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.


Benjamin Netanyahu claims historical basis to Abraham’s purchase of Tomb of Patriarchs. But forgets that the Giants owned it.

At the beginning of his weekly cabinet meeting, on 9 July 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu read from Genesis 23.16, 19-20. This passage narrates the story of Abraham’s purchase of a tomb for the burial of his wife, near the city of Hebron.

16 Abraham agreed with Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants…. 19 After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. 20 The field and the cave that is in it passed from the Hittites into Abraham’s possession as a burying place.

Hebron is a city in Palestine which is currently under military occupation by Israel.

On 7 July 2017, UNESCO voted to recognize the Mamluk-era Old Town of Hebron (Al-Khalil), including its first-century CE Tomb of the Patriarchs (the Ibrahimi mosque), as a protected World Heritage site.

In response, Netanyahu argued, based on the legendary account in Genesis 23, that Hebron was Jewish. “The connection between the Jewish people and Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of purchase and of history which may be without parallel in the history of peoples.” Netanyahu also had a bit of a tantrum, and said that he wouldn’t pay $1 million from Israel’s United Nations membership dues, but would instead transfer the funds to the establishment of The Museum of the Heritage of the Jewish People in Kiryat Arba and Hebron.

But did Abraham really buy the tomb?

According to Genesis 23, Abraham bought the tomb from a Hittite man named Ephron. However, Abraham’s legal title to the land is highly questionable, in light of the rival account in the Torah, in Numbers 13. Here, the city of Hebron clearly belongs to three Giants (Anakim), named Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai. It doesn’t belong to Hittites at all. So on the basis of Numbers 13, we have to question whether the Hittite Ephron ever had a good legal title to give to Abraham. Hebron, according to this account, belonged to Giants.

Therefore, under the legal principle of Nemo dat quod non habet (a person cannot grant a better title than they have), Abraham never legally bought the land. He could only have bought it from its legal owners, the Giants. If we treat the Torah as history, we must respect the legal ownership of Hebron by ancient Giants.

… unless, of course, both Genesis 23 and Numbers 13 are just legends, and neither should be cited as “history” by a modern Prime Minister.

But then, might the Israeli government have to admit that the notion of modern Israel’s right to “Greater Israel” (Kol Yisrael) might itself be based on legends?


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.


Frauke Uhlenbruch: Nephilim as Cyborgs


In her recent publication, The Nowhere Bible: Utopia, Dystopia, Science Fiction (DeGruyter, March 2015), Frauke Uhlenbruch treats the Nephilim of Numbers 13:32-33 as cyborgs.

Employing Donna Haraway’s definition of “cyborg”, Uhlenbruch interprets each of the the Nephilim as “a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction” (“A Cyborg Manifesto”, p. 149). For Uhlenbruch, the Nephilim are boundary-crossers, defying monist categorization. Unlike the twelve spies, whose ancestors are given as the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel, the Nephilim do not derive from the utopian unity which originates in the Garden of Eden and which may be traced through to the Patriarchs. In Genesis 6:4, the Nephilim are instead described as hybrid descendants of human women and the sons of the gods.

nowhere-bible“They are partial gods, partial humans, there has been intimacy with human women, and through this breach of boundaries, they are definite symbols of perversity” (p. 178).

But in the biblical story, partial identities and “contradictory standpoints” are not to be permitted. “In the ideal world-to-be that Numbers 13 proposes, the boundary-crosser will be eliminated… Their presence is clearly not desired in the biblical Promised Land, at least not by the Israelites” (p. 179).

And indeed, in the book of Joshua, the Anakim – said to be the descendants of the Nephilim in Num 13:33 – are finally driven out by Caleb (Josh 14-15). Or was that Joshua (Josh 11:21-22)?

