When John wrote down his vision of the 5th Trumpet in Revelation 9:1, we see that there is a shift toward a new region: beneath the earth. The “star” that John sees is an angel who is given a “key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.” The consequences are a plague unlike anything yet experienced on earth. The “bottomless pit” was believed to be the underworld prison of evil spirits. When the demons were cast out of the demoniac by Jesus, they pleaded with him not to send them to the “bottomless pit” [Luke 8:30–31]. A complex overview of who the “star that had fallen to earth” is needed here, starting with the Old Testament, that will then lead us into the 2nd Temple period, and finally into the New Testament.
Starting with Genesis 3, the story of the fall of humanity seems straightforward. However, the passage presents a lot of interpretive questions. Why was Eve not scared when the serpent spoke to her? The truth is that an ancient reader would not have expected Eve to be frightened. Given the context [she was in Eden, the realm of God and his divine council], it should be clear that she was conversing with a divine being. In the ancient Near East, animal speech is not uncommon. The context for such speaking is tied to the world of the gods, or direct divine intervention. For example, no Egyptian would have presumed that the animals they experienced in their normal lives could talk. But when the gods were in view, that was a different story. Animals were often the vehicle for manifesting a divine presence in a story. The kind of animal would often depend on characteristics associated with that animal, or on the status of that animal in a culture’s religion. Consequently, the point of Genesis 3 is not to inform us about ancient zoology. Genesis communicates profound ideas to us that:
1. The world you experience was created by an all-powerful God;
2. Human beings are his created representatives;
3. Eden was his abode;
4. He was accompanied by a supernatural host;
5. One member of that divine entourage was not pleased by God’s decisions to create humanity and give them dominion.
All of this leads us to how humanity got into a mess of cosmic proportions. Thus, the serpent was not a member of the animal kingdom. Furthermore, when the New Testament refer to the serpent, it’s really referring to a supernatural entity, not a mere member of the animal kingdom [2 Corinthians 11:3, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:5]. Here’s the context:
Notice the appearance of Ezekiel 28, and how it’s linked to Genesis 3. Its connection is explicit. Ezekiel 28 is not specifically about the fall of humankind. It is also not a commentary on Genesis 3. The chapter begins with God chastising “Tyre’s Commander-in-Chief.” God accuses him of being “arrogant.” In v. 2, he considers himself a “god,” who is “seated in God’s seat right in the middle of the sea,” which is a phrase about the divine council.
The Hebrew word used here for “god” is ʾēl. It also appears in v. 9, where it is in parallel to ʾĕlōhîm. The people of Ugarit called their high god El. So did the people of Tyre, which was a Phoenician city. The Phoenician religion had a divine council led by El, who was also called ʿelyôn [meaning “Most High”] in Phoenician texts, and was considered the creator of the universe. To the ancient reader familiar with El, the notion that “Tyre’s Commander-in-Chief” would think himself fit to rule in El’s place [or even to be a more generic deity in the divine council] would be ludicrous. For biblical writers, this was offensive, since only Yahweh is ʿelyôn [Genesis 14:22]. God then proceeds to acknowledge the great intelligence of this “Commander-in-Chief,” but reminds him that he is certainly not the “Most High” [vv. 2–9]. In v. 10, God strangely says “you will die a death fit for the uncircumcised at the hand of foreigners.”
Since “Tyre’s Commander-in-Chief” was an uncircumcised gentile, the phrasing seems to lack coherence. However, reading further shows us that the underworld realm of the dead is described by Ezekiel as the place where the “uncircumcised” warrior-king enemies of Israel find themselves [Ezekiel 32:21, 24–30, 32; Isaiah 14:9]. This is the place of the dead Rephaim [quasi-supernatural beings]. It is at this point that God has Ezekiel raise a lament over “Tyre’s Commander-in-Chief,” whose arrogance led to his fall, not only to the earth but under the earth. God, through Ezekiel, begins [from vv. 12-13]: “You served as my model, my example of complete wisdom and perfect beauty. You used to be in Eden—God’s paradise! You wore precious stones for clothing: ruby, topaz, diamond, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and carbuncle. Your settings were crafted in gold, along with your engravings. On the day of your creation they had been prepared!”
Note that “Tyre’s Commander-in-Chief” was not in Eden, since he was in Tyre! Thus, although Ezekiel 28 is about “Tyre’s Commander-in-Chief,” in describing his arrogance, downfall, and original state, Ezekiel utilizes an older tale of a downfall in Eden!
John [7th century] writes: “One of the angel powers, the marshal of one host, bore in himself no trace of natural evil from his Maker’s hand but had been created for good, yet by his own free and deliberate choice he turned aside from good to evil and was stirred up by madness to the desire to take up arms against his Lord God.”
Tertullian [2nd century] likewise states: “If you turn to the prophecy of Ezekiel, you will at once perceive that this angel was both by creation good and by choice corrupt. For he speaks of the devil there in the person of the prince of Tyre.”
Jerome [4th century] nails it: “He who was nurtured in a paradise of delight as one of the twelve precious stones was wounded and went down to hell from the mount of God.”
It may be surprising to note that many scholars argue that Ezekiel has Adam in view, not the serpent. That perspective is workable with parts of the description, but not all of them. The more coherent alternative is the serpent, a divine being who has forgotten his place in the divine council. Thus, where do we see a serpent in Ezekiel 28? Notice the following two points:
1. The “king of Tyre” was “in Eden—God’s paradise” [v. 13].
2. He represented “perfect beauty,” since he “wore precious stones for clothing.” This language communicates something radiant.
Scholars who take the Adam view argue that this is a literal jewel-encrusted garment, similar to the jewels on the breastplate of the Israelite high priest [Exodus 28:17–20; 39:10–13]. Thus, Adam is a priest-king of Eden. In fact, this is true! To clarify, the humans of Genesis 1 pre-exist Adam and Eve of Genesis 2, because they are generically described as being fruitful, multiplying, and migrating around the Earth [humans originate from North East Africa ~150,000 years ago]. Thus, Genesis 2 continues the creation story where God localizes himself at a particular geographical position [the four rivers align perfectly with the Persian Gulf Oasis ~70,000 years ago], and thus Adam and Eve would have been born within the midst of a human population, and thus become archetypical high priests for God’s abode in Eden, along with his divine council.
Since Jesus was the 2nd Adam and a priest-king, this analogy fits. Hence the reason scholars argue that the backdrop to the arrogance of the “king of Tyre” is the rebellious Adam, not the serpent. All of this sounds reasonable until we read about how he’s characterized later [from vv. 14-17]: “You were the anointed cherub; having been set in place on the holy mountain of God, you walked in the midst of fiery stones. You were blameless in your behaviour from the day you were created until wickedness was discovered in you. Since your vast business dealings filled you with violent intent from top to bottom, you sinned, so I cast you away as defiled from the mountain of God. I destroyed you, you guardian cherub, from the midst of the fiery stones. Your heart grew arrogant because of your beauty; you annihilated your own wisdom because of your splendour. Then I threw you to the ground in the presence of kings, giving them a good look at you!”
Was Adam an “anointed cherub”? Was Adam “filled” with “violent intent”? Was Adam cast “to the ground in the presence of kings”? These are important questions that scholars [who hold to the Adam view] admit need answering. In fact, there is one more difficultly that the Adam view cannot answer, and that is in Ezekiel 28:12. Notice that it reads: “you served as my model, my example of complete wisdom and perfect beauty.”
The Hebrew word ḥôtēm for “model” is the crux of the problem. The word is not a noun, but a participle that literally means “sealer.” Notice that it is addressed as “you.” The fact that this “sealer” is described as being “complete wisdom and perfect beauty” also makes it clear that some intelligent entity is in view. Furthermore in v. 13, the “precious stones” that describe the appearance of the “sealer” is key. In Revelation 2, Thyatira was offered the “morning star.” This was speaking about divinity. All of the “stones” here have one thing in common: they shine. Luminescence is a characteristic of divine beings or divine presence [Ezekiel 1:4–7, 27–28; 10:19–20; Daniel 10:6]. This description of the divine “cherub” in “Eden” is designed to convey divinity: a shining presence. And as we know in Genesis 3, he gets cast out of Eden, out from “the midst of the fiery stones.” This is another clue, since it’s a phrase that 2nd Temple texts associate with the supernatural, mountainous dwelling of God and the divine council [1 Enoch 18:6–11; 1 Enoch 24–25]. Thus, the “fiery stones” do not only describe an abode, but also divine entities in that abode.
The “ground” to which this divine being is cast and where he is disgraced is also key. The Hebrew word is ʾereṣ and is a common term for the earth. But it is also a word that is used to refer to the underworld, the realm of the dead [Jonah 2:6], where ancient warrior-kings await their comrades in death. Adam was already on earth, so he couldn’t be sentenced there, because we don’t read of him being thrown “to the ground.” Thus, this is the sort of language we would expect about the expulsion of a heavenly being from the divine council. Thus, returning to the Hebrew word ḥôtēm as the crux of this interpretation, other scholars have pointed out a crucial linguistic issue, showing that it’s directly linked to the serpent. There is a rare phenomenon in the Semitic languages where the final letter m is silent [linguists call this the enclitic mem]. An analogy in English would be the silent e, to show that the preceding vowel sound is long. The enclitic mem is considered a particle directing attention to the word for emphasis. If the m is silent, then the word can be translated “serpent”! Thus, v. 12 reads: “you, serpent of perfection, are full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.”
Thus, we are dealing with a divine being that is cast as creaturely in Genesis 3, and the description that this being was a “guardian cherub” makes sense. A cherub was a divine throne guardian in the ancient Near East, and iconography show many examples of such throne guardians as animals. There is little coherence to viewing this “guardian cherub” as Adam. Thus, the serpent was a divine being [like the seraphs of Isaiah 6:2], and his function was to guard sacred objects, such as the “tree of life” in Eden [Genesis 3:24]. But he failed to do so and became “defiled.”
These elements also show up in Isaiah 14, another link to Genesis 3.
In Isaiah 14, the king of Babylon is called an “oppressor” [v. 4] who ruthlessly persecuted the nations [vv. 5–6]. The world will finally be at rest when the oppressor is “laid low” [vv. 7–8]. Then Isaiah writes [from vv. 9-11]: “The afterlife below is all astir to meet you when you arrive; it rouses up the spirits of the dead [Rephaim] to greet you—everyone who used to be world leaders. It has raised up from their thrones all who used to be kings of the nations. In answer, all of them will tell you, ‘You’ve also become as weak as we are! You have become just like us!’ Your pomp has been brought down to Sheol, along with the noise of your harps. Maggots are spread out beneath you, and worms are your covering.”
