When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose. … The Nephilim were on the earth in those days — and also afterwards — when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-2, 4; New International Version)
The Hebrew word “nephilim” means “fallen ones”, although it could also be translated to mean “those causing others to fall”. In Aramaic culture, the constellation of Orion was referred to as “Nephila”, so perhaps the Nephilim were “sons of Orion”
The King James Version of the Bible translates the word as “giants”, taking its cue from the other mention in the book of Numbers:
But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13: 31-33)
The phrase translated as “sons of God” literally means “sons of the powers”. The orthodox view is that the “sons of God” were descendants of Seth, who had a covenantal relationship with God; and that the “daughters of men” were descendants of Cain. But what’s the fun of that?
Another interpretation is that the “sons of God” were angels or some kind of semi-divine beings. This is the view presented in the apocryphal Book of Enoch. The Nephilim are also referred to in Enoch as “the Watchers”, although that name is more commonly used for their fathers - sometimes portrayed as an entire order of angels tasked with the guiding and mentoring of humanity.
Or they could always be space aliens.
It was an argument over the literality of Genesis passage about “giants in the earth” that inspired a 19th century prankster to create the Cardiff Giant.
Game and Story Use
- A historical or time travel campaign could involve meeting the Nephilim.
- The Nephilim are beings of extraordinary size and powers credited with a divine origin.
- The Nephilim are descendants of a mighty hero, Nephila, a mighty hero in the mold of Hercules and Gilgamesh.
- They are extra-terrestrials from the constellation Orion who have crash-landed on earth.
- Ooo! Ooo! The players are the aliens stranded on a primitive world!
- Having nephilim amongst your ancestors could be a prequisite for magical powers or an explanation for other supernatural abilities. For those prepared to dig deep, you could even tie the powers in to descent from a particular watcher angel.
- In any era, especially an ultra-tech one, a secretive group of genetically-enhanced supermen might call themselves Nephilim.
- For those of a Gnostic persuasion, note that one of the sins of the Watchers - besides miscegenation - was the teaching of all kinds of knowledge to humanity, including magic and astrology as well as far more mundane things.