempts to annihilate them failed. They're either already here or on their way.
This is not mainstream Christan teaching. Here is how a website that is concerned with “revealing heresies and false teachings affecting the Church today” summarizes the Nephilim-centric view of the Old Testament:
"Demons/ angels (sons of God) had illicit relationships with women (the daughters of men) and these perverted relations produced genetically mutated beings known as nephilim (giants). God then imprisoned some of the angels who did this and in order to purify the bloodline of man God brought on the Flood. Through genetic engineering these Nephilim will be resurrected, one of which will be the Antichrist. To these people, the Nephilim are also tied up with so-called extra-terrestrial forms of life."
There are some variations out there among those 3.7 million web pages about the Nephilim, but that’s the general idea. Some Nephilim enthusiasts think that the Nephilim are being created by new matings with aliens, demons, or angels. Others think they (or their genes) were never really wiped out and have been with us all along.
It is that continued or future presence makes them still relevant. Contrary to the position taken by Answers in Genesis that the origin and identity of the Nephilim is immaterial to Christian teachings, many creationists believe strongly that the Nephilim/giant issue is actually very important to what the Bible means in terms of understanding God’s plan in the past, present, and future. I learned this quickly during my brief tenure as Visiting Assistant Professor of Giantology on the Facebook page “REAL GIANTS.” The Nephilim issue is now a significant part of the belief system of many creationists (at least the ones who want to talk about giants). I was kicked off the site before I could really get a handle on the spectrum of beliefs on the issue or get a sense of how many people believe this stuff. Maybe I'll design an online survey.
If you’re knowledgeable or interested in the Bible and this all sounds bizarre to you, you’re not alone. Mainstream Christian websites point out that much of the “theory” about the Nephilim is based on non-biblical sources, including Apocrypha (especially the Book of Enoch), occult teachings, New Age spirituality, modern conspiracy theories, stuff about aliens, etc (one example here). In other words, many thoughtful Christians will tell you that this emphasis on the Nephilim is not really Christian at all: it's dependent upon all kinds of other information to interpret the few ambiguous mentions of Nephilim in the Bible. The resulting conclusions, therefore, really have very little to do with the Bible.
The mixture of information from biblical and extra-biblical “sources” has created a tangle of ideas, sentiments, and "evidence" that can only be described as bizarre. It is a whirlpool that is fueled by paranoia and uncertainty, but, somewhat ironically, its devotees show no signs that they are afflicted by any doubt about their conclusions or convictions. Nor are they troubled by the implications of their beliefs or worried that there is a lack of hard evidence to back up any of their claims. If you’re looking for people who embrace the concept of healthy skepticism as a path to producing a credible interpretation, you’re going to need to keep looking. The fetish for the supernatural in this crowd overwhelms any inclination toward critical thinking that might be present. If the "I wonder if this could be wrong" question is a hermit crab, the desire for validation of a pre-existing notion is an incoming tsunami.
That's because Nephilim enthusiasts attribute a much more important role to these creatures than mainstream Christians. The Nephilim-centric view of the world sees the Flood as an attempt to rid the world of these abominable giants, for example, whose population had grown dramatically and threatened the human bloodline. In other words, God did not bring on the Flood because humanity had degenerated, but because Satan had fouled His creation by creating the Nephilim. That's definitely not the lesson I was taught in Sunday School.
Nephilim enthusiasts also dispute the idea that the Flood successfully exterminated the giants, because the post-Flood Israelites encounter "giants" inhabiting the Promised Land of Canaan. This presents a bit of a problem: where did the giants come from if they were not aboard Noah's Ark? Old Earth Creationists can explain this by postulating that the Flood was only regional rather than global; other interpretations, such as this one, speculate that Noah’s sons must have married women that were carrying “the Nephilim gene." This blog post claims that lineages of giants can be traced from pre-Flood to post-Flood times. At any rate, Nephilim enthusiasts assert that giants were common in the post-Flood world at least until the time of David, and that there is plenty of scripture to back that up.
In the Nephilim-centric view of the world, the nature of the interactions between the Israelites and the giants in Canaan again highlights their importance: the Nephilim were not a sideshow in either the pre- or post-Flood world. In Deuteronomy (20:16-17), God ordered the Israelites to “utterly destroy” the peoples living in the Promised Land: every man, woman, child, and animal was to be killed. This command was carried out as Joshua and his armies swept through Canaan, burning, slaughtering, and making every attempt to commit genocide (Joshua 6-10). The bloody siege of Jericho was described in detail (Joshua 6:21):
"And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword."
