Bones of the Nephilim

“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”

— Genesis, Chapter 6, Verse 4 – The King James Bible

“There were giants in the earth”. A legendary race that, according to some modern Christian interpretations, resulted from the union of human and angel – when, in ancient times, the ‘sons of God’ came down to Earth and mated with human women.

References in some translations of the Bible give us a name for this race of angelic hybrids: ‘Nephilim’.

“HaNefilim were on ha’aretz in those yamim; and also after that, when the bnei HaElohim came in unto the banot HaAdam, and they bore children to them, the same became gibborim which were of old, men of renown.”

— Genesis, Chapter 6, Verse 4 – The Orthodox Jewish Bible

These ‘giants’ aren’t only mentioned in this one verse, either. In Numbers 13:33, we find a reference to the “sons of Anak, of the kind of giants” – who made the narrator and his companions feel “as small as grasshoppers”.

Again, in some translations, we see the same name given for these people:

“And there we saw the Nephilim, the Bnei Anak, which come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”

— Numbers 13:33 – The Orthodox Jewish Bible

The legend of the Nephilim – the giants; the sons of Anak – has become a staple of popular culture. Still, defining their nature is difficult. From the few scant scriptural references we know little: they were the children of angels and humans (if we choose to assume that ‘sons of God’ means ‘angels’), and they were of very large, perhaps supernaturally large, stature. How big were the Nephilim? Some hold that the giant Goliath of Gath, against whom David fought in the Valley of Elah, was descended from their line.  Of him, we’re told:

“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.”

— 1 Samuel 17:4 – The King James Bible

A cubit is around eighteen inches. A span we can take as about half that. So at six cubits and a span, Goliath was a towering nine feet nine inches tall. Truly a huge man. This, though, appears to be something of a later exaggeration. Earlier texts, including the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, which predate the translation source for most modern Bibles, show Goliath’s height at four cubits and a span. Still a respectable six feet nine – but not quite as magnificent as the common, later measurement.

We know that, like Goliath, these Nephilim were “mighty men […] men of renown”. Does that mean they were heroes? Leaders? Tyrants? We don’t know. The reference doesn’t tell us any more. We can’t even say whether the word ‘giant’ is used literally, to describe physically large people, or figuratively, to describe very notable people.  The reference to ‘men of renown’ might actually indicate a figurative meaning: we do, after all, use this same metaphor ourselves, when we speak of ‘sporting giants’.  When Isaac Newton said he’d seen further by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’, he didn’t mean he was literally carried by big people.  Still, this figurative interpretation is not a popular one.

Most readers with an interest in the Nephilim adopt one of a few standard, literal interpretations:

  • The Nephilim are the offspring of humans and ‘fallen angels’;
  • The Nephilim were the descendents of Seth, who fell away from God and worshipped idols and false deities;
  • The ‘sons of God’ were holy men who were corrupted by wicked women, and whose children strayed from the righteous path and become known as the Nephilim.

If you’ve noticed a lot of falling going on – angels falling from Heaven; holy men falling from God – it’s because of a common etymology given for the word Nephilim. Sometimes rendered N’filim, the word is related, at least by some arguments, to the Hebrew naphal, meaning ‘to fall’. From there, it’s a relatively short step to make it mean ‘fallen’, as in ‘lost to evil’, and apply it to whomever you need to represent so, whether it’s fallen angels or fallen men.

But in truth, it’s unlikely that naphal would have found its way to the word Nephilim with the meaning of ‘fallen’ or ‘come down’, because it seems Hebrew morphology doesn’t flex that way. There is, however, an Aramaic word, naphila, which simply means ‘giant’ – and since the word Nephilim is used with the sense of giant (and translated as such in some versions), it seems a safer bet that Nephilim is simply an Aramaic loanword used in the Hebrew text to mean ‘giants’.

In any case, the true nature of the Nephilim is, if anything, a theological issue; one best addressed by scholarly types with more detailed background knowledge of the culture. But in our scientifically minded, indiscriminately curious age, the legend has become more than a simple question of interpreting ancient texts. We want the hard facts. Where did they go, these giant ‘men of renown’? What happened to them? Why aren’t there any traces of them left?

