How tall were the Giant Anakim? Out with the biblical scholars; in with the biblical conspiracy theorists, children’s books authors, government propagandists, homeschoolers, and pre-moderns!

Giant in forced perspectiveWhen the Israelite spies explore the land in Numbers 13, they report seeing giants: the “descendents of Anak” . The question that most people ask me is: how tall were these Anakim?

They were remarkably tall, if we accept the comparison the spies make between the height of the Israelites and that of the Anakim (Num. 13.33): “And we were, in our eyes, like grasshoppers” (ונהי בעינינו כחגבים). It’s probably not a literal comparison, though: in Isa. 40.22, the inhabitants of earth are described as being “like grasshoppers” from the perspective of Yahweh’s heavenly focalisation. Yet while probably figurative, the comparison does indicate that the Anakim boasted some impressive and towering height. This description is followed by a parallel clause: וכן היינו  בעיניהם, often translated “and so we were in their eyes”. However, if we treat the second line as synonymous parallelism, perhaps the better translation of וכן is “and like a gnat” (with the assimilation of the  כ- prefix to the first radical). The translation of the parallelism would then be:  “And we were, in our eyes, like grasshoppers; and like a gnat we were in their eyes”. Similar translations have been suggested by Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers, 242; Maarsingh, Numbers, 47; Budd, Numbers, 146; and HALOT, כן V.

Yet whether the comparison is with grasshoppers or with grasshoppers and a gnat, we cannot employ the comparison to make any exact estimation of the imagined height of the Anakim. Quite apart from the figurative nature of the comparison, the report of the spies in Numbers 13.33 appears at the end of what the narrative has introduced as a דבה (“evil report” or “malicious report”). At this point in the narrative, the spies are doing all they can to dissuade the people from following Yahweh’s command to go into the land. The majority of the spies are also in opposition to the good spy, Caleb, who encourages the people to enter the land (13.30), and who later is the only one mentioned as being spared from Yahweh’s decree that this entire generation shall die in the desert (14.24). Caleb does not dispute this description of the inhabitants, even when he refers to them (14.9). But his silence on their stature does not settle matters one way or the other.

However, another element in the narrative suggests that the Anakim were not merely imagined as very tall humans (say 7- or 8-feet tall), but that they were thought to be fantastically tall. This element is the enormous bunch of grapes the spies find in the Eshcol Valley, which is so large that it can only be “carried on a pole between two [men]” (Num. 13.23). The bunch of grapes is mentioned immediately after the first mention of the “descendents of Anak” who are inhabitants of Hebron (Num. 13.22). The naming of the Eshcol Valley (“Grape-bunch Valley”) is explained in terms of the gigantic bunch of grapes carried by the two spies (Num. 13.24). Even if the Hebron tradition (13.22) and Eshcol tradition (13.23-24) had no original tradition-historical connection, the best explanation for the gigantic size of the grapes in Num. 13.23-24 is that they match the size of the gigantic inhabitants of the land. The giant grapes and giant inhabitants fit very well together. Indeed, motifs of “eating” or “devouring” are ambiguously associated with both the land and its inhabitants in Num. 13.32 and 14.9. Therefore, we should not – as some commentators have done – search for examples of very tall humans as the “historical kernel” of this account. Instead, the author of Num. 13-14 is describing the Anakim in fantastic terms: as eaters of grape bunches so large that it is impossible for a single person to carry one! The height of the Anakim is removed from the realm of ordinary human parallels, consistent with their assignment to an ancient era, before regular mortals (the Israelites) occupied the land. The narrative in Num. 13-14 leads us into the realm of the fantastic.

