Book Review—Giants: Sons of the Gods (Van Dorn)

Pastors and theologians tend to skip over the many references to giants in the Bible. However, Douglas Van Dorn tackles this subject head on in his book, Giants: Sons of the Gods. This is an issue that should interest all students of Scripture.

Genesis 6:1-4 and the Nephilim

The introduction is the longest chapter by far at 48 pages, but it forms the foundation for the rest of the book. Here Van Dorn argues that Genesis 6:1-4 is about spirit beings/angels who came to earth and married human women, resulting in giant offspring known as the Nephilim. I have argued for this supernatural view myself, and I must say that Van Dorn’s treatment raises several points I had not thought of before.

Van Dorn lays out the different views of Genesis 6:1-4 and then proceeds to take down the popular Sethite view (that the intermarriage is between the godly line of Seth and the ungodly line of Cain). He points out that “there is no incontrovertible evidence that everyone in the line of Cain was wicked, nor that everyone in the line of Seth was godly” (15). In spite of this, the Sethite view holds that Seth’s line was all godly until the days of Noah. It hangs on the unlikely assumption that “No one in the line prior to this rebelled. Everyone in the line in Noah’s day did” (17).

Van Dorn shows a grammatical inconsistency of the Sethite view, as it takes “men” to mean “mankind” but then takes the second “men” as “daughters of Cain” (18). Not only is there no prohibition of Sethites marrying Cainites in Genesis 1–5, but there were also other lineages apart from Seth and Cain, as Adam and Eve had other children (22). Furthermore, it is inexplicable that the intermarriage of the Sethites and Cainites would produce giant offspring (and Numbers 13:33 shows that the Nephilim were in fact giants).  

There is an antithesis between the lines of Seth and Cain, but there is no basis for applying this antithesis to Genesis 6:1-4. Rather, Van Dorn sees the intermarriage between fallen angels and humans as a fulfillment of Genesis 3:15—these are the biological offspring of Satan. Van Dorn argues that both the offspring of Eve and the offspring of the serpent must be the same, either both biological or both spiritual. He answers objections to his view at the end of the introduction and then continues his discussion of pre-flood giants in the first chapter.  

Post-Flood Giants

After the introduction and first chapter, Van Dorn spends the rest of the book on giants after the flood. God sent the flood to wipe out the giants and the violence they caused, and Noah was saved because he was “perfect in his generations” (Genesis 6:9), which Van Dorn takes to refer to Noah’s physical purity (i.e. he was fully human). This is why the plural “generations” is used, as his forefathers were also physically pure (36, 71).

However, Van Dorn does not believe Noah was sinless. He takes the incident with Ham in Genesis 9:20-27 to mean that Noah got drunk and allowed Ham to come in the tent and have sex with his mother. His basis for this is that to “see a father’s nakedness” (Genesis 9:22) always means to have sex with another man’s wife, and he appeals to Leviticus 18:8; 20:11; Deuteronomy 22:30; 27:20; Habakkuk 2:15; Ezekiel 22:10 (71).[1] This is why Noah curses Ham’s “son” (his grandson Canaan) and not Ham himself—“Canaan was the incestuous child of a union between Noah’s wife and Noah’s son” (71). While this may be correct (and Leviticus 18:7 does make mention of sex with one’s own mother, making this a possible reading), one would think in this case that Noah’s wife would be otherwise mentioned in the story.

The first giant after the flood was Nimrod, “a mighty hunter” (Genesis 10:9). The Hebrew for “mighty” is gibbor (גִבֹּֽר), but the LXX translates this as “giant” (Greek γίγας, gigas). (The LXX also translates gibbor in Genesis 6:4 as “giants.”) Van Dorn thus thinks that Nimrod was a mighty warrior “against” Yahweh, rather than “before the LORD” as most translations have it (73, 80). He suggests the accuracy of legends of Nimrod, such as the legend that he went to Lebanon and built the large stone structure called Baalbek (79-80). While I think Van Dorn is correct that Nimrod was a violent hunter “against” Yahweh, his conclusions are based on the Greek translation and not the Hebrew text. The Hebrew gibbor can refer to a giant, but it is also used for non-giants. We therefore cannot conclude with certainty that Nimrod was a giant or had anything to do with the Nephilim.

Van Dorn also thinks that some of the people Abraham fought against in Genesis 14 were giants, such as the Amalekites and Amorites. He connects them with Numbers 13:29 and Deuteronomy 2–3, concluding that “there is no question that the six tribes defeated by Chedorlaomer before turning to the rebel vassals of Sodom and Gomorrah were giants” (106). He also suggests that Abimelech in Genesis 20 and 26 was possibly a giant (112). The latter is an example of where I think Van Dorn overstates his case, as there is nothing in the Genesis text that says that Abimelech was a giant.

