Og the Giant’s Memoirs now on Chabad.org

King Og of Bashan has written down his life experiences, and they appear on Chabad.org!

I have lived a long life, and it is difficult to remember all that I have experienced. I am forever indebted to the Jewish people for being so diligent in their note-taking and for making sure that history is not forgotten. My story can be pieced together from accounts recorded in their texts, both in the written Torah, as well as in the collection of teachings known as the Midrash.

Shaul Wolf (not King Og)
Shaul Wolf (not King Og)

You can have a read of Og’s memoirs here. It seems that Chabad.org staff writer Shaul Wolf has helped him compile his memoirs from Genesis, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Genesis Rabbah, Targums Jonathan and Onkelos, the Talmud, Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, Nahmanides (Ramban), Samuel ben Meir (Rashbam), Maimonides (Rambam), Abraham ibn Ezra, Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), Daat Zekeinim and Baal HaTurim.

Minimalism in History (1) – Ibn Ezra’s Twelfth-Century Minimalism based on King Og’s Bed

Earlier this year, Peter Enns published The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins (Brazos Press, 2012). The aim of the book is to give Christian believers different ways to accept both the scientific fact of evolution and the Christian doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, in light especially of recent controversies. As Greg Dawes argues, the attempt to reconcile evolution and the Bible cannot be justified without radically – if not tendentiously – revising traditional Christian doctrines. Yet the existential-religious need to retain faith without abandoning the best-supported findings of mainstream science means that Enns will attract what is a potentially a very large audience for his attempt to harmonise the “magisteria” of science and faith.

In the first chapter, Enns discusses two pre-modern interpreters – one Christian and one Jewish – who recognised that the “books of Moses” could not be written entirely by Moses: Jerome and Abraham Ibn Ezra.

Back in the fourth century AD, the Church Father Jerome was troubled by the fact that Deuteronomy 34.6 narrates Moses’s death (p. 15). This is strange given the traditional attribution of the book to Moses (although Deuteronomy itself attributes only the great core of Deuteronomy to the direct speech of Moses, not the whole book). In addition, Jerome recongised that the clause in that verse, “but no one knows his burial place to this day” must have been written a while after the death of Moses. Jerome concluded that Deut. 34.6 (at least) referred to the time of Ezra, in the Persian Period of the 400s BC. This makes Jerome, the Church Father, something of a minimalist – at least by the standards of North American apologists such as Ian Provan, Philips Long, and Tremper Longman.

The Evolution of AdamThe twelfth-century Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra referred to a number of problems with Deuteronomy which imply it was written by an author other than Moses – and Enns sets these out on p. 16 of The Evolution of Adam. One of these concerns the reference to the giant King Og of Bashan:

According to Deuteronomy 3.11, the nine-cubit-long bed of iron of Og king of Bashan “can still be seen in Rabbah”. This sounded to Ibn Ezra like an explanation for an ancient relic. He attributed this comment to the time of David, who conquered the city (2 Sam. 12.30).

By twelfth-century standards, attributing words from one of the books of Moses to the time of David must have constituted gross minimalism. Whoever were the twelfth century equivalent of the Westminster Theological Seminary must have been baying for Ibn Ezra’s blood at the time. Today, of course, things have moved on, and attributing the Pentateuch to a period as early as the eleventh or tenth century BC is no longer feasible. But we have got to that conclusion by standing on the shoulders of giants such as Jerome and Ibn Ezra.

A New Book of Poems about King Og: Looking Out From Bashan: The Republic of Og, by Mark Reid

Mark Reid - Looking Out From Bashan: The Republic of Og
Mark Reid – Looking Out From Bashan: The Republic of Og

New from Fremantle Press in 2012 is a collection of poems which interacts with the story of King Og of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3.1-13; Numbers 21.33-35):

Looking Out From Bashan: The Republic of Og, by Mark Reid.

Cool: a whole book of poems about Og!