We should therefore disregard the attempts of biblical commentaries to rationalise the height of the Anakim. For example, Jeffrey Tigay (in his 1996 commentary on Deuteronomy) attempts to compare the Anakim to 7-foot “Watusi” or 7-foot skeletons found in the Jordan. His assumptions are not much different from those of George Gray at the beginning of the same century, who stated, “There is, of course, nothing intrinsically improbable in the existence in Ḥebron of three individuals famous for their height,” defining the “historical” sons of Anak as “a class of very tall men, whose height lingered long in the memory of the Hebrews”. Indeed, most biblical scholars are  unable to deal with the fantastic as fantastic when it comes to the story of the giant Anakim in Numbers 13-14.

In a paradoxical turn, those who get this passage right are not the rational experts, but those who deal most bizarrely with biblical texts: biblical conspiracy theorists, children’s books authors, government propagandists, American homeschoolers, and pre-moderns.

We should consult the spinners of fantasy to understand fantasy! Here are examples of each:

1. The biblical conspiracy theorist

Rob Skiba runs the Babylon Rising Blog, which includes a number of detailed pages on The Return of the Nephilim. Rob has helpfully worked out what size a bunch of grapes must be if they need to be carried by two men. From this, Rob has worked out what size the Anakim must be if the gigantic bunch of grapes appears normal to them:

It’s not mere coincidence that God gives us these details to consider. He is showing us connection after connection, helping us to see the “bigger” picture. As I began to realize this, I took a closer look at the grapes. As I did, I saw that the grapes actually confirmed the size of the giants who were eating them! …

Looking at this graphic, we can see that a 6 foot tall man would have no trouble carrying a cluster of grapes scaled to anything smaller than that which a 30 foot giant would have been eating. But much bigger than that, and you can see why it took two men to carry one cluster on a pole! So, the grapes are showing us that these giants were massively huge! And this is a fact that is later confirmed by the prophet Amos who wrote about God describing them as being tall as cedar trees:

Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.

- Amos 2:9 (KJV)

(Rob Skiba, “The Return of the Nephilim”)

2. The children’s book author

In How Do You Feed a Hungry Giant: A Munch-and-Sip Pop-Up Book by Caitlin Friedman, illustrated by Shaw Nielsen, a friendly giant arrives in Oscar’s backyard, asking to be fed. The first thing Oscar gets to feeds the giant is three bunches of grapes. However, this turns out to be grossly inadequate for the giant’s considerable appetite, and the giant eats the three bunches of grapes in “one big gulp”. In a variation on what occurs in Num. 13-14, three normal bunches of grapes fill up Oscar’s hands, but are tiny in the gargantuan hands of the giant:

How Do You Feed a Hungry Giant, by Caitlin Friedman, illustrated by Shaw Nielsen

How Do You Feed a Hungry Giant, by Caitlin Friedman, illustrated by Shaw Nielsen

How Do You Feed a Hungry Giant, by Caitlin Friedman, illustrated by Shaw Nielsen

3. The government propagandist

The Israeli government has been spinning fantasies about the land and its inhabitants for several decades – such as the myth of an “empty land” and the legend of creating paradise out of a desert. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism bases its logo on the spy narrative in Num. 13-14. As might be expected, the grapes are enormous, out-of-proportion to anything which Israeli tourism really has to offer:

Israeli Ministry of Tourism logo

4. The American Homeschooler

My son is working on a project for an upcoming history, art, and science fair for homeschoolers. It’s called the Valley of Eshcol and comes from Numbers 13:23

(Bunny Trails Photography)

I don’t know whether this plasticine study of Numbers 13.23 was classified under history, art, or science. Within the American homeschooling system, I guess that “history” would be probable.

But, that aside, check out this fantastic, gigantic bunch of grapes, and tiny Israelite spies set against enormous trees:

5. The pre-modern

Yeah, ok, I know that modernity brings its own myths and all. But when it comes to the biblical myths, there is a great deal of continuity in mindset until the modern era. As a consequence, pre-moderns tend to take the biblical references to a fantastically large bunch of grapes in either a literal or allegorical (eucharistic, etc) sense. Contrast modern depictions of the grapes of Num 13, which tend to be downsized and made more “realistic”.

