The Next Hunger Games? The Rephaim of The Bone Season

boneseasonThe Bone Season by 21-year-old Samantha Shannon is being widely touted as the next Hunger Games. It’s the first book in a proposed seven-book series:

It’s 2059, and Paige lives in Scion London, an authoritarian police state that seeks to root out clairvoyants — sub-citizens who connect with a spirit realm called the “aether.” As it happens, Paige is a rare and powerful kind of clairvoyant: a dreamwalker, able to enter others’ minds and roam their dreamscapes…. In the opening chapter, her path takes an unexpected turn. Kidnapped and drugged, she wakes to find herself in Oxford, a city that has been hidden for 200 years. Inside its walls lies Sheol I, a penal colony for clairvoyants governed by the Rephaim, an otherworldly and supposedly immortal race.
The Washington Post

These “Rephaim” come from another dimension, in which they are involved in an epic battle against the “Emim”.

Not only that, but the Rephaim are giantish:

The speaker was about six and a half feet tall.Her features were perfectly symmetrical: a long,straight nose, high cheekbones, deep-set eyes fixed in her face. The candlelight ran through her hair and across her burnished skin. She wore black, like the others, but her sleeves and sides were slashed with gold.

“I am Nashira Sargas.” Her voice was cool and low-pitched. “I am the blood-sovereign of the Race of Rephaim.”
The Bone Season

The “Rephaim” appear in a number of parts of the Bible, where they are identified either as the long-dead heroic kings of ancient times, or – in Deuteronomy 2-3 – as entire peoples who used to live in Palestine and surrounding territories before the arrival of the Israelites. The “Emim” also appear in Deut 2:10-11 as the autochthonous inhabitants of Moab, long ago defeated by the Moabites, and as a subset of the Rephaim. In Genesis 14:5, both the Rephaim and Emim are listed as peoples who were defeated in an ancient battle fought against Chedorlaomer and his allied kings. So throughout the Bible, the Rephaim and Emim are currently members of the netherworld.

And in The Bone Season, the Rephaim are also inhabitants of the Netherworld, occasionally visiting a place they call Sheol I (“Sheol” being the Hebrew term for the realm of the dead).


The Book of Genocide: The Destruction of The Zamzummim Giants

The Book of Genocide appears to be a group art project, which ran from January 2010 to April 2010:

The Book of Genocide

One of the biblical genocides they illustrated was “The Destruction of The Zamzummim Giants”:

The Destruction of The Zamzummim Giants - Seamus McArdle
The Destruction of The Zamzummim Giants – Seamus McArdle

And when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, distress them not, nor meddle with them: for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon any possession; because I have given it unto the children of Lot for a possession. (That also was accounted a land of giants: giants dwelt therein in old time; and the Ammonites call them Zamzummims; A people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims; but the LORD destroyed them before them; and they succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead:

Deuteronomy 2:19-21

Illustrated by Seamus McArdle

There are some other interesting genocidal illustrations on the site.

John Darnielle and The Mountain Goats on Giants

John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats
John Darnielle, The Mountain Goats

Each song title on The Mountain Goats’ 2009 album, The Life of the World to Come is named after a Bible verse – usually with a tangential or obscure connection to the song lyrics. The album kicks off with “1 Samuel 15:23”, before moving onto “Psalms 40:2”, “Genesis 3:23” (mp3 here) and so on. A bonus disk even delves into 1 Enoch – a text considered scriptural by early Christians but later falling from canonical grace – with a song titled “Enoch 18:14”. Just in case you weren’t familiar with them, The Mountain Goats are a folk-indie outfit formed in 1991, and were originally John Darnielle’s one-man band. And they’re not CCM.

In an April 2011 article (“What These Cryptic Symbols Mean’: Quotation, Allusion, and John Darnielle’s Biblical Interpretation”, Biblical Interpretation 19.2: 109-128), A.K.M. Adam discusses how the Mountain Goats employ the Bible as “an all-too-human expression of how the world is (and will be), even when the appearances suggest otherwise”.

Some of John Darnielle's earlier work with my cuzzie
Some of John Darnielle's earlier work with my cuzzie

Most excitingly, Adam comments on their song, “Deuteronomy 2:10”, named after a biblical verse which refers to some biblical Giants called Emim. The Bible doesn’t say too much about the Emim except, rather mysteriously yet poignantly, that they had formerly dwelt in Moab.

[Deuteronomy 2:10] reflects on the absoluteness of mortality by focusing on three species of extinct animals (the Tasmanian tiger, the dodo, and the golden toad); in three quiet verses, Darnielle gently drives home the finality of extinction, the loneliness of being the last of one’s kind, whether of vanquished species or a childless family. The song’s title, “Deuteronomy 2:10,” associates these creatures – and the singer – with the Emim, who formerly lived in Ar [a city in Moab], ‘a people great and many, and as tall as the Anakim’…. Deuteronomy 2:10 stands well apart from its biblical precedent…

Indeed, Giants, when they appear in stories, are almost always the remnant of a former age, strangely out of place in the world of humans and belonging properly to either a bygone era or mythical faraway place.

