Why Christian Fiction Writers Love the Nephilim

by Mike Duran · 50 comments

Christian speculative writers seem to have a love affair with the Nephilim. Don’t believe me? Here’s a sampling of some Christian titles that reference the Nephilim directly:

There’s quite a few more. There’s also many Christian fiction books which don’t mention the Nephilim directly in their title, but employ them in the story, like The Enclave by Karen Hancock, Immanuel’s Veins by Ted Dekker, and Spirit Fighter, a soon-to-be released YA entry from Jerel Law. About Law’s signing, the Charlotte Observer noted that Molly Hodgin, editorial director at Thomas Nelson, said that the publisher has received “many submissions about Nephilim.”

Apparently, the Nephilim are still a hot commodity among Christian fiction writers. But why?

I have a theory.

First, a primer. From the article Who Were the Nephilim?

The Nephilim were a race that came to dominate the antediluvian (pre-flood) world, and are referred to in the Bible as the heroes of old, men of renown. They were reportedly the children born to the “Sons of God” by the “daughters of men“, and are described as giants.

Confused yet? You should be. Some speculate that the “sons of God” mentioned here are actually angels who had intercourse with human women and produced a race of hybrids. That’s the more colorful side of the interpretation. However, the Nephilim are only mentioned twice in Scripture, and that rather vaguely. They aren’t central players in the biblical story, not even minor characters.

So why so much press from Christian fiction writers?

Here’s what I think: The reason why the Nephilim have become such a useful tool for Christian fiction writers is that it allows us to speculate and still remain (somewhat) biblical.

I’ve contended here before that one reason Christian speculative fiction is under-represented in the Christian market is because of theological concerns. Many believe that speculation is inherently un-Christian and that theology and speculation cut cross grain. Which is why it is not uncommon to see Christian reviewers using theology as a template for their fiction. (It’s why I was asked to include an Afterward in The Resurrection explaining a biblical rationale for using a ghost in the story.)

Which is why the Nephilim are so useful to Christian fiction writers.

On one hand: Nephilim ARE mentioned in Scripture. This is a huge boon to the Christian fiction writer who knows her story will be scrutinized through a doctrinal lens. Since the Nephilim are actually found in the Bible, it takes us off the hook of having to justify their inclusion in our fictional world.

On the other hand: Because it’s unclear exactly what the Nephilim are, there is freedom to speculate. And this, my friends, is what speculative fiction writers want to do!

Sure, not all Christian writers are fond of this overuse of the Nephilim, objecting that pseudopigraphical texts from intertestamental times are often appealed to. Nevertheless, by enlisting the Nephilim, Christian fiction writers can remain somewhat tethered to the Bible (which the Christian market demands) while having some room to speculate (which the spec-fic market demands). It’s the best of both world and why, I believe, Christian fiction writers love the Nephilim.

Do I have a point?

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Kevin Lucia April 1, 2012 at 3:40 PM

Yep. I have several half-finished, discarded/or put on hold manuscripts either using the Nephilim directly, or referencing them with super top secret government genetic experiment projects called “The Nephilim Project”, stuff like that. For some reason, those stories just never took hold. Not because of the Nephilim aspect, but just because they weren’t good stories, in general.

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Kessie April 1, 2012 at 3:41 PM

They canvased this over at Speculative Faith a few weeks ago. I wish Christians didn’t feel they had to make everything scriptural to write about giants, monsters, and genetic mutants. (Ever run across the Ahriman Gate? That one is ALL the theories, including aliens, in one crazy mashup. It was so far out there that it wound up being awesome.)

I mean, the Bible also has dragons and monsters with seven heads and all that (mostly used symbolically). Does that give Christians license to write about that, too? :-D

Why do Christians need to make it Biblical, anyway? As my art teacher used to say, “Make your artwork different from the source material. You’re an artist. Therefore you have artistic license.”

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Jacob Lindaman April 17, 2012 at 4:47 AM

Great insight Kessie.

Ahriman Gate sounds awesome. I love those things that are so over the top you HAVE to accept them.