As in Ezekiel 28, the figure in Isaiah 14 who is the target of its diatribe goes to “Sheol,” the underworld. The Rephaim are there, here identified again as the dead warrior-kings. The king of Babylon will be one of these living dead, just like the king of Tyre. Recall that Ezekiel 28 shifted from the king of Tyre to a divine figure in Eden. That shift informed us that the writer was using a story of cosmic, divine rebellion to [by comparison] portray the arrogance of the earthly king. We see the same thing in Isaiah 14, shifting to a divine context with clear links to Ezekiel 28. Those connections in turn take us conceptually back to Genesis 3. Thus, we read from vv. 12-15: “How you have fallen from heaven, Day Star, son of the Dawn! How you have been thrown down to earth, you who laid low the nation! You said in your heart, ‘I’ll ascend to heaven, above the stars of God. I’ll erect my throne; I’ll sit on the Mount of Assembly in the far reaches of the north; I’ll ascend above the tops of the clouds; I’ll make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to join the dead, to the far reaches of the Pit.”
The divine council context is transparent. The figure to whom the king of Babylon is being compared is a divine being “fallen from heaven” [v. 12]. He is called the “Day Star, son of the Dawn.” In the Hebrew, it literally means “shining one, son of the dawn.” The “morning star” was also in reference to Venus, which again has to do with brightness. Thus, as we saw in Ezekiel 28, we see here in Isaiah 14 a portrayal of a particular divine being hopelessly enamoured of his own brilliance. So great was his arrogance that he declared himself above all the “stars of God,” the other members of the divine council [Job 38:7].
That this “shining one” sought superiority over the other members of the divine council is indicated by the phrase “erect my throne” and his desire to “sit” on “the Mount of Assembly.” That this “Mount of Assembly” speaks of the divine council is clear from its location in “the far reaches of the north” [or ṣāpôn in Hebrew] and “the tops of the clouds.” All of this is familiar from Ezekiel 28, and reads like an attempted coup in the divine council. This “shining one” wanted his seat in the divine assembly on the divine mountain to be above all others. He wanted to be “like the Most High” [or ʿelyôn]. Thus, it’s no surprise that the “shining one” meets the same end as the divine “guardian cherub” in Ezekiel 28. The punishment is to live in the realm of the dead, to end up in Sheol. And now we reach the pivotal moment in our analysis, to re-read Genesis 3 afresh. Starting with the Hebrew word nāḥāš that is translated “serpent,” we plainly read it as a noun. However, it can also be read as a verb! If we did this, it would translate as “the diviner.” Divination refers to communication with the supernatural world. A diviner in the ancient world was one who foretold omens or gave out divine oracles. We can see that element in the story. Eve is getting information from this divine being. But it doesn’t stop with a verb, for it can also be read as an adjective! It would mean “bronze” or “copper.” In fact, we see this type of description for divine beings [Daniel 10:6]. We have words with such elasticity in English, where meaning depends on speech and context. For example, here’s the word running:
Noun: “Running is a good form of exercise.”
Verb: “The engine is running on diesel.”
Adjective: “Running paint is ugly.”
Writers want their readers to think about all possible meanings and nuances. If you are asked “How has your reading been?” you are forced to think about all three. Does it mean the latest assignment [noun]? Does it mean you have the right glasses [adjective]? Or is it referencing the process [verb]? Thus, the term nāḥāš is a triple entendre: the dispensing of divine knowledge [the verb form] and luminescence [the adjective form]. Thus, Genesis 3:1 reads: “Now the Shining One was more clever than any animal of the field that the Lord God had made. It asked the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You are not to eat from any tree of the garden’?””
We should be sympathetic toward Eve. She’s often seen here as naïve.
Given the divine council context of her status as God’s imager and new member of his family, what the “shining one” said to her had the ring of validity. Of course God wants us to be like “gods” [we are all one family]. This doesn’t excuse Eve [or Adam]. Their disobedience had dire consequences. But while the reason for God’s judgment is transparent, the meanings of that judgment beg for some careful thought. It should be noted that neither Adam nor Eve are cursed, only the serpent [v. 14] and the earth [v. 17]. What happens to Adam and Eve is a disruption of their appointed roles [vv. 17–19]. The expulsion of humans from Eden [Genesis 3:22–25] turned a glorious dominion mission into mundane drudgery. We know that God would take steps to restore his rule, and that descendants of Adam [especially one of them; Genesis 3:15] would be critical to that kingdom.
The human yearning for utopia is interesting in this light. We seem to have an inner sense of need to restore something that was lost, but Eden cannot return on purely human terms. A descendant of Eve would come forth who would someday undo the damage caused by the divine rebel. That this descendant is linked to Eve implies that the score will be settled through her bloodline. After the fall, the only way to extend the work of God’s human council-family was childbirth. Eve was redeemed through childbearing [1 Timothy 2:15]. So were the rest of us, since it’s the only way God’s original plan remained viable. If there’s no offspring, there can be no human imaging and no kingdom. But the judgment on Eve also tells us that the “shining one” would have offspring as well. The rest of the biblical story doesn’t consist of humans battling snakes. Instead, it describes an ongoing conflict between followers of God and followers of the “shining one.” He was cursed to “crawl on your belly,” imagery that conveyed being cast down to the ground [very familiar imagery to Ezekiel 28:8, 17; Isaiah 14:11–12, 15]. The curse also had him “eat dust,” clearly a metaphorical reference, since snakes don’t really eat dirt as food for nutrition.
The point being made by the curse is that the “shining one,” who wanted to be “most high,” will be most low instead, cast away from God and the divine council. In the underworld, he is hidden from view and from life in God’s world. His domain is death. After the fall, the plan of God was not extinguished. Genesis 3 tells us why we die, why we need redemption and salvation, and why we cannot save ourselves. It also tells us that God’s plan has only been delayed [not defeated], and that the human story will be both a tragic struggle and a miraculous providential saga. But the situation is going to get worse before it gets better.
Now we reach Genesis 6:1–4, a passage that is unfortunately skipped in church. Its theological message is important: “Now after the population of human beings had increased throughout the earth, and daughters had been born to them, some divine beings noticed how attractive human women were, so they took wives for themselves from a selection that pleased them. So the Lord said, “My Spirit won’t remain with human beings forever, because they’re truly mortal. Their lifespan will be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth at that time (and also immediately afterward), when those divine beings were having sexual relations with those human women, who gave birth to children for them. These children became the heroes and legendary figures of ancient times.”
This passage has deep Mesopotamian roots. In fact, 2nd Temple texts like 1 Enoch shows a keen awareness of that Mesopotamian context. This awareness shows us that Jewish thinkers of the 2nd Temple period correctly understood the story of divine beings and giant offspring. This passage is a polemic; it is a literary and theological effort to undermine the credibility of Mesopotamian gods and other aspects of that culture’s worldview. Biblical writers do this frequently. The strategy often involves borrowing lines and motifs from the literature of the target civilization to articulate correct theology about Yahweh and to show contempt for other gods. Mesopotamia had several versions of the story of a catastrophic flood, complete with a large boat that saves animals and humans.
They include mention of a group of sages [the apkallu], possessors of great knowledge, in the period before the flood. These apkallu were divine beings, and many were considered evil, thus integral to Mesopotamian demonology. After the flood, offspring of the apkallu were said to be “one-third human” and “two-thirds apkallu.” In other words, the apkallu mated with human women and produced quasi-divine offspring. The “two-thirds” phrase is especially noteworthy, since it matches the description of the Mesopotamian hero Gilgamesh.
Recent scholarly work on the cuneiform tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh has revealed that Gilgamesh was considered a giant who retained knowledge from before the flood. In the Mesopotamian flood story found in a text now known as the Erra Epic, the Babylonian high god Marduk punishes the evil apkallu with banishment to the subterranean waters deep inside the earth, which was known as the apsu. It was also considered part of the underworld. Marduk commanded that they never come up again. The parallels are clear and unmistakable. The banishment of these sinister divine beings to beneath the earth is significant, since both Peter and Jude highlight this [2 Peter 2:1-10; Jude 5-7]. But how did they make such connections if these details are not explicit in the Old Testament? It’s because of 2nd Temple texts like 1 Enoch.
Thus, 2nd Temple Jewish writers were aware of the Mesopotamian context of Genesis 6:1–4, as we read from 1 Enoch 6-7: “When the sons of men had multiplied, in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to them. And the watchers, the sons of heaven, saw them and desired them. And they said to one another, “Come, let us choose for ourselves wives from the daughters of men, and let us beget children for ourselves.” And Shemihazah, their chief, said to them, “I fear that you will not want to do this deed, and I alone shall be guilty of a great sin.” And they all answered him and said, “Let us all swear an oath, and let us all bind one another with a curse, that none of us turn back from this counsel until we fulfil it and do this deed.” Then they all swore together and bound one another with a curse. And they were, all of them, two hundred, who descended in the days of Jared onto the peak of Mount Hermon. And they called the mountain “Hermon” because they swore and bound one another with a curse on it. These and all the others with them took for themselves wives from among them such as they chose. And they began to go in to them, and to defile themselves through them, and to teach them sorcery and charms, and to reveal to them the cutting of roots and plants. And they conceived from them and bore to them great giants. And the giants begot Nephilim, and to the Nephilim were born Elioud. And they were growing in accordance with their greatness. They were devouring the labour of all the sons of men, and men were not able to supply them. And the giants began to kill men and to devour them. And they began to sin against the birds and beasts and creeping things and the fish, and to devour one another’s flesh. And they drank the blood. Then the earth brought accusation against the lawless ones.”
The account has the “watchers” descending to Mount Hermon, a site that will factor into the biblical epic. The term “watchers” appears in Daniel 4, and is the only biblical passage to specifically use the term to describe the “holy ones” of God’s divine council. The geographical context of Daniel is Babylon [Daniel 1], which is in Mesopotamia. The offspring of the “watchers” were giants. This leads us to the meaning of the word “Nephilim.” Unfortunately, outdated commentaries will argue that this should be understood as “fallen ones” [a battle expression]. These options are based on the idea that the word apparently derives from the Hebrew verb nāpal, which means “to fall.” If understood this way, then we lose the context of the quasi-divine nature of the “Nephilim.” Thus, recent scholarship in Hebrew morphology is now able to unravel this mysterious word coherently. The word occurs twice in the Old Testament:
1. Nephilim [Genesis 6:4]
2. Nephiylim [Numbers 13:33]
The difference between them is the y letter. Hebrew originally had no vowels. All words were written with consonants only. As time went on, Hebrew scribes started to use some of the consonants to mark long vowel sounds. English does this with the y consonant [sometimes it’s a vowel]. Hebrew does that with its y letter too. The takeaway is that the second spelling tells us that the root behind the term had a long-i [or y] in it before the plural ending [-im] was added. That in turn helps us determine that the word does not mean “those who fall.” If that were the case, the word would have been spelled nophelim. Furthermore, a translation of “fallen” from the verb nāpal is also weakened by the y letter, because we would expect a spelling of nephulim. Thus, instead of coming from the verb nāpal, the word might come from a noun that has a long-i vowel in the second syllable [like naphiyl]. This kind of noun is called a qatil noun.
