JoAnn Scurlock: Evidence from Babylon that “Rephaim” refers to the long dead?

I spotted an interesting observation about Rephaim from JoAnn Scurlock, in “Mortal and Immortal Souls, Ghosts and the (Restless) Dead in Ancient Mesopotamia”, Religion Compass 10, no. 4 (2016): 77–82 (79). She is discussing how Ancient Mesopotamians treated the dead.

Having a family tomb under the floor of the house made funerary offerings by the family as a group a simple matter as long as the family survived or new owners of the house continued to use the tomb. What would happen then is that, as the memory of the deceased faded and the bones of the long dead mingled with those of more recent arrivals, the individual eøemmu’s [‘ghosts’] melded into a common eøem kimti (Scurlock 2013, pp. 151–152). Eventually, this collective ancestor mixed with the wider community of the long dead, the kimtu rapaåtu, literally ‘widespread relations’. Of interest to Biblical scholars puzzled by the term rephaim is the fact that an old Babylonian commentary (5R 44: 121 [sic]) uses the term kimtu rapaåtu to translate Amorite rapi (singular of rephaim). This would seem to indicate that the mysterious Rephaim are the ghosts of persons who have been dead for a very long time.

“5R 44” (or “VR 44”) is a so-called Name Book from Ashurbanipal’s library (Ashurbanipal was an Assyrian king who reigned 668-627 BC). The text provides a list of Akkadian translations of non-Akkadian names. The reference is to column 1 line 21, so there should have been a gap in the cited reference followed by a Roman numeral: 5R 44: I 21.

5R 44: I 21 reads mḪa-am-mu-ra-pí : mKim-ta-ra-pa-áš-tum, the meaning of each name being “great family” or as CAD K has it (p. 377, s.v. kimtu), “extensive family”. The “ra-pi” means “great/extensive”, and ‘Ammu means “family”. So “rapi” itself does not refer to the long dead.

In the Bible, the Rephaim are either peoples discovered as inhabiting Canaan and neighbouring territories when the Israelites invade (so are long dead from the perspective of the writers) or, in poetic and prophetic books, are long-dead inhabitants of the netherworld. In 5R 44, they are also described as “kings”, another feature in common with many biblical Rephaim, and more consistent with the meaning of “great”.

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Does Rapha’ appear on a 9th-Century BCE Jar at Tell es-Safi/(“Gath”)?

In two articles, one co-authored with Esther Eschel, Aren Maeir suggests that he may have found a further example of the term or proper name רפא (rapha’) on a ninth-century BCE jar found  at  Tell es-Safi/(“Gath”). That means that the jar was inscribed during Philistine rule, before the later Judean rule of the city.

The term רפא (rapha’) is sometimes apparently just a proper name (“Raphah”; e.g. 1 Chronicles 8:2). Yet it is also used to describe various giants, including the Goliath of Gath who opposed David’s elite soldiers  (2 Samuel 21:18-22). The plural of the term is the more familiar רפאים (Rephaim), which the Bible uses to describe various ancient heroes and kings, as well as (in Deuteronomy) entire races of giants.

Here is a picture of the jar, along with a larger view of the fragments on which the inscription was found:

rpa

There is a big problem with reading these Phoenician letters,  however, as Aren Maeir and Esther Eschel discuss in the articles. The first letter (reading  right-to-left) is only partial, and does not clearly look like any particular ninth-century r. It could be a d or an ayin. But it is very hard to tell. The second letter is probably a p, but a g is not ruled out by the authors. The final letter (on the left) is also unclear, and while plausibly an aleph, it could be a l.

With this level of uncertainty, Maeir and Eschel conclude,

we tentatively prefer the first suggested reading of  רפא … but one should not rule out the other possible readings

Maeir also suggests that the Tell es-Safi inscription might be compared with stamped-handle inscriptions from no earlier than eight century BCE, which had previously been uncovered at Tell es-Safi, and which also probably evidence the name רפא. If so, “the רפא family might be seen as an important family/clan on a local scale over several generations”. Possibly. But as there is a fundamental uncertainty in reading the letters of the inscription, further conclusions are likewise uncertain. Still, it is an interesting possibility.

The studies also consider the meaning of the רפא root as “healer”, but dismiss it due to the lack of a definite article (and the lack of sufficient space for one in the gap in the jar to the right of the inscription).