The True Height of Goliath

The major textual witnesses to 1 Samuel 17 give two different heights for Goliath. In some manuscripts of 1 Samuel 17, Goliath is 4½ cubits, which at approximately 18 inches or 45cm per cubit (as general estimates) is 6 feet 8 inches or 2.02 metres. In other textual witnesses, Goliath is 6½ cubits, that is, 9 feet 7 inches or 2.93 metres. Texts in which Goliath’s height is only 4½ cubits are also missing many of the verses found in most modern translations of 1 Samuel 17  (with the notable exception of Codex Alexandrinus) . The missing verses are 1 Samuel 17.12-31 and 55-58, and almost only appear where Goliath’s height is given as 6½ cubits.

The average height of people in this region in the late centuries B.C. was about 3½ cubits (a little over 5 foot). Therefore, 4½ cubits would represent an extremely tall person, as tall as one would ever find, whereas 6½ cubits would represent an inhumanly tall being. In 1 Samuel 17, Goliath is described as a “man” (17.4) who looks for a “man” to fight him (17.10). In context, this probably means a warrior, rather than just any male (which the semantic range of the Hebrew ‘ish sometimes includes) – but it does not represent a superhuman. By contrast, the parallel story about the defeat of Goliath by Elhanan (not David) in 2 Samuel 21.19 comes in a passage that refers to various individuals as Rephaim – a term that is likened to the superhuman Anakim or Giants in Deuteronomy 2. Therefore, it is plausible that when “6½ cubits” (9 feet 7 inches) was written, the scribes may have wished to give the impression that Goliath was a superhuman Giant.

Thom Stark - The Human Faces of God
Thom Stark – The Human Faces of God

In a recent book (The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When it Gets God Wrong (And Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It) (Wipf & Stock, 2010)), Thom Stark makes a series of errors when he explains this textual variant:

According to the DSS and LXX, Goliath was six and a half feet tall, which at the time of David would certainly have been considered a giant stature. Human beings were generally much shorter than they are now. By the time of the Masoretes in the late first millennium C.E., almost two thousand years after the era of Goliath, six and a half feet tall was no longer so impressive. Thus the Masoretes amended the text, adding another three feet to Goliath’s stature, and that is why many Bibles today have Goliath at nine and a half feet tall. See McCarter, 1 Samuel, 286, 291.
(152, no. 1)

First, the “time of David” or “era of Goliath”, if they existed, is irrelevant. The only relevant time or era is the time of composition of these stories, and the object of inquiry is the meaning of a 9¾-foot-tall person. The story was still in development in the late Persian or early Hellenistic periods, as the textual variants between the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSSs), Septuagint (LXX), and proto-Masoretic (MT) manuscripts of 1 Samuel 17 show., as does the doublet in 2 Samuel 21.19. So, the relevant period for measuring average height is ca. 400-200 B.C.

Second, the use of “giant” to describe Goliath is misleading (see also p. 78 of Stark’s book). In a metaphorical sense, he would be considered a “giant”, i.e. an extremely tall person at 6 feet 8 inches tall. But at 9 feet 7 inches, or as a Rapha, Goliath is a “Giant” – that is, from a different race of superhumans. As biblical commentator P. Kyle McCarter – whom Stark cites – writes, Goliath is, metaphorically speaking, “a true giant in an age when a man well under six feet might be considered tall”. However, as McCarter adds, the “exaggeration” to nine feet seven inches is “fantastic” (1 Samuel, 291).

Third, Stark makes a serious error when he claims that the amendment from 4½ cubits to 6½ cubits was made in “the time of the Masoretes in the late first millennium C.E., almost two thousand years after the era of Goliath”, that it was made because average human height had increased by then and “six and a half feet tall was no longer so impressive” (sic), that it was only at this time that “the Masoretes amended the text”, and that this is the reason “why many Bibles today have Goliath at nine and a half feet tall”. Stark is right that the first extant Masoretic manuscripts, which are dated to the late first millennium C.E., read “6½ cubits” for Goliath’s height in 1 Samuel 17.4. But he is quite wrong to claim that the Masoretes were the first to make Goliath’s height 6½ cubits in that verse. In fact, there are textual witnesses from some 800 years earlier, much closer to the witnesses which have “4½ cubits”. Here is a summary of the major variants:

Textual witnesses Provenance Language Approx date Short or long Height
4QSama (DSS) Jewish Hebrew 50 B.C. short 4 1/2 cubits
Josephus, Antiquities 6.171 Jewish Greek A.D. 80 short (used as a source) 4 1/2 cubits
Symmachus (in Origen’s 4th column) Jewish Greek A.D. 200 long 6 1/2 cubits
Vaticanus (LXX) Christian Greek A.D. 300-400 short 4 1/2 cubits
Alexandrinus (LXX) Christian Greek A.D. 400-500 long 4 1/2 cubits
Vulgate Christian Latin A.D. 400 long 6 1/2 cubits
Codex Aleppo Jewish Hebrew A.D. 935 long 6 1/2 cubits
Codex Leningrad Jewish Hebrew A.D. 1010 long 6 1/2 cubits

So the reading of “6½ cubits” goes back at least to Symmachus’s Greek translaton in A.D. 200. Furthermore, as proto-MT texts are widely evident at Qumran (some 35% of biblical texts), the “6½ cubit” reading (associated with the proto-MT Greek manuscript and Vulgate) may well have originated in 400-200 B.C. Stark’s book regularly relies on the date of extant manuscripts as arguments for the priority of readings, whereas this is only one, and not the major, factor in determining “original” readings in textual criticism.

So – what’s the “true” height of Goliath? Well, that depends on which story you like best.