And the Internet replies: “There are.”

Archaeologists, it seems, have excavated numerous graves sites over the years that have yielded skeletons, or partial skeletons, that seem to suggest they came from abnormally large individuals. According to a chart produced by the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum’s Institute of Omniology, the largest humanoid skeleton ever uncovered was found between 650BC-640AD in the Bosporus by the Carthaginians, and it measured thirty-six feet:

Numerous others of smaller sizes have been found in the Mediterranean and the Middle East; all lending support to the historical reality of the ‘giants in the earth’:

As well as these giant remnants, further anomalous remains have been unearthed, including normal-sized skulls that show rather unusual morphology. Prominent amongst these are the famous ‘Starchild’ skull, found in Mexico, and the elongated skulls found in Europe, Asia, the Americas… and, well, all over the world:

The ‘Starchild’ skull
Artificially elongated skulls found in Paracas, Peru
The Andahuaylillas skeleton

These discoveries would seem to be of huge significance, not just scientifically, but in religious terms as well.  If the Nephilim are real – or were real – and were the offspring of fallen angels, then it proves that angels exist.  And if angels exist, it proves that God exists. An email circulating since 2010 explains the importance of the issue to those who want to believe:

“Subject: Nephilim Bones Found: Giants of the Bible

Just to show that the Bible is true with history lessons that is applicable both then and today and it is not just a spiritual book only. So if He says that we must be born again to have eternal life and that He is coming again, it means just that.

This is amazing. Not that the scriptures haven’t already proven true, but now more evidence for our times.”

Religious hardliners and – if I dare use such an overworked expression – ‘conservatives’ in America have invested a great deal in the Nephilim.  A large proportion of American Christianity is based on an evangelical dispensationalist Pentecostalism; a form of Protestantism heavily rooted in Bible literalism, which promises the adherent direct, clear and easy contact with a comprehensible, personal God. Older forms of Christianity have always accepted, even asserted, that much of the Bible is metaphor, myth and parable. But modern Bible literalists believe that the Bible contains only literal and simple truth. So, for such believers, the Nephilim skeletons serve a vital purpose: they expose a failure of science.

It’s important to appreciate just how strong the desire for ‘proof’ is in the mind of the Bible literalist. Whereas conventional, mythic Christianity can coexist quite comfortably with the scientific exploration of the universe, and so doesn’t require physical evidence of its transcendent God, a literalist belief system cannot.  If the Bible says that the world was created in six days, but science says that the world was formed over five billion years, then clearly only one of these accounts can be literally true.  If the Nephilim are real, and can be proved so by the discovery of their skeletons, then science is shown to be wrong on this subject, and is therefore unreliable on all subjects, and the literalist interpretation of the Bible can remain in play.

American ufologists are also keenly interested in the ‘Nephilim skeletons’. For them, the skeletons prove another, competing hypothesis: that mankind was once visited by aliens, who interbred with humanity and created this race of outsize individuals. They argue that Bible, in making reference to the Nephilim, is merely offering a scrambled, mythologised account of events that the people of the time didn’t fully understand.  Further, the ufologists assert that, as the aliens have interfered with our past, it can be safely assumed that they continue to manipulate our present, albeit in more subtle ways. Ufologists even have a name for these aliens: the Anunnaki, from the planet Nibiru.

These two viewpoints – the theological and the extra-terrestrial – tend not to get on. Each side disparages the other’s explanation for the giant skeletons: the Christians claim the ufologists are actually worshipping demons, not aliens; while the ufologists accuse the Christians of being unscientific in their silly ideas about angels. Still, they do agree that the skeletons are real, and that they’re evidence that someone came down to Earth and left their remains here. This basic premise has become the foundation for a number of Internet conspiracy theories involving Establishment attempts to cover up the discoveries, either in order to keep secret their covert pact with the aliens, or to prevent people from seeing The Truth and renouncing Satan for Jesus.

Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – neither viewpoint has any real merit. The giant skeletons, the Star Child skull, and the elongated skulls found in all those digs around the planet are, respectively: Photoshop fakes; the skull of a severely deformed human; and the skulls of a great many deliberately deformed humans.

Possibly the most iconic of the photo ‘evidence’ of the giant skeletons is this image:

A Canadian digital artist going by the name of IronKite submitted this image to a competition on a website called Worth1000 in 2002. He’d composed the photo from elements of three others. It is a ‘fake’ in the sense that it’s not a genuine photograph of a real event; but it’s probably kinder and more reasonable to call it a piece of imaginative artwork. However, since its original creation, the photo has been sent around the world numerous times as ‘proof’ that giant skeletons have been found by archaeologists. Its success has encouraged others to have a go, and as a result there are numerous images floating around. Many can be shown to have been faked; none can be shown conclusively to be genuine.

But what about that chart? The one from the museum that showed the biggest skeletons ever found?
That chart came from the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum in Texas. The strapline on the museum’s website reads, “Digging up the facts of God’s Creation: One fossil at a time.” On their Frequently Asked Questions page, the question is asked, “Is Mt Blanco Fossil Museum a religious organization?” The answer is telling:

“We are a science museum, showing facts and data about the actual fossils in the museum. We believe that evolution is an old-fashioned theory not substantiated by facts, and that what the Bible says is more scientifically accurate. Our museum shows that there was a worldwide flood only a few thousand years ago.  We show that most species are not getting more complex or larger.  There are also numerous specimens that show most fossils were buried rapidly.”

If that isn’t enough to convince you that the chart from their ‘Institute of Omniology’ (a coined word literally meaning ‘the study of everything’, and used almost exclusively by anti-evolution religious campaigners) should be approached with caution, a further question and its answer may help reinforce the message:

Q. Do you think Noah took dinosaurs on the ark?
A. Absolutely. We can show you why.

Why what?  Why he took them?  Or why you think he took them?  Dinosaurs had been extinct for sixty-five million years by the time Noah supposedly built his ark – but of course such an enormous span of time would represent a huge threat to the belief system of a Bible literalist. Literalism is a house built on sand; a faith designed to be vulnerable. It invests too much in the truth of every word in the Bible, and so cannot survive when those words are effectively challenged. The majority of Christians, however, take the Bible as figurative, or mythic, truth, and thus their faith can withstand the advance of science, and even enrich it.  They have no difficulty with the existence of dinosaurs millions of years ago, because the story of Creation as told in the Bible is viewed as a parable to learn from, not a history lesson.

It’s safe to say that the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum is indeed a religious organisation, and one heavily invested in the undermining of evolutionary theory in favour of a literalist interpretation of Genesis. We can therefore discount its claims in this area.

What, then, is the explanation for the huge skeletons and oversized skulls?  The explanation is simply that no such remains have ever actually been found.  In fact, a mathematical and biological principle called the square-cube law specifically rules out the possibility of just scaling up an organism indefinitely.  There is a maximum size for any given biological structure.  There’s simply no way a human body could reach the sort of sizes the ‘Institute of Omniology’ is asserting and continue to hold itself up, pump blood around itself, or take on enough oxygen to breathe properly.

So much for giant skeletons.  But what of the Starchild skull? That’s certainly real, isn’t it?

Well, yes, it is. But it’s not an alien, or an angel. According to a specialist at Yale University, the Starchild represents the remains of an unfortunate human infant who died young from (or at least with) a deforming condition of some sort; probably congenital hydrocephalus. Despite claims of alien heritage from the creators of the ‘Starchild Project’ website, DNA testing has firmly established that both the child’s parents were resolutely and entirely human.

As for the elongated skulls found scattered around the world, as those uncovered in Andahuaylillas, Peru, these are indeed a mystery – but it’s a purely anthropological one: Why would human and proto-human societies take an infant and bind the head with boards in order to force their still-soft skull to assume a lengthened, conical shape? Whatever the reasons, whether religious, as primitive medicine, or social, evidence of the practice has been found dating back almost fifty thousand years, and it was practised by Neanderthal communities. It is fascinating; it is mysterious; but it’s not alien.

So does this all mean that there’s no God, no angels, and no aliens? Has Christianity been disproved?  No. All this means is that these photos, this skull, these other skulls, aren’t evidence supporting these ideas.  That’s not the same thing at all.

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