I suggest another possibility. The term may be related instead to Akk. rabā’um (‘to be large, great’), and its derivative rabium (< rabūm; ‘leader, chief, prince’). Notably, the well-known personal name Hammurabi is alternatively spelled Hammurapi at Ugarit (ca. 1200 BCE). By the ninth century BCE, the term in West Semitic may arguably have settled with the spelling r-p-ʾ. The derivation is suggested or supported by Joseph Aistleitner, Georg Sauer, George E. Mendenhall, Samuel E. Loewenstamm, and (with more extensive reasoning) Michael L. Brown. The term is sometimes paired with “king” (mlk) in IA Palestine, as on Samaria Ostracon 24 – which may support the parallelism with r-p-ʾ=’prince’. If so, and if the letters should be read this way, the jar may have belonged to a prince or nobleman, rather than to a family with the name רפא.

See:

Maeir, Aren M. ‘The Rephaim in Iron Age Philistia: Evidence of a Multi-Generational Family?’ Pages 289–97 in ‘Vom Leben umfangen’: Ägypten, das Alte Testament und das Gespräch der Religionen. Gedenkschrift für Manfred Görg, eds. S. J. Wimmer and G. Gafus (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014).

Maeir, Aren M., and Esther Eshel. ‘Four Short Alphabetic Inscriptions from Iron Age IIA Tell es-Safi/Gath and Their Contribution for Understanding the Process of the Development of Literacy in Iron Age Philistia.’ In ‘See, I Will Bring a Scroll Recounting What Befell Me’ (Ps 40:8): Epigraphy and Daily Life—From the Bible to the Talmud Dedicated to the Memory of Professor Hanan Eshel, edited by Esther Eshel and Yigal Levin. JAJSup. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, forthcoming.

Maeir, Aren M. ‘The New Seal from Jerusalem: The Gath Connection.’ The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) weblog. 2 March 2008.

Believing in the Nephilim with L.A. Marzulli: On The Trail of The Nephilim

L.A. Mazulli, On The Trail of The NephilimProphecy in the News recently interviewed L.A. Marzulli about his book On The Trail of The Nephilim. It is interesting to consider what drives a theory which many would dismiss as conspiratorial or, conversely, to consider the contextual and social factors which make it compelling to Marzulli and to many of his readers.

According to Marzulli, discoveries of giants skeletons in Ohio and Indiana have been covered up by the scientific community, because it contradicts the presuppositions of their Darwinistic worldview:

It comes down to this: that we are – academia, and the scientific community runs under a Darwinian worldview, a Darwinian paradigm. Everything is filtered through that… through Darwinism. And unfortunately, or, I should say, fortunately for us, as Christians, these skeletons go against the Darwinian paradigm. It makes no sense.

Similarly, on the L.A. Marzulli website, the summary of the book describes scientists and archaeologists as involved in a “cover-up”:

This book is the culmination of a lengthy search for the physical evidence of the Nephilim, the Giants of Old Testament lore. A significant cover-up has taken place over the years, reducing these double-digit, gigantic hybrids to the dustbins of history. You’re going to read about the organizations behind this Darwinian-flavored scheme and why they hate the bones and skulls of the Nephilm so much. They’ll go to incredible lengths to make this evidence disappear!

So there is a double thrill of secret knowledge: both in the ‘knowledge’ of giant skeletons and the confirmation that the Bible reveals the truth about the past.

Another comment by Marzulli shows how his theory reduces the dissonance caused by Yahweh’s genocide of entire nations, during what the book of Joshua presents as the Israelite settlement of the land. How does he reconcile the image of the Israelite God in Joshua – disregarding the lives of entire peoples and killing men, women, and children alike – with the Christian conception of a loving God who wishes to save all people? You, quite literally, demonize the enemy:

The theory is, as Joshua and Caleb pushed into the Promised Land, we see all those different tribes: Nephilim tribes – Nephilim, Anakim, Rephaim, the Canaanites, Perizzites – all these Nephilim tribes. And I believe each one had, perhaps, a different physical charactistic.  So as Joshua and Caleb come into the Promised Land, what we see, in my opinion, is this diaspora. The giants realise, the Nephilim realise,  the mandate has gone out to wipe them all off – men, women, children. And remember, these are demonic, hybrid beings, they are Nephilim. And no grace and mercy is shown by a loving – the same loving God in the Old Testament that we serve today – no difference. The judgement is severe, its final, and the giants see this, know this.

The explanation not only takes account of the Anakim and Rephaim mentioned in Numbers 13-14 and Deuteronomy 1-3, but other peoples usually not considered giants – even the Canaanites. And so the theory that the people of the land were all demonic hybrids safeguards the Christian God’s loving nature.

