Gili Kugler on Caleb the Giant-Slayer

CalebFaithDr Gili Kugler (the University of Sydney) has recently written an article in which she discusses the different biblical traditions about Caleb’s involvement in the spy mission to Hebron and the eventual conquest of Hebron.

Gili Kugler, “Who Conquered Hebron? Apologetic and Polemical Tendencies in the Story of Caleb in Josh 14,” Vetus Testamentum 67 (2017): 570-580.

In the Bible, there are a number of inconsistent narratives about the spy expedition and conquest of Hebron/the southern Judean hill country. These narratives provide different identifications of:

  • The leader of the conquest: either Joshua (Joshua 11.21-22), or Caleb (Joshua 15.13-14), or Caleb after being allocated the land by Joshua, who now allocates land not yet conquered (Joshua 14.6-15), or the army of Judah (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The time of the conquest: either as part of Joshua’s conquest of the whole land (Joshua 11.21-22), or after the conquest of the whole land, as one of the areas still to be conquered in the second half of Joshua (Joshua 14.6-15; 15.13-14), or after the death of Joshua (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The inhabitants who were killed: either the Anakim (Joshua 11.21-22), the Anakim who lived in great fortified cities as we saw the giants identified in Numbers 13 (Joshua 14.12), or the three sons of Anak: Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai (Joshua 15.14), or the “Canaanites”, Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai (Judges 1.9-10);
  • The ethnicity of Caleb: a Kenizzite (Joshua 14.6-15; 15.13-14 – ‘son of Kenaz’), or part of Judah, or at least allied with Judah (Judges 1; as in Numbers 13).

Despite all these varied traditions, they all display a number of shared themes, characters, and geography – which makes it likely that we are dealing with related traditions.

So how do we account for the way these traditions developed? Scholars have usually dated the Caleb tradition as the earliest of the traditions, being placed into a pan-Israelite conquest involving Joshua. Kugler points out, though, that Joshua 14.6-15 appears to be a later supplement, interrupting the flow in Joshua 14 (and the land allocation to Judah), and also aware of Joshua 11 and its claim that the conquest of Hebron resulted in rest for the land as a whole.

Kugler views Joshua 14.6-15 as serving two apologetic purposes: (1) it justifies Kenizzite settlement and even integration into Judea, and (2) it disputes the idea that Joshua led the whole conquest, transferring the victory to Caleb the Kenizzite. She concludes that “Josh 14:6ab-15 can be viewed as a late formation in the Book of Joshua, responding to and disputing the pro-Joshuaic agenda found in the Deuteronomistic framework of the book” (p. 574). For Kugler, although Joshua 14.6-15 is directly dependent on Deuteronomy 1, it adds the detail that Caleb is a Kennizite, a detail not present in the Deuteronomistic source of the text.

This being the case, argues Kugler, the summary in Joshua 14.14, “So Hebron became the inheritance of Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite to this day” gives us a clue about the historical context in which a non-Judean was portrayed as having the right to the city of Hebron. Kugler points to the Edomite connections of the clan of Kenaz (Genesis 31.11, 15, 42; 1 Chronicles 1.36, 53), and suggests that Joshua 14.6-15 was added during the time of Edomite settlement in southern Judah before the exile. Joshua 14.6-15 therefore justifies Edomite settlement and lessens Joshua’s role in the conquest of all Israel.

It’s a fairly nicely worked-out possible solution – but it also has some problems.

  1. Joshua 14 knows both the all-Israel tradition in Joshua 11 and the Caleb-alone tradition in Numbers 13, where Caleb gets fully behind God (i.e. wholeheartedly follows God). The latter is a statement from the near-final form of Numbers 13 (often termed the ‘Priestly’ or ‘post-Priestly’ layer, but final form will do) . Joshua 14 also interrupts the ‘Priestly’ land allocation in the second half of Joshua. So how can we place Joshua 14.6-15 in the pre-exilic period, if it is post-Priestly? That seems highly unlikely.
  2. Moreover, Edom continues to have significant control over the southern highlands in the exilic and post-exilic periods. So in fact almost any period during which the Hexateuch was written might fit the alleged Edomite interest in the text. It is arbitrary to allocate an Edomite genealogy to the pre-exilic period.
  3. More problematically for Kugler’s proposal, it is reasonably clear that the Calebite traditions were already inconsistent before Joshua 14.6-15 was composed. That is, the inconsistency is not a result of deliberate polemic, but is a pre-existing literary difficulty that the author of Josh 14.6-15 had to deal with. We already have two conflicting Caleb-traditions before the composition of Joshua 14: (1) Num 13-14/Deut 1.36 makes Caleb a Judean hero; (2) Joshua 15, Judges 1, AND Judges 3 – the latter not mentioned by Kugler – all call Caleb the ‘son of Kenaz’ (and this latter identification is multiply attested and arguably independent). So the inconsistency, where Caleb is either Kenizzite or Judahite, was already in existence before the writing of the supplementary Joshua 14. Joshua 14, therefore, is not easily explained as a response to a historical situation which introduces a polemic; it’s a literary harmonization. In response to contradictory traditions, Joshua 14 says: Caleb is a Judean AND Kenizzite!
  4. Moreover, if this harmonization had a chance of success, it is likely that people at the time Joshua 14.6-15 was written simply did not any longer distinguish a Kenizzite from a Judahite. At the very least, we don’t know if they did make a distinction between Kenizzites and Judahites. Noth for example assigns the distinction of Kenizzites and Judahites to a very early, pre-J historical stage, in which the Kenizzites were part of a 6-tribe alliance which later became the tribe of Judah. Although I don’t follow Noth’s historical reconstruction, it illustrates how the distinction of Kenizzites from Judeans might simply have been ‘ancient history’ at the time of writing Josh 14.6-15.
  5. And there’s no other indication of any pro-Edomite polemic in the passage, either, apart from the older Kenaz-Edom connections.