The genocide committed by Joshua and his armies is a common subject of discourse among Bible believers and scholars, as it seems difficult to reconcile with the characteristics of a compassionate God. Christian apologists typically frame the discussion in terms the morality of committing murder and our inability to understand God’s plan (here is one example). Nephilim apologists, however, see no ambiguity and claim that God’s orders to massacre the residents of Canaan were special precisely because of the Nephilim heritage of the people of Canaan. That heritage posed a threat to humanity. The residents of Canaan were not fully human and had to be exterminated. Why? Because the products of the abominable inter-matings between humans and fallen angels were, in fact, key to Satan’s plan to corrupt the human bloodline and prevent the eventual birth of the Messiah (Jesus). In this view, the Nephilim are critical to understanding Satan’s determination to undermine God’s plan.
The brutal struggle for the Promised Land is important to Nephilim enthusiasts for two reasons: 1) it illustrates God’s determination to exterminate the Nephilim; and 2) it specifies that not all the Nephilim were killed (Joshua 11:22). This sets up the rationale for a worldwide search for evidence of Nephilim outside of the Near East (especially in the Americas) and foregrounds the question of what should be done if living descendants of the Nephilim are located. The Nephilim are not just something to understand historically, but something relevant to today’s war between good and evil.
Here’s one statement of the issue:
“First you have to deal with the idea of monstrous giants, giants who may still exist today hidden somewhere, because Israel did not kill all of them off as ordered, and giants were reported by the explorers of the Americas, as well as the Native Americans. These are historical records, not fictional books. It opens the door to the idea that there are angelic hybrids that may not be so human still around.”
“We have no idea of what a being that is half angelic and half human may have been (or still may be) capable. . . . We know that Israel did not kill off all the giants. Some of them took refuge in other cities, and no doubt migrated. In fact there seems to be records that show that they moved north and also into the Americas. These Mayan and other ruins can be easily explained if you think of tremendous giants with incredible strength and advanced technology as having built them. . . . .
. . . As we now know that they were indeed hybrids or nephilim, it becomes clear why God mandated that they must all be killed. He could not allow this contaminated bloodline to enter into Israel's bloodline, as the Messiah needed to come from pure human blood. They were an evil people and their genetics were corrupting mankind again.. . . "
Steve Qualye, self-identified “leading authority on giants,” offers this conclusion in his book Aliens and Fallen Angels: Offspring of the Gods, the Sexual Corruption of the Human Race (emphasis added):
". . . this would seem to indicate that the Nephilim, as well as their fallen-angel fathers, can father children, thus continuing the line of the Nephilim without need for genetic input from an angelic being. This is further proof of the need for these monsters to be killed in order to prevent them from continuing to multiply."
(Disclosure: I didn’t buy Quayle’s book and I don’t intend to. I found this quote on a website. I am assuming it’s accurate.)
While giant stature was the main way to identify the Nephilim in the Old Testament, most contemporary Nephilim hunters do not expect that the bloodline is still revealed by large size (as their numbers increased through time and there was more interbreeding with humans, the rationale goes, their bloodline was diluted and their size decreased). Thus while the Nephilim of the past may be identified through the remains of “giants” (giant-sized skeletons, artifacts, architecture), today’s Nephilim may be hiding in plain sight. They may appear human but are carrying “the Nephilim gene,” the stamp of corruption that is part of Satan’s strategy to fight God.
Identifying those individuals and populations associated with the Nephilim is a priority of Nephilim enthusiasts.
But how can this corrupted bloodline be recognized in the absence of obvious physical markers like large stature? Here is where it really starts to become troubling. Want to find Nephilim? According to Nephilim hunters, you might want to look at the Rh-negative blood type, peculiar eye color, autism, strange body language . . . Here is a post discussing Nephilim genetics (and promoting a book you can buy). This forum contains a post from someone who claimed to see a Nephilim with a morphing face at the grocery store. And of course, the litany of "6 fingers and toes, very large male genitalia, awkward rows of teeth or two rows of teeth" comes up. Some people claim to have identified Nephilim DNA in elongated skulls from Peru. It goes on.
My sense is that this debate about the Nephilim is percolating mostly at the fringes of Christian creationist communities, fueling at least some of the current wave of interest in giants. While these ideas may seem silly and inconsequential, they are a symptom of something that is decidedly not inconsequential. Submerged just under the surface of this interest in giants is a resurgence of the idea of that people can be classified as “more” or “less” human based on their physical characteristics and a bizarre interpretation of the creation stories in Genesis propped up by information gathered from a range of extra-biblical sources.
Does this trouble you? It should. Here’s why:
The idea that the peoples of the Earth can be separated into “more” or “less” human groups has precedent: it was a central principle underlying some of the greatest brutalities perpetrated in the 19th and 20th centuries by self-identified Christians. A central tenet of polygenism – the idea that “races” are the result of separate creations – was that only one of the races is the product of God’s special creation. Conveniently for white people, the chosen race was determined to be . . . wait for it . . . white people. The rest of the people on the earth, all the non-white people, were supposed to be somewhat less than human. This was a European idea that picked up steam in the 1500s as Europeans encountered and interacted with non-white populations in different parts of the world. It provided s a tidy justification for colonialism. In America, the polygenism and Scientific Racism of Samuel Morton was used as a justification for slavery. In Europe, Ernst Haeckel’s ideas about polygenism, eugenics, and racial superiority contributed to the rise of Nazism.