Recent Giant Scholarship

Israeli Ministry of Tourism logoWhat are biblical scholars saying about the Giants in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible? The latest word in biblical scholarship can be found here:

Galbraith, D. (2013). “Manufacturing Judean Myth: The Spy Narrative in Numbers 13–14 as Rewritten Tradition”(Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy)

Among the findings:

(1) the Hebronite traditions (concerning the Judahite leader Caleb, the city of Hebron, and ‘the sons of Anak’ who inhabit Hebron) are not vestiges of ancient legend which have been preserved in the text, but are all secondary to the spy-rebellion tradition derived from dtr Deut. 1;

(2) gigantic stature was first attributed to the sons of Anak and Nephilim in the composition of Num. 13–14, and to the Anakim and Rephaim of Deut. 1–3 in post-deuteronomistic Hexateuchal additions which harmonised the text with the expansionary Num. 13–14;

(3) the extension of the term ‘Rephaim’ to denote entire giant peoples throughout their associated territories also originates with the Hexateuchal harmonisations in Deut. 1–3;

And a detailed interview with the author can be found on Jim West’s blog, Zwinglius Redivivus:

“Scholars You Should Know: Deane Galbraith”

I know, I know – such gratuitous self-publicity…

Michael Heiser: Putting the Aramaic Cart before the Hebrew Horse

Michael Heiser - Putting the Aramaic cart before the Hebrew horse
Michael Heiser – Putting the Aramaic cart before the Hebrew horse

This response is further to an earlier post on Remnant of Giants, “Michael Heiser’s (Mis)interpretation of “Nephilim” as “Giants” not “Fallen Ones”“, which was followed by a comment from Michael on the same post and Michael’s post, “My Thoughts on Nephilim: Answering a Criticism” on The Naked Bible:

Thank you for your reply in the comments section of my earlier post, Michael, and for your post. What you have written here and in your post helps me understand how you have come to your conclusion, which I continue to consider is unsound.

Of course, I quite agree that there is no simple morphological basis for preferring my explanation that “Nephilim” is a Heb. qatil or your explanation that it is a loanword from the Aramaic usage attested in the Genesis Apocryphon and Book of Giants. The form would be the same in either case. So this is not at issue between us. But your claim faces much more substantial problems than morphology.

What is at issue is the cogency in claiming that “Nephilim” is an Aramaic loanword into Hebrew, when the only passages in Aramaic which employ the purported Aramaic loanword are so obviously dependent on Gen. 6:4. Both Genesis Apocryphon and Book of Giants are rewritings of the Genesis narrative. The obvious conclusion is that their employment of the term Nephilin is dependent on the use of Nephilim in Gen. 6.4. So of course the Aramaic would have the same form as the Hebrew: the occurrences of “Nephilin” are all dependent on the Hebrew “Nephilim”. You have put the Aramaic cart before the Hebrew horse! My argument is not merely that there is an absence of Aramaic evidence that precedes Genesis – but that the Aramaic evidence we have is clearly dependent on Genesis. So your reliance on the Aramaic “meaning” of Nephilin faces what I consider is an insurmountable problem, and I hope I have made this problem clearer to you.

If you wish to continue to make an argument that the Aramaic meaning of the term “Nephilin” is “giants” and that this meaning influenced the Hebrew, the onus is on you to provide the evidence. But there is no evidence – is there? Furthermore, the only evidence we have in Aramaic suggests the opposite conclusion: the Aramaic term “Nephilin” is only used in contexts which are dependent on the Bible’s use of “Nephilim”. Your argument from Aramaic “meaning” is circular at best.

Furthermore, I do not follow your logic in mentioning that the gloss in Num. 13:33 is “quite late”? First, Nephilim is not a gloss in Gen. 6:4 – or do you also date Gen. 6:4 “quite late” (whatever that means)? Second, for what I think is your argument to have any cogency, the three mentions of “Nephilim” in the Hebrew Bible must all be later than the earliest evidence of Nephilin in Aramaic – later, that is, than the approximately second century BCE works, the Genesis Apocryphon and Book of Giants. Are you really saying that all the occurrences of “Nephilim” in Gen. 6:4 and Num. 13:33 are this late? Third, your statement “basically everyone takes Num 13:33 as a gloss” is either inaccurate or incorrect. It is normally understood that only the words “the sons of Anak from the Nephilim” comprise the later gloss within Num. 13:33. But it is incorrect to say that Num. 13:33 is widely interpreted as a gloss, And there is still one occurrence of the term “Nephilim” in Num. 13:33 which lies outside of the later gloss. So if you are attempting to argue here (and I confess, it is not clear to me if it is your argument) that Num. 13:33 is later than the Aramaic occurrences of Nephilin, you face a number of significant problems.

