Sunny Griffin (text) and Donna Lee Hill (illustrations), David and The Very Scary Giant.
Ashland, OH: Landoll, 1994.
Some children’s books are quite oblique when it comes to explaining what happens to Goliath at the end of the story of David and Goliath. After a very slow build-up, with lots of background about David as a young boy and how he looked after his sheep – David and The Very Scary Giant suddenly gets to the climax:
The text explains that David’s stone killed Goliath. That is, however, the last page. There’s no actual depiction of David killing Goliath, just the expectation in Goliath’s eyes. And there is definitely no head-chopping.
My favourite David and Goliath children’s books are the ones aimed at very young readers. To be clear, they are my favourite. I wouldn’t let them near actual children.
Take this one, a short board book, in the series “The Toddlers Bible Library”: V. Gilbert Beers (text), David Fights a Giant. The Toddlers Bible Library (Wheaton: Paradise Press, 1993).
I dunno – something about that series title (The Toddlers Bible Library) might have perhaps provided a hint that the David & Goliath story wasn’t really suitable.
Yet the authors attempt to make it suitable for toddlers by making it obscure how exactly David killed Goliath. The two characters never appear in the same shot, but only on successive pages. So your toddler doesn’t get to see this whole scene, which I’ve spliced together for older readers (R18):
And then you get a shot of Goliath lying down. One is not quite sure why he is lying down. To sanitise it for toddlers, the authors have had to make the plot undecipherable. But they do make the reason clear for why David defeated the giant: because he asked God for help, whereas Goliath did not. (No mention that it was ‘help’ … to kill someone.)
This is either a very confusing story for toddlers, or – if their parents explain what’s happening – a very unsuitable story for toddlers. All this explains a lot about how Christians turn out, though.
And another children’s fantasy book based on the Nephilim: Kathryn Dahlstrom, Children of Angels, Book One in the New Nephilim Series (WinePress Publishing, 2012) – an even more blatant Christianized rip-off of Harry Potter than Spirit Fighter by Jerel Law.
Jeremy Lapoint’s dad is in prison, and his mom struggles financially. When Jeremy discovers he can fly, pass through walls, and see spirits, his guardian angel, Asiel, explains that he is a Nephilim, a human-angel hybrid. Jeremy discovers other Nephilim young people. They’re enrolled in a school for teens with special powers and are told they’ve reached humanity’s next level. When Jeremy counters that they are half angel, he must battle human and superhuman forces who oppose the truth.
Dahlstrom describes Gen. 6.1-4 as “a fantasy up for grabs”:
“Jeremy drew back his sword like a batter waiting for the pitch. His attackers slammed their knobby shoulders together, their swords at the ready. Jeremy charged. The Lead Guard met his attack, his teeth bared in a snarl. Jeremy swung his sword. Clang!”
Children’s author Kathryn Dahlstrom offers plenty of action in “Children of Angels”, the first book in the New Nephilim series for 9-to-14-year-old readers. “I put as much fun as possible in this story,” she says. “Lots of humor, lots of exciting action.”
The fantasy series is based on the biblical mention of Nephilim in Genesis 6 and Numbers 13. When angels came to earth and took women as their wives, their children grew up to be Nephilim — “Heroes of old, men of renown.” Dahlstrom explains, “For me that was a fantasy up for grabs! I wondered what if the genes of the Nephilim resurfaced today in a kid? What if he could suddenly do everything an angel could do?”
– Winepress Publishing, “Author Offers Kids a Fresh, Action-Packed Take on Fantasy”, Standard Newswire, 29 February 2012
Due to be released in March 2012 is the first book in the new Son of Angels series, Spirit Fighter, by North Carolina pastor Jerel Law. Aiming at a readership similar to that of the Harry Potter series – the highest-selling fiction series ever (just pipping the Left Behind series which claims second place) – Spirit Fighter tells the story of seventh-grader Jonah Stone, who discovers that he is one-quarter angel:
When his children began reading books by J.K. Rowling and Percy Jackson, Law wondered why there was not a similar series with a Christian foundation. “I wanted to write something for my kids and connect them with the Bible in a relevant way for them,” he said. His hook became the “Nephilim,” a race of giants mentioned in Genesis 6:4 that were created when “sons of God joined with the daughters of mankind.”
Molly Hodgin, editorial director at Thomas Nelson, says that the publishers have received a deluge of book submissions involving Nephilim:
“We’ve received many submissions about Nephilim, but Jerel’s stood out because it was adventurous, fresh, and fun,” Hodgin said. “I loved that his protagonists encountered creatures and characters from the Bible and brought them to life in a modern way that kids could really visualize.”