But there is a problem. There is no such noun as naphiyl in the Old Testament. However, its hypothetical plural form would be nephiylim, which is precisely the long spelling we see in Numbers 13:33. Thus, this option solves the spelling problem, but it fails to explain everything else:
1. The Mesopotamian context,
2. The 2nd Temple recognition of that context,
3. The connection of the term to “Anakim” giants [Deuteronomy 2–3],
4. The fact that the LXX translators interpreted the word as “giants.”
So where does the spelling nephiylim come from? The solution is remarkably simple. Since the Israelites were taken to Babylon during the exile, during those 70 years they learned to speak Aramaic. They later brought it back to Judah. This is how Aramaic became the primary language in Judea by the time of Jesus. The point of Genesis 6:1–4 was to express contempt for the divine Mesopotamian apkallu and their giant offspring. The Israelites needed a good word to describe the giant offspring as “evil.” Thus, “fallen ones” is insufficient to communicate the “giant” nature of these beings. Thus, the Jewish scribes adopted an Aramaic noun naphiyla, which means “giant.” When you import that word and pluralize it for Hebrew, you get nephiylim! Now that the word is solved, what does it all mean? Why is Genesis 6:1–4 in the bible? What was its theological message?
The answer lies in the whole epic of Genesis 1–11, because it has so many deep, specific touch-points with Mesopotamian literary works. Scholars believe that Genesis was written during the exile in Babylon, or was edited at that time [this naturally relates to the debate over Mosaic authorship, and the issues are complex]. The Jewish scribes wanted to make it clear that certain religious ideas about the gods and the world were misguided or false. Think about the Jewish context. They are followers of Yahweh, and they were in Babylon, deported against their will by the greatest empire at the time. Though captives, prophets like Ezekiel [and Jeremiah before him] had told the people that their situation was temporary, that God remained sovereign. They would be set free and Babylon would crumble. For Jewish scribes, their work during the exile was an opportunity to set the record straight for posterity. Thus, those who were non-Israelite presumed that civilization in Mesopotamia had been handed down by their gods, including their intellectual achievements and knowledge.
It was their way of claiming that their knowledge and skills were divine and superior to those of the nations they had conquered. That in turn meant that the gods of those nations were inferior to the gods of Babylon. The apkallu were the great culture-heroes of pre-flood knowledge. They were the divine sages of a glorious bygone era. Babylonian kings claimed to be descended from the apkallu and other divine figures from before the flood. The collective claim was that Babylon was the sole possessor of divine knowledge, and the empire’s rule had the approval of the gods. The biblical writers disagreed. They saw Babylonian knowledge as having demonic origins, because the apkallu themselves were so intertwined with Mesopotamian demonology. The Babylonian elite taught that the divine knowledge of the apkallu had survived the flood through a succeeding post-flood generation of apkallu [giant, quasi-divine offspring fathered by the original pre-flood apkallu]. The biblical writers took what Babylonians thought was proof of their own divine heritage and told a different story. Yes, there were giants, renowned men, both before and after the flood [Genesis 6:4]. But those offspring and their knowledge were not of the true God: they were the result of rebellion against Yahweh by fallen divine beings. Thus, Genesis 6:1–4 portrays Babylon’s boast as a horrific transgression and the catalyst that spread corruption throughout humankind. Thus, Genesis 6:5 is essentially a summary of this evil.
But, the full account of that summary appears in 1 Enoch 8: “Asael taught men to make swords of iron and weapons and shields and breastplates and every instrument of war. He showed them metals of the earth and how they should work gold to fashion it suitably, and concerning silver, to fashion it for bracelets and ornaments for women. And he showed them concerning antimony and eye paint and all manner of precious stones and dyes. And the sons of men made them for themselves and for their daughters, and they transgressed and led the holy ones astray. And there was much godlessness on the earth, and they made their ways desolate. Shemihazah taught spells and the cutting of roots. Hermani taught sorcery for the loosing of spells and magic and skill. Baraqel taught the signs of the lightning flashes. Kokabel taught the signs of the stars. Ziqel taught the signs of the shooting stars. Arteqoph taught the signs of the earth. Shamsiel taught the signs of the sun. Sahriel taught the signs of the moon. And they all began to reveal mysteries to their wives and to their children. And as men were perishing, the cry went up to heaven.”
These are practices largely drawn from Babylonian sciences, another clear indication that the intellectual context of the story was known to 2nd Temple authors. Since the Babylonian apkallu were considered demonic, it is no mystery why Peter and Jude link the events of Genesis 6:1–4 to false teachers. While attacking their aberrant knowledge, Peter and Jude evoke the imagery of Genesis 6, showing that they are licentious men who indulge in defiling lusts [2 Peter 2:2, 10; Jude 8]. Like the divine beings of Genesis 6 who “did not keep their own position” [Jude 6], these false teachers “despise authority” and “slander glorious beings” whom good angels dare not rebuke, because only God will [2 Peter 2:9–11; Jude 8–10].
Nemesius [4th century Bishop of Emesa] says: “Of the incorporeal beings, only angels fell away, and not all of them, but some only, that inclined to things below and set their desire on things of earth, withdrawing themselves from their relations with things above, even from God.”
Oecumenius [6th century] likewise offers a chilling perspective: “If God did not spare the rebellious angels, who had stood in honour before him because of the immortality of their nature, how much less will he spare mere humans, whom he has created out of perishable matter!”
At this point, the obvious reaction by Christians is the weirdness of the reality that angels are able to procreate with human women. However, the ancient reader did not have this problem. For example, here’s another 2nd Temple text that says: “For it was thus that women charmed the Watchers, who were before the Flood. As they continued looking at the women, they were filled with desire for them and perpetrated the act in their minds. Then they were transformed into human males, and while the women were cohabiting with their husbands they appeared to them. Since the women’s minds were filled with lust for these apparitions, they gave birth to giants. For the Watchers were disclosed to them as being as high as the heavens.” [Testament of Reuben 5:6-7]
For us today, it seems impossible that a divine being could assume human flesh and do what this passage describes. But, this objection itself is odd, since this interpretation is less dramatic than the incarnation of God in Jesus! How is the virgin birth of God more acceptable? It’s mind-blowing that Jesus had both a divine and human nature fused together.
Think about it. God had to experience going through a woman’s birth canal, and then to endure life; having to learn how to talk, walk, eat, be potty trained, and go through puberty. This is far more shocking than the events in Genesis 6:1–4. The notion that the fallen angels came to earth in fleshly form ought to be more palatable than the incarnation, since it is less supernaturally spectacular. The supernatural approach to Genesis 6:1–4 derives from other passages that plainly have divine beings in embodied human form. For example, Genesis 18–19 is quite clear that God himself and two other divine beings met with Abraham in physical flesh. They ate a meal together [Genesis 18:1–8]. Then Genesis 19:10 informs us that the two angels had to physically grab Lot and pull him back into his house to avoid harm in Sodom, something that would be hard to do if the two beings were not truly physical. Another example is Genesis 32:22–32, where we read that Jacob wrestled with a “man” [v. 24], whom the text also describes as “God” [vv. 30–31]. Thus, Hosea 12:3–4 refers to this incident and describes the being who wrestled with Jacob as both “God” and an “angel.” This was a physical struggle, and one that left Jacob injured [vv. 31–32].
While visual appearances in human form are more common [Matthew 2:19; Acts 10:3; 11:13], the New Testament also describes episodes where angels are best understood as corporeal. In Matthew 4:11, angels came to Jesus after he was tempted by the devil and “began ministering to him.” Angels appear and speak [Matthew 28:5; Luke 1:11–21, 30–38], instances that presume actual sound waves being created. If a merely auditory experience was meant, one would expect the communication to be described as a dream-vision [Acts 10:3]. Angels open doors [Acts 5:19] and hit disciples to wake them up [Acts 12:7]. This particular episode is especially interesting, because the text has Peter mistakenly thinking the angel was only a vision!
The next thing to note about the Nephilim is that Genesis 6:4 says that they were on earth before the flood “and also immediately afterward.” The phrase looks forward to Numbers 13:33, which says that “the Nephilim” are “the descendants of Anak.” The sons of Anak [the Anakim], were one of the giant clans described in the conquest narratives [Deuteronomy 2:10–11, 21; Joshua 11:21–22; 14:12, 15]. Nephilim descendants exist after the flood because:
1. The flood wasn’t global [but in the Persian Gulf ~13,000 years ago].
2. The behaviour of Genesis 6:1–4 happened again after the flood, producing other Nephilim, from whom the giant clans descended.
With respect to the 1st option about a localized flood, recent scholarship has marshalled a lot of evidence for the authenticity of this account in Genesis 6-8. To reiterate, the geographical extent of Noah’s flood occurred within the Persian Gulf ~13,000 years ago [the end of the last Ice Age and hence the advent of the Holocene], in a region that was occupied by early humans during the late Pleistocene ~70,000 years ago.
First, we need to note that Genesis 1 details for us chronologically the natural history of Earth. Our current geological research has developed an extremely detailed tectonic profile showcasing relatively fixed shorelines, where the oceans will never again cover the entire Earth, as was initially the case in the early stages of the planet’s formation from 4.5662 ± 0.0001 billion years ago to ~3.8 billion years ago.
Evidence for this is via osmium isotope analysis where landmasses occur in pulsed states, affirming that the Earth will never undergo a global flood [as was once the case in Genesis 1:2, where the Earth first had a ~1 km deep global ocean]. This is also in accordance with Psalm 104:6-9. Next is the analysis of the migration patterns of humans, because in what location are the events of Genesis 6-9? If Noah’s flood was global, then that would not account for the fact that we already have established in Genesis 2 a specific location for these particular humans located in the Persian Gulf. Thus, Genesis 1 is speaking about pre-Adamic humans that multiply into a large enough population of ~10,000 to “fill the Earth.” These humans migrate north-east out of Africa, and as seen in Genesis 2, they arrive into the Arabian peninsula, where specific geographical details are given with the mention that a “river flows from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides, becoming four branches.”