As your argument for the etymological meaning of Nephilim as “giants” faces these significant problems, I can understand why you might want to switch to the fertile history of the reception of Gen. 6:4, and in particular the Greek Septuagint (LXX). But, evidentially, this is also putting the cart before the horse. As is widely acknowledged, Gen. 6:4 is famously obscure, and gives rise to sometimes quite bizarre later interpretations. One can fairly easily surmise that a translator familiar with Greek literature – writing in, perhaps, the third century BCE – might leap to the conclusion that Gen. 6.1-4’s odd story of dalliances between sons of the gods and human women sounded like something from Greek myth. But this tells us a lot more about the Greek-influenced reception of Gen. 6:4 than it does about Gen. 6:4 itself. This is why Lothar Perlitt cautions that the LXX mixed two quite different worlds in translating historisierenden Notizen des Alten Testaments (‘historicizing notices in the Old Testament’) with terms which were weitgehend mythologisch in sensu stricto (‘largely mythological in sensu stricto’). If hard cases make bad law, obscure stories make bad translations – and Gen. 6:4 is a prime case in point. Perlitt’s conclusion is correct: Kurzum: die Frage nach den Riesen im Alten Testament fände auf dem Wege über die griechische oder lateinische Konkordanz nur falsche Antworten (‘In short: the question concerning Giants in the Old Testament would find only wrong answers by looking in a Greek or Latin concordance’). And of course, the wrong answers are only compounded by looking at interpretations of the Nephilim which come even later than LXX.

So for these reasons, I still cannot see how you could reasonably rely on Aramaic evidence in order to arrive at the meaning of “giants” for Nephilim. You may certainly raise the conjecture that the term “Nephilin” was used in Aramaic to mean “giants” before the composition of Gen. 6:4 and Num. 13:33. Or you can feel free to raise conjectures that there were similar words in Egyptian, or Akkadian, or whatever – which I am sure would be based on just the same amount of evidence (that is, none). But I will continue to prefer the facts that exist – and that includes the fact that Nephilim follows a Hebrew form, the qatil, with an etymological meaning of “fallen ones”. I am, however, most willing to be persuaded otherwise, if you are able to present a sound argument for the etymological meaning of “Nephilim” as “giants” from the Aramaic evidence.

Michael Heiser’s (Mis)interpretation of “Nephilim” as “Giants” not “Fallen Ones”

Michael Heiser - Giant?
Michael Heiser – Giant?

In a number of recent publications, Michael Heiser has claimed that the etymological sense of the term “Nephilim” found in Gen 6.4 and Num. 13.33 is “giant”.

Most academic attempts to explain the sense of “Nephilim” derive it from the Hebrew root נפל (n-f-l: “to fall”). There is a relatively straightforward explanation for the form of the term Nephilim. It appears to be a reduction of the passive adjective (qaṭīl), קְטִיל. Joüon-Muraoka notes that ‘hardly anything but substantives are found in this form’ (Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, 250, §88E g). So in this form, the meaning of “Nephilim” is something like “fallen ones”. Or, as Victor P. Hamilton translates it: ‘those who were made to fall; those who were cast down’ (The Book of Genesis, 269; cf. Ronald S. Hendel, ‘The Nephilim were on the Earth’, 21; Brian R. Doak, The Last of the Rephaim, 63).