In this depiction on a 4th-5thC lamp, the bunch of grapes is even lower than the spies’ feet (which must have made walking difficult):

Insofar as the biblical conspiracy theorist, the children’s book author, government propagandist, American homeschooler, and pre-modern enter into much the same dimension of fantasy as that entered into by the author of Num. 13-14 – wherein giant and human realms exist on vastly different scales - they provide far more insight into the biblical spy narrative than almost every modern biblical commentator.

So – how tall were the Anakim? Far taller than any humans we know of. In the imagination of the author of Num. 13-14, the Anakim were somewhere between 15- and 40-feet tall. Mere humans would have appeared like grasshoppers or gnats beside them.

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13 Comments

Filed under Anakim, Biblical Giants, Children's lit, Conspiracy theorists, Numbers 13-14, War, Violence & Business

13 responses to “How tall were the Giant Anakim? Out with the biblical scholars; in with the biblical conspiracy theorists, children’s books authors, government propagandists, homeschoolers, and pre-moderns!

  1. Paul D.

    Now I’m imagining how big their pomegranates must have been.

    For some reason, I’m also reminded of the kingdom of Prester John, the mythical realm that was thought by medieval Europeans to be home to all kinds of fantastical creatures.

    • Tyrone Slothrop

      They were giant-sized pomegranates and figs, to be sure.

      Prester John’s kingdom is nicked from Pliny and Homer – and Jewish and Christian appropriations of Greek monstrous races – and this is the case, I think, for Num. 13-14 and Deut 2-3. So the resemblance is a tangled one.

  2. Jim

    Definitely an element of the fantastic is pervasive throughout the books of Moses. The huge cluster of grapes and grasshopper comparison is the sort of story that would strike fear into the hearts of lowly goat herders and farmers. Same with the story of the giant king Og’s bed which was 14 feet long. If Og was the height of the Anakims, then the giants in Hebrew lore were 10 to 15 feet tall, and like Goliath, if even remotely based off of real tribes or people exaggerated a liberal 1 or 2 cubits over the retellings of the stories.

    Then again, some grape clusters can weigh 20 lbs, and gigantism in humans can be genetic with guys up to 8 to 9 feet tall — although that is very rare. Who knows, maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, or the stories are complete fabrications written fro political and religious reasons to make the Canaanites look like evil pagan giants who ate the flesh of the land dry… What a fitting way to discredit your enemy and take his land.

    I think the giants story may have had some sort of kernel in reality, I mean the Israelites could have discredited them by calling them savage subhuman pygmies just the same. The Canaanites or Amorites might have had more powerful and taller men than the under nourished Hebrew hill peoples, but that is only my wild speculation.

    • Deane

      About historical kernels, I think if there is one, and this is not necessarily the case, it’s a kernel that already was behind Greek myth. The few references to Giants in ancient Hebrew books are literary derivations, describing peoples who lived long ago, or the remnants of those who lived long ago. This fits well with Greek genealogies which explain that the original inhabitants before the first mortal, Greek settlers were Giants. All of the Giants in the ancient Hebrew books are in layers that are late (e.g. the parentheses in Deut 2, 3; the Anakim in Joshua 14, 15 and Judges 1; and [I say] Num 13). Their most obvious parallel is in the legends of the Greek genealogists and historians, who had already established an ancint historiographic cliche of the autochthonous giant inhabitants. Sure, there could be tall inhabitants of the southern levant who prompted the legend in the Hebrew books, but I think there is already a sufficient reason that is purely literary (at least in its Hebrew literary stage).