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JW May 2, 2014 at 3:47 PM

Christians need to make it biblical so it is not blasphemous and heretic.

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R. L. Copple April 1, 2012 at 9:50 PM

Interesting trend. I’d never thought to use those guys. I guess I’m not widely read enough to have run across it. Do you think Christian markets are getting overwhelmed by these guys to the point of overuse, like a lot of publishers feel about vampires (especially since the Twilight crazy hit)?

I don’t feel a need to justify my use of elements in my story to the Bible or theology, just my theology inherent in the story itself. Of course there are those who would have a problem with me using a wizard in a positive sense as well as magic, etc. Even if it is an alternate universe. So obviously I’m not in the camp trying to make my inclusion of characters biblical.

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Mike Duran April 2, 2012 at 6:48 AM

“Do you think Christian markets are getting overwhelmed by these guys to the point of overuse?”

I’ve heard that from other sources, and the quote from Molly Hodgin, editorial director at Thomas Nelson, seems to suggest that. Nevertheless, in April TN is releasing the aforementioned YA book “Spirit Fighter,” where two kids learn that their mother is a Nephilim. So publishers might be getting overwhelmed with submissions, but apparently they haven’t stopped contracting a few.

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Lyn Perry April 2, 2012 at 7:14 PM

I remember reading Peretti’s Cooper Kids series to my daughters and when we got to The Tombs of Anak, I thought, oh dear, another Nephilim story. And this was in the early 90s.

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Susan April 1, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Yes! You have a point, and a good one at that. Too many people (reviewers, readers and anybody else with an opinion) seem to forget that fiction is FICTION! Scripture tells us truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – so help me God. Writing fiction and using Biblical ideas is not going to destroy the Word of God (period).
By the way, years ago I was having a conversation with an unbeleiver and he proceeded to tell me that the Nephilim were aliens from space put here to populate the earth. So, I guess speculation has no boundries. ;)

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Mike Duran April 2, 2012 at 6:51 AM

The “Nephilim as space aliens” is a very popular theory actually.

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Jessica Thomas April 2, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Yes. You do have a point. However,

I can put up with your controversial topics, but posting a suggestive picture of a naked woman with a naked something-er-other? Now you’ve taken it too far. That’s it. I’m outa here.

:p

Kidding aside, I actually can’t quite tell if that’s woman. I think I see the outline of a breast, but there’s no nipple (or if so, it’s very faint). Also, the something-er-other’s parts are covered up, so I’m not offended. Write on!

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Mike Duran April 2, 2012 at 6:55 AM

Jessica, if you think that pic’s offensive, some of the Nephilim artwork out there is downright erotic. Thanks for hanging with me through the controversial topics and tasteless angel art.

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Jessica Thomas April 2, 2012 at 7:29 AM

I was still kidding when I said ‘kidding aside’. The only thing that offends me about the pic is she looks kinda furry.

Seriously not kidding this time, I understand the fascination with the Nephilim, but I also think Chistians could easily overdo it to the point of vampires.

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Mike Duran April 2, 2012 at 7:38 AM

Actually, I don’t think Christian lit has explored the concept of vampires nearly enough.

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Daniel April 2, 2012 at 8:55 AM

The Nephilim also offer a Christian writer access (or additional access) to Classical themes. Through them a writer might be able to tell Promethean, Iliad-esque tales, as they appear to be in that half-way-divine stage between angels and humans.

Also: Northrop Frye’s “Words With Power” offers very mind-expanding hints for how the Nephilim (he simply calls them giants) might fit into a comprehensive myth of human creativity/relation to the divine.

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Kirk Kraft April 2, 2012 at 4:37 PM

Mike,

You make an excellent point. One of the reasons Christian “speculative” fiction has never fully caught on in the publishing houses is that there is too little speculation! No one dares to step on the proverbial “theological” toes and so we lose some of the stories that need to be told. Just my two cents. Great post.

Kirk

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Lelia Rose Foreman (@LeliaForeman) April 2, 2012 at 5:17 PM

Don’t forget Tim Power’s Hide Me Among The Graves, a sequel to The Stress Of Her Regard. It has Nephilim AND vampires.

