The Book of Giants: Ancient Jewish Literary Creativity beyond the Bible

Slaying Humbaba - by Leonard Greco

Slaying Humbaba – by Leonard Greco

Philip Jenkins has written two useful posts on the Book of Giants, the ancient Jewish work which is found in different versions at Qumran and in Manichaeism.

In his first post, Philip provides a brief introduction to the Book of Giants. In his second post, Philip offers his comments on the significance of the Book of Giants for understanding ancient Judaism, Christianity, Gnosticism, and Manichaeism. In particular, I was interested in Philip’s comments on how the Book of Giants sheds light on the development of ancient Jewish literature. Philip refers to works like the Book of Giants as “fan fiction”:

Religious debate and speculation increasingly took the form of writing new texts and pseudo-scriptures, which took the familiar canonized stories and developed them according to contemporary needs and interests. It is scarcely too much to describe some of these pseudepigraphic and apocryphal works as fan fiction.

He then considers the level of invention involved in composing this “fan fiction”:

Not only are writers developing stories, but they are doing so in amazingly florid form, creating whole new mythologies packed with abundant names and titles. Presumably, some authors are sitting down and inventing these names of demons and giants afresh, while others are taking those and adding their own contributions to the expanding mythos. As we know from modern-day fantasy writers, once that process begins, it rapidly spreads and expands.

This is a good point about the Book of Giants, which bears little resemblance to any biblical passage. In fact, while much of the content shares common material with the Jewish work, the Book of Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36), other parts, such as the names of the giants “Gilgamesh” and “Hunbabis” draw from Babylonian myth. Moreover, the story-line in the Book of Giants, so far as it can be reconstructed from the fragments, introduces some highly original and inventive traditions about the giants. So we can’t accurately categorize Book of Giants as “rewritten Bible”: it neither derives straightforwardly or substantially from biblical traditions nor involves mere “rewriting”, but creatively uses older traditions within a new and original narrative.

Philip’s brief comments complement Eva Mroczek’s view in a recent article published in the Journal of Ancient Judaism, “The Hegemony of the Biblical in the Study of Second Temple Literature”.

Mroczek urges that we seek to appreciate early Jewish literature on its own terms, without assuming that its authors were primarily interested in the texts which later became parts of the Bible. She writes:

The absolute centrality of the biblical is a theological, not a historical axiom: a concern with the biblical in the texts that we study must be shown with evidence, not assumed by default. While the history of the field is a history of people seeking the origins, development, and meaning of these iconic texts, the subjects of our study were not necessarily preoccupied with the same things; they were not marching to the biblical finishing line, but living in a culture whose intellectual, religious, and literary creativity cannot be assimilated into one dominant icon. Recognizing this will help us see Second Temple literature more clearly on its own terms.

Mroczek applies these principles to ancient Jewish David traditions. But they apply well to the Book of Giants, too.

Have a read further:


Filed under 1 Enoch, Ancient Jewish texts, Ancient Mesopotamian, Art, Biblical Giants, Book of Giants, Literature, Painting

Matthew Chrulew on Nephilim (Genesis 6:1-4)

Matthew Chrulew, author of The Angælian Conspiracy

Matthew Chrulew, author of The Angælian Conspiracy

Matthew Chrulew’s short novel The Angælian Conspiracy (Twelfth Planet Press, 2010) reads as though it may have been written as a collaboration between Erich von Däniken (Chariots of the Gods?) and Garth Ennis (Preacher). It’s a fun and clever account of what transpires when the world finds out that the ancient-aliens-in-the-Bible conspiracy theorists were right all along. Chrulew is an ethologist at the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University, where he leads the Posthumanism and Technology research program.

One of the highlights of The Angælian Conspiracy is this summary of Genesis 6:1-4, in the mouth of one of the main characters, Miguel:

“I’m sure they’ve gone through the regular scriptures with you: Ezekiel 1, Matthew 24, Revelation 4. But did they mention Genesis 6? The flood? The Nephilim, Joke [Joachim]. Did they mention them? It’s all there in the Bible: how the sons of God fucked the daughters of men and their kids busted arse all over the joint. Giant freaks, Joke. That’s why there was the flood: once they were around, God in His holiness had to do it, to purge those unholy powerful motherfuckers….