That’s 77 poems about Og!!

Mark Reid, Looking Out From Bashan - Contents

One of Mark Reid’s poems deals with a topic that is not in any of the giant narratives in the Bible or other early Jewish writings. The topic is the extreme foetal dystocia which a mortal “daughter of man” must suffer when giving birth to a gigantic child fathered by an angelic “son of god”. I’ve not seen this mentioned in any of the studies on the birth of giants, either – but here it is in Mark Reid’s poem, “The Mother of Og”:

Mark Reid, "The Mother of Og"

Get your collection of Og poems here.

Or get it from the Dutch, who have listed it somewhat oddly as “Erotica”. Maybe macrophilia is a big thing in the Netherlands, I don’t know.

The Origin of the Giant King Og of Bashan

While some people make a name for themselves, in the case of Og, it may be that the name created the person.

Deuteronomy 3.11 describes King Og of Bashan as ‘the last of the remnant of the Rephaim’ and notes that he is buried in a sarcophagus nine by four cubits in size (13 1/2 by 6 feet). Deuteronomy 1.4 describes King Og as reigning in two cities, Ashteroth and Edrei. In addition, a Ugaritic text from about 1200 B.C. (KTU 1.108) states that another member of the Rephaim (or as they said in Ugaritic, a member of the Rapiˀuma) reigned at Ashteroth and Edrei (or Athtarat and Hedrey). Again, an early fifth-century B.C. tomb inscription from the Phoenician city of Byblos (Byblos 13) summons ‘the Og’ against anybody who would disturb the dead person’s remains.

Gregorio del Olmo Lete follows a fairly widespread understanding when he posits a three-stage development in the traditions about Og: 1. a ‘mythical ideological framework’ was developed at Ugarit concerning the Rephaim; 2. a ‘historical’ record was composed in the Hebrew Bible; and 3. a mythological transformation of the historical Og took place in Phoenicia.

But a couple of factors suggest, to the contrary, that the purportedly real King Og of Deut. 3 was a development from the general title ‘og’. First, the only etymology of ‘Og’ which makes sense of his association with the warriors of the Rephaim is, as Chaim Rabin suggested, something similar to the South Semitic ǵwg, meaning ‘man’ or ‘man of valour’. Thus, ‘Og’ is not a personal name but a title of a Canaanite king. It is similar to other titles of the Ugaritic and Canaanite kings which emphasise their manhood par excellence, and thus their strength and military prowess: e.g., ish, amēlu, mt (Del Olmo Lete, ‘Los nombres “divinos”‘, 257-66). Second, the Phoenician tomb inscription Byblos 13 has a definite article before ‘Og’, making its interpretation as a personal name unlikely. It is more likely that the invocation is of ‘the og’, referring to some powerful being who could deal to anybody who desecrated a grave. (Yet note that there is some debate about the transcription and translation of hʿg, originally by Jean Starcky, ‘Une inscription Phénicienne de Byblos’, 1969.) Third, Byblos 13 parallels other tomb inscriptions (KAI 13.8 [the Tabnith inscription] and KAI 14.8  [the Eshmunazzar sarcophagus]) which also summon powerful beings to deal with desecrators of graves, except that the beings are the Rephaim (rpum). The Rephaim and the og are to some extent interchangeable on these Phoenician tomb inscriptions! Therefore, ‘the og’ might be interpreted as a powerful warrior and member of the Rephaim – all qualities which fit with the biblical King Og, except that the general noun ‘og’ has become a proper name, ‘Og’.

A weakness of Del Olmo Lete’s proposed tradition-historical development is that it provides a progression from myth to history to myth. More parsimonious and having the support of the factors listed above is a progression from a mythical early king and member of the Rephaim who is long dead but continues to exercise some power in the netherworld (including gravesites) to a ‘historicised’ or ‘euhemerised’ character believed to have the name ‘Og’ rather than the title of ‘og’, who is made a king in Ashteroth and Edrei and a member of the Rephaim.

