Noah is what people would consider the de facto flood myth. It is surprisingly straightforward in many ways, but there are some interesting twists we can examine.
Now, before we got in too deep with the flood, we have to make a note of something else, something that many people skip over because it’s so sparsely detailed. Apparently, humanity is not alone. There are others, the Nephilim. “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them. These were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown” (Genesis 6:4). Now, the word for Nephilim has also been translated to mean giants in various editions. However, what is remarkable is that this word is so sparsely used in the bible. We have no further explanation about them. Moreover, we have no definite idea on who the sons of god are. Are these the descendants of Adam and Eve? Are they angels? We really don’t know definitively.
The language suggests that there is a distinction between the sons of God and human women; logically, then, we have to understand that the sons of god are not human, leaving us only with angels, which are introduced at the end of the Garden of Eden to protect the tree of Life. Now, if these are angels, it seems to contradict the statements in Eden that women are to help cure man’s loneliness. Also, it seems counterproductive for humanity to reproduce and fill the earth when angels are thrown into the mix.
Now, before the explanation of Nephilim, the chapter starts with God announcing that because of people’s wickedness, they will be limited to a lifespan of 120 years from now on. This could be a result of the couplings with angels to produce Nephilim. Adam, Eve, and Seth lived to well over 900 and the other genealogical records point to similar lifespans of several hundred years for humanity. The long lifespan could be fallout from eating of the Tree of Life, or it could be conscious on God’s part to create an age gap between humanity and angels, perhaps discouraging future couplings. Etiologically, this age restriction makes sense as the ancient Hebrews would have easily done the math on their current lifespans to realize they don’t live as long as Adam and the others, so there must be an explanation for how humanity got the lifespan they did.
We must also question whether God approves of the couplings of angles and human women. Yes, according to the verse the Nephilim are “the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown,” but is this necessarily approval? Thus far, violence has not been viewed as a good thing. Cain was cursed for murdering his brother, so warriors wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing.
In the next verse, immediately after mentioning the Nephilim, God condemns humanity because “every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). This is not exactly a ringing endorsement of any people on the earth, Nephilim included. Further, in verse 11, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” Now we have a direct reference to violence as one of the sources of evil that condemns the earth to a flood. It doesn’t make sense that great warriors would be looked upon favorably.
The only other mention of Nephilim comes from Numbers 13:33, where the spies going into the land of Canaan report that “we saw the Nephilim . . . and to ourselves we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” Clearly, these are giants in size, not just ability, and, so far, they are enemies of the Israelites. It appears that the angels sowing their seed among human women is not looked upon favorably by God, and contributes to the corruption of humanity that is one of the reasons for the flood. Also, at least some of the Nephilim survive the impending flood. We’ll have to take this into account as we look over what happens in the rest of Noah’s story.