Using anthropological and archaeological studies, as well as geological data [to pinpoint the rivers Pishon and Gihon], Eden is located at the head of the once dry Persian Gulf. Furthermore, Noah’s “reed boat” lands in the region of Mount Judi [or “Urartu” in Genesis 8:4], close to this Edenic geography. The reason why it’s a “reed boat” is because Noah used materials from a dismantled reed-hut. Thus, the size of this boat would have been equivalent to a modern-day yacht [since the dimensions given in Genesis 6 should be understood via the ancient Near Eastern use of base-60, not our base-10]. Furthermore, Genesis 6:14 is usually translated: “make yourself an ark out of cedar [gōper]; constructing compartments [qinnîm] in it, and cover it inside and out with tar [kōper].”
Recent scholarship has shown that these three Hebrew words for “cedar,” “compartments,” and “tar” all derive from Akkadian:
gōper = gupru
qinnîm = qa-ne-e
kōper = kupru
Therefore, this is how the verse should read: “Make for yourself a vessel of stalks from a reed-hut; with reeds you will make the vessel and tar it inside and out with bitumen.”
This is confirmed in the following 2nd Temple text: “Because of him, the earth was flooded. Wisdom again came to the rescue. She took a man who did what was right and steered him straight on a vessel made of cheap wood ... This is the only reason in the end why humans can entrust their lives to cheap pieces of wood and can reach land safely by riding the breaking surf on a ship that is no more than a raft. Near the beginning, at a time when proud giants were being destroyed, the hope of the world escaped on just such a raft.” [Wisdom of Solomon 10:4; 14:5-6]
Therefore, the Mudhif reed-house by the Madan people is an apt example:
The species that experienced this flood ~13,000 years ago is highlighted in Job 38-41, since it’s a direct proportion with the list of species mentioned in Genesis [and Job was located in Uz, in the Arabian peninsula], that would have interacted with Noah [thus no polar bears, emperor penguins, or dinosaurs]. The species that could have been on the “reed boat” possibly include the: Lion, Raven, Goat, Deer, Donkey, Wild Ox, Ostrich, Horse, Hawk, and Eagle.
Notice that these particular species would mostly comprise of farm animals, along with possible local wild fauna. That being said, humans and animals do not migrate away from available sustenance [such as the lush Persian Gulf], and neither would they migrate over mountainous regions [the Arabian peninsula is surrounded by mountains and ocean waters]. Thus, it would be ludicrous for Noah to move prior to the flood. The only solution was to survive this flood. However, is it possible that anyone else survived the flood by not being localized in the region ~13,000 years ago? It’s a high probability. Notice that humans are migrating much earlier than the flood event. However, the Persian Gulf had a heavy concentrated human population, even if there were small pockets of humans elsewhere.
Since Noah’s ark rested on Mount Judi, just south of the Armenian mountains, this aligns well with the flora [olive trees and wine production] within that region. In fact, DNA fingerprinting studies have helped us understand genes of wild wheat to those of cultivated wheat, showing that large-scale agriculture began ~10,000 years ago. The location for this launch was near the Karaca Dağ Mountains in Southern Turkey where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers run close together [matching again the proximity of Mount Judi and the landing of Noah’s reed boat]. The same DNA analysis also outlined the spread of organized agriculture throughout Mesopotamia’s fertile crescent [9,000 to 8,000 b.c.], to Persia, the Nile Delta, India, and Greece [8,000 to 6,000 b.c.], and beyond to south central Europe, the remainder of Egypt, southern Russia, and Arabia [6,000 to 5,000 b.c.]. This spread is consistent with the biblical chronology outlined in Genesis 10–11 for the spread of advanced human civilization.
With respect to the 2nd option in regards to the behaviour of Genesis 6:1–4 happening again after the flood, it’s a possibility derived from Hebrew grammar. In Genesis 6:4, the Hebrew word for “when” can also be translated as “whenever,” thereby suggesting a repetition of these pre-flood sinful events after the flood. As a result, since there would be no survival of original Nephilim, a later appearance of newer Nephilim emerged. All of this sets the stage for Numbers 13. Fear of the giant clans results in a spiritual failure that means wandering in the desert outside the land of promise for 40 years, so that the 1st generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt is sentenced to die off. The new generation under Joshua will wind up facing the same threat. As the 40 years of wandering neared completion, God directed Moses to lead the new generation of Israelites back toward Canaan. But instead of heading into Canaan from the south as before, God brought them alongside Canaan through territory to the east. This was no accident [as outlined in Deuteronomy 2].
We learn several things of significance in this geography. Proceeding from south to north, the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites were to be left untouched by the Israelites because God had long ago allotted that land to Abraham’s nephew Lot, and his grandson Esau [Jacob’s brother]. It is fascinating to note that the giants once lived in those territories prior to the arrival of Moses, Joshua, and the Israelites [vv. 10–11, 19–20]. These giant clans were known among the Moabites and Ammonites as the Emim and the Zamzummim. Other inhabitants had also been driven out: the Horites, the Avvim, and the Caphtorim. These tribal groups are never themselves referred to as being unusually tall, though they surface in connection with giant clans in a number of other passages. Notice that the Caphtorim “lived in villages as far as Gaza” [v. 23]. Gaza would become known as a Philistine city. Caphtor is an island in the Aegean, likely Crete. In David’s era, Goliath would be numbered among the Philistines.
The thing to observe here is that these giant clans had already been removed from the land promised to Abraham’s descendants by the descendants of Esau and Lot, who were also descended from Abraham, like Israel [vv. 12, 21]. These giant clans were related to the Anakim [vv. 10–11], who were from “the Nephilim” [Numbers 13:33]. We aren’t told specifically how the bloodline lineages worked, but we are told a relationship existed. Additionally, all of these groups are referred to as Rephaim [vv. 11, 20], that were highlighted earlier in Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14. Thus, God told Moses to ask travel permission from the sons of Lot and Esau as the Israelites journeyed northward through the Transjordan. They received that permission and passed through [vv. 26–29]. They were on their way at God’s leading to what was actually the last area under the dominion of the Nephilim bloodline in the Transjordan. Moses is seemingly unaware of God’s aim in this leg of the journey. And then we read in v. 30: “But Sihon king of Heshbon did not allow us to pass through, because the Lord your God had hardened his spirit and made him arrogant, in order to deliver him into your control today.”
Notice how God hardens the heart of Sihon. The wording is designed to make us think of God’s battle with Pharaoh, the presumed god of Egypt. It was time for Sihon to go. But why target him? The answer requires a look back to Abraham [in Genesis 15:13–16]. God told Abraham that his descendants [Edom, Ammon, Moab, and Israel] would live in bondage but would return to the land of promise.
This would happen at a time when the iniquity of the Amorites had reached the point when God was ready to judge it. Why Sihon? He was an Amorite king [Deuteronomy 3:2]. But why the Amorites? The Amorite culture was Mesopotamian. The term and the people are known from Sumerian and Akkadian material centuries older than the Old Testament and the time of Moses and the Israelites. The Hebrew word for “Amorite” actually comes from a Sumerian word MAR.TU which vaguely referred to the area and population west of Sumer and Babylon. The use of “Amorite” in the Old Testament is indiscriminate. In Genesis 14:13, an “Amorite” is said to have been an ally to Abraham. This is not much of a surprise since the term could simply denote Mesopotamian ethnicity. But the Amorites are enemies, and their Babylonian heritage becomes a link back to the Nephilim. In some passages it’s a label for the entire population of Canaan [Joshua 7:7]. In that sense, “Amorites” and “Canaanites” are interchangeable, both denoting that they are non-Israelites in the land of Canaan. In other passages its use is more specific to one people group among several within Canaan [Genesis 15:19–21].
Thus, “Canaanites” and “Amorites” were therefore generic terms used to describe the enemies of Israel. Of the two, “Amorites” takes on a more sinister tone in the context of the Babylonian polemic that precedes this point in Israel’s story. Tarring and feathering the inhabitants of Canaan with a label that would take an Israelite reader back to the supernatural disasters of Genesis 6:1-4 would have a profound theological effect. But the connection is actually more direct than rhetoric. One passage specifically connects the Amorites to the giants that were derivative of the Nephilim: “Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorites in front of them, though their height seemed like a cedar, though their strength seemed like an oak, but whose fruit I destroyed from above and the roots from beneath. Furthermore, I brought you up from the land of Egypt, leading you in the wilderness for 40 years, to take possession of the land of the Amorites” [Amos 2:9–10].
Notice that the context for this statement is the exodus and the conquest. That at least some Amorites were unusually tall would have been evidence to the Israelites they had descended from the Nephilim. For an Israelite, it meant that the native population of Canaan had a supernaturally sinister point of origin. This wouldn’t be just a battle for land. It was a battle between God and the other gods who had raised up competing human bloodlines that were opposed to God’s plan.
Something else about Sihon also factors here. He was allied to Og, another king of the Amorites who ruled in the region of Bashan. Og was a giant, and Deuteronomy 3:1-11 tells us what happened after Israel’s battle with Sihon: “We set out and went up along the road to Bashan. Then Og the king of Bashan came out to meet us—he and his whole army—for a battle at Edrei. Then the Lord told me, ‘Don’t fear him, because I’ve delivered him, his army, and his territory into your control. Do to him just as you have done to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon.’ So the Lord our God also delivered into our control Og king of Bashan, along with his whole army. We attacked him until there were no survivors. Then we captured all his cities at that time. There was not a city left that we didn’t capture from them—sixty cities in all from the region of Argob, which is part of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. All of these cities were fortified with high walls, gates, and bars. Furthermore, there were very many unwalled regions. We utterly destroyed them, just as we did Sihon king of Heshbon, attacking them in every city—the men, women, and children. But we kept for ourselves all of the livestock and plunder from the towns. So at that time we took control from the two Amorite kings the territory east of the Jordan from Wadi Arnon to Mount Hermon. The Sidonians called Hermon Sirion, but the Amorites called it Senir. We took control of all the cities of the plain, all of Gilead and Bashan as far as Salecah and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of Og in Bashan. Only Og the king of Bashan remained from the remnants of the Rephaim. In fact, his bed was made of iron. It’s in Rabbah of the Ammonites, isn’t it? It’s about thirteen and a half feet long and six feet wide.”
If you’re an ancient Israelite reader, several things should pop out:
1. The most immediate link back to the Babylonian polemic is Og’s bed. Its dimensions are precisely those of the cultic bed in the ziggurat called Etemenanki, which is the ziggurat most archaeologists identify as the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. Ziggurats functioned as temples and divine abodes. The unusually large bed at Etemenanki was housed in the place where the god Marduk and his divine wife Zarpanitu, met annually for ritual lovemaking, the purpose of which was divine blessing upon the land. Sacred marriage rituals included the blessing of fertility for both the land and its inhabitants. The ritual was also concerned with maintaining the cosmic order instituted by the gods. Consequently, in addition to the “giant” element, a link between Og and Marduk via the matching bed dimensions may also have telegraphed the idea that Og was the inheritor and perpetuator of the Babylonian knowledge and cosmic order from before the flood. This would tie him back to Genesis 6:1–4 and its apkallu polemic.