The likelihood, therefore, is that Og’s name preceded his invention, in the Bible, as a person.

Updates:

1. Note the interesting comment in the comments section below by Chaim HaQoton: “the notion that Og was a title for the Bashanite King is already found in Medieval Rabbinic literature, see Daat Zeqanim [דעת זקנים] to Genesis 24:39”.

2. Jim Davila (Paleojudaica) comments on this proposal for the origin of Og, on his blog, that “something like that sounds plausible to me”.

The Brick Testament: Old Testament Collection (Genesis-Kings) to be Published

The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old TestamentFor years, The Brick Testament has entertained us with its online portrayal of biblical stories, lovingly recreated with Lego bricks and figurines. Now, the entire Genesis-Kings collection is to be published in book form. Brendan Powell Smith’s The Brick Bible: A New Spin on the Old Testament (Skyhorse Publishing) will be available from 1 October 2011:

Brendan Powell Smith has spent the last decade creating nearly 5,000 scenes from the bible—with Legos. His wonderfully original sets are featured on his website, Bricktestament.com, but for the first time 1,500 photographs of these creative designs—depicting the Old Testament from Earth’s creation to the Books of Kings—are brought together in book format. The Holy Bible is complex; sometimes dark, and other times joyous, and Smith’s masterful work is a far cry from what a small child might build. The beauty of The Brick Bible is that everyone, from the devout to nonbelievers, will find something breathtaking, fascinating, or entertaining within this collection. Smith’s subtle touch brings out the nuances of each scene and makes you reconsider the way you look at Legos—it’s something that needs to be seen to be believed.

Publisher’s blurb

No doubt, there will be Giants, as the Bible is full of them… including Ishbi-Benob, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels,and who was killed by one of David’s mighty men, Abishai:

And King Og of Bashan:

Og of Bashan

And Goliath:
Goliath
And the Anakim:

Anakim

And of course, there are the Nephilim, who came down to the Earth to have sexual intercourse with women, and – in Powell’s interpretation, apparently – made them peform oral sex on their angelic members:

Nephilim

The age of King Og at the time of his death

Tanzanian correspondent “chamshama” wrote in to Remnant of Giants with a query:

I want to know the age of King Og At the time of his death.

And I’m sure that many of our readers do too, chamshama!

In Deut. 3.1-11 there is an account of a battle in which Israel, under the leadership of Moses, takes on the people of Bashan, who are led by King Og, “the last of the remnant of the Rephaim”.

Og, riding gaily on the unicorn behind the Ark
Og, riding gaily on the unicorn behind the Ark – in Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends by Aunt Naomi (Gertrude Landa)

In the book of Deuteronomy, the Rephaim are identified as exceedingly tall, that is, as Giants. Deuteronomy 1.28 relates that there were Giants who were resident in the Cisjordan, called Anakim, who lived there before the Israelite conquest, and who were discovered by the Israelite spies sent by Moses to scout out the land. Deuteronomy 2.11 considers the Anakim to be Rephaim. In addition, Deuteronomy holds that Israel’s neighbouring countries were also inhabited by races of Rephaim before settled by their human inhabitants. So, Deut. 2.11-12 and 20-21 describe Giant residents living in Moab and Ammon – called “Emim” and “Zamzummim” – who also lived there before the Moabites and Ammonites respectively, and who are also referred to as Rephaim. The description of the Anakim in Deut. 1.28 seems to reflect the parallel account in Numbers 13.28b, 33. Yet Num. 13.33 adds the additional information that these Anakim were “from the Nephilim”. This description links to Genesis 6.1-4, the only other place in the Old Testament where the Nephilim are mentioned, and which describes the descent of these mysterious divine creatures, Nephilim or “sons of god(s)”, to earth, where they interbred with the “daughters of men”, producing “mighty men” of ancient times.

