Bible Mysteries: Who -- Or What -- Were the Nephilim?

Last week, I asked for suggestions on where to begin in exploring the strange parts of Genesis: “What Are the Most Perplexing Mysteries at the Bible’s Beginning?” One of PJ Lifestyle’s most thoughtful commenters offered a suggestion that was on my list too:

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Here’s more context for the verse in question, photographed from the New Revised Standard Bible I’ve had since third grade:

Genesis 5:22-6:3:

Genesis 6:4-8:

Some interpret these as references to human beings, others to supernatural creatures, angels, or “ancient aliens.” I like the way Darren Aronofsky portrayed them in Noah as rock creatures in the video above — angels of light that fell to earth and taught humans how to create things on their own, only to see people create war, decadence, and oppression.

I don’t have a strong view yet on how to interpret this passage, a part of me suspects that perhaps it should be considered alongside Genesis 5:24, too, in talking about Enoch walking with God. Are the two concepts interrelated? Is that perhaps why they’re back-to-back right before the narrative of the flood? offers 3 interpretations, two that are more naturalistic and less exciting:

Explanation 2: Corrupt Authorities

Based on a more literal translation of benei elokim, many explain that the term is simply referring to princes, noblemen or judges11 who abused their power, raping anyone they fancied, and forcing any women who got married to have relations with them first.12 This, together with their many other sins, were what eventually led to the great flood.13

There are, however, differences of opinion as to whether the nephilim are simply the benei elokim after they had “fallen,” or if the term refers to the descendants of these bnei elokim.14

That seems to make sense. Another position that I’ve been exploring and leaning toward is the idea that all of the Pagan gods of antiquity originated just in extraordinary people (both good and bad) who were gradually deified over the centuries. An old book I’ve been reading on my iPad, published in 1909: The Worship of the Dead: Or the Origin and Nature of Pagan Idolatry

What do you think? Is this a hint at how humans came to worship other men and women as gods?