The Coffee Conversation
“There are demigods in the bible?” she asked. Not the first time someone has asked me that question, in that tone of voice.
“Oh yes,” I said. “Right there, in Genesis 6. ‘When the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful . . .’ The word for ‘God’ here is plural, so the text might actually mean ‘the sons of gods.’ Anyway, later Jews and Christians would identify the ‘sons of God’ as angels. But back when Genesis was written, people would have understood that the ‘sons of God’ were divine beings – in other words, gods. That is, the ‘sons of gods’ are gods, just like the ‘daughters of humans’ are human. According to Genesis 6, these ‘gods’ and humans have children together, called the Nephilim. And yeah, it’s in the bible.”
“Why don’t we ever talk about this?” she asked. Talk about it in our churches, she meant.
I’m pretty sure I shrugged. There’s not much else to do about that question, unless you want to get into a three-hour discussion about history, and mythology, and all the ways we Christians are afraid of our own holy text these days.
But, I had to say something. So, after the shrug, I added, “Well, it opens up a lot of questions, and problems. It suggests that the early writers of the bible might have believed other gods existed. And it comes a bit too close to pagan mythology, about monsters and demigods and such, for some people.”
It was one of many similar conversations I’ve had over the years. I’m not surprised anymore by how many life-long Christians have no idea what’s in the bible – and what’s NOT in the bible. Even Christians who come from churches where the bible is basically worshiped. Even Christians who come from churches that mandate daily bible reading. This particular friend had grown up in Sunday school and attended a non-denominational Christian elementary and middle school. Yet this episode, which occurs at the very beginning of the bible, was a surprise to her.
The Strange Case of the Nephilim
I was around 10 the first time I read through the entire bible.
No, I’m not kidding.
Most of the stories in Genesis (the first book of the bible) were already familiar to me by that time. But, in Genesis 6, I encountered something strange, something they didn’t talk about in Sunday schools, or include in children’s bibles – The Nephilim.
Genesis 6 describes them as “heroes of old” and “men or renown.” Also, as the children of “sons of god” and “daughters of men.” A footnote told me that the “sons of god” were fallen angels (demons), and that the Nephilim were monsters, giants, at least partially responsibility for God destroying the world in Noah’s Flood.
Right away, my imagination ran off, filling in the rest of the story. Who were these Nephilim? Did they still exist? (Genesis 6 tells us they were in the world both before and after Noah’s flood.)
As I continued through the bible, I noticed other things too, like passages that hinted at the existence of other gods, and an underworld similar to the underworld in Greek mythology. I also noticed the curious absence of Satan from almost the entire Old Testament. Contrary to what a lot of Christians (and others) think, the bible doesn’t actually talk about Satan’s rebellion against God, or his fall from heaven.
Instead, the bible hints at the existence of supernatural beings, angels, cherubim, serephim or fiery serpents, “the accuser” in Job (hebrew ha-satan) who would become what we now understand as Satan, the “dragon” and the “beast” in Revelation. There are also monsters, Rehab (the sea monster, not the woman from Jericho), the Leviathan, and the Behemoth. And, of course, the New Testament is rife with demons.
The bible, again, hints at the existence of all these creatures, but doesn’t actually go into details about what they are, where they come from, or why they exist. Which leaves plenty of room for the imagination to go wild.
At the time, however, things I had been led to believe put severe handicaps on my imagination. At the time, I believed that the bible was a factual history book that presented one consistent story. That story, of course, could not be challenged, or even elaborated on.
The So-called “bible’s story”
As far as the supernatural world went, the “bible’s” story – so I was taught – was fixed, consistent, and perfectly clear. God created angels sometime before God created humans. They were spiritual beings, more powerful than humans. They were also the only spiritual or supernatural beings in existence – although some Christians sometimes admitted that there were different kinds of angels.
The most powerful angel, Lucifer, rebelled against God, because he was jealous and vein and arrogant. A third of the angels followed Lucifer, and God banished them all to hell. Lucifer then became Satan, the king of hell.
To spite God, Lucifer then went up to the Garden of Eden, disguised as a snake, and tricked Eve into eating from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In this way, Satan brought sin, suffering, and death into God’s creation. This act also gave Satan power over human beings. Ever afterward, Satan and his demons would roam the earth (even though they were supposed to be confined to hell?) tormenting humans and tempting us to sin.