It is not clear whether Deuteronomy considers each and every one of these Rephaim, Anakim, Emim, Zamzummim, mighty men (gibborim), etc to be the Giant offspring of the heavenly Nephilim. The passages in Deuteronomy which mention the Rephaim are too brief to offer us any certainty on the matter. However, that does seem to be a plausible explanation, given the way Deuteronomy tends to associate all the Giant races together and appears to be aware of the spy narrative in Numbers 13. That is, in the view of Deuteronomy, it appears that all of these Giant races seem to have been created by an extraordinary mating between Nephilim and human women.

So how old was King Og at his death? There are a few options.

As the story in Gen. 6.1-4 occurs immediately before the Great Flood, some have suggested that King Og – who is described as one of the Rephaim – must have been born from this encounter between Nephilim and human women. Therefore, King Og would have lived from before the flood, until the conquest of the Transjordan under Moses. Using the famous biblical chronology by Bishop Ussher (just because it’s famous, not because it is all that accurate or even at all legitimate these days) the Flood may be assigned to 2349 BC and the Conquest in 1451 BC. Therefore, if King Og had been born before the flood, he was at least 898 years old!

However, Genesis 6.4 notes that those randy Nephilim were on the earth not only in the days of Noah, but “also afterward”. So it is alternatively possible that King Og was born to a postdeluvian divine-human sexual encounter. In which case, King Og could have been born any time between the end of the Flood and the Conquest, which would make him no more than 897 years old, and possibly much younger.

A third possibility is that King Og was considered the offspring not directly of Nephilim, but of other Rephaim. Passages such as Num. 13.28 and Josh. 15.13-14 describe lineages of Anakim (who Deuteronomy consider to be Rephaim), which suggests that they were thought of as having families of their own following the initial sexual intercourse between Nephilim and human women. If this is the case, Deut. 3.11a might indicate that King Og was the last of a genealogy of rulers which ultimately claim a divine father who mated with a human mother: “only King Og of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim”. Or does it merely mean that King Og was the last of his kind? Again, this is not entirely clear.

So, how old was King Og at his death? The Old Testament does not say. Yet there is a persistent interpretive tradition, visible in later rabbinic accounts, which dates King Og to antedeluvian times, in an attempt to harmonize the biblical accounts of pre-flood Giants in Gen. 6.1-4 with the reports of Giants still alive at the time of the Israelite Conquest.  On Bishop Ussher’s chronology, this would make King Og at least 898 years old at the time of his death. Yet, the harmonization is not entirely necessary, if King Og was the last in a long line of Rephaim not destroyed by the Flood, or the product of a postdeluvian sexual encounter between Nephilim and mortal women. In this case, the author of Deut. 3.11 may have understood King Og as no older than the age of mortal men.

How tall were the biblical giants? Comparative height chart

Ordinary Ancient Jewish Guy versus Goliath (per the Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Josephus), Goliath (per Symmachus, the Vulgate, and the Masoretic Text), and King Og of Bashan
Ordinary Ancient Jewish Guy versus Goliath (per the Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, and Josephus), Goliath (per Symmachus, the Vulgate, and the Masoretic Text), and King Og of Bashan

Notes:

  • The height of Goliath varies between the various witnesses (manuscripts) to 1 Samuel 17.4 – between 4 1/2 and 6 1/2 cubits (even coming in at 5 1/2 cubits in one witness).
  • Deuteronomy 3.11 only offers us the length of King Og’s coffin (which, due to uncertainty in translation, could possibly alternatively refer to his bed). So, we might expect that the giant lying inside the coffin is about a cubit shorter than the 9-cubit coffin itself, or 8 cubits.
  • There was no standard measure for a cubit (the measure of a forearm) or a span (the measure of a spread hand width). So, I have estimated that 1 cubit = 45 cm, and that a span is half that.

See also: “The True Height of Goliath”