Archive Section II
THE ETYMOLOGY OF NEPHI AND NEPHILIM
One of the claims of this site is that there is a direct link between the Mormon "Nephi" and the "Nephilim" (wrongly translated as "giants" in the KJV) in Genesis 6 which states that rebellious angels came to the earth, married the daughters of men, and created a race of "nephilim". So corrupt did the earth become not only morally but genetically that Yahweh was forced to intervene and destroy the anti-Diluvian culture with a universal flood.
Not unsurprisingly we have received alot of angry letters from Mormons claiming that we are ignorant of Hebrew and that there is no relationship between "Nephi" and "Nephilim". The typical argument runs something like this:
Interestingly, other fluent Hebrew speakers take a different view. A Bible scholar and Israeli, who has some knowledge of Mormonism, wrote the following to me:
I read the article. Being a fluent speaker of Hebrew, I hate to burst the author's bubble, but there are two mistakes. Nephelim (plural of nephel) means "rejects" and not giants. Also, plurals in Hebrew are designated by "im" if masculine, and "ot" if feminine. The Hebrew plural for Nephites would be "Nephi'im" and not "nephelim".
Thus the plural of 'Nephi/Nephil' could as well be 'Nephim', 'Nephi'im',
'Nephiyim' / 'Nephilim', &c.
'Nephilim' means "fallen ones" or "fellers [of men]" (i.e., those who
cause men to fall).
"Nephi" would also be "a feller of men" (men are symbolized as trees in
scripture). Recall how he made Laban and Lemuel fall with "the power of
God". Hebrew names are often characteristic of the person possessing
Regarding 'plurals': With Hebrew one little letter often
does little to change the meaning of the word. "Nephil" or "Nephi"
could easily mean the same thing.
The only other instance where 'Nephi' appears in antiquity is in a
mistranslation of the Greek 'nephthai' which translates our English,
'naptha', an error of the KJV translators of 2 Maccabees 1:36. Some critics of Mormonism allege that Joseph Smith borrowed the word 'Nephi' from here, the text reading:
Since Mormons have never satisfactority proposed an etymology of 'Nephi'
(other than to propose parallels with the young Egyptian pagan corn god,
'Nepi' or 'Nepri' [Hugh B. Nibley, Mormon scholar] - not a very likely choice for a son's name by a supposedly devout Hebrew, Lehi) I believe the Nephi/Nephilim connection proposed by the New Covenant Church of God is the strongest one. Names throughout history are known to expand and contract as, for example, 'Jehoshua' to 'Joshua'.
And Neemias called this thing Naphthar, which is as much to say, a cleansing: but many men call it Nephi (2 Macc.1:36, KJV)
Thus it is by no means unreasonable or inconceivable that 'Nephi' and 'Nephil' are but variants of the same name, with 'Nephi'im', 'Nephim' or 'Nephilim' being possible plurals.
See Return of the Nephilim and Nefilim: The Latter Day Saint Homepage
This page was created on 14 February 1999
Updated on 10 March 2001
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