Scholars have been struck by the precise correlation. It’s hard not to conclude that [as with Genesis 6:1–4] when we read Deuteronomy 3, those Jewish scribes who were putting the finishing touches on the Old Testament during the exile in Babylon, were connecting Marduk and Og in the same way. The most transparent path is in fact giant stature. In fact, Og is said to have been the “remnants of the Rephaim,” a term connected to the giant Anakim and other ancient giant clans in the Transjordan [Deuteronomy 2:11, 20]. Marduk, like other deities in antiquity, was portrayed as superhuman in size. Thus, these are examples of a matrix of ideas in the minds of the biblical authors, derived from wordplay based on Babylonian mythology. Here’s a model of the Marduk temple, Esagila, with the ziggurat Etemenanki from time of Nebuchadnezzar:
Marduk was a minor deity prior to the Babylonian era, when he was elevated to be king of the gods and the patron deity of the city of Babylon. Marduk was therefore the chief theological rival to God during the Babylonian exile. In scripture, Marduk is referred to as Merodach or Bel [Jeremiah 50:2; 51:44; Isaiah 46:1].
Eupolemus [2nd century b.c. Jewish historian] writes: “In anonymous works, we find that Abraham traced his ancestry to the giants. These dwelt in the land of Babylonia. Because of their impiety, they were destroyed by the gods. One of them, Belos, escaped death and settled in Babylon. He built a tower and lived in it; the tower was called Belos after its builder. After Abraham had learned astrology, he first went to Phoenicia and taught it to the Phoenicians; later he went to Egypt.”
Thus, here is a 2nd Temple text about a giant who survived the flood named Belos, who was credited with building a tower in Babylon [the Tower of Babel], in which he lived. This train of thought conceptually links Marduk and Belos. Thus, the biblical editors during the exile took note of the Bel/Belos wordplay and used the dimensions of Og’s bed to identify him with Marduk. Here’s a sketch of a 9th century b.c. cylinder seal made from lapis lazuli [a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone that has been prized since antiquity for its intense colour] that is 10 cm high. It shows Marduk with his dragon, a horned demon. Lastly, it’s interesting to note that Marduk’s name in Sumerian can also be compared to the Sumerian word for “Amorite”:
- AMAR.UTU [calf of Utu; “the young bull of the Sun god”]
- MAR.TU [Amorite]
Here we see the biblical scribes using a pun behind the description of Og [the giant Amorite king] and Marduk’s name.
2. Og reigns over the city of Edrei [Deuteronomy 3:10]. Likewise, Joshua 12:4–5 refers to him as the king of Bashan and living at Ashtaroth and Edrei; and Joshua 13:11–12, 30–31 describes Og’s general kingdom as the region of Bashan, which encompassed 60 cities. These terms [Ashtaroth, Edrei, and Bashan] were theologically loaded terms for an Israelite, and even for their neighbours who worshiped other gods. Ashtaroth, Edrei, and the Rephaim are mentioned by name in Ugaritic texts [as rapiuma]. The Rephaim of Ugarit are not described as giants. Rather, they are quasi-divine dead warrior kings who inhabit the underworld. In the Ugaritic language, the location of Ashtaroth and Edrei was not spelled Bashan, but was pronounced and spelled Bathan. The linguistic note is intriguing since Bashan/Bathan both also mean “the place of the serpent.”
As noted earlier, the divine serpent became lord of the dead after his rebellion in Eden. Therefore, the serpentine connection is conceptual here. In effect, Bashan was “the gates of hell.” Here’s the point: this is precisely the same region Jesus uttered these famous words: “it is on this rock that I will build my congregation, and the gates of hell will not withstand it” [Matthew 16:18]. The Old Testament has Rephaim in the underworld [as we saw earlier in Isaiah 14:9; Ezekiel 32:27; Psalm 88:10–12; Job 26:1–6]. Because of the Babylonian context of Genesis 6:1–4 [a polemic against the divine apkallu and their quasi-divine giant offspring], the subsequent connection by the biblical writers between the Nephilim and the Rephaim results in a departure from the tradition of Ugaritic literature, which did not have the Rephaim as giants. Later Jewish writers understood these conceptual connections, and is at the heart of why 2nd Temple texts teach this conclusion: the demons are actually the spirits of dead Nephilim.
3. Lastly, aside from Bashan being the gateway to the underworld, the region has another sinister feature identified in the Deuteronomy 3 passage: Mount Hermon. Recall earlier from 1 Enoch 6, that Mount Hermon was the place where the fallen angels [called “watchers”] of Genesis 6:1-4 descended, when they came to earth to cohabit with human women, the episode that produced the Nephilim. Joshua 12:4–5 unites all these threads: “The territory of Og king of Bashan was conquered. He was one of the last of the Rephaim, and lived at Ashtaroth and Edrei, ruling over Mount Hermon, Salecah, and all of Bashan as far as the border of the descendants of Geshur, the descendants of Maacath, and half of Gilead to the border of Sihon king of Heshbon.”
The Hebrew noun ḥermôn has the same root as a verb that is of central importance in Deuteronomy 3: ḥērem, which means “to devote to destruction.” This is a distinct verb for extermination. Thus, Israel’s battles in the Transjordan brings us face-to-face with an issue that has troubled Christians for centuries: the practice of extermination in Israel’s war of conquest. However, keeping all of this backdrop in mind helps us ahead.
Og’s defeat is graphic [Deuteronomy 3:6]. Despite their unusual size, the biblical text is clear that the giant clan members were human [Joshua 11:14]. This language raises the question of how a supernaturalist view of Genesis 6:1–4 would understand this human description of the Anakim against the clear genealogical link back to the quasi-divine Nephilim [Numbers 13:33]. The point of the language ascribing humanity to Nephilim descendants would simply mean Anakim were mortal, not immortal gods. The idea of ḥērem is broader than warfare. Fundamental to the concept is a sanctioning of some person or thing because it is forbidden either due to an accursed status or due to God’s exclusive ownership of it. Persons or objects could be consecrated to God using this verb [Leviticus 27:28; Numbers 18:14; Joshua 6:18; Micah 4:13]. No other object or person could be substituted for that which was sanctified in this sense. The death sentence for worshiping another god was described with the verb ḥāram [Exodus 22:20]. Any person guilty of this crime was accursed. The sentence could not be revoked. God was the exclusive owner of that object.
Thus, Joshua’s ḥērem must be viewed against the backdrop of Genesis 6:1–4 and Deuteronomy 32:8-9 [that God had disinherited the nations, assigning them to the rule of lesser gods]. Since Genesis 6:1–4 is mentally evoked by Israel’s initial contact with the occupants of the land in Numbers 13:32–33, where the giant Anakim are described as descendants of the Nephilim, thus Deuteronomy 32:8–9 is the basis for the general goal of the conquest. Israel is God’s elect portion of humanity, and the land of Canaan is the geography that God [as owner] specifically allotted to his people [2 Chronicles 7:20; Isaiah 19:25; Jeremiah 2:7; 16:18; Ezekiel 38:16; Joel 1:6; 3:2]. Israel is at war with enemies spawned by rival divine beings. The Nephilim bloodlines were not like the peoples of the disinherited nations. Genesis 10 clearly casts the human inhabitants of those nations as owing their existence to God, as they descended from Noah’s sons. The Nephilim bloodlines had a different pedigree. They were produced by other divine beings. They did not belong to God, and he therefore had no interest in claiming them.
Coexistence was not possible with the spawn of other gods. Viewed against this backdrop, Joshua’s ḥērem is a holy war begun under Moses in the Transjordan, specifically against the Amorite giant kings Sihon [Deuteronomy 2:34] and Og [Deuteronomy 3:6]. The lives of Israel’s enemies were to be “devoted to destruction” as an act of sacrifice to God. Notice Numbers 13:29; Anakim are with Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites. This point helps explain something that will become apparent as we proceed, that the ḥāram in the conquest accounts: is used only of assaults in cities or locales that overlap with giant clan population clusters. This is the commandment in Deuteronomy 7:1–2. Wherever they are found, the bloodlines of the giant clans [descendants of the Nephilim] are to be eradicated. Soon after the victories over Sihon and Og, Moses died without ever having stepped into the promised land. The leadership of the nation passed to Joshua [Numbers 27:18–23; Deuteronomy 34:9; Joshua 1], who was directed by God to spy out the land [Joshua 2], then cross the Jordan from the site of Shittim [Joshua 3–4], and renew the covenant between God and Israel [Joshua 5]. The conquest began at Jericho, a central location in the land. A central military campaign would have the immediate effect of separating the cities of the north and south regions. It was a strategy of divide and conquer.
As with Jericho [Joshua 6:18, 21], the city of Ai was “devoted to destruction” after the spiritual failure of the Israelite Achan [Joshua 8:26]. Joshua then moved south into the hill country, part of the land that the spies had surveyed and where they had seen Anakim. The southern campaign is then described in Joshua 10:28-43. The conquest had begun at Jericho, a city in the Jordan River Valley, north of the Dead Sea, into which the Jordan enters. Thus, the city is in one of the locations spied over 40 years earlier. Since these locations were put under ḥērem [when others were not], scholars conclude that some Anakim were known to live in these cities based on the wording of Numbers 13:28–29.
This passage tells us on five occasions that the inhabitants of these cities were “devoted to destruction,” along with six editorial comments that Joshua “left none remaining.” The strategy of the Israelites is apparent at this point. Israel’s ḥērem focused on those regions where Anakim were known to live in the land, and therefore in certain cities in those regions. Other people living in those regions and towns were naturally also under threat [they were in the wrong place at the wrong time]. Joshua and his army didn’t check identification. When they arrived at a place under ḥērem, the intent was to leave no Anakim alive. After the invasion of the southern hill country, Joshua went north and carried out the same plan. The northern campaign is described in Joshua 11. Various people groups that are named in the descriptions here, also appear in Numbers 13:28–29 [where the 12 Israelite spies had seen the Anakim]. These are the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites [v. 3]. Interestingly, Joshua ran into warriors from nearby Mount Hermon in the region of Bashan as well [v. 4]. Once again, we are told that Joshua’s armies “attacked them until none remained” [v. 8] and devoted the cities of the region to destruction [v. 12]. The destruction seems cruel, but it isn’t. The logic of ḥērem emerges in Joshua 11:21–23. This passage makes it evident that the target of ḥērem was the Anakim.