Yet the difficulty is not with the sense of the term, but with determining its precise significance. Unlike in later retellings, there is no indication in Gen. 6:1–4 that בני האלהים (the sons of god(s)) had previously resided in the heavens or had ‘fallen’ to earth or were ‘spiritually’ fallen. Even if such an interpretation is imposed on Gen. 6:1–4, the description ‘the fallen ones’ would presumably apply to the בני האלהים, not their earth-born offspring, the Nephilim. But there is at least one other good explanation for describing these “mighty men” who lived “long ago” (Gen. 6.4) as “fallen ones”. As heroes, the Nephilim would probably have been described as dying in heroic deaths, perhaps to have “fallen” in battle. This explanation was proposed by Hartmut Gese in Vom Sinai zum Zion (p. 110), and provides what I think is the better sense of the “fall” of the “Fallen Ones”.

Yet in a number of publications, Michael Heiser casts doubt on the derivation from n-f-l. These publications include his draft book, The Myth That is True, an article on “Nephilim” for the online FaithLife Study Bible,, and this video from Heiser does so by criticising scholars who have derived Nephilim from the Hebrew participle of n-f-l. He’s right that the term Nephilim does not meet the standard form for a participle. But he either does not mention or quickly dismisses the fact that “Nephilim” perfectly fits the passive adjectival form in Hebrew.

Instead, Heiser argues that the term Nephilim most closely resembles the Aramaic term נפילין (Nephilin). Heiser points out that the “meaning” of the Aramaic term Nephilin is “giant”. So his conclusion is that the Hebrew “Nephilim” was derived from the Aramaic term for “giant”, and that the meaning of the Hebrew term Nephilim is also “giant”. After all, as Heiser claims, the Jews were quite familiar with Aramaic as  the lingua franca of the ancient Near East and as a language closely related to Hebrew.

But there is a giant problem with this reasoning, even if we leave aside the fact that “Nephilim” has a perfectly acceptable Hebrew adjectival form. For when Heiser claims that the “meaning” of Nephilin in Aramaic is giant, he appears to overlook the fact that this Aramaic “meaning” only occurs in works which are even later than the biblical texts in Gen 6.4 and Num. 13.33 and which are dependent on the Hebrew biblical texts. A “meaning” is only as good as its particular uses. And you can’t claim that a biblical word derives from Aramaic if the Aramaic usage is later than the Bible!

I am aware of no instances of the Aramaic term Nephilin from Old or Imperial Aramaic – that is, from before the writing of the Pentateuch The first attested examples of the term Nephilin (or variants) occur in post-biblical documents from Qumran: Genesis Apocryphon and the Book of Giants. What’s more, these texts from Qumran are dependent on the Enochic version of the story in Gen 6.1-4. They are retellings of retellings of Gen. 6.1-4. Although some scholars have claimed that 1 Enoch predates Gen 6.1-4, Michael Heiser does not, so this is not an issue here. These  Aramaic retellings are certainly interesting developments in the reception of Gen 6.1-4, and it is true that the Nephilim were characterised as “giants” in much of their early reception. Yet it remains the case that there is no intimation of the height of the Nephilim in Gen 6.1-4 itself. The idea that the Nephilim were giants originates in Num 13.33’s comparison of the Nephilim to the gigantic Anakim; it is not present in Gen 6.4. Instead, in Gen 6.4 the Nephilim are identified with “mighty men”/”heroes” of remote antiquity, who were famed for their heroic deeds. The descriptions fit well with the conception of the heroic “fallen dead”, and the derivation of the term Nephilim from n-f-l. But the idea of giants is absent in Gen. 6.1-4 and must be imposed from Num 13 in order to be seen there.

The Aramaic foundation for Michael Heiser’s interpretation of Nephilim is anachronistic: the Aramaic term Nephilin is only attested later than the Hebrew term Nephilim, so cannot be supported as the basis for the Hebrew Nephilim.  Moreover, the Aramaic term Nephilin is first attested only in Jewish texts from Qumran which are clearly dependent on the Hebrew stories in Gen. 6.1-4 and Num. 13. Based on the evidence as we have it, the Hebrew term “Nephilim” gave rise to the Aramaic term “Nephilin” – not the reverse.

See also: Michael Heiser: Putting the Aramaic Cart before the Hebrew Horse