Sure this makes Joshua 14.6-15 inconsistent with Joshua 1-11, but we can say the same about much of Joshua 12-19, where Joshua’s total conquest of all Israel is changed into a partial conquest with many parts of the land still occupied by its previous inhabitants. And yet, pre-modern readers managed to interpret the final book of Joshua as a harmony. Is it too much to expect that the hamonizing supplementer who wrote Joshua 14.6-15 thought what they had written was in harmony with the account in Joshua 11, rather than engaging in some subtle ‘polemic’?

Caleb was inserted in Joshua 14 as a Judean hero. This was in tension with the Ephraimite/Northern basic tradition in Judges 1-12, and contrary to the older traditions in which he was a Kenizzite and possibly an Edomite. But it was consistent with the Judea- and Jerusalem-centred traditions in the final stages of the book of Joshua.

Advertisements

Radio Interview with Robert Alter – On Translating the Former Prophets

Robert Alter - Ancient IsraelMichael Krasny  interviewed Robert Alter on his KQED public radio programme, Forum, on 3 April 2013. Alter is professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at UC Berkeley. The main subject of the interview was Alter’s latest instalment of his ongoing translation of the Hebrew Bible, Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013).

You can listen to the interview on KQED’s YouTube channel:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

Looking at Alter’s translation of Joshua 14:15, I see that he has rendered ענקים ( ‘anaqim) as “giants”:

And the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-Arba – he was the biggest person among the giants.

Alter comments, “The narrative context makes clear that the Hebrew ‘anaqim is not in this instance a gentilic (‘Anakites’) but means ‘giants,’ the adversaries of daunting proportions before whom the ten fearful spies felt themselves to be like grasshoppers.”

Possibly. And yet, the closest intertextual relationship concerning Josh. 14:5-16  is not with Num. 13 (which includes the comparison between the Israelites and the sons of Anak involving an analogy to grasshoppers). The closest relationship is instead with Deut. 1:19-46, in particular to Deut. 1:28 and 1:36. These verses alone, without any direct parallel in Num. 13, account for phrases like, “my brothers … caused my heart to faint”, “the land on which my foot went”, the inheritance “and to your sons”, “Anakim” (as distinct from “sons of Anak”).

And in Deut. 1:28; 2:10-12, 20-23; 3:13b, the Anakim are indeed described as entire peoples who occupy the land of Palestine and neighbouring countries.

So rather than “the biggest person among the giants”, I’d opt for “greatest man among the Anakites/Anakim”. They may be giants as well, if you read it in light of Deut. 1-3, but you would not in fact know that from the immediate context of Joshua 14-15.

Update: Jim Davila (PaleoJudaica) notes further media reaction to Alter’s Deuteronomist.

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.

Giant Librarians of the Ancient World

Big Bad Bible GiantsI learned something I never knew about Giants from the best basic guide to Giants of the Bible. According to Big Bad Bible Giants, authored by Ed Strauss and illustrated by Anthony Carpenter (Zondersexist, 2005), the Bible tells the story of an ancient city populated by Giant librarians!

The Giant Librarians of Debir
The Giant Librarians of Debir

This is not something I’ve discovered in any biblical commentary, because Big Bad Bible Giants has the scoop. It’s all a matter of almost logical inference from three things that the Bible tells us: (1) the city of Debir was also known as Kiriath-Sepher (“The City of Scribes”); (2) Othniel defeated the inhabitants of Debir; and (3) some of the inhabitants of Palestine were Giants. Ed Strauss’s conclusion is that Othniel must have defeated a group of Giant librarians in the city of Debir:

 
Giant libraries
In Joshua’s day, about 600 years after Abraham, the giant Anakites had a city in south Canaan called Debir (Joshua 11:21). The giants called it Kiriath Sepher, which means “City of Scribes” or “City of Books.” The city’s other name was Kiriath Sannah, which means “City of Instruction” (Joshua 15:49). Bible scholars believe Kiriath Sepher was a major center of learning and culture for all of Canaan. It probably had a huge library full of scrolls, and was the city where giants went to learn.
Can’t you just picture a dozen heavy, hairy giants sitting around mumbling loudly as they read? You can be sure they weren’t sitting in ordinary-sized desks!
What were their books about? No idea. All the monster scrolls seem to have been torched when the Israelites conquered the city (Judges 1:11-13).
 –  Ed Strauss, Big Bad Bible Giants
 

Ah yes – there would be traces of these giant books and giant libraries around today, if only the Israelites hadn’t destroyed them all. Ed Strauss also offers us a picture of Othniel’s defeat of the city of Debir, the city of Giant librarians: 

We don’t know the details of this battle and how well the giants fought, whether they made their last stand at the library…
 –  Ed Strauss, Big Bad Bible Giants
Ah – the Last Stand of the Giants at the Library. Mark my words – there’s a film in that!
 
And as a special bonus, a great track from the era of “the Dunedin Sound”: