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According to the Onkelos Targum which is considered an authoritative translation of the Pentateuch

Onkelos Targum

Nephilim = Gibborim; they are one and the same.

גִּבָּרַיָּא הֲווֹ בְאַרְעָא בְּיוֹמַיָּא הָאִנּוּן וְאַף בָּתַר כֵּן דִּי יַעֲלוּן בְּנֵי רַבְרְבַיָּא לְוַת בְּנַת אֱנָשָׁא וִילִידָן לְהוֹן אִנוּן גִּבָּרַיָּא דִּמֵעָלְמָא אֱנָשִׁין דִּשְׁמָא

English translation

Giants were in the earth in those days; and also when, after that the sons of the mighty had gone in unto the daughters of men, there were born from them giants who from of old were men of name.

Is there anything in the Hebrew text to confirm or deny this equating?

הנפלים היו בארץ בימים ההם וגם אחרי־כן אשׁר יבאו בני האלהים אל־בנות האדם וילדו להם המה הגברים אשׁר מעולם אנשׁי השׁם

  • The KJV, Young's Literal and Green's Literal all distinguish between the two distinct Hebrew words, nephilim and gibborim. These three authoritative translations do not consider the words to be 'one and the same'. – Nigel J Sep 11 at 4:05
  • Firstly @NigelJ if you voted to close because it’s unclear what I’m asking, how can I make this anymore clear to you? Secondly three translations that come centuries later and therefore further removed from the original documents, culture and other documents available to Onkelos don’t make them more authoritative by consensus. Lastly the difference could be a distinction by technicality but both meaning essentially giants. (Example: Like two women sharing the same last name Giant. One was born a Giant and the other became a Giant by marrying in. One’s a daughter and another a daughter in law.) – Nihil Sine Deo Sep 11 at 10:10
  • Your first question on the text attempted to prove that these two categories were identical by nullifying the grammatical construction 'afterwards'. Now you are attempting to prove the two words are identical by quoting a poor (in my own view) translation. You might also quote the Septuagint which, also, does not properly distinguish the two Hebrew words. The problem is the concept being conveyed : people don't like the concept so they try to manipulate the grammar and the word meanings. I'm quite happy with the concept, myself. KJV, Young and Green all express that concept. – Nigel J Sep 11 at 10:24
  • The first question is a separate question entirely, it is purely grammatical and where the grammar in the Hebrew leads (if it leads anywhere and isn’t ambiguous) I’ll accept. The English translation or any other translation is an interpretation. And there are three interpretations that I’ve come across from the English. Which brings me to this question. This interpretation (Onkelos Targum) says what it says, and it’s considered a credible interpretation by Hebrew scholars. You are favoring more recent interpretations in a non Semitic language. It’s your prerogative but the question is clear. – Nihil Sine Deo Sep 11 at 11:19
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I think that this English translation of Onkelos doesn't exactly represent the different words clearly. Onkelos' גִּבָּרַיָּא is both the cognate and translation of the Hebrew word הַגִּבֹּרִים, "the mighty," which includes but isn't limited to giants. The English translation confusingly renders this word as "giants" and then translates רַבְרְבַיָּא as "mighty." רַבְרְבַיָּא would be better translated as "great ones" (e.g. in Deut. 9:1 רַבְרְבִין = גְּדֹלִים). In this verse, Onkelos translates הָאֱלֹהִים "gods" as רַבְרְבַיָּא "great ones," which he customarily does in order to avoid using the word "god" about humans (e.g. Genesis 3:5). So there is really no question why Onkelos renders הַגִּבֹּרִים as גִּבָּרַיָּא since they both mean "mighty."

The question remains, why does Onkelos use גִּבָּרַיָּא "mighty" in this verse both to translate Hebrew הַנְּפִלִים and הַגִּבֹּרִים? I think the answer is clear from the verse itself, as Onkelos read it, which is again obfuscated by translation.

The text of Onkelos that you give has וִילִידָן לְהוֹן אִנוּן גִּבָּרַיָּא. Your English translation gives "there were born from them giants," or using my translation of the word, "there were born from them mighty ones." The word אִנוּן is left out of the English. אִנוּן can mean "those" ("there were born from them those mighty ones"), but the problem with this interpretation is that וִילִידָן is feminine and גִּבָּרַיָּא is masculine, so it can't be the giants who are born. A better translation is probably "there were born from them; they are the mighty ones." So it seems clear that Onkelos, like the Masoretic cantillation, read the end of the verse as "they are the mighty ones."*

The Hebrew הַנְּפִלִים "nephilim" is a rare word, and it seems that Onkelos didn't have an Aramaic equivalent for it (the same way that some modern translations have to resort to transliterating the word as "nephilim"; for Onkelos transliteration wasn't a good option because נפילין in Aramaic already has another meaning, "fallen ones"). So in order to interpret what the nephilim were, Onkelos used the verse's own statement as a definition, they are the mighty ones, and therefore interpreted the nephilim in the first instance as mighty ones.

So Onkelos does identify the nephilim with gibborim. That alone doesn't necessarily mean he identifies two species of giant as the same species; he could just be applying "mighty" as an adjective to the giants: גִּבָּרַיָּא means both "mighty" and "giant." But in Numbers 13, he consistently translates Hebrew עֲנָק "giant" as גִּבָּרָא "mighty/giant" until 13:33 הַנְּפִילִ֛ים בְּנֵ֥י עֲנָ֖ק "nephilim sons of giants" which he translates as גִּבָּרַיָּא בְּנֵי עֲנָק "mighty ones/giants sons of Anak" (changing עֲנָק to a proper name). Given that he had used גִּבָּרָא up until then to mean giant, it seems likely that here in Genesis he also meant to use the same word גִּבָּרָא to imply that the nephilim and gibborim of Genesis are the same giants.


* However, a different (Yemenite) version of Onkelos has וְיָלְדָן "they gave birth" instead of וִילִידָן "there were born," which is closer to the Hebrew construction and requires no agreement with gender. So it's possibly grammatical to read this version as "and they gave birth to those mighty ones." However, I think that this doesn't contradict the fact that Onkelos interpreted the verse as saying that they are the mighty ones, as evidenced by the fact that he translates the two words identically.

  • Excellent. Thank you. Very informative. +1. – Nigel J Sep 11 at 19:18
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To me, Nephilim (immortals/sons of Elohim) - cannot be the same as gibborim (half man/half gods), called also "anshi".

From ISA Interlinear Scripture Analyzer:

The~ones-distinguished (e~nphlim) [descending (good) immortals] they-became in~(the)~earth in~(the)~days the~those

and~moreover(u~gm) after(-)so which they-are-coming sons-of the~Elohim [immortals] to(-)daughters-of the~human(e~adm) and~they-(gave)-birth(u~ildu) for~them [the Nephilim]

they(eme) [the born ones] (became) the~masterful-(men)(e~gbrim) who from~eon(m~oulm) mortals-of(anshi) the~name(e~shm):p

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