Goliath Wasn’t the Only Giant in the Bible

Before we talk about giants in the bible, let’s look at the Hebrew word – נְפִילִים (nefilim) Nephilim.
In quite a few English Bibles, this word appears in transliteration from Hebrew and is not translated. This is not an error in the translation of the text. The translator in this case is basing himself on the theory that the word Nephilim indicates the name of a nation and quite obviously, names are not translated.
However, in other English Bibles, such as the King James Bible, the word is translated as “giants”. And indeed, the accepted understanding of the word in Biblical Hebrew is giants.

A glance at Numbers 13:33 clearly demonstrates this understanding of this word:

וְשָׁם רָאִינוּ אֶת הַנְּפִילִים בְּנֵי עֲנָק מִן הַנְּפִלִים;
וַנְּהִי בְעֵינֵינוּ כַּחֲגָבִים, וְכֵן הָיִינוּ בְּעֵינֵיהֶם
Vesham ra’inu et hanefilim beney Anak min hanefilim
vanehi ve’eyneynu kachagavim vechen hayinu be’eyneyhem
And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, [which come] of the giants:
and we were in our own eyes as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight


These are the words of the spies who were sent by Moses to the land of Israel to survey the area. The spies reported that they felt very small in relation to the giant Nephilim. They felt as if they were grasshoppers.

The word נְפִילִים comes from the root letters נ-פ-ל. This root represents words that denote falling or something that falls. What is the connection between Nephilim and falling?
There are linguists who claim that the word is descriptive – i.e. this word describes the reactions people had to the Nephilim. Their great size would cause people to fall down in fright, or, in a more metaphorical sense, their hearts would drop in fear.

Another similar explanation for the word is that it is descriptive of the negative influence the Nephilim had on their surroundings. They lowered the moral standard of the world.

There are some interpreters who explain that the Nephilim were angels who fell from heaven and were therefore called Nephilim. However, this opinion was theologically problematic to many commentators who could not accept the idea of angels walking among humans. These commentators say that the Nephilim were people who were once at the highest echelons of society and fell to the lowest moral and ethical levels.

It should be noted that the Bible mentions another sort of giant and they are called רְפָאִים:

רְפָאִים יֵחָשְׁבוּ אַף הֵם כָּעֲנָקִים
Refa’im yechashvu af hem ka’Anakim
these also are accounted Rephaim, as the Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:11)


It is interesting to note that this word also has various interpretations. One explanation hints to a meaning similar to that of Nephilim.

* רְפָאִים – from the word רָפֶה, meaning weakness – i.e. those who saw these giants became weak with fear.

* רְפָאִים – meaning ghosts, spirits – i.e. they were spirits of dead giants.

There are also those who suggest that they were called רְפָאִים because people were “scared to death” when they saw them.

Incidentally, in the Golan Heights, in northern Israel, there is a site called גַּלְגַּל הָרְפָאִים (galgal ha’refa’im) Wheel of Spirits. This archaeological site is a large, circular structure that is over 5,000 years old. It received its name due to its large size, as well as on the word used to refer to a race of giants, the Rephaites, an ancient people who resided in the Bashan (modern Golan). For many years, scholars connected the site with the giants mentioned in the Bible. It was thought that the site served as a gravesite for them. Recently, the site has indeed been scientifically identified as a gravesite of an important figure. However, it is unclear if it can be connected to the giants mentioned in Deuteronomy.


Want to Learn Biblical Hebrew? Try our Biblical Hebrew Magazine.

For example Biblical Study Book: The Tower of Babel 

Log In

Lost your password?


Test yourself - how well can you manage in Hebrew?

How do you read the name of the following letter?

Do you recognize all of the following letters?
א – ש – ד – ג – ץ – ף - ס

Which of the following letters is not a special "final letter"?

How do you read the following word?

Can you differentiate between the following words and do you know what each word means?
שֶׁמֶשׁ – שַׁמָשׁ

How do you read the following word?

Which of the following words is not plural?

Complete the sentence:
אני ________ את הספר על השולחן

The meaning of the Hebrew word שְׁלֵמִים is:

Complete the sentence:
אֲנִי אוֹהֶבֶת _________ יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Log In