Perhaps the most well-known giants, thanks to Marvel’s Thor movies, are those mentioned in Norse Mythology. The Jöntar inhabit one of the Nine Worlds known as Jötunheimr. There are numerous stories about them that are easy to find. But did you know that there are giants mentioned in the Torah? Yep, that’s what I said. These giants are known as Nephilim. The first place we encounter them is Genesis 6:1-4:
“When people began to multiply on the face of the ground, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that they were fair, and they took wives for themselves of all that they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown. [NRSVUE]
You can also find references to them in Numbers 13:33 and Ezekiel 32 as well as the Deuterocanonical books Judith 16:6, Sirach 16: I 7, Baruch 3:26-28 and Wisdom 14:6.
The fascinating thing to me regarding the Nephilim is that they are the offspring of the “sons of God” (i.e. gods, divine beings) and human women. So much for monotheism in the Torah! (But that’s a subject for another time!) Perhaps these stories have more in common with their Norse counterparts than we might think they do. They are some of the oldest stories in the Bible, and commentators will do back flips and triple summersaults in order to explain them away!
Since this subject matter is definitely not my area of expertise I often rely on Rabbi Richard Elliott Freidman’s Commentary on the Torah. His scholarship is impeccable and I have turned to him on more than one occasion when preparing sermons based on the Torah texts.
Here are some of his thoughts on the Nephilim: “The issue is that there are giants: uncommonly big, powerful persons, who are frightening. The first question is: from where did they come? Answer: bene elohim have relations with human women, and they give birth to giants, Nephilim. Whatever the biblical author thought bene elohim were, we can say at a minimum that it refers here to some sort of (male) creatures from the divine realm. As in an extremely common mythological theme, such mixed divine-human breeding produces beings who are bigger and stronger than regular humans.”
Later he writes, “This does not come up again in the story until thousands of years later. When Moses sends men to scout the promise land, they see giants: the Nephilim (Num 13:33). This is what scares the south, and their fear infects the Israelites, changing the destiny of the wilderness generation. A generation later, Joshua eliminates all the giants except from the Philistine cities, particularly the city of Gath (Josh 11:21-22). and later still, the most famous Philistine giant, Goliath, comes from Gath (1 Sam 17:4). and David defeats him.”
I share this information with you because I thought it was an interesting connection between spiritual paths that we might not think share anything in common. But as readers of my blog know, I see these connections all the time which reminds us of our spiritual ties to one another. Maybe it will help us to be a little less hostile toward one another.
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