“The angælians almost got what they wanted that time, Joke. All of the Earth was wiped out – except for Noah and his crew. God decided to save a human remnant – and I bet that mightily pissed them off. So this time – this time they mean for him to take out the whole lot. That’s the Cherubim’s real plan, Joke. To cross-breed mongrel Neo-nephilim so when Jesus comes in divine judgement he can’t help but get all wrathful on our corrupt and violent arses…

“They’ve been jealous ever since we were created, ever since Lucifer was first banished to this star system. They want their favourite spot back, right next to the big guy. And so they mingle with the seed of men, manipulate the races, just like it says in Daniel 2.”

The idea that demonic seed has corrupted the human lineage is widely discussed in ancient alien lit, such as in the works of Zecharia Sitchin.

The idea that Lucifer/Satan/’Azaz’el was jealous of God’s creation of humanity, and conversely that the angels resented their resulting loss of status, may be found in ancient interpretations of Genesis 6:1-4, such as the Life of Adam and Eve (12-16) and Questions of Bartholomew 4.53-57.


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Filed under Biblical Giants, Books on Giants, Conspiracy theorists, Cryptozoology, Fantasy and Sci-fi, Genesis 6.1-4, Literature, Nephilim, Novels

Because “On the Shoulders of Giants” Seemed Cliche?

wiseIn the Acknowledgments section of his recent book, Language and Literacy in Roman Judaea: A Study of the Bar Kokhba Documents (Yale Press, May 2015), Michael Wise thanks those who have gone before him in this area of scholarly research.

Yet Michael Wise does not resort to the hackneyed phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” in order to describe his reliance on the insights of prior researchers. Instead, he offers the following acknowledgment:

Every scholar is well aware that in almost any area of research we enter as grasshoppers a land formerly (and sometimes presently) indwelt by Anakim. (p. x)

That’s very big of Michael Wise.


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Filed under Anakim, Numbers 13-14

Were the men of Sodom into Sodomy?

Sex Between Men

In my Sodomite Challenge, I argued that there is not just one double entendre in Genesis 19:5 but two. One of these double entendres is widely ‘known’. The men of Sodom employ the sexually charged verb ידע (‘to know’, ‘to have sex with’, etc) when they demand to receive the two men or angels staying the night at Lot’s house. The same sexual connotation is even more clearly present in the description of Lot’s two daughters, in Genesis 19:8.

In addition, I argued that there is an earlier sexual double entendre in the verse: the use of the phrase באו אליך הלילה, literally “they [who] came to you [ie. to Lot] tonight”, or to give it its ambiguous sexual connotation, “[the men who] gained entry to you”. On this reading, the men of Sodom believed that Lot had invited the two men/angels into his house, under the cover of night, in order to have sex with them. Why would they presume such a thing? At the very least, we might conclude that there was some presumption that male inhabitants of Sodom, of whom Lot was one, were having sex with other men. And the men of Sodom wanted some of that.

If “[the men who] gained entry to you” in Genesis 19:5a is a double entendre, sex between men must be at the centre of the sin and wickedness which the narrative alleges was being carried out in Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-21; 19:7, 13). This is not to say that sex between men is the sum of the sinfulness of Sodom. Genesis 18:20-21 together with Ezekiel 16:46-50 suggest that Sodom had a reputation for wickedness that was “not reducible to a single act of sin” (Lyons, Canon and Exegesis, p. 235). All I am claiming is that the narrative in Genesis 19:1-11 makes sex between men the special exemplar of this proverbially wicked city.

