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…


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 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.

The Meads of Asphodel summon the Anakim: Sons of Anak Rise!

The Meads of Asphodel
The Meads of Asphodel

“Sons of Anak Rise”
The Meads of Asphodel
Exhuming the Grave of Yeshua
Supernal Music, 2003

Slain of hebron desert titans
Sons of anak rise.
Earth born giants torn asunder
Sons of anak rise.

Ishbiben ohya achor
Beelisas arba lahmi
Sons of anak rise
Sons of anak rise.

Og of bashan great goliath
Sons of anak rise
Horim emim mighty nephilim
Sons of anak rise.

With midian steel the giants fell
All murdered by the hebrew priests
& they shall not rise nor live again
These sons of anak deceased.

Og of bashan great goliath
Sons of anak rise
Horim emim mighty nephilim
Sons of anak rise.

The Meads of Asphodel
The Meads of Asphodel

The Meads of Asphodel are a UK band which deliver that all-too-rare combination of black metal and 70s prog rock. The band was founded in 1998 by lead vocalist, Metatron.

Take a Stroll down Emek Refaim Street, Jerusalem

עמק רפאים (Emek Refaim) Street
עמק רפאים (Emek Refaim) Street

Jerusalem is truly a most wondrous city to visit, and Ben Yehuda is no longer the “place to be”. Try Emek Refaim Street for a wide selection of restaurants from “Aroma” coffee bar to some more up market fancy establishments. Best deal for Summer 2008 – “Rivele” – breakfast for 24 shekels and excellent value 2 course lunch with drink for only 59 shekels.
– “Jerusalem Travel Tips”

The annual street fair on Emek Refaim Street
The annual street fair on Emek Refaim Street

“Ghosts,” or the shades who inhabit the underworld, is one of the two meanings of the Hebrew word refa’im in the Bible. One finds this in various places, such as the 14th chapter of Isaiah, in which the prophet, describing the impending fall of Babylon, declares to its king whom he imagines being killed, “The underworld is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the refa’im for thee….” In other ancient Semitic languages like Canaanite and Ugaritic, rifa’im denotes underworld dwellers too.

But the biblical refa’im also refers to a living people that dwelt in Palestine prior to the Israelite conquest. Deuteronomy 2:21, for example, describes the country of the Ammonites, the area around the present-day Jordanian capital of Amman, as having once been “the land of the Refa’im; Refa’im dwelt therein in olden times; and the Ammonites called them Zamzumim; a people great, and many, and tall as giants; but the Lord destroyed them before them [the Ammonites], and they succeeded them and dwelt in their stead.” The very next chapter of Deuteronomy, on the other hand, places “the land of the Refa’im” further north, in the Bashan or Golan Heights, the home of the kingdom of the legendary giant Og.

The Refa’im, it would thus appear, were a mythical race of giants related to such other legendary creatures as the Emim or “Frightening Ones,” also referred to in Deuteronomy 2 as unusually tall, and the Nefilim or “Fallen Ones,” mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the offspring of heavenly beings and earthly women, and in the Book of Numbers as the titans seen by the 12 spies sent to scout out the Holy Land. “We were as grasshoppers [compared to them],” the returning spies tell the Children of Israel, who become quickly demoralized at the thought of having to fight such creatures.

The biblical emek refa’im, therefore, can be understood as either “the valley of the ghosts” or “the valley of the giants.” Jewish tradition has always chosen the second of these two options in the belief that it was the legendary living and not the legendary dead that gave the place its name. The second-century C.E. Aramaic Targum of Onkelos translates the words as meshar gibaraya, “the Plain of the Mighty,” and although Jerome’s fourth-century Latin Vulgate stuck to the noncommittal vallis Raphaim, our English King James Version, following the Jewish commentators, has “the valley of the giants.”

“Ghostly”, The Jewish Daily Forward, 26 March 2004

I started where all good American bourgeois visiting Israel start–Emek Refaim Street (translation: the Valley of Ghosts or Giants). Its Biblical associations are with early beliefs that Jebusite ghosts may have begun their journey to the underworld in the valley at the head of Emek Refaim; other sources suggest that prior to the conquest of the land in Deuteronomy, the enemies were seen as “giants” and here, classical Jewish sources generally translate it. I mused briefly on this tension while walking–the giants of Zionism and the ghosts of Zionism; and the relationship, inescapable, between a conquered and conquered people. To be sure, street names here have more than once changed their names depending upon who was ruling in the land.
– Andy Bachman, A Higher World, blog 23 July 2011

Emek Refaim Street
Emek Refaim Street

Israel has been as thoroughly conquered by McDonald’s as the rest of the populated world, but Israelis can at least pride themselves on forcing a corporation known for requiring strict conformity and uniformity in the production of hamburgers to bend significantly to suit the desires of the local population. Israel, in fact, is the only country in which McDonald’s has altered its famous logo – due to pressure from the Israeli rabbinate, kosher McDonald’s now feature blue, rather than red, signs and the name of the restaurant in Hebrew rather than English.

But the not kosher McDonald’s outlets, which offer forbidden mixtures of meat and dairy and employ Jewish workers on Shabbat engendered no small amount of controversy and sparked massive protests by Jerusalem’s Orthodox Jewish community.

A Non-Kosher McDonalds on Emek Refaim Street
A Non-Kosher McDonalds on Emek Refaim Street

A Basic Introduction to Giants of the Bible… and Zondervan’s Sexism toward Children, and the Zondervan Gender-Prejudiced Bibles

People are always asking me, “Can you recommend a basic introduction to the Giants of the Bible?” Well, yes I can! One of the most basic introductions to biblical Giants is Big Bad Bible Giants, authored by Ed Strauss and illustrated by Anthony Carpenter (published by the Zondervan children’s subdivision, Zonderkidz).

Big Bad Bible Giants - authored by Ed Strauss, illustrations by Anthony Carpenter
Big Bad Bible Giants - authored by Ed Strauss, illustrations by Anthony Carpenter

I’m serious. If you want a basic introduction to the Giants of the Bible, let this be your guide. It covers all the Giants of the Bible, including the Nephilim, the Rephaites, the Zamzummites, the Emites, the Anakites, the Avvites, King Og of Bashan, Goliath, Lahmi, and Ishbi-Benob of Gath, Anak, Ahiman, Sheshai, Talmai, and the multidigit monster – with cartoons.

What’s more, this is a book for boys. Not for girls. Apparently, only young Christian boys should take an interest in the gory occupation of slaying Giants. But wait, you say, hasn’t the author ever heard of Buffy? Alas, even Buffy could not grow to the physical proportions of Our Lord:

Perfect for boys aged 8 to 12, the 2:52 series is based on Luke 2:52: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Focussing on four primary areas of growth, this guiding verse can help boys become more like Jesus mentally (smarter), physically (stronger), spiritually (deeper), and socially (cooler). From Bibles and devotionals to fiction and nonfiction, with plenty of gross and gory mixed in, there is something for every boy.

The 2:52 series also offers these other boyish (not girly) titles: Bible Heroes and Bad Guys, Bible Angels and Demons, Bible Wars and Weapons, Creepy Creatures and Bizarre Beasts from the Bible, Weird and Gross Bible Stuff, Bible Freaks and Geeks, and Seriously Sick Bible Stuff. That’s the sorts of things that boys just love, but girls do not, according to Zondervan’s 2:52 series.

And in addition to all this, for your rough-and-tumble, O-God-I-pray-every-night-that-he’s-heterosexual, scalliwag of a Christian boy, Zonderkidz publishes the 2:52 Boys Bible: The Ultimate Manual – complete with grey metallic plating on the front cover:

Finally a Bible just for boys! Discover gross and gory Bible stuff. Find out interesting and humorous Bible facts… Learn how to become more like Jesus mentally, physically, spiritually, and socially.

And just before you can say “gender stereotype”, let’s place the metal-plated 2:52 Boys Bible alongside what Zondervan offers for little girls… The Precious Princess Bible:

Zondervan Boy's Bible versus Zondervan "Precious Princess" Girl's Bible
Zondervan Boy's Bible versus Zondervan "Precious Princess" Girl's Bible

Just to top off this survey of systematic sexism at Zondervan, here’s a quote from the Zondervan Blog which proudly affirms that God does not discriminate!

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God does not discriminate on the basis of gender, or race, or socio-economic status. All are invited, all are included.
– Keri Wyatt Kent, 2 October 2009, Zondervan Blog.

If God does not discriminate, Zondervan seems determined to do it for Him. Whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, Zondervan has a niche market just for you!

h/t: Gillian

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.