Hero in Epic, Hero in Cult: The Rephaim and the Narrative Sublimation of Heroic Dualities in the Hebrew Bible

Brian R. Doak, Gigantologist
Brian R. Doak, Gigantologist

Here’s a very interesting  paper on Giants presented recently at the New England and Eastern Canada Region of the SBL. And I think the authors are precisely right. The paper appears to demonstrate the benefit of the recent shift away from examining the Hebrew Bible in terms of ancient Near Eastern and Ugaritic “parallels” (in the parallelomania sense) which can sometimes precede the biblical texts by a millennium, to an examination of the Hebrew Bible within its actual Greco-Persian context. I must ask Brian if he’ll slip me a copy…

Brian R. Doak and John T. Noble, Harvard University
Hero in Epic, Hero in Cult: The Rephaim and the Narrative Sublimation of Heroic Dualities in the Hebrew Bible
29 April  2011,
Andover-Newton Theological School

In this paper, we explore difficult questions surrounding the dual identity of certain groups of giants in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Nephilim, Rephaim, and some Gibborim) that are identified, on the one hand, as inhabitants of a shadowy netherworld or a distant, mythic past, and, on the other, as mundane (even if giant) mortal inhabitants of the land of Canaan before, during, and after the arrival of the Israelites. We argue that the oddly bifurcated presentation of these groups is more complex and interesting than previous interpreters have recognized. These seemingly disparate portrayals of the Gibborim, Rephaim, Nephilim, and others can, we contend, be read in a holistic manner as heroic, epic phenomenon in ancient Israel that correspond to the treatment of heroic culture elsewhere in the Mediterranean world, specifically in archaic and classical Greece. To this end, we re-examine materials related to the Og and Rephaim traditions (as well as some aspects of the Nephilim and Anaqim question), and argue that the more developed pattern of epic formulation regarding heroes and hero cults in the Greek context also underlies the dual presentation of these groups in the Hebrew Bible. We do not offer a comprehensive answer regarding the identity of the Rephaim in any given period, nor are we choosing sides amongst the many and competing attempts to view the Rephaim as either living or dead. Rather, we contend that the dual identity of the biblical Rephaim as both living, giant warriors and as denizens of the underworld is in fact grounded in a duality of heroic existence that had broad currency in the Mediterranean world and which found expression in ancient Israel as well as in the ancient Aegean context.

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