It is crucial to notice that this passage refers to the “hill country of Judah and Israel.” This is language that would only make sense after the tribal allotments under Joshua [which had not yet taken place] and after the country of Israel split into two under Rehoboam [which is an event centuries into the future]. Thus, the book of Joshua was obviously written long after these events. This anachronistic language is important. The “hill country of Judah” refers to the southern campaign [Judah was the southern kingdom in the divided monarchy after Rehoboam]. The “hill country of Israel” speaks to the northern campaign [Israel was the northern kingdom in the divided monarchy]. Joshua 11:21–23 tells us that in both campaigns, the object was the Anakim. And yet, v. 22 curiously states: “None of the Anakim remained in the land belonging to the Israelis—they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod.”
Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod were Philistine cities. Later in 1 Samuel, this is where we meet Goliath of Gath and his brothers, thus the writer of Joshua is setting the stage for the fact that annihilation of these bloodlines would continue into David’s era [Joshua 13:2–3; 1 Samuel 17:4, 23; 2 Samuel 21:15–22; 1 Chronicles 20:4–8]. It is interesting to note that the Philistines are known from ancient texts outside the bible to have been one of the Sea Peoples. They were seafaring people from the Aegean who tried to invade [with varying degrees of success] the coast of Canaan and Egypt between 1200–1150 b.c. One of their points of origin was Caphtor, an island in the Aegean. Both Jeremiah 47:4 and Amos 9:7 explicitly connect the Philistines with Caphtor. The Caphtorim are among the peoples discussed in Deuteronomy 2:20–23 in connection with the Anakim. Goliath was from Gath, a Philistine city. These giants from Gath are descendants of Rapha, a name that many scholars connect to the Rephaim! In fact, the name “Goliath” is either Luwian or Lydian, deriving from one of the cultures that are connected to the Aegean region. An inscription from Gath has surfaced with what appears to be the name “Goliath” on it:
More fascinating is the added detail of other unusual physical features of the giants genetically related to Goliath: “a very tall man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—for a total of 24 digits—who was a descendant of the Rephaim.” [1 Chronicles 20:6]
Polydactylism [extra digits on hands or feet] was a subject of considerable interest in antiquity. For example, here’s an Egyptian mummy shroud from the 2nd century a.d. A prayer in demotic script [a simplified form of hieroglyphics] on the outer bands of the painted image identifies the woman as Taathyr, daughter of Thatres. The individualistic hairstyle and 12 toes suggest that this is a real portrait of Taathyr and therefore represents an actual case of polydactylism rather than just symbolism. A continuously repeating hieroglyphic formula appears on the inner bands on each side of the image. Hovering above Taathyr’s head, a vulture with outstretched wings holds a feather in each claw [a gesture of protection]. A human-headed bird, symbolizing the soul of the deceased, and a goddess making a protective gesture, stand on each side of her head. Between the shoulder and feet, six panels contain symbolic scenes involving the soul-bird, sacred animals and gods and goddesses protecting the deceased. In the ancient Near-East, polydactylism was considered to be a mark of the Rephaim! Though it is a rare condition today, we can logically assume that a race of giants via the result of unnatural sexual unions between the divine realm and the human realm [as we saw earlier in Genesis 6:1-4], should demonstrate such extreme and accelerated genetic deformity! Thus, Mesopotamian priests and sorcerers were often consulted about the significance of polydactylism. Some of their conclusions appear in a 7th century Assyrian collection of omen texts called šumma izbu.
But there’s more! Further genetic defects derived from that ancient unnatural union can be seen in Goliath’s family tree, showcasing autosomal dominant inheritance. He had a hereditary pituitary disorder due to the AIP gene, causing early onset and familial acromegaly [or gigantism, due to the pituitary gland producing too much growth hormone]. Notice that the name of Goliath’s 3rd son is unknown; thus named Exadactylus due to the polydactylism mentioned earlier. Notice also the manner in how Goliath was killed by David. It was a stone at his forehead [1 Samuel 17:49].
This gives further evidence that he suffered from pituitary gland dysfunction; a pituitary tumour pressing on his optic chiasm, and consequent visual disturbance due to pressure on his optic nerve, that would have made it difficult for him to see the stone in his lateral vision. Pituitary giants look impressive in terms of stature, but do not have speed and agility to match their perceived strength. David, having agility, particularly having declined the heavy set of armour that was offered to him, and being skilled at sling shots, found a way around Goliath by firing a sling shot from the side of the battlefield. The age of Goliath is not clear, but early onset of pituitary tumours is typical of hereditary gigantism and limitation of lateral vision is common. Goliath himself had a shield bearer precede him, to indicate to Goliath the direction of the approaching foe.
To summarise: the point is that the rationale for ḥērem annihilation was the specific elimination of the descendants of the Nephilim. Ridding the land of these bloodlines was the motivation. The idea of ḥērem is that of devoting something wholly to God. The logic is that the elimination of these targeted bloodlines, perceived as the spawn of hostile gods, was a gesture of burnt offering back to God. Not only had other gods encroached on God’s portion [Deuteronomy 32:9], violating the boundaries of their own allotment, but they had raised up warriors to prevent God’s children from inheriting his land. The only way to ensure occupation of the land was to eliminate the giant-warrior clans raised up to prevent that occupation. Thus, ḥērem was a fierce judgment on any lethal threat by other gods against God’s own children in his own land. If Numbers 13:28–29 is accurate, that the Anakim were scattered throughout the land of Canaan, then Joshua 11:21–23 makes it clear that these were the peoples targeted for complete elimination, but not every last Canaanite. In fact, the conquest narratives utilize other verbs besides ḥāram that are not necessarily words that mean “take life.” When the biblical text in certain instances says that no one remained in a city or region, it cannot be assumed that this means everyone died [or everyone was a victim of ḥērem] unless that clarification is added. They may have been driven away or fled, since the commands of conquest utilize other vocabulary to mean:
1. To “drive out” [Exodus 23:28, 29, 30, 31; 33:2; Deuteronomy 33:27; Joshua 24:12, 18],
2. To “dispossess” [Exodus 34:24; Numbers 21:32; 33:52, 53, 55; Joshua 3:10; 12:1; 13:6; 17:12, 13; 23:5, 9].
This indicates that ḥērem was not the goal of every engagement. The picture that emerges when all the descriptions are woven together was that, when Israelite soldiers encountered a member of the giant clans or others known to be descended from those clans, they were under ḥērem. Others might be killed in warfare, but their lives were not required by the supernatural-theological orientation that is telegraphed in Numbers 13:26–33, Deuteronomy 2–3, and Joshua 11:21–23. Since the unusual size of these people groups was attributed to divine origin, the only measurement for a giant that exists in the biblical text is that of Goliath: “he was six and a half feet tall” [1 Samuel 17:4]. In the ancient near east, the average height was ~5 feet. By this standard, Goliath was definitely a giant.
To date, there is no human skeletal evidence from Canaan that shows extraordinary height. This is no surprise. The ancient Israelites, like other peoples of Canaan at the time, did not embalm their dead. Consequently, human skeletal remains from the first two millennia b.c. are not common. Of the millions of people that lived in ancient Canaan during that 2,000 year span, a few thousand skeletons have survived. The situation in ancient Egypt is proportionally better due to embalming. Moreover, people who were embalmed tended to be among the elite class, which meant their diets were better, which in turn meant better health, and optimal growth. Based on examination of mummies, the average height of an Egyptian male was ~5.5 feet. This is not to say that there is no evidence external to the bible for unusually tall people in Canaan during the biblical period. In fact, a 13th century Egyptian papyrus mentions exceptionally tall Canaanites near Megiddo: “The narrow valley is dangerous with Bedouin, hidden under the bushes. Some of them are four or five cubits [7–8½ feet] from their noses to the heel, and fierce of face. Their hearts are not mild, and they do not listen to wheedling.”
The picture that emerges from the biblical text and archaeology is that vestiges of the Nephilim bloodline were scattered throughout Canaan among a number of other people groups. The aim of the conquest was to drive out all the inhabitants and eliminate these bloodlines in the process. The thinking is foreign to us, but it was part of the supernatural worldview of the biblical writers. Israel failed, of course. It would be centuries before the sort of kingdom envisioned by Moses and Joshua would arise. And that was mostly a mess. We tend to process the Old Testament after Joshua as just a bunch of genealogies with some murder, sex, and scandal thrown in to keep our attention. There’s more to it than that: a lot more.
Ambrose [4th century Bishop of Milan] nails it: “The author of the divine scripture does not mean that those giants must be considered, according to the tradition of poets, as sons of the earth but asserts that those whom he defines with such a name because of the extraordinary size of their body were generated by angels and women. And let us see whether by any chance the men who only take care of their body and not of their soul are similar to the Nephilim and at the same time to those giants who were born from the earth according to the tales of the poets and despised the authority of the gods by confiding in the hugeness of their body. Must we really consider as different from giants those men who, even though they are composed of body and soul, despise the most precious good of the soul, that is, the activity of the mind, and show themselves to be imitators of this flesh, as if confirming that they were heirs of Eve’s foolishness. They only struggle in vain when they believe that they will conquer the heaven with their bold desires and their earthly activities. On the contrary, by choosing a lower way of life and despising the higher life, they are condemned with greater severity since they are guilty of voluntary sins.”
This now leads us into the spiritual skirmishes against the powers of darkness throughout Christ’s ministry within the territory of Bashan. For example, the exorcism of “Legion” [Mark 5:1-20]. Recall, that for 2nd Temple Jews, the demons Jesus encountered and defeated were Watcher-spirits, released at the death of the ancient Nephilim giants. This is highlighted specifically in 1 Enoch 15: “But now the giants who were begotten by the spirits and flesh—they will call them evil spirits on the earth, for their dwelling will be on the earth. The spirits that have gone forth from the body of their flesh are evil spirits, for from humans they came into being, and from the holy watchers was the origin of their creation. Evil spirits they will be on the earth, and evil spirits they will be called. The spirits of heaven, in heaven is their dwelling; but the spirits begotten on the earth, on the earth is their dwelling. And the spirits of the giants lead astray, do violence, make desolate, and attack and wrestle and hurl upon the earth and cause illnesses. They eat nothing, but abstain from food and are thirsty and smite. These spirits will rise up against the sons of men and against the women, for they have come forth from them.”
The death of the giants reveals something about the nature of their spirits. They are considered “evil spirits” because they were born on the earth; they are a mixed product of a spiritual being and a physical, and a somewhat spiritually undefined human. Here’s the fascinating conclusion: when the original “watchers” fell [in Genesis 6:1-4], God “threw them into the lowest hell and imprisoned them in chains of deepest darkness, holding them for judgment” [2 Peter 2:4].
But, the “evil spirits” of the giants, following the death of their physical body, are allowed to roam freely upon the earth. What is not clear is why these beings are given that freedom. Thus, when Jesus confronts “Legion,” he is facing a collective of these entities. Prior to Mark 5, Jesus had restricted his ministry to a Jewish audience. His focus changed in Mark 5:1 when he intentionally entered the country of the Gerasenes [which is gentile territory]. Notice that when Legion approaches Jesus, their question to Jesus echoes that of the unclean spirits cast out by Jesus earlier in Mark 1:24 [within the Jewish territory of Galilee], but with a subtle difference:
1. Watcher demons in Jewish territory [Mark 1:24]: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
2. Watcher demons in old Bashan [Mark 5:7]: “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you in the name of God never to torment me!”
Legion identifies Jesus as “Son of the Most High,” a title that reflects the Old Testament theology of cosmic geography. Recall Deuteronomy 32:8–9, where it was the “Most High” that had disinherited the nations of the world, assigned them to the dominion of fallen gods, and then created Israel as his own inheritance from nothing. The exorcism of Legion is therefore more than a strange tale of suicidal swine. It’s about theological messaging. Legion recognizes that Jesus [the 2nd Yahweh] is the rightful owner of the country of the Gerasenes [old Bashan by gentile occupation].
These episodes in the ministry of Jesus occur in the darkest, most spiritually sinister places known to Old Testament Israelites and Jewish readers of the Old Testament. Bashan and Hermon were ground zero for spiritual evil and, in particular, the “watchers” of 1 Enoch. Then, what immediately follows after “Legion” is the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus [Mark 5:21-43]. But first, there’s a crucial Old Testament parallel that showcases the significance of this event: the story of Jephthah and his tragic vow [Judges 11:29-40]. After the brief judgeship of Jair [a man from Gilead], the people of Israel fell into idolatry by worshiping foreign gods [Judges 10:6]. God then allowed a foreign enemy to oppress the Israelites as punishment. This time it was the Ammonites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan in a place also known as Gilead. The people immediately called on God for deliverance. Ironically, God responded by calling Jephthah, another judge from Gilead. In Judges 11, Jephthah sends a message to the king of the Ammonites. He wonders why the king is not content with the land that his god Chemosh had given to the Ammonites. Jephthah’s plea is flawed: Milkom was the chief deity of Ammon—not Chemosh. It won’t be the last time he makes a theological blunder. When Jephthah leads Israel against Ammon, God’s Spirit comes upon him for battle. Then he utters his horrible vow: “If you truly give the Ammonites into my control, then if I return from the Ammonites without incident, whatever comes out the doors of my house to meet me will become the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” [vv. 30–31].
Upon his victorious return, it is his only child, his daughter, who greets him. As already noted, the ancient Israelites believed that geographical areas and nations were under the dominion of other gods, put there by God [Deuteronomy 4:19–20; 32:8–9]. The Jephthah episode reflects that worldview. Thus, Judges 11:10–11 tells us that the Israelites worshiped other gods, including Milkom. In fact, human sacrifices were made to Milkom! Through his own theological ignorance, Jephthah wound up performing a human sacrifice [as per Ammonite Milkom worship], to fulfill his foolish vow to God. He had God in view, but his perspective on worship was warped. Remember, at this time there was no king, no spiritual leadership, and no centralized system of worship. Scholars are divided on whether his daughter was literally sacrificed, or whether it was a symbolic sacrifice [that she was a virgin all her life].
However, Pseudo-Philo [a 2nd Temple text] shows that this was a literal sacrifice: “Then all the virgins of Israel gathered together and buried the daughter of Jephthah and wept for her.”
Thus, the tragedy of Jephthah’s vow is repurposed in the New Testament story of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus. The details are subtle but theologically powerful. As was the case in the original Jephthah story, this repurposing is about which god is king, and what territory is his rightful domain. Jesus is showing that Gilead is being taken back by the true God. Notice earlier that Jesus casts out “Legion” in the “territory of the Gerasenes” [Mark 5:1]. In Old Testament times, this place was called Gilead. In Jephthah’s day, this was the territory of the Ammonites who worshiped Milkom, devourer of children. The casting out of demons marked the onset of the kingdom of God [Matthew 12:28]. By casting out these demons in what used to be Gilead, Jesus is asserting his kingly dominion over that place. Thus, on his way back from accomplishing that mission, Jesus meets Jairus, whose daughter has died. Seeing his faith, Jesus raises his daughter. Thus, Jesus is reversing the other horror of Gilead: the human sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter to Milkom. The apex of these spiritual skirmishes takes place in Matthew 16:13–20, where Jesus goes with his disciples to the district of Caesarea Philippi.
This location and the reference to the “gates of hell” provide the context for the “rock” that is mentioned. This location should be familiar by now, since it’s the same location during Israel’s wars against the giant clans. Caesarea Philippi is adjacent to the Pharpar River. Noting this geography, we can see exactly where Jesus was when he uttered the famous words about “this rock” and the “gates of hell” to Peter. It’s also located in the northern part of the Old Testament region of Bashan, the “place of the serpent,” at the foot of Mount Hermon. The site was famous in the ancient world as a centre of the worship of Pan and for a temple to the high god Zeus, considered in Jesus’ day to be incarnate in Augustus Caesar. Thus, the “rock” refers to the mountain location where Jesus makes the statement. When viewed from this perspective, Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” near Mount Hermon. Why? This place was considered the “gates of hell,” the gateway to the realm of the dead, as we saw earlier in the Old Testament.
The theological messaging couldn’t be more dramatic. Jesus says he will build his church, and the “gates of hell” will not “withstand” it. Notice that the kingdom of God is the aggressor, not the defender. Jesus begins at ground zero in the cosmic geography of the Old Testament to announce the great reversal. It is the “gates of hell” that are under assault, and they will not hold up against the church. Hell will one day be Satan’s tomb! But it doesn’t stop here. We have already seen via 2nd Temple texts that Mount Hermon was the place where the fallen “watchers” of Genesis 6:1–4 chose to launch their rebellion against God. Jesus had one more statement to make to his unseen enemies; he ascends and transfigures on Mount Hermon [Mark 9:2–8]. The imagery is striking. To paraphrase the event: “I’m putting the hostile powers of the unseen world on notice. I’ve come to earth to take back what is mine. The kingdom of God is at hand.”
The enemy knows who Jesus is, but they do not know the plan [1 Corinthians 2:7-8]. Jesus has baited them into action, and they will act. He has given them the rope, and they will hang themselves with it [Colossians 2:14-15]. Jesus will go to Jerusalem to drink from the cup that the Father has planned for him. But the instrument of death will be the catalyst that launches the kingdom of God in its full force. During his death: “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?”, which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Matthew 27:46].
Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 here. But in this psalm, vv. 12-13 cannot be ignored: “Many bulls have surrounded me; the vicious bulls of Bashan have encircled me. Their mouths are opened wide toward me, like roaring and attacking lions.”
Since we now know that Bashan carries a lot of theological baggage, and since all the elements of Psalm 22 prefigure the crucifixion, it makes sense that a reference to Bashan would be part of this epic narrative. In Bashan, there was a cult site at Dan located within its northern region. The site was known for idolatrous worship in Samaria, the renegade northern kingdom of the 10 tribes of Israel, who forsook David’s dynasty after Solomon died. This confederacy and rival kingdom was set up by Jeroboam [1 Kings 12:25–33]. Thus, the worship of other gods [called šēdim] was part of the identity of Bashan.
This is why the prophet Amos wrote: “Listen to this message, you fat cows from Bashan, who live on the Samaritan mountains, who oppress the poor, who rob the needy, and who constantly ask your husbands for one more drink! The Lord God has taken a sacred oath: “The day is coming when they will take you away on fishhooks, every last one of you on fishhooks. Each of you will go out through the breaches of the walls straight to Mount Hermon,” declares the Lord.” [Amos 4:1-3].
Since the “fat cows from Bashan” are said to speak to their “husbands,” Amos is specifically addressing upper-class women of northern Israel who were idolaters of the golden calves of Bashan. But there’s more to the wording. Amos is also targeting temple priestesses who served the gods along with male priests. Thus, the “fat cows from Bashan” are the deities themselves in the form of the idols. This is strengthened by noticing their crimes: “oppress the poor” and “rob the needy.” These are both used in Psalm 82, where the corrupt fallen gods from the divine council are accused of exactly these same crimes [Psalm 82:3–4]. Thus, Bashan has secure associations with demonic powers. Although Psalm 22 wasn’t originally messianic in focus [because the Hebrew word for “messiah” doesn’t occur in Psalm 22], Matthew’s use of it fixes that association. The implication is that Jesus, at the moment of agony and death, was surrounded by the “vicious bulls of Bashan,” demonic gods who had been the foes of God and his children for millennia.
Thus, another passage from Psalm 68:15–23 describes a time when God takes ownership of Bashan. In this psalm, notice that “Mount Bashan” is called the “mountain of God” [v. 15], or har elohim in Hebrew. But, it can also be translated as “mountain of the gods.” This makes more sense since the two mountains in the passage [Bashan and Sinai] are rivals at the beginning of the psalm [vv. 1-14]. This “mountain of the gods” [or Bashan] is watching “with envy” at God’s mountain, Sinai [v. 17]. Notice that Sinai is firmly associated with God “in holiness.” Bashan symbolizes unholy ground. Thus God, the divine warrior, will one day tear down the strongholds of Bashan. He will lead “captives” down from the mountain [v. 18]. What’s more, Paul cites this verse in Ephesians 4:8! For Paul, v. 18 was about Jesus ascending on high and giving gifts to humanity. Jesus is the fulfilment of Psalm 68! But, doesn’t the psalm have Yahweh ascending and receiving gifts? Let’s see these differences:
As the table shows, the Masoretic Text and LXX are in step with each other, but Paul’s quotation contains three differences from these other texts, listed here in ascending order of importance:
1. Paul changes the subject of the statement so that it no longer tells God what he has done in the 2nd person, but narrates what Christ has done in the 3rd person.
2. He changes the collective singular noun “humanity” to the plural noun, “human beings.”
3. He changes the verb “received” to its antonym “gave” and modifies the end of the statement so that instead of God receiving gifts among humanity [singular], Christ gives gifts to humans [plural].
Psalm 68 gives us a description of conquest, known from other ancient texts and even from ancient iconography, as seen here with tribute being paid to the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III:
The victorious captain of the army leads the enemy captives behind him: they are the human booty of war. When Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8, he does so thinking of Jesus. Part of the confusion over how to interpret what Paul is saying is that so many commentators have assumed that captives are being liberated in Ephesians 4:8. That isn’t the case. That idea would flatly contradict the Old Testament imagery. There is no liberation, rather there is conquest. Paul’s words identify Jesus with God. In Psalm 68:18 it was God who is described as the conqueror of the demonic stronghold. For Paul it is Jesus, the incarnate 2nd Yahweh, surrounded by the demonic “bulls of Bashan” [Psalm 22:12] fulfilling the imagery in Psalm 68. Jesus was the one who “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in the cross.” [Colossians 2:15]. Psalm 68:18 and Ephesians 4:8 are in agreement if one sees conquest, not liberation. What about the “receiving” and “giving” problem? Paul’s wording doesn’t deny that there was conquest. Paul is pointing to the result of the conquest. In the ancient world the conqueror would parade the captives and demand tribute for himself. Jesus is the conqueror of Psalm 68, and the booty does indeed rightfully belong to him. But booty was also distributed after a conquest. Paul knows that. He quotes Psalm 68:18 to make the point that after Jesus conquered his demonic enemies, he distributed the benefits of the conquest to the church!
Jerome [4th century] nails it: “It was a nice touch for Paul to write here that Christ gave gifts to humanity, when what is written in Psalm 68 is that ‘he received gifts among humanity.’Why this difference? Since in the psalm the act had not yet occurred but was promised in the future, the phrase was accordingly ‘he received.’ But the apostle is seeing this as a promise earlier given and later fulfilled. At this time of writing, Christ has already made the gift and churches have been established throughout the whole world. Accordingly he is said to have already given to humanity rather than received gifts among humanity.”
Prior to Christ’s resurrection, God received gifts from humanity. After Christ’s resurrection, God gave gifts to humanity. Paul explains himself in Ephesians 4:9-10: “Now what does this ‘he went up’ mean except that he also had gone down into the lower parts of the earth? The one who went down is the same one who went up above all the heavens so that all things would be fulfilled.”
Christ’s conquest results in the dispensing of gifts to his people after ascending in Ephesians 4:8. But that ascent was accompanied by a descent “into the lower parts.” What ascent and descent is he talking about? The key to understanding Paul’s thinking is the descent. Upon his death, Jesus descended into cosmic Sheol, to confront the “spirits in prison” [1 Peter 3:18–22], the original transgressing “watchers” from Genesis 6:1-4. However, the Greek literally reads “the earth down here.” Therefore, the descent of Christ is his incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection [compare Philippians 2:6-11 with Romans 10:6-7]! This fits the context better, since the “gifts” are given to Christians who are still on the earth. Thus, the descent of vv. 9-10 also refers to the Spirit’s coming to earth after Jesus’ conquering ascension on the day of Pentecost! Notice that we have an ascending victory [the resurrection], and a descending victory [the Spirit at Pentecost]. They are both triumphs. Paul’s quotation directs our attention in two important ways:
1. Not only did the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross mean the fall of Bashan, symbolic of the cosmic powers of evil, but it also triggered the empowerment of the church by the gifts of the Spirit.
2. That victory and empowerment also had something to do with Pentecost. Paul’s thought about Pentecost in Ephesians 4 is quite the understatement. As it turned out, what happened at Pentecost cannot be understood without cosmic geography as seen in Deuteronomy 32. Like the gospel accounts, there’s much more behind Acts 2 than we might have presumed.
Finally we can now return to our study in Revelation 9 keeping in mind this extensive background of information. Recall again v. 1: “I saw a star that had fallen to earth from the sky. The star was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.”
This “star” is a fallen divine being, perhaps Satan himself, for he is described as “fallen to earth from the sky,” and this fits the imagery of the extensive Old Testament passages we have looked at, for example Isaiah 14:12–14 [compare with Luke 10:18]. Then we see that he’s “given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit.” Again, repeated imagery from 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6, about the location of the fallen angels.
Andrew [6th century Bishop of Caesarea] believes that the “star” is a good angel; but nevertheless he is on the right track: “The “star” is a divine angel. With God’s permission he leads up from the pit the evil demons who have been condemned to the pit, namely, those whom Christ bound at his incarnation. He leads them up so that they might do their work before the consummation but then attain to never-ending torment.”
Next in vv. 2-6, this “star” opens “the shaft of the bottomless pit” and “locusts” come out. Thus, this is the eschatological release of the imprisoned “watchers.”
Tyconius [4th century] nails it: “In the locusts he signifies spiritual and adversarial powers that we see flying around in the air in the manner of locusts for the purpose of harming humankind.”
Locusts were a common plague in the ancient world, and total devastation was usually left in their wake. These insects were the 8th plague that God sent against Egypt [Exodus 10:15]. This Egyptian plague was described as the worst in past or future history [Exod. 10:14], but incredible disasters have been recorded up to the present day. In 1915 there was a locust plague in Palestine, known as the 1915 Ottoman Syria Locust Infestation. The devastation of the land was total. Earlier in 1866 was a plague in Algiers, where ~200,000 people died in the resulting famine. This is perfect imagery for the demons that are in the guise of “locusts.” These “locusts” do not devour their usual fodder but instead attack humans. These locust/scorpions are empowered to sting anyone missing the “seal of God on their foreheads” [Revelation 7:3]. Thus, all the earth dwellers [not just 33%] are affected. Their “torture was like the pain of a scorpion when it stings someone.” Numerous species of arachnids are found throughout the eastern Mediterranean region. Their poisonous venom kills the insects and spiders upon which they feed but, while painful to humans, rarely kills them. The venom of these locusts is sufficiently toxic to “torture them for five months.” The number “five” is frequently used in contexts in which it obviously functions as a round number that means “a few” [1 Corinthians 14:19; Matthew 17:17–19; Luke 12:6, 52; Acts 20:6; 24:1]. In John’s context, there was a “five month” reign of terror on the part of Gessius Florus [1st century Roman procurator of Judea].
In May of 66 a.d., he began by slaughtering 3,600 Jewish citizens, then systematically provoked the Jewish people, seeking to incite them to rebellion. His success in doing so was the beginning of the Jewish War. But, while this forms the background context, it does not fit all the imagery that John lays out here, about a future worldwide conflagration.
Andrew [6th century Bishop of Caesarea] confirms: “Through these words the magnitude of the evils is revealed. For it is common among those in severe troubles to call upon death. But it is from the judgments of God that death does not come to those in the midst of trouble who seek it. For he considers it beneficial to use the bitterness of tribulations to make hateful that sin which was the mother and patron of their torments.”
Next in vv. 7-10, the bizarre visual descriptions of these beings released does not undermine their identification as the fallen “watchers.” Hybridized theriomorphic [or animal-shaped] descriptions applied to demonic spirits are common in ancient Jewish and classical literature. In other words, to impose modern war machinery on these verses violates the contextualized intention of John. In fact, there’s an Arabian proverb that illustrates locusts having a head like a horse, a breast like a lion, feet like a camel, a body like a serpent, and antennae like women’s hair.
Andrew continues: “Some have interpreted these words and those which come afterward to indicate that the locusts are angels who administer the divine punishment and who are metaphorically described through each of the various images. These images would then describe either their fearsomeness and the panic they arouse, or their swiftness, or the destruction that comes upon those worthy of condemnation in Gehenna. However, I think that the image of these locusts depicts rather evil demons who are prepared for war against us and who wear upon their heads crowns as of gold in expectation of victory against us. Whenever we submit to these demons and win an evil victory through pleasure, we believe ourselves also to be crowned with such crowns. That their hair is like that of women reveals their love of luxury and their arousal to fornication. The teeth like those of a lion signifies their murderous and poisonous character.”
Notice that “their faces were like human faces.” This image shows the desire of all demonic beings to usurp God’s creation for themselves and become the apex of creation, the place that humankind holds.
The locust also had “breastplates like iron.” This is a double reference to the actual description of locusts [whose thorax resembled armour] and to the tendency of some armies [especially the Parthians] to protect their warhorses with just such a piece of armour [called a prosternidion]. As with humans, such an iron breastplate protected both the sides and back of the warhorse and rendered it unassailable in the midst of battle. This stresses the invincibility of these terrible creatures and enhances the terrifying nature of this description. The terrifying “noise of their wings was like the roar of chariots with many horses rushing into battle.” This adds to the imagery that the “locusts looked like horses” [v. 7]. There was no more devastating weapon of war in the ancient world. The conquest of Canaan by the Hebrews was relegated primarily to the highlands because the plains were dominated by the chariots of the Canaanites, and the Israelites had no answer. It seems that wherever the Philistines or their allies could run iron chariots in the Philistine plain [Judges 1:19] or the Jezreel valley [Joshua 17:16], the Israelites could not conquer the terrain.
But where this technological superiority was neutralized by the rugged mountain highlands of Palestine’s interior and Transjordan, Israel carved out its developing kingdom. The later military success of Israel somewhat depended on the quality of its chariot corps. During the peaceful reign of Solomon, he had 1,400 chariots [1 Kings 10:26], and the defeat of the chariot corps of Ahab doomed Israel to 2nd rate status. They never recovered. Many felt that the larger the chariot force, the better; for example the Ammonites hired 32,000 chariots against Joab’s army [1 Chronicles 19:7]. The Romans also made chariots an important part of their military. Therefore, this was a particularly fearsome sound, especially since these chariots were “rushing into battle,” continuing the emphasis on the demonic locusts going to war against the earth-dwellers.
Finally in vv. 11-12, the two names “Abaddon” and “Apollyon” given to the “angel of the bottomless pit” suggests that John and his audience were bilingual. In the Old Testament, “Abaddon” is closely linked with Sheol [Job 26:6; Proverbs 15:11]. In the LXX, “Abaddon” is usually translated by the Greek word apṓleia, with “Apollyon” being its personal form. Thus, “Apollyon” has also been understood to be a word play on the god Apollo in his role as destroyer. In fact, the locust was one of his symbols, since he was the god of pestilence and plague. Thus, “Apollyon” may also be another clue to identify Nero as the church’s persecutor because Nero’s patron deity was Apollo. Nero’s voice and appearance were compared to those of Apollo, and he was hailed as “our Apollo.” Nero also had a coin struck depicting himself in the guise of Apollo playing a lyre, while other coins from his reign show him with a hairstyle identical to Apollo’s. From an Old Testament context, Proverbs 30:27 states that the “locusts have no king,” but here we learn that these demonic locusts not only have a “king” over them, but that he is the “angel of the bottomless pit.” Again, it may be the “shining one” himself or at least one of his chief lieutenants.
Andrew continues: “It follows that the devil is to be regarded as their king, for he certainly destroys those who obey him.”