Recently I came across an interview with a scholar who was asked if the ancient Israelites believed in extraterrestrial life. He responded that there was virtually no reference to such in the Old Testament. My first reaction was, “What’s he talking about?”
Granted, to put his answer in context, he was actually asked about a belief in life on other planets. And he was correct; there is no indication the Hebrews ever considered such a thing. But there are plenty of passages that talk about encounters with odd beings.
First off, we have the Elohim (gods) who “walked in the Garden” of Eden. Then there are the giants (the Nephilim) who loved human women. Enoch, who “was taken” by one of these gods. The emissary who sat outside Abram’s tent. The angels who delivered Lot from Sodom. The angel of the Lord who wrestled with Jacob beneath a stairway to heaven. The fiery chariot that carried Elijah into the skies. And the Watchers in the book of Daniel. (To quote Alan Rickman in Dogma, “Guess what they do.”)
And who can forget the weird contraption in Ezekiel?
When there is a physical description given of these visitors, they always appear human, but there is something unmentioned about them that distinguishes them as being other. Inventing these labels for them is a clear attempt to make this point.
So who were they? Hard to say. What is easy to say, though, is that they didn’t come from any of the local villages of the time. They were outsiders, not just of the tribe, but of mankind itself.