Here’s part of the scene in which Jonah finds out why he has got special powers:
“I thought that angels and all of that stuff were just a story,” Jonah said. “You know, like a fairy tale. I believe in Elohim and in the Bible, but I thought that angels were something people made up. Floating around on clouds and playing harps and stuff. Do they do that?”
His mom and dad laughed. “Not exactly,” his father said. “Angels are some of the most powerful creatures in the universe. Elohim created them to be in the service of His kingdom. But some of them – the Bible says about one-third – decided they didn’t want to serve under Elohim’s reign anymore. One of them even thought he could be better than Elohim.”
Eleanor continued gravely, “A great battle took place. Michael, the leader of the angelic army, brought his forces to battle against the great deceiver, the angel who led the rebellion. He has been known by many names – Satan, Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness – but among angels he is known as Abaddon, the accuser. After a violent struggle, Michael threw Abaddon down to the earth, along with those Abaddon had convinced to fight with him. They are known as the Fallen, and they roam this earth, doing their master’s bidding, still waging war against Elohim and His forces.”
“Your father was a fallen angel,” Jonah repeated, still not sure that he could bring himself to believe what he was hearing.
“Yes,” Eleanor said, slowly tracing the rim of her coffee mug. “One who wanted a child.”
“What would one of the Fallen want with a kid?”
Benjamin began to turn the pages of his Bible. “You are a quarterling, Jonah. What do you think that makes your mother?”
“I guess that means she is half angel,” Jonah said. Then he looked thoughtfully at his father. “Dad, are you…?”
His dad laughed. “Oh, I can assure you, I am entirely human. Your mom can vouch for this too. But you are right: she is half angel.” He gazed at her. “Although she’ll always be one hundred percent angel to me.”
The idea that one-third of the angels fell from heaven with Abaddon comes from the Revelation of John 12.3-4a (cf. 9.11):
Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
Stars were understood to be angels in many ancient Jewish and Christian works (Daniel 12.2-3; LXX Job 38.7; Book of Dreams 86; Epistle of Enoch 104.2-6), including Revelation (19.17). The observation that some “wandering stars” (planets) went in their own direction – compared to the great majority of stars in the night sky – was sometimes interpreted as evidence that some of these angels had rebelled against divine law (Book of Watchers 18.13-16; Astronomical Book 80.6-7; Irenaeus, Proof 16; Against Heresies 4.40.3; 5.24.4; Tertullian, On Patience 5; Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Oration 6).
When the Israelite spies explore the land in Numbers 13, they report seeing giants: the “descendents of Anak” . The question that most people ask me is: how tall were these Anakim?
They were remarkably tall, if we accept the comparison the spies make between the height of the Israelites and that of the Anakim (Num. 13.33): “And we were, in our eyes, like grasshoppers” (ונהי בעינינו כחגבים). It’s probably not a literal comparison, though: in Isa. 40.22, the inhabitants of earth are described as being “like grasshoppers” from the perspective of Yahweh’s heavenly focalisation. Yet while probably figurative, the comparison does indicate that the Anakim boasted some impressive and towering height. This description is followed by a parallel clause: וכן היינו בעיניהם, often translated “and so we were in their eyes”. However, if we treat the second line as synonymous parallelism, perhaps the better translation of וכן is “and like a gnat” (with the assimilation of the כ- prefix to the first radical). The translation of the parallelism would then be: “And we were, in our eyes, like grasshoppers; and like a gnat we were in their eyes”. Similar translations have been suggested by Snaith, Leviticus and Numbers, 242; Maarsingh, Numbers, 47; Budd, Numbers, 146; and HALOT, כן V.
Yet whether the comparison is with grasshoppers or with grasshoppers and a gnat, we cannot employ the comparison to make any exact estimation of the imagined height of the Anakim. Quite apart from the figurative nature of the comparison, the report of the spies in Numbers 13.33 appears at the end of what the narrative has introduced as a דבה (“evil report” or “malicious report”). At this point in the narrative, the spies are doing all they can to dissuade the people from following Yahweh’s command to go into the land. The majority of the spies are also in opposition to the good spy, Caleb, who encourages the people to enter the land (13.30), and who later is the only one mentioned as being spared from Yahweh’s decree that this entire generation shall die in the desert (14.24). Caleb does not dispute this description of the inhabitants, even when he refers to them (14.9). But his silence on their stature does not settle matters one way or the other.