Where did post-flood giants come from? While Jews thought some of the Nephilim made it through the flood alive, Van Dorn thinks there are better solutions—either “genetic manipulation” was taking place after the flood or another group of the sons of God took wives just like before the flood (77). I prefer the latter explanation, but a book of this length on giants should have given this question more attention.

Canaanite Giants and Goliath

Chapter 6 is one of the better chapters because it addresses Bible texts that explicitly identify giants. When the Israelite spies searched out the land of Canaan, they reported that the people were tall Nephilim—“the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim” (Numbers 13:33). Van Dorn admits it is possible the spies were exaggerating their account, but he counters with Moses’ words about these people to show it would be minimal exaggeration (127). Moses said in Deuteronomy 9:1-2 that Israel would cross the Jordan to “dispossess nations greater and mightier than you, cities great and fortified up to heaven, a people great and tall, the sons of the Anakim, whom you know, and of whom you have heard it said, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’”

Van Dorn highlights Og of Bashan, whose bed was over 13 feet 6 inches (Deuteronomy 3:11) and was of the remnant of the Rephaim (140). He properly points out that there were giant Anakim left in Canaan after the conquest, but only in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Joshua 11:22). (Goliath was from Gath; cf. 1 Samuel 17:4.)

He waits until chapter 10 to cover Goliath, which Van Dorn says was to put Goliath in his proper context. He provides a good discussion of the textual issues over Goliath’s height, as the Septuagint has a much lower height of 6’9” compared to the Hebrew of 9’9” (162-164). Van Dorn thinks the Hebrew is correct, and he cites an academic article that suggests that the LXX may have been using the longer Egyptian cubit in its description.[2] In this case, the Septuagint and Hebrew would both put Goliath closer to the nine-foot range.

This is helpful, but I think this leaves out an important connection between Goliath and the serpent. Van Dorn makes no mention of Goliath’s “scale armor” (1 Samuel 17:5). (The ESV translates this as “coat of mail,” and chain mail would resemble scales.) This connection would have fit nicely with his interpretation of Genesis 3:15 that the giants were “biological” offspring of the serpent. In my view, whether both the offspring of the woman and the offspring of the serpent are spiritual or biological, there is a definite connection between Goliath and the serpent. The giants are doing the work of the devil and were to be destroyed by God’s people.

Demons and Giants

The book closes with chapters on chimeras, demons, and Jesus’ victory over demons. I do not always know what to make of Van Dorn’s claims regarding the supernatural, and he makes a lot of leaps based on word associations. But this section is certainly thought-provoking.  

The final two chapters seek to show how Jesus conquered demons (whom he takes as the spirits of giants) and proclaimed victory over them. Van Dorn says it is a common misconception that demons are fallen angels. He says the early church supports him here—“While some [church fathers] believed that demons were the disembodied spirits of dead people, the most wide spread and influential position of the early church was that demons are the disembodied spirits of the giants, not angels” (175-176).  

He appeals to Job 26:5, which speaks of the Rephaim (which the LXX translates as “giants”) as dwelling “under the waters.” Van Dorn argues this is tied with Sheol, the OT place of the dead, referenced in the following verse. He also appeals to other passages suggesting the spirits of the giant Rephaim dwell in Sheol (Psalm 88:10-11; Proverbs 2:18-19; 9:18; 21:6; Isaiah 14:9).

Van Dorn believes these spirits of the giants play a large role in the New Testament. He says, “Jesus vs. the demons is the NT equivalent of Israel vs. the giants” (205). The giants are active in the NT, but they are defeated by Christ after His death on the cross. Van Dorn takes 1 Peter 3:19-20 to mean that Jesus proclaimed a message to demonic spirits of their defeat.


This is far from a perfect book. I think Van Dorn takes his case for giants too far, often speaking as if all the Canaanites were giants (rather than a subset of Canaanites being giants). He often prefers the Septuagint translation over the Hebrew text, and he references lots of extra-biblical material, including Jewish beliefs and possible connections of person/place names.

While some, or even many, of Van Dorn’s claims may be correct, this is a book that injects speculation amidst sound biblical arguments (and he sometimes says he is speculating). So readers should carefully weigh his claims. However, for the serious Bible student, Giants: Sons of the Gods is well worth reading. For all its flaws, it is a stimulating read that treads where few theologians are willing to go.

[1] He cites John Sietze Bergsma, “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan (Gen 9:20-27),” in Journal of Biblical Literature 124/1 (2005): 25-40.

[2] Clyde E. Billington, “Goliath and the Exodus Giants: How Tall Were They?” JETS 50.3 (2007), 489-508.