In March 2013 I posted a response to some criticisms of my understanding of the word nephilim that appeared on another blog, Remnant of the Giants. For those new to my thoughts, my take on the meaning of the term can be found here.

Here is my response to the criticisms (there is a link to that post within that link):

My Thoughts on Nephilim: Answering a Criticism

Some readers have alerted me to the fact that the author of the criticisms has charge that I haven’t responded to his criticisms. Not sure what to make of that since my comments have appeared there. I have therefore responded – both on his blog and here at Naked Bible. Here is the text of the relevant added comments /responses that appeared on this blog and the other one in case folks are interested:

March 8, 2013 (Naked Bible)

MSH: I just don’t see that the LXX translators and mainstream Jewish writers in the 2nd temple period agreed with a “non-giant” view. They just didn’t see it that way. I’ll throw my hat in with them.

March 10, 2013 (Naked Bible)


My etymological take is possible (i.e., it doesn’t violate any rule of morphology). It’s possibility must be set in the context not of some (imagined) “route” of how one language “led to” forms in another, but in terms of cultural and linguistic cross-fertilization. Think of it this way:

1. We know that the Torah was edited during the exile, the time at which Hebrew scribes adopted the block script from Aramaic, and the time at which the Israelite community adopted Aramaic (point: they had plenty of exposure to Aramaic).

2. The above time is logically when the gloss on Num 13:33 was added (is there some better option?). And why would a scribe add it? Well, he had to explain the GIANTS after the flood. So he adds a note about nephilim. He isn’t trying to explain “fallen warriors” present after the flood (since when did the flood suggest we’d get no more fallen warriors?). So the scribe sees a problem (hey, there are giants running around in Canaan — and there are many descriptions of unusual size that intimidate the Israelites (this isn’t just about Num 13:33). The scribe thinks that the word nephilim solves the problem of the giants being there, so he creates the link to Gen 6 via the gloss. This is all quite logical. But it’s rendered illogical if we say the term nephilim wouldn’t have meant “giant” to the scribe.

It is this context that the alternative view cannot explain. And so we are left with a choice:

1. The alternative view – “hey, I can make a workable morphological argument for nephilim being from Hebrew naphal and meaning fallen ones.” (But then ignore the fact that the pointing for that meaning should be nephulim or nophelim – the latter which occurs in Ezekiel but not in Gen 6 — and the fact that the spelling Heiser emphasizes shows up precisely where one would expect it given his Aramaic starting point – inNum 13:33, at the hand of the scribe trying to solve a giant problem – that is, the long i would have to be in the form if the beginning point was naphila).

2. My view – “hey, I can make a workable morphological argument for nephilim being from Aramaic naphila and meaning giants.” Ezekiel’s nophelim doesn’t interfere with that, it makes sense of the scribal gloss (it solves his problem) and it’s consistent with what we see in LXX and 2nd temple material.

The fact is that Deane can’t demonstrate that a naphila derivation doesn’t work morphologically. His beef is the imagined “history” of how that explanation came about between the interactions of Hebrew and Aramaic. Just because no one recorded a process doesn’t mean the process isn’t possible — and given all the contexts to consider – the problem, the gloss, the LXX, the 2nd temple writers – I think the more coherent option is clear.

The elephant in this room is that scholars regularly pretend that they know more than they do (or can) about language relationships and how writers were influenced, or what they knew. We like to think that we know who was exposed to what when, and for how long, and in relation to what other thing. We don’t. We can’t. The Hebrew and Aramaic corpi are small — and they are even smaller when isolating the material by period. Scholars like to pretend that they can draw conclusions from this tiny data pool about what was going on inside a person’s head – a person we can’t even isolate to a century or decade, much less identify or know what that person was exposed to in terms of texts and language. It’s a charade. Scholars do the best they can with what they have, but it’s just plain false to assume certitude with these sorts of things. I’m just being honest about that — something that has consistently gotten me into “trouble” within the academy. Any conclusion that depends on this presumed omniscience ought to be embraced with great reservation. To act like such conclusions are obvious simply over-extends the data. It would be great if that were different, but it isn’t.

March 10 (Remnant)


You’re still missing the point. The issue is explaining how the LXX translators and the Jewish thinkers of the 2nd temple period *did not* see the word as “fallen ones.” Their translation and writings just don’t go there. This is a little like textual criticism — the effort there is to determine the best reading — but really, the reading that best explains how the other ones arose is the best bet. I’m trying to account for why no one in the ancient world followed the path you take (and many others take). That has nothing to do with all the nuts and bolts stuff you’re doing. I’m providing a hypothesis that is not only possible, but one that accounts for all the issues. You’re only worried about philology, but where you arrive doesn’t address why no one followed that path.

March 10 (Remnant)


So your answer is that the passage and gigantes is obscure and the translators were looking at a word that meant “fallen ones” but opted for giants because they were confused? Sorry, but I think they knew very well what they were doing. The scribe was trying to solve a problem. I don’t appeal to ancient ignorance when there’s a much simpler (and less insulting to them) solution.

You also seem to not have read my thoughts on giants. I don’t think they were any taller than really tall people today. But that’s over on PaleoBabble.

You’re still actually misunderstanding my thinking. I’m not arguing to “dependence” of anything in any way. See my own comments on this on my blog, or the new archive page devoted to it (working on it now).