There has been an attempt in recent scholarship to downplay or even deny the role of sex in the sin of Sodom. Instead, recent scholarship has emphasized other grounds, in particular the gross breach of hospitality against Lot’s two guests. For example:

the Genesis 19 account specifically does not fix the blame upon homosexuality but upon the failure of the Sodomites to honor the law regarding the required hospitality to strangers
– J. Harold Ellens, Sex in the Bible: A New Consideration, p. 114

this biblical story can quite properly be read as having nothing to do with homosexuality
– M. Warner, “Were the Sodomites Really Sodomites?”, p. 9

Sometimes the motif of hospitality is defended with reference to the account of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19, in which male-male sex is not an issue. Yet such a defence of the sin of Sodom as hospitality depends on (1) the priority of the story in Judges 19; (2) the direction of dependence from Judges 19 to Genesis 19; and (3) an assumption of the close correspondence of the contexts, meanings, and themes of both accounts, rather than any significant rewriting of the tradition that might change its significance. All of these, in particular the third, are highly contestable.

I do not want to contest the fact that the men of Sodom’s threat of violence towards two guests – their gross inhospitality toward strangers – is a part of the gross sinfulness of Sodom and grounds for its destruction. But the presence of a second double entendre in Genesis 19, in the phrase באו אליך הלילה, puts sex between men back at the centre of that “inhospitality”.

The sin of Sodom (and Gamorrah) is only alluded to at first in Genesis 18:20-21. But this sinful reputation of Sodom is explicated in Genesis 19.5a, in particular, by their expectation that Lot had been having sex with the two men. The sin of sex between men is then developed when the men of Sodom demand to get some of what they believe Lot is getting (Genesis 19:5b-9). The Sodomites’ presumption that Lot was having sex with the two men, together with their subsequent demand for sex with the two men, put same-sex intercourse at the centre of the sin of Sodom.

There has been a strategy in liberal Christian biblical interpretation, in recent decades, to draw out, to highlight, to emphasise the ambiguities of any text which might portray same-sex intercourse in a negative light. This applies not only to Genesis 19, but to all of the Old and New Testament texts trotted out in these often heated discussions. That such texts have been used by less liberal Christians as a way to clobber gays and lesbians has, of course, provided the impetus for such complexifying interpretations. But such a strategy may have obscured the (same-)sexual connotations which I argue are indeed present in Genesis 19:5a. Liberal sensitivity to the damaging effects of more conservative interpretation and contemporary use of Genesis 19 has obscured the centrality of same-sex intercourse to Genesis 18-19’s polemics against the sin of Sodom.


Filed under Angels, Biblical Giants' relatives

The Sodomite Challenge: How to Translate Genesis 19:5

Recently there was a (sometimes heated) discussion about the translation of Genesis 19:5, on a new Facebook group, the Annual Meeting Hotel Lobby: An Unofficial SBL/AAR Member Group.

Genesis 19:5 occurs in the middle of the unusual story about two  men (also described as angels) who stay the night at Lot’s house, in the city of Sodom.

The two angels (Genesis 19)

The two angels (Genesis 19)

The Hebrew MT of Genesis 19:5 reads as follows:

וַיִּקְרְא֤וּ אֶל־לוֹט֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְרוּ ל֔וֹ אַיֵּ֧ה הָאֲנָשִׁ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֥אוּ אֵלֶ֖יךָ הַלָּ֑יְלָה הוֹצִיאֵ֣ם אֵלֵ֔ינוּ וְנֵדְעָ֖ה אֹתָֽם

The JPS translates the verse like this:

And they shouted to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that they may be intimate with them.”

The Living Bible goes for the more direct route:

[the men of the city—yes, Sodomites] … shouted to Lot, “Bring out those men to us so we can rape them.”

The translation of this verse raises interesting questions about the rendition of Hebrew double entendres in English translation, and about translation more generally. The Hebrew text of Gen 19:5 contains two probable double entendres, which are both used to describe sexual intercourse.

1. The most obvious double entendre is the use of the verb ידע, which has a variety of meanings, including “to know”, but also “to have sex with”, ie. have carnal knowledge of. The Hebrew verb has been translated very mildly in JPS as “we may be intimate [with them]”, but very explicitly as “we can rape [them]” in the Living Bible. The double entendre (although inherently ambiguous) is made clear by Lot’s subsequent offer of his two daughters as sexual substitutes for the two men/angels in Gen 19:8, and their description of the two daughters as those “who have not known [ידע] a man”.