While polygenism is no longer a part of mainstream Christian theology (or evolutionary thinking), it has not disappeared. The doctrinal statement of beliefs of the Kingdom Identity Ministries, a white supremacist Christian church, for example, specifies that white people are the “chosen” race, standing “far superior to all other peoples . . .” The Christian Identity movement, of which the Kingdom Identity Ministries is a part, is associated with the “serpent seed” doctrine that specifies that some peoples of the earth are descended from a mating between Satan (a fallen angel) and Eve. Those (non-white) people are not fully human, and mixing between the races is forbidden.
The Nephilim, of course, are also not fully human. If you Google "can Nephilim be saved" you will find evidence of a debate about whether descendents of the Nephilim can receive salvation. Are they people? Do they have souls? Here is a "no salvation" answer. Here is a pdf explaining that "Nephilim CANNOT be saved nor do they have any desire to be saved because they are not human; they do not have a human soul." Here is a website devoted to assuring people who think they are "modern Nephilim hybrids" that they can be saved. Here is another blog exploring the question. And another.
To be clear, I’m not saying that all Nephilim enthusiasts are racists. I am saying, however, that seeking some kind of biblical justification for classifying people based on their physical characteristics is a dangerous path to go down. Especially when mixed with the idea that those physical characteristics mark a "race" that is somehow polluting or less human than the "good" people that God created. We've seen that movie before. The Nephilim story is modern polygenism in the making with an updated cast of characters.
I’m curious as to how Nephilim enthusiasts define "race." I'm also curious as to what answer you’ll get if you ask the “so what” question to someone who is actively seeking out living persons with Nephilim heritage. More good questions for my survey.
For the record, here again is Steve Quayle’s answer to that last question:
"This is further proof of the need for these monsters to be killed in order to prevent them from continuing to multiply."
That is disturbing.
I became interested in understanding the modern fascination with giants because I didn't see an obvious explanation for the resurgence. The Nephilim whirpool, with its strange mix of biblical, New Age, occult, political, cultural, and historical currents, is significant to the phenomenon. I am not a theologian or a social psychologist, so I can't offer a well-informed or nuanced idea about the ultimate source of the kinetic energy powering that whirlpool. But it is clear that many Christian fundamentalists and conspiracy theorists are interested in the Nephilim because they feel they’re key to God’s plan and what it means to do God’s bidding on this planet. And they're not shy about drawing on sources and ideas from well outside of the biblical realm. If you scratch the surface of those ideas, they can get pretty ugly pretty quick. That’s something to be explored, not ignored.
The answer to the question posed by the title of this post is clear: Nephilim enthusiasts generally do not regard giants or their descendants as people. Giants, the products of corruption, are agents in Satan’s plan to thwart God. These beings (rather than human wickedness) were the reason for the Flood. When they persisted after the Flood, God commanded that they be wiped out. That failed also, and Nephilim heritage lived on. What are these Nephilim theorists going to do if they find a Nephilim today? God has tried to wipe them out twice, so what should our course of action be? How many steps away are these Nephilim enthusiasts from seeing themselves as God’s agents of wrath in this life?
Those are legitimate questions to ask given all the statements about killing these "monsters." Are people like Steve Quayle being serious? Do they really think that the quality of their "research" justifies those kinds of statements? What will they say if one of their followers takes that rhetoric to heart and does something stupid? I'm not the first to ask these questions.
But those are hypotheticals. One thing that we know is that the Nephilim whirlpool sells books. I would like to read those books someday, but I'm not giving those guys a dime. Maybe they'll send me review copies. I won't hold my breath.
I am bothered by this aspect of the resurgent interest in giants. It seems to be based on creating and promoting a doctrine that weaves together the past, present, and future with threads creating oppositions between "us" and "them." The Nephilim narrative resonates with 19th century views of "race" (that different groups of people are the result of separate creations), and I suspect that that legacy (or ignorance of it) is one of the reasons that giantologists so often use the term "race" when describing what they are looking for. I attribute part of the current popularity of the Nephilim concept to its simplistic understanding of the world as the product of a struggle between good and evil. While that idea may initially seem quaint, that quaintness evaporates when one examines the menacing notions that accompany it. So far, that menace has remained rhetorical (as far as I know).
In the Nephilim-centric view of the world, giants are most certainly not people. And the discussion about them is not an academic one, but one centered on crafting a plan of action. That is something worth paying attention to.