The Myth and Mystique of Biblical Nephilim: Fallen Angels or Ancient Aliens?

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days (and also after this) when the sons of God would sleep with the daughters of humankind, who gave birth to their children. They were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men.

Genesis 6:4, NET

The Bible is a powerful book. For many it inspires hope, alleviates pain, and provides comfort during the darkest hours. For others, it’s used as a tool of oppression, justification for abuse of power, and a flimsy base to launch a war. Its contents are filled with an array of bizarre stories starring a cast of colourful characters engaging in oftentimes questionable activities on behalf of (or in spite of) an omnipresent, vengeful god. It has storytelling rivaling the Ancient Greeks and the Vikings. It has ideas and concepts that have spanned thousands of years, inspiring art and literature in ways both subtle and conspicuous. The Bible is a powerful book. But it’s also a very exciting book. And its controversial reputation has overshadowed the reality of what lies inside: the unparalleled epic of Christian mythology.

And existing within this world of Christian mythology are people that live in both real and imaginary places who occasionally come into contact with creatures you’d expect to find in the pages of a fantasy novel. Dragons, unicorns, an array of serpentine beings, strange hybrids, and thousand-eyed angels, to name a few. But none have inspired the same mysterious draw as the Nephilim.

Referred to in Genesis as a byproduct of ‘sons of God’ and ‘daughters of humankind’, Nephilim are mentioned only twice in the canonical Bible. And yet these two short passages, alongside additional ancient texts, have inspired a great amount of discourse over who and what these mysterious beings were. When considering the little we know about Nephilim we can ask ourselves the (admittedly bizarre) question: are Nephilim the children of Fallen Angels, or are they proof that extraterrestrials visited and bred with ancient humans?

The Fallen Angel by Alexandre Cabanel (1847). In the collection of the Fabre Museum.

Nephilim in the Old Testament

Visiting the oldest surviving source material on Nephilim, the book of Genesis gives us a frustratingly brief introduction to these elusive beings. In biblical cosmology, the dark period between the fall of man and the great flood as told in Genesis is referred to as the Antediluvian. It’s during this period that Nephilim were said to walk the Earth:

When humankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humankind were beautiful. Thus they took wives for themselves from any they chose. So the Lord said, “My Spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely, since they are mortal. They will remain for 120 more years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days (and also after this) when the sons of God would sleep with the daughters of humankind, who gave birth to their children. They were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men.

Genesis 6:1-4, NET

God wept over the evil and wickedness he saw in the hearts of humanity during the Antediluvian. And most famously, the story of Adam and Eve’s son Cain murdering their second son Abel takes place during this period. Their other son Seth goes on to father a lineage that, after nine generations, sees the birth of Noah. It’s thought that the time between the creation of Adam and Noah’s flood covers a period of about 1656 years. So despite only a brief mention of the Nephilim, there would have been well over a thousand years that they hypothetically walked the earth prior to the flood.

To complicate this very short reference, while the above passage is from the New English Translation (NET) of The Bible, other translations such as the King James Version (KJV) have interpreted ‘Nephilim’ as ‘giants’. So already, the terminology surrounding these mysterious beings is hazy. Other questions can be raised including their relationship to the “sons of God”. Are the Nephilim the result of mating between these god-like beings/angelic creatures and mortal women? What is meant by “they were the mighty heroes of old, the famous men”? No additional context is given and none of these questions are answered in Genesis 6. Genesis 7 transitions directly into the story of Noah’s Ark, concluding with the destruction of “every living thing that was on the surface of the ground” and the stark reality that “only Noah and those who were with him in the ark survived”. If the Nephilim were still around during the Great Flood, there is no indication that they were on the Ark with Noah and his family, so the Genesis story of the Nephilim ultimately ends before it even begins.

The end of the Edenic period, Adam and Eve are thrust into a bleak antediluvian world by Thomas Cole, 1828 in the collection of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (source)

The Nephilim only show up on one other occasion in The Bible, appearing once more in Numbers 13:33. This time, we are given an approximate indication of their size:

We even saw the Nephilim there (descendants of Anak came from the Nephilim), and we seemed like grasshoppers both to ourselves and to them.