2. The less obvious double entendre is the use of the phrase באו אליך הלילה, literally “they [who] came to you tonight”, spoken by the men of Sodom to Lot, about the two men/angels who came to Lot’s house in Sodom.  As in Genesis 16:2, the phrase could also refer to “they [who] went into you [Lot]”, ie. “they who had sex with you [Lot]”. The presence of a double entendre is supported by the description of this “entering” occurring at night (הלילה) and by the double entendre that follows concerning the crowd’s desire to “know/have sex with” the two men/angels.

So the story of Sodom in Genesis 19 evokes three types of sexual intercourse, none of which actually occur, but which are only spoken about.

  • First, the crowd infer that Lot had been having sex intercourse with the two men/angels by night (Gen 19:5a);
  • Second, the crowd of men demand sexual intercourse between them and the two men/angels, and (Gen 19:5b);
  • Three, Lot offers his two daughters for sexual intercourse with the crowd of men (Gen 19:8).

But no actual sexual intercourse takes place until, in a surprising twist, Lot has sex with his two daughters (Gen 19:30-38).

With the exception of the imagined sexual intercourse between Lot and the two men/angels, each of the other three descriptions of sexual intercourse (described or actual) involves rape: the rape of the two men/angels by the crowd of men from Sodom; the rape of Lot’s two daughters by the crowd of men from Sodom; the rape of Lot by his two daughters.

It’s a nasty little story. But I find myself agreeing with the suggestion of “Tom Wrong” that – despite the explicitly violent sexual intercourse (rape) attempted in Gen 19:5 and proposed in Gen 19:8 – the double entendres in Gen 19:5 are best rendered  in a manner that retains their ambiguity while making clear their decidedly seedy  and sordid character. Make no mistake, the story is brutal, violent, and patriarchal in the most extreme sense. So there is a good argument to make this clear, by translating the demand in Gen 19:5 in the most explicit way. On the other hand, a more muted yet sordid translation might have a similar effect, while more closely rendering the inherent ambiguity of the double entendres. So I adopt Tom Wrong’s translation:

And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who gained entry to you tonight? Bring them to us, so that we may experience them.”

– Genesis 19:5 (tr. Tom Wrong)

But how would you translate this verse? And for what reasons? Do you even think that there are two double entendres in Gen 19:5? I tag the following bloggers, to see how they would translate MT Gen 19:5 in a way that does justice both to its content and its form:

Robert Cargill, Cláudia Andréa Prata FerreiraJim LinvilleJim West, JK Gayle, Caroline Blyth, Roland Boer

See also: “Were the men of Sodom into Sodomy?Remnant of Giants


Filed under Angels, Biblical Giants' relatives

Django Django – Giant

Shrug your shoulders at the people who have done you wrong
Walking about the crowded street
The ones you love ten thousand feet

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Filed under Music

The Slacktivist on the Different versions of David & Goliath

Fred Clark (The Slacktivist)

Fred Clark (The Slacktivist)

The Slacktivist (Fred Clark) continues to examine Goliath.

In his latest post, Fred examines the various versions of the David and Goliath story – not only its various modern film versions, children’s books, Sunday School lessons, etc, but also the different versions which exist within the Bible.

Have a read of his post here.

Also have a look at some earlier posts on this topic on Remnant of Giants.

On the different versions within the Bible:

Illustrating The Benefits of Pentateuchal Literary Criticism: The David and Goliath Story

Scott Derrickson’s Goliath: Respecting the Original

A Beginner’s Guide to Biblical Scholarship – by Jennifer Bird

On modern versions:

A David and Goliath Musical for Children on DVD

The David and Goliath Segment of The History Channel’s The Bible

Q Magazine’s comics reviewer Colin Smith reviews Tom Gauld’s Goliath

Bollywood does David and Goliath

When Goliath was in Ireland: “Dáithí agus Goliath”

David and Goliath as lovers in Caravaggio, Paul Cadmus, Charlie White, Matthew Stone, and David Dalla Venezia

Black Goliath – Bigger than The Brown Hornet


Filed under 1 Samuel 17, 2 Samuel 21 and 23, Children's lit, Goliath