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Rebecca LuElla Miller April 2, 2012 at 6:29 PM

I for one have Nephilim fatigue, but I’m not sure that’s so different from vampire fatigue that seems to have set in in the general market. Anything done and overdone gets old, or seems to.

I wonder if a factor in this is that too many people are ignorant of what Christian speculative fiction is out there. Consequently writers keep coming up with Nephilim stories and editors keep thinking this is new and different. Just an idea.

Becky

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xdpaul April 3, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Or…readers aren’t writers, editors and critics.

Madeline L’Engle wrote a nephilim book when I was a kid – Many Waters. I’m sure hers wasn’t the first one to take a fictional stab at the mysterious giants/demons/heroes/alien things.

Considering that a new zombie book has come out twice a year (sometimes many more than that, never less) for the past 30 years (I can even remember some from that long ago: Ghoul, Dark, Dead in the West, Damnation Game), regardless of “trends,” I’m guessing that we’ll have the werewolves, Nephilim, vampires, etc. for just a little longer…

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Marcia April 4, 2012 at 11:50 AM

Yes, you have a point, or at least I think so. I’d come to these very conclusions about why the Nephilim are the Christian answer to vampires, et. al. The first novel I read that featured them was actually Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle, which was not a CBA book.

I think you’ve also illuminated something else. I agree that many think speculation is inherently unChristian. But I would argue that fiction in general is speculative at its core. And this is why so many Christians have (or say they have — many who won’t read novels will take their fiction in movie form) no use for fiction, or will not allow their fiction to move beyond certain safe, surface-level boundaries.

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DD April 13, 2012 at 7:57 PM

See also Brian Godawa’s Noah Primeval: Chronicles of the Nephilim Book I , an excellent spec-fiction novel.

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DD April 13, 2012 at 7:59 PM

Sorry, you did list that one.

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Skadi meic Beorh April 29, 2012 at 8:11 AM

I make the Nephilim heroes in my forthcoming novel The Place Where Infinity Blooms (Cogwheel Press, Summer 2012). I pit them against evil faeries, blood-suckers, and human ne’er-do-wells.

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CALI May 3, 2012 at 2:26 PM

I love stories on Nephilims..want to know more.Please recommend related texts and novels.

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Skadi meic Beorh May 3, 2012 at 2:36 PM

They are fairly prominent in my forthcoming novel The Place Where Infinity Blooms.

http://www.cogwheelpress.net/place-where-infinity-blooms.php

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Tom Swift May 6, 2012 at 9:45 AM

I have a web series called Watchers In The Heavens I’m in post production on the Nephelim and Aliens and then planning to release a book to tell the rest of the story. Eventually it will be edited together as a short film and I’m also developing a feature film. This is a great topic that taps into Biblical history and into science fiction genre: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrEG4jZKFKs

Here is also the blog for Watchers In the Heavens: http://watchersintheheavens.blogspot.com/

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Iola May 9, 2012 at 2:01 PM

I’m a little late to this party, but would add that it doesn’t seem to be just Christian authors and publishers who are being drawn to the Nephelim – see Sweet Evil, newly-published by Harper Teen:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11808950-sweet-evil

P.S. I read and enjoyed Spirit Fighter by Jerel Law, mentioned above. It’s MG, so I’m not exactly the target age group and therefore thought it was a little light on things like character development – but for an age group who love Angel Wars and Bibleman, it’s good. The review is on Amazon and on my blog, for those who are interested.

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Dan Hegelund May 11, 2012 at 1:09 PM

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were both Christians. Just saying’…

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Ed Lupton September 19, 2012 at 5:47 PM

“[The] Nephilim are only mentioned twice in Scripture, and that rather vaguely. They aren’t central players in the biblical story, not even minor characters.”

Only mentioned “twice” in Scripture? And not even central in OT stories? Um… Nephilim, Gibborim, Annakim, Rephaim, Og king of Bashaan, Goliath and his brothers… hardly unimportant, I’d say.