I was taught that the bible made very clear that there was one and only one kind of supernatural being. Angels. Angels were the only supernatural creature that existed. Fallen angels were called demons, but they were still angels. All other supernatural creatures – ghosts, gods, monsters, fairies, Djinn, werewolves, vampires, etc. – all of them were the products of pagan imagination, inspired by demons to lead people away from God.
That last sentence is extremely important, so I will repeat it. I was taught that all supernatural creatures other than angels were just ignorant stories invented by demons (fallen angels) for the purpose of leading people away from God. To participate in the telling of these stories was, therefore, to participate in demonic activity. In fact, to even watch a horror movie was to participate in demonic activity.
What the bible really says about monsters, spirits, and gods
As I wrote out the “bible’s” supernatural story above, I had smile. I know now how little of it is actually in the bible. The myth of Satan’s rise and fall was created by Jewish storytellers after all of the Old Testament books were written, and long after most of them were written. It’s also not the only Jewish story about how evil came into the world, it’s just the one most familiar to us today.
The concept of angels as we understand them today also developed in Judaism after the Old Testament was written. We even know why angel mythology developed during this time. These stories came to be not because that’s the way God told us it was up in heaven. They developed because Jews felt they needed to compete with the vast and fascinating world of Greco-Roman mythology. Given how rich Jewish angel mythology is, the New Testament, with its legions of demons and great, satanic dragon, actually says very little on the subject.
Again, the bible hints at supernatural creatures. It doesn’t actually explain them. It certainly doesn’t give us one clear and absolute picture of what these beings are and how they relate to us. The bible talks about more than just angels. There are ghosts in the bible, and witches. There are descriptions of the Underworld (NOT hell as we know it), and several passages that suggest other gods exist.
When I first encountered the Nephilim, I had a very small box in which to put them. I also thought my growing love for monster stories, particularly vampires and shapeshifters, was a sacrilegious obsession that had to be destroyed. But the more I studied, the more connections I saw between the bible itself, and pagan mythology. The more I read, the more room I saw for stories about supernatural monsters in the Christian world-view.
A world of Monsters, gods, and Myth
In recent years, there has been a surge of general interest in the Nephilim. Many book series, most of them Young Adult novels, have been written about the offspring of humans and angels. And yet, Christians, by and large, remain unaware that the concept of the Nephilim even exists, let alone that it is part of our own mythology. (Yes, Christians have mythology.)
I think this is due, in large part, to the fact that many Christians feel as I once felt, that they must limit their imaginations to what the “bible” teaches about the supernatural. For too long, Christians have either been commanded to avoid monster stories altogether, or left to enjoy monster stories on their own without any guidance as to how these stories relate to their faith.
And monster stories do relate to the Christian faith, often in positive ways. The bible teaches many different things about the supernatural world – Or I should say, it hints at many different possibilities. All of those hints are meant to convey spiritual messages.
The Watchers’ Progeny Universe came about from years of study into mythology, monster lore, and biblical history. It is what happened when my imagination was freed to pursue things I once thought off limits for the Christian.
But these things are not off limits. In fact, early Christian writers drew on stories of monsters, gods, and pagan myths all the time. Of course, they rewrote these stories to convey Christian messages – but that’s what all storytellers do. All storytellers rewrite older stories, to deliver new messages to a new audience.
Even the bible drew on older mythological images of monsters and gods convey its messages about the one God, and his relationship with human beings.
All monster stories are, at their core, stories of good vs. evil. They highlight the human ability to persevere in adversity. As Christians, we believe this ability comes from God. Monsters are symbols for all that we fear in this world and inside ourselves. Their defeat symbolizes our defeat of our worst selves. The defeat of all that is evil in human nature is the great theme of Christianity. So how could the exploration of this theme be off limits?
My exploration of monsters began when I first encountered the Nephilim, at age 10, in Genesis chapter 6. So it is around the concept of the Nephilim that I base my universe of monsters, gods, and faith. It is my humble attempt to continue an ancient and ill defined story. Where the concept of the Nephilim originated is lost to us. What the original writers of Genesis meant by this word we will never know for certain. Many have attempted to fill in the gaps, to rewrite the stories, and keep the legends alive. Here I throw my own attempt into the ring.
I hope that you will enjoy my writing, find the stories entertaining and the themes meaningful as you continue on your own journey with God, in faith, in a world where we often do encounter monsters of many and various kinds.
Please feel free to let me know what you think, add a comment, send an email. If you have questions or concerns or any similar stories let me know.