Heroes of Old, Warriors of Renown: Historicizing the Role of Nephilim in Popular Culture

  • Author / Creator
    Harding, Mack
  • The identity of the mysterious Nephilim found in the Hebrew Bible has puzzled biblical readers for over two thousand years, and in the last half-century significant interest in these shadowy beings has been displayed both in religious settings and popular culture. The biblical text contains only two brief mentions of Nephilim in Genesis 6:1-4 and Numbers 13:32-33, with the prevailing ancient conception imagining them as monstrous giants. There are conflicting views on whether they are their own race or if they are the offspring of humans and rebellious angels, but this ambiguity allows Nephilim to be presented in a variety of ways: where once these creatures were conceptualized as giants, today they are depicted as anything from teenage superheroes to terrible ancient gods. This thesis analyzes the reception history of Nephilim, tracing their ancient literary influences to their proliferation in modern novels, films, video games, and more. This is done to best understand the resurgence of interest in Nephilim and their association with occultism in popular media, instead of their biblical context. Regardless of a text’s proclaimed religious allegiance, Nephilim always represent some concept of primordial chaos – the ancient fear that civilization is a step away from plunging back into anarchy and disorder. Nephilim serve as a striking example of what Charles Taylor calls the post-secular, a time where the divide between the “religious” and the “secular” is becoming increasingly dulled.
    To best understand the resurgence of interest in Nephilim, I analyze the various contexts they are found in through an academic approach akin to those used by Monster Studies scholars such as Timothy Beal and Stephen T. Asma, focusing primarily on Sigmund Freud’s concept of the unheimlich regarding aspects of horror and monstrosity. Doing so helps explain the resurgence of these creatures in popular media and why they have been increasingly associated with esoteric horror narratives as opposed to the biblical tales they originate from. I examine dozens of examples, beginning with their first fictional appearance in Madeleine L’Engle’s 1986 novel Many Waters. Here, Nephilim are shapeshifting angels who have been barred from heaven and engage in sexual misconduct with humans. This began a trend that spanned genres and mediums, with some distinct examples such as The X-Files television series and The Mortal Instruments novel series. Both texts depict Nephilim as the descendants of angels but with vastly different forms and narrative functions. This study explores how these sources (and many others) make claims on concepts of heroism, victimhood, gender, and birthright by utilizing the Nephilim mythos.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2023
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.