Flavius Josephus on the Nephilim

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In his work Antiquities of the Jews I.3, Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD) wrote:

…many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants.

But Noah was very uneasy at what they did; and being displeased at their conduct, persuaded them to change their dispositions and their acts for the better: but seeing they did not yield to him, but were slaves to their wicked pleasures, he was afraid they would kill him, together with his wife and children, and those they had married; so he departed out of that land.

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1737 AD translator of The Works of Flavius Josephus, William Whiston, footnoted the term “angels” thusly, “This notion, that the fallen angels, were in some sense, the fathers of the old giants, was the constant opinion of antiquity.”

Also to the point and in fact, Josephus begins the initial quote above by writing the following of the Sethites:

Now this posterity of Seth continued to esteem God as the Lord of the universe, and to have an entire regard to virtue, for seven generations; but in process of time they were perverted, and forsook the practices of their forefathers; and did neither pay those honors to God which were appointed them, nor had they any concern to do justice towards men. But for what degree of zeal they had formerly shown for virtue, they now showed by their actions a double degree of wickedness, whereby they made God to be their enemy.

In book 1, chap 9, he refers to a time when “the Assyrians had the dominion over Asia, the people of Sodom were in a flourishing condition” and points out that “the Assyrians were conquerors, and imposed a tribute on the kings of the Sodomites” until “they rebelled, and then the army of the Assyrians came upon them, under their commanders Amraphel, Arioch, Chodorlaomer, and Tidal. These kings had laid waste all Syria, and overthrown the offspring of the giants.”

In book III, chap 14 he refers to when Moses “chose twelve spies” to “learned the nature of the land, and of its inhabitants” as is recorded in Numbers 13. Josephus notes that “they terrified them again with the great difficulty there was in obtaining” the fruit of the land.
He adds that “They” the spies “told them” the people to whom they reported upon returning to their camp “that they found at Hebron the posterity of the giants.” Josephus employs the Greek terms gigas and gigantos and it is very insightful on his part, or so it seems to me, that he continues directly by writing, “Accordingly these spies, who had seen the land of Canaan, when they perceived that all these difficulties were greater there than they had met with since they came out of Egypt, they were aftrighted at them themselves, and endeavored to affright the multitude also.”

Keep this last sentence in mind.

You see, of all the spies only Caleb encouraged the people to do God’s will and claim the land. The sequence of events is as follows:
The discouraging spies state that “the people be strong…the cities are walled, and very great” at which point they, simply, refer to “the children of Anak” and also reference the Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites and Canaanites.

Caleb steps in “stilled the people” stating, “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.”

Now, it is only at this point that the other spies take it up a notch, as it were, “We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we” and it is only at this point are we told that “they brought up an evil report of the land” which is when they reference “men of a great stature and refer to merely to “the children of Anak” as they had before but now seem to aggrandize their report by adding “we saw the nephiyl, the sons of Anak, which come of the nephiyl: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”

Thus, overall there is more to the report than which people came from whom but it does seem that the spies made a discouraging statement, Caleb interrupted them so as to encourage and so in order to emphasize their discouraging report they added the reference to the nephiyl.

Nephiyl is a term that only occurs within Genesis 6 and here in Numbers 13. In Joshua 14:12 Caleb himself affirms the presence of the Anakim in the land but does not correlated them with the Nephiyl (Nephilim) “of whom thou hast heard say, Who can stand before the children of Anak!”

Thus, it seems that the spies upped the ante, as it were, from merely referring to the Anakim to tying them back to the offspring of the Genesis 6 affair’s Sons of God and daughters of men so as to build the mystique and fear.
Thus, Josephus seems to be right on point by noting that they “endeavored to affright the multitude.”

In book 5.2, Flavius Josephus notes:

[They] removed their camp to Hebron; and when they had taken it, they slew all the inhabitants. There were till then left the race of giants, who had bodies so large, and countenances so entirely different from other men, that they were surprising to the sight, and terrible to the hearing. The bones of these men are still shown to this very day, unlike to any credible relations of other men.

Now, this issue is somewhat difficult as he notes that their “bodies” were “so large” but does not provide us a size. He wrote about Goliath in book 6, chap 9 referring to him as “a man of vast bulk…the largeness of his body…so vast a body” and does specify that he was “four cubits and a span in tallness” which reckoned as per an 18 inch cubit has him at 6.8 feet (Hebrew manuscripts have him at 9.8 feet but Greek manuscripts, Dead Sea Scrolls and Josephus have him at 6.8).

Thus, however tall were the “bodies so large” (keeping in mind that Goliath seems to have been large horizontally and not necessarily vertically), the “bones of these men are still shown to this very day.” Adrienne Mayor wrote a fascinating book titled “The First Fossil Hunters” (see my review here). She notes that when ancient people found bone of dinosaurs of various sorts they did not know what to make of them and oft thought that they were the bones of giant humans.

For example, she notes that upon finding the bones of a mammoth with missing tusks (as they would have been collected by someone at some point) it would be natural to lay them out flat on the ground. Additionally, the trunk cavity could be interpreted as an eye socket and thus, they end up with the myth of the giant cyclops.


Size of human vs. mammoth skeleton.
Mammoth skeleton laid out flat
(sans tusks and, of course, trunk as it does not fossilize).
We moderners do much the same in, for example, laying
out the fossil bones of Lucy (L) and Homo Naledi (R)
flat so that it is easier to image that they could stand upright.

 

Thus, perhaps unbeknownst to him, Josephus was referring to a display of dinosaur fossils but, of course, then again, maybe not.

In book VII, chap 12 Josephus refers to David engaged in battle and when he chased those whom he put to flight, “he was left alone, as he was in pursuit of them; and when he was quite tired down, he was seen by one of the enemy, his name was Achmon, the son of Araph, he was one of the sons of the giants. He had a spear, the handle of which weighed three hundred shekels, and a breastplate of chain-work, and a sword.”
He also notes:

When the king heard that the Philistines were gathered together at the city Gazara, he sent an army against them, when Sibbechai the Hittite, one of David’s most courageous men, behaved himself so as to deserve great commendation, for he slew many of those that bragged they were the posterity of the giants, and vaunted themselves highly on that account, and thereby was the occasion of victory to the Hebrews.

Herein, he also notes that “the Philistines…had a man who was six cubits tall” which reckoned as per an 18 inch cubit, is 9 feet. He notes that this man “had on each of his feet and hands one more toe and finger than men naturally have” which may be a reference to 2 Samuel 21:20. Flavius Josephus notes that “This man also vaunted himself to be of the sons of the giants.”

For more details, see my relevant books.

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