A further impetus for Marzulli’s theory comes in the form of the widely held idea that elements from the beginning of time will be repeated at the end of time: the Urzeit/Endzeit association. One reason these ancient ideas are so thrilling to Marzulli and his readers is that they foreshadow, and appear to provide evidence for, the end of time, including the expected return of Jesus, God’s destruction of all enemies (including the demons and Darwinians):

Jesus says, sorts of admonishes us, gives us a very clear warning: it will be like the Days of Noah when I return – I’m paraphrasing – it will be like the days of Noah when the Son of Man returns – which immediately begs the question: what differentiates the Days of Noah from any other time in history. And of course it’s the presence of the Fallen Angels coming down, having – doing the unspeakable – having sex with the women, and creating this hybrid entity or being known as the Nephilim. In my opinion, this has happened all through our history. The first incursion, of course, is Genesis 6. But then there’s another incursion. We see the same penalty meted out to Sodom and Gomorrah: wipe them all out; there’s not a shred of grace or mercy with Sodom and Gomorrah. We see the same thing again when they push into the Levant, when Joshua and Caleb go into the Promised Land, the same idea: there’s not a shred of grace or mercy.

Here the eschatological expectation is combined with a further apologetic explanation for God’s lack of grace or mercy shown towards the original inhabitants of the Promised Land.

Although regularly dismissed as a fringe or conspiracy theory, we can see ways in which L.A. Mazulli’s theory gains credibility by appealing to other important beliefs of the wider Christian community and offers dissonance resolution in respect of conflicts and doubts regarding evolutionary science and ethical doubts concerning the conquest narratives which have also concerned a much wider section of contemporary Christians.

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).

John Day on Giants, Sons of God, Daughters of Men

There’s a relatively new academic journal on the block called Hebrew Bible and Ancient Israel, which may be of interest to readers. It is published by Mohr Siebeck and its editors are Gary N. Knoppers, Oded Lipschits, Carol A. Newsom, and Konrad Schmid.

The December 2012 issue features an article by John Day tackling that old problem: just what on earth (or beyond it) is Genesis 6:1-4 talking about?

John Day, “The Sons of God and Daughters of Men and the Giants: Disputed Points in the Interpretation of Genesis 6:1-4.” HeBAI 1 no. 4 (Dec 2012): 427–47.

Sons of God and Daughters of manThis essay offers a comprehensive analysis of the many problems of interpretation in Gen 6:1-4. Although the Nephilim were the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men in the underlying myth, contrary to a widely held view this is no longer the case in Gen 6:1-4, where they are already in existence at the time of the sexual liaisons. Even though 1 Enoch preserves the original notion of the origin of the Nephilim, the more elaborate story there is in general a later midrash on Gen 6:1-4, contrary to some recent suggestions. Genesis 6:1-4 is not based on Mesopotamian or Greek mythology but contains an Israelite myth utilizing and transforming Canaanite concepts. Not only do the heavenly sons of God derive ultimately from the Canaanite “sons of El,“ but the name of the Canaanite giant Nephilim (literally “fallen ones”) is a retrospective term comparable to that of the giant Rephaim, a word originally used of the dead (Ugaritic rp’um), implying the giants have passed away. Contrary to some, v. 3 is an original part of the text; it indicates that the humans’ descendants were in danger of becoming immortal as a result of the infusion of the divine spirit from the marriages. ידון in this verse derives from a Hebrew verb, דנן “to be strong.”

While not everybody will agree with his conclusions, he provides a good recent treatment of the critical issues in this controversial passage.

And as a special treat, here is Nick Cave performing at Coachella. The version of Stagger Lee at 28:00 is particularly inspired. Stagger Lee even has a show-down with the Devil.

I’m retiring to make wine in the Golan Heights: We do not seek to solve the mystery—we embrace it

Gilgal's Cab Sav - Note the image of Gilgal Refaim ("The Circle of Giants") on the label
Gilgal’s Cab Sav – Note the image of Gilgal Refaim (“The Circle of Giants”) on the label

It’s been a pleasure blogging on the reception of biblical giants these last 15 months. But I’ve decided to retire to the fertile wine-growing district which is the Golan Heights, where I will be the chief wine-taster for Gilgal Wines, a wine producer named after the mysterious archaeological site known as “Gilgal Refaim” (גִּלְגַּל רְפָאִים‎‎; Rujm el-Hiri [رجم الهرة]):

On a wide plateau in the Golan Heights region lies the ancient, mysterious rock structure called the Gilgal Refaim. Although it is millennia old, very little is actually known about the Gilgal Refaim or those who built it.

Gilgal in Hebrew translates to circle. Refaim translates to ghosts. However, according to legend, Refaim was also a race of giants who lived in the Bashan (present-day Golan Heights). To this day it remains a mystery to historians, scholars, and archaeologists.

We do not seek to solve the mystery—we embrace it.

– “Gilgal Refaim”, GilgalWines.com

Gilgal Refaim / Rujm el-Hiri
Gilgal Refaim / Rujm el-Hiri

May the Giants be with you always.