However, another element in the narrative suggests that the Anakim were not merely imagined as very tall humans (say 7- or 8-feet tall), but that they were thought to be fantastically tall. This element is the enormous bunch of grapes the spies find in the Eshcol Valley, which is so large that it can only be “carried on a pole between two [men]” (Num. 13.23). The bunch of grapes is mentioned immediately after the first mention of the “descendents of Anak” who are inhabitants of Hebron (Num. 13.22). The naming of the Eshcol Valley (“Grape-bunch Valley”) is explained in terms of the gigantic bunch of grapes carried by the two spies (Num. 13.24). Even if the Hebron tradition (13.22) and Eshcol tradition (13.23-24) had no original tradition-historical connection, the best explanation for the gigantic size of the grapes in Num. 13.23-24 is that they match the size of the gigantic inhabitants of the land. The giant grapes and giant inhabitants fit very well together. Indeed, motifs of “eating” or “devouring” are ambiguously associated with both the land and its inhabitants in Num. 13.32 and 14.9. Therefore, we should not – as some commentators have done – search for examples of very tall humans as the “historical kernel” of this account. Instead, the author of Num. 13-14 is describing the Anakim in fantastic terms: as eaters of grape bunches so large that it is impossible for a single person to carry one! The height of the Anakim is removed from the realm of ordinary human parallels, consistent with their assignment to an ancient era, before regular mortals (the Israelites) occupied the land. The narrative in Num. 13-14 leads us into the realm of the fantastic.
We should therefore disregard the attempts of biblical commentaries to rationalise the height of the Anakim. For example, Jeffrey Tigay (in his 1996 commentary on Deuteronomy) attempts to compare the Anakim to 7-foot “Watusi” or 7-foot skeletons found in the Jordan. His assumptions are not much different from those of George Gray at the beginning of the same century, who stated, “There is, of course, nothing intrinsically improbable in the existence in Ḥebron of three individuals famous for their height,” defining the “historical” sons of Anak as “a class of very tall men, whose height lingered long in the memory of the Hebrews”. Indeed, most biblical scholars are unable to deal with the fantastic as fantastic when it comes to the story of the giant Anakim in Numbers 13-14.
In a paradoxical turn, those who get this passage right are not the rational experts, but those who deal most bizarrely with biblical texts: biblical conspiracy theorists, children’s books authors, government propagandists, American homeschoolers, and pre-moderns.
We should consult the spinners of fantasy to understand fantasy! Here are examples of each:
1. The biblical conspiracy theorist
Rob Skiba runs the Babylon Rising Blog, which includes a number of detailed pages on The Return of the Nephilim. Rob has helpfully worked out what size a bunch of grapes must be if they need to be carried by two men. From this, Rob has worked out what size the Anakim must be if the gigantic bunch of grapes appears normal to them:
It’s not mere coincidence that God gives us these details to consider. He is showing us connection after connection, helping us to see the “bigger” picture. As I began to realize this, I took a closer look at the grapes. As I did, I saw that the grapes actually confirmed the size of the giants who were eating them! …
Looking at this graphic, we can see that a 6 foot tall man would have no trouble carrying a cluster of grapes scaled to anything smaller than that which a 30 foot giant would have been eating. But much bigger than that, and you can see why it took two men to carry one cluster on a pole! So, the grapes are showing us that these giants were massively huge! And this is a fact that is later confirmed by the prophet Amos who wrote about God describing them as being tall as cedar trees:
Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath.
– Amos 2:9 (KJV)
(Rob Skiba, “The Return of the Nephilim”)
2. The children’s book author
In How Do You Feed a Hungry Giant: A Munch-and-Sip Pop-Up Book by Caitlin Friedman, illustrated by Shaw Nielsen, a friendly giant arrives in Oscar’s backyard, asking to be fed. The first thing Oscar gets to feeds the giant is three bunches of grapes. However, this turns out to be grossly inadequate for the giant’s considerable appetite, and the giant eats the three bunches of grapes in “one big gulp”. In a variation on what occurs in Num. 13-14, three normal bunches of grapes fill up Oscar’s hands, but are tiny in the gargantuan hands of the giant:
3. The government propagandist
The Israeli government has been spinning fantasies about the land and its inhabitants for several decades – such as the myth of an “empty land” and the legend of creating paradise out of a desert. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism bases its logo on the spy narrative in Num. 13-14. As might be expected, the grapes are enormous, out-of-proportion to anything which Israeli tourism really has to offer:
4. The American Homeschooler
My son is working on a project for an upcoming history, art, and science fair for homeschoolers. It’s called the Valley of Eshcol and comes from Numbers 13:23
(Bunny Trails Photography)
I don’t know whether this plasticine study of Numbers 13.23 was classified under history, art, or science. Within the American homeschooling system, I guess that “history” would be probable.
But, that aside, check out this fantastic, gigantic bunch of grapes, and tiny Israelite spies set against enormous trees:
5. The pre-modern
Yeah, ok, I know that modernity brings its own myths and all. But when it comes to the biblical myths, there is a great deal of continuity in mindset until the modern era. As a consequence, pre-moderns tend to take the biblical references to a fantastically large bunch of grapes in either a literal or allegorical (eucharistic, etc) sense. Contrast modern depictions of the grapes of