      • Jim

        The Hebrew lore of giants may well be a later gloss. Although, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the stories retained a pre Grecian element behind them. The Rephaim seem to be a Syrian Canaanite term dating to the late bronze age, before the Grecian term Gigantes was employed by later writers into the Bible. There is a temple in Syria, Ain Dara which was built by the Canaanites or Hittites about 1100 BC and at the entrance are several carved footprints of a giant or god which are 3 feet long. I think there is ample evidence giant lore existed in Canaan independent of Greek influence, and that much of the old testament dates to the periods of the first kings of Israel, perhaps as early as 900 to 800 BC in some of the Yahwist source material.

      • Deane

        While reliefs, if taken literally, might indicate great height for ancient kings, they might simply figure superior power – as for example on the Bisotun relief from the Achaemenid period. A major limitation of such an argument is that the Ugaritic Rephaim are never portrayed as being especially tall in the texts about them from 1200 BC. So, the rephaim might possibly have been imagined as a taller people, but “ample evidence”? I don’t know of evidence of that nature.

        As for a “Yahwist”, I don’t believe there was one, nor that very much was preserved in the way of older source material when the Bible began to be written in the Persian period.

  3. Jim

    “ample evidence”
    Well, ok “some” evidence of giant lore in Syria-Canaan in the late Bronze age– if there wasn’t any giant lore/mythos why carve 3 foot long footprints in a temple? True point, the Rephaim are not specified as being giants in the Ugaritic texts, although it places their activity close to the region of Bashan mentioned in the Bible as the land of king Og.

    “when the Bible began to be written in the Persian period.” I will have to disagree with you on that, along with many scholars who would disagree that the Bible “began to be written” in this period. Certainly there was redacting and editing of the texts during the Ezra period, but since there were kings of Israel and Judah a few hundred years before the time of Ezra, logically some of them would have had scribes and courts which documented their primitive societies and political histories in early source material the Old Testament would have been based on. I don’t buy the idea that all of Israel’s neighbors were literate during the late bronze- early iron ages, but some how Israel was too primitive to be — yet their Old testament is one of the oldest and few surviving religious and literary documents of that region.

  4. Rob

    For more on Rob Skiba’s take on who the Anakim, how tall they got and where they came from, you can watch this YouTube video – http://youtu.be/hkwWROTullE

  5. Joe Bendez

    The predeluvian race were men of giant stature and intelligent but corrupt! Author Ellen G. White writes that they were more than twice the size of modern man. If the size today ranges from 5-7 feet, imagine 10 to 14 feet in the past, she also wrote that many great invention/knowledge of the past are forever lost!

  6. Jennifer

    Caleb was not the only one- Joshua was spared as well.

    • Deane

      Yes – Joshua is spared but, oddly, in Num 13:30, Caleb acts alone to advocate obeying Yahweh, against all the men who went up with him (13:31; cf. Josh 14:8), who must include Joshua. And so, in Num 14:24, it is specifically only Caleb who is exempted from punishment by being allowed in the land, and who is said to have “a different spirit” from his contemporaries, whereas in Num 14:31, 38, Joshua is inexplicably exempted as well. The inconsistencies have led most scholars to suggest that the mention of Joshua here is a late addition to the text.

  7. wish i had the time to read that much

  8. Ron

    The ancient pre-flood world was much different than that of today. Everything was bigger. The Bible tells us that giants were produced when a fallen angel mated with a daughter of man. In the past, there have been skeletons found as large as 32 feet tall, although all huge skeletons are slated for scientific cover-up and quickly disposed of. So its easy to see some sort of genetic manipulation was going on here…either naturally through the mating of different species(angel/woman) or manually in an ancient test tube. My guess is that the fallen angels were already manually manipulating genetics.Thus the huge grapes for huge appetites! After all, as “angels” they did know the hidden secrets of God. . Today we once again have genetic manipulation going on. Most however is illegal and going on behind closed doors. The nephilim obviously survived the great flood and are still here now(as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be at the coming of the son of man) but they have learned how to keep the size of a human normal… so far anyway. I wonder if they may go big again, for effect? But if so, they’d better upgrade the size of chickens and cows too… or it may be…”lunch on us”!

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