Numbers 13:33, NET

The context of the above passage involves The Twelve Spies sent by Moses to scout Canaan for 40 days to find a settlement for the Israelites. Numbers 13:33 is from the perspective of these spies, who are reporting their findings during their travels back to Moses, which includes a sighting of the Nephilim.

This passage provides two additional pieces of information, the first being the enormous size of the Nephilim. The second is some insight into the lineage of the Nephilim (Anak was the forefather of a different race of giants known as the Anakim). However, the passage in Numbers contradicts the notion that the Nephilim would have been wiped out during the flood in Genesis, since Numbers takes place following the Great Flood. And the fact that the words ‘Nephilim’ and ‘giants’ are interchangeable in different versions of The Bible does complicate matters. So whether or not the Nephilim in Genesis are the same Nephilim mentioned in Numbers is entirely up to the interpretation of the reader and translation of The Bible.

Nephilim in the Book of Enoch

The most notable information available pertaining to Nephilim comes from sources that exist outside of The Bible and are generally considered non-canonical or ‘biblical Apocrypha’. One such source is known as The Book of Enoch (or 1 Enoch), which according to tradition was written by Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch. This text provides further context for the mythological tradition of the Nephilim as it relates to the aforementioned passage in Genesis 6:1-4.

Greek manuscript of the Book of Enoch, 4th century (source)

While Enoch would have lived thousands of years ago according to the timeline presented in the Book of Enoch, scholars believe that the book was actually written sometime around 200 BCE prior to the birth of Jesus. If you have never heard of the Book of Enoch, it wouldn’t be surprising since it’s only recognised canonically within the Ethiopian Jewish community. Though the text was once thought highly of amongst both Christians and Jews for around 500 years, its subject matter pertaining to fallen angels (as we will look at below) was seen as controversial.

And when something is controversial, it becomes a target for erasure from history. Prior to his death c. 397 CE, Philastrius, Bishop of Brescia wrote a catalogue of 384 heresies, with the Book of Enoch listed among them. And a 2nd-century Jewish Rabbi named Simeon ben Jochai declared that those who dared read the Book of Enoch would be cursed. Opinions of the contents of the text grew more and more negative over time. Copies were banned, destroyed, and lost for a thousand years until it was discovered by Scottish explorer James Bruch in 1773 that the Ethiopian church not only preserved it but also considered it equal to the other books within The Bible. The first English translation was published about 50 years later by Oxford professor Richard Lawrence. Despite the Book of Enoch’s fall into obscurity, there are believed to be nearly a hundred references to the Book of Enoch in the New Testament.

All of this to say – the contents of The Book of Enoch pertaining to the expanded history and mythology of the Nephilim is considered within the vast majority of the Christian and Jewish community as having no place in traditional teaching. But regardless, the Book of Genesis and the Book of Enoch were written by different hands at different times, and while their content supplements one another, attempting to properly understand the myth of the Nephilim in its entirety is likely impossible. But for our purposes here, we’re going to look a bit closer at the Book of Enoch and examine how the Nephilim are portrayed.

According to the Book of Enoch, the original birth of the Nephilim following the union between the sons of God and the daughters of humankind was influenced by an angel named Semjâzâ (also sometimes called Shemhazai, Azza, Uzza, and Ouza). Semjâzâ was the leader of a group of angels called the Watchers. Watchers were tasked by God to keep an eye on the relatively new human species during the aforementioned Antediluvian period prior to the Great Flood. The Book of Enoch describes some Watchers as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’. The leader Semjâzâ, being of the bad variety, persuaded 200 fellow Watchers to give into their lust and sleep with the human women:

And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them, and they taught them charms and enchantments, and the cutting of roots, and made them acquainted with plants. And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another’s flesh, and drink the blood. Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.

