“We might fill volumes with the history of the remains of pretended giants found in ancient tombs. The books, in fact, which exist formed a voluminous literature in the middle ages – its title gigantology.”
- Louis Figuier, The World Before the Deluge (London: Chapman and Hall, 1865), 341
As late as 1878 the Encyclopedia Britannica’s “Giants” entry carefully weighed arguments for and against the historicity of Giants—only cautiously concluding their non-existence. But whether they existed or not, the Giants of the Bible – including Goliath, King Og, the Rephaim, the Nephilim, and the Anakim – continue to leave deep footprints in our contemporary landscape.
Remnant of Giants examines the reception, use and effects of the Giants mentioned in the Bible – the Rephaim, Nephilim, Gibborim, Anakim, etc, who once stood tall in the the imaginary land of “Israel” and in the lands of her nearest neighbours, Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia.
“Why giants?” It doesn’t much matter what seemingly minor detail of culture with which one begins, for – if examined closely – any such detail will provide a starting point to unveil the entire structure of hopes, fears, values, and power within that culture. Or as Clifford Geertz once said:
The culture of a people is an ensemble of texts, themselves ensembles, which the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom they properly belong. There are enormous difficulties in such an enterprise, methodological pitfalls to make a Freudian quake, and some moral perplexities as well. Nor is it the only way that symbolic forms can be sociologically handled. Functionalism lives, and so does psychologism. But to regard such forms as “saying something of something” and saying it to somebody, is at least to open up the possibility of an analysis which attends to their substance rather than to reductive formulas professing to account for them.
As in more familiar exercises in close reading, one can start anywhere in a culture’s repertoire of forms and end up anywhere else. One can stay, as I have here, within a single, more or less bounded form and circle steadily within it. One can move between forms in search of broader unities of informing contrasts. One can even compare forms from different cultures to define their character in reciprocal relief. But whatever the level at which one operates, and however intricately, the guiding principle is the same: societies, like lives, contain their own interpretations. One has only to learn how to gain access to them.
- Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1973), 452-453 (emphasis added).
Although the Bible refers to giants in a few brief and often obscure passages, they serve as an arbitrary but enormously fascinating point of entry into much wider issues and discussions.
P.S. The picture in the header is by R. Crumb, The Book of Genesis Illustrated (New York and London: WW Norton, 2009), and illustrates Genesis 6.1.