“Nephilim are the Christian answer to vampires”… say what? Wow. Like Dan Hegelund said, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were both Christians. I should add G.K. Chesterton as well. My favorite (and still living) sf/fantasy author, Gene Wolfe, also happens to be a Christian, and it colors many of his stories.

I mean, it’s OK if someone has a low or different opinion of it, that’s what opinions are for… but brushing it off as “vague” and “minor” detail, or belittling it because it’s not as trendy as “Fire Tunnel Parties,” is stretching it a bit.

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jared October 26, 2012 at 7:55 PM

The Nephilim are mentioned twice in the New Testament. Once in 2 Peter 2:4 (Tarturus is also mentioned in this verse- notice the Greek) and in Jude 6,7. Just as many of the ancient races of the earth had a flood story, so also did they have a story of angels having intercourse with women.

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Stephanie November 15, 2012 at 11:53 AM

Guilty as charged! I haven’t used the Nephilim as a huge plot device or anything, but in my urban fantasy (still revising it, so unpublished), I have a preacher who wages war on Faerie because he believes they are descendants of the Nephilim who have denied God. :D

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Rhonda Pooley November 28, 2012 at 5:13 PM

Your article and all the correspondence relating to was a really stimulating read! However, I’m still being dragged, kicking and screaming into reading fantasy novels. OK I’ve only read 8 so far, but only one has truly engaged my interest to the end. This is the Mystery of Grace’ by Charles DeLint.

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Eldridge Simpson November 30, 2012 at 6:37 AM

WOW, so the bible is just one big fairy tale? just take away from it what you think is fantasy and add-live the rest.

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Headless Unicorn Guy December 20, 2012 at 11:59 PM

1) When Twilight (sparkle sparkle) was topping the best-seller lists and Twitards were coming out of the woodwork, a Lost Genre Guild spy at a Christian Fiction Publishers’ conference heard that “Christian Paranormal Romance” was the next Big Thing. (i.e. “Just like Twilight, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”) Since Christians want nothing to do with Vampires (sparkle sparkle), there was a LOT of speculation about what to substitute for them to make it Christian. Somebody suggested “Angels”. Tatted Todd o’Lakeland notwithstanding, Angels are usually not supposed to have the hots for human women. Unless… Thus was born the term “Nephilim Breeder” for Christianese Paranormal Jumper-Rippers. And it looks like we were prophetic.

2) Since one of the ironclad rules of Christianese SF is “No Aliens, except for DEMONS”; no non-human peoples except for Angels and Fallen Ones”, Nephilim are about the only way to introduce what are essentially Aliens.

3) I have heard of writers being rejected with the words “Write a Vampire Romance instead”. In Christianese Bizarro World, would these rejection slips read “Write a Nephilim Romance instead”?

4) Just as “A Vampire Romance set amid a Zombie Apocalypse” is said to be a guaranteed best-seller, would “An Amish Nephilim Romance” be a guaranteed Christianese best-seller?

5) I’m functioning on maybe five hours of sleep and boy, it shows.

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ubong April 21, 2013 at 11:51 PM

It’s crazy when people go out of their way to misinform people. The bible is true to the last letter & the devils biggest strategy is 2 make it luv like a fairy tale. Except u work 4 him?

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Julius Thompson May 6, 2013 at 3:44 PM

The thing is, the original story has never been told (the pre-flood era). Through much research from the Bible, Book of Enoch, Dead Sea Scrolls and Book of Jasher there is much to the story. One day God gave me a vision to write a screenplay and book. There is soo much more about what happened during that time period. The screenplay is for Anime is done and I am 75% done with the book. Its much like any fantasy novel like Lord of the Rings/Chronicles of Narnia. But I wrote as the Holy Spirit led me to. If anything it will bring that time period back to the forefront.

I have a fan page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Grigori-Movie-Fan-Page/103395743043292

I also created a fan made film composed of different movies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZM5-D31MjI

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mrdee May 25, 2013 at 7:26 PM

To strain at the nat and swallow the camel. He who has eyes but refuse to see it’s about judgment grace faith and salvation. He has judged in the past and will judge in the future.Christ the Ark only in him can we be saved from the judgment to come.

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