1 Enoch 7:1-6

This passage alone fleshes out the Nephilim and their angelic fathers in significantly more detail than either Genesis or Numbers. While Genesis mentions this union in brief passing, we see Enoch describe the coupling of angels and human women in a much sinister detail. We’re also given an actual measurement of the Nephilim, ‘three thousand ells’, which is equal to around fifteen-hundred meters. To put this into perspective, the world’s tallest building is Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, which stands at around 830 meters. So when Nephilim were described in Numbers as making men look like grasshoppers, this wasn’t an exaggeration.

In Chapter 8 these angels, led by another evil Watcher named Azâzêl, corrupted humans by teaching them how to forge weaponry and create beautiful objects and cosmetics from the earth’s materials, along with the art of astrology. This knowledge was not intended for humans, similar to the story of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods. The angels Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel watched the events on Earth in horror before telling God what they’ve seen:

Thou seest what Azâzêl hath done, who hath taught all unrighteousness on earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were (preserved) in heaven, which men were striving to learn: And Semjâzâ, to whom Thou hast given authority to bear rule over his associates. And they have gone to the daughters of men upon the earth, and have slept with the women, and have defiled themselves, and revealed to them all kinds of sins. And the women have borne giants, and the whole earth has thereby been filled with blood and unrighteousness.

1 Enoch 9: 6-9

God is understandably not happy to hear what his formally loyal Watchers were getting up to on Earth. He sends Uriel to inform Noah that God is throwing a bit of a fit and is very close to flooding the entire planet to rid the world of the chaos Semjâzâ and Azâzêl have inflicted. There’s particular interest in the permanent removal of the Nephilim as they are physical evidence of the lustful deeds of the evil Watchers and an abomination and mockery of humanity. God is essentially hitting a giant red ‘reset’ button, but wants to keep Noah and his family around so that they can procreate and usher in a new era free of sin.

Down From the Skies by Infesth6 on DeviantArt

Though the term does not appear in The Bible, we would refer to the 200 Watchers that followed Semjâzâ as Fallen Angels. And because these angels have fallen so far out of God’s favour, their bastard children receive the same eternal damnation:

And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men, and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called.

1 Enoch 15: 8-9

We’ve explored Nephilim through a purely Christian and Jewish lens, so let’s veer off the beaten path and consider a wildly different interpretation, one that considers Nephilim within the context of not only Christian mythology, but world mythology as well. In turn, this links to a whole other high strange theory known as the Ancient Alien theory that attempts to fill in the blanks where The Bible and the Book of Enoch are believed to fall short.

The Nephilim and the ‘Ancient Aliens’ Theory

The Ancient Alien (or Ancient Astronaut) theory is incredibly controversial, but entertaining nonetheless. During the past couple decades, the theory made its way into pop culture thanks to eccentric Swiss ufologist Giorgio A. Tsoukalos and his popular History Channel show Ancient Aliens. Prior to this, Erich von Däniken bestselling 1968 book Chariots of the Gods? created an entertaining base on which current ancient alien hypotheses stand. But despite its widespread appeal, the Ancient Alien theory is not accepted by modern day historians and archaeologists and has been firmly placed within the realms of pseudo-science and pseudo-history.

For the uninitiated, ancient alien theorists believe that humans were visited by extraterrestrials thousands of years ago and that ancient humans interpreted these visitors as gods. Stories of gods performing miracles were really just aliens showing off their cool new alien gadgets, and early humans were so underdeveloped that there was no other way of rationalizing the indescribable things they saw. A subsection of this theory, relevant to our discussion, is that humans are descendants from these ancient alien visitors. So let’s examine a few of the ways some ufologists have used the Watchers and the Nephilim to further prove humanity’s connection with ancient alien visitors.

In his book The Rise and Fall of the Nephilim: the Untold Story of Fallen Angels, Giants on Earth, and their Extraterrestrial Origins (2012), paranormal and fringe theorist Scott Alan Roberts poses a series of interesting questions regarding the Nephilim:

What if the Nephilim, as defined by other cultural writings of the day, are something completely different? What if the Jewish Bible is only a version of events as understood and written by a monotheistic culture who recorded these events from within their framework of understanding, from within a monotheistic, monotheocratic structure? What if these angelic beings were anything but angels?

The Rise and Fall of the Nephilim, pg. 42

According to Roberts, stories of sexual unions between heavenly beings and mortals and the resulting apocalyptic flood is incredibly common in cultures around the world. These plot points can be found in stories attributed to the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, the Inuit, Maya, Cherokee, Toba, Lepcha, Vogel, and the Celtic as well as within the ancient legends of at least 600 other cultures. Here we can ask the question, were beings like the Watchers actually divine creatures, or were they extraterrestrials that humans mistook for gods? Is that why cultures all over the world tell such a similar story of humans mating with the so-called divine?

In his 1997 article “The Return of the Nephilim” Christian alien researcher Chuck Missler hones in on the phrase “and also after that” from Genesis 6:4 to question if the meddling of these Watchers/extraterrestrials continued after the Great Flood. Missler notes the presence of ‘giants’ in later stories of the Old Testament (the Rephaim, Emin, Horim, and Zamzummim) and considers the link between Nephilim and these other races of large humanoid beings. Could the Nephilim have then survived the Great Flood? Is it implied that they continued to live alongside humans? How long did these extraterrestrial beings hold influence over humanity? Did the Christian God let them survive because he is also an extraterrestrial? Questions without answers, but fun questions to ask nonetheless.

Elsewhere Missler has stated his belief that these alien beings were demonic in nature and sent to Earth to muddle with human genetics and taint the bloodline of Jesus. If this was true, surely that implies time traveling or clairvoyant capabilities of these visiting aliens, how else would they know that Jesus’ influence would change the course of human history? This theory also seems to imply that today’s humans have this Nephilim/alien/demonic blood running through our veins, though I’m unsure what the implication of that would be. If anything, this is all a fantastic foundation for a science fiction novel, even if it does feel a bit far fetched!

And this is only the beginning. Scholarship on the Nephilim, both academic and pseudo- scientific, is vast and impossible to cover in just this article. Because of this, I highly encourage those interested in the topic to read through the included sources to gain a wider perspective on the dozens of varying ways people have linked the Watchers and Nephilim to extraterrestrials.

At the end of the day, the myth of the Nephilim is an unsolvable puzzle. While Earth likely never sustained giant humanoids, the presence (or lack thereof) of the Nephilim in Biblical canon will continue to inspire peculiar questions regarding the origin of humanity, and provide pseudo- scientific fodder for our journey to understanding our relationship with the universe.

Sources and Additional Reading

Arnold, Matt. “Biblical Demonology: Part 4 – Semjâzâ and Azâzêl.
BibleGateway (New English Translation), Genesis 6:1-4 and Numbers 13:33
“Dead Sea Scrolls Text, The Book of Giants.” The Gnostic Society Library.
Felton, James. Who Were the Nephilim: The Creepy, Fallen Giants Mentioned Throughout The Bible? IFL Science. 21 November 2022.
Louise, Rita. “The Nephilim: Giant Offspring of the Sons of God and the Daughters of Man?”
Missler, Chuck and Mark Eastman. Alien Encounters, Revised and Expanded. Koinonia House, 10 January 2023.
Reich, Aaron. The Book of Enoch: What is the famous biblical Apocrypha? – explainer. The Jerusalem Post. 12 December 2022.
“The Book of Enoch.”
von Daniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. Bantam, 1968.
White, Ellen. Who Are the Nephilim? Biblical Archaeology Society, 17 February 2023.


Ashley is a history lover, paranormal enthusiast, and easily swayed sceptic with a BA and MA in the History of Art. Originally from Canada, Ashley lives on England's Isle of Wight (one of the most haunted islands in the world!) and enjoys internet deep dives into peculiar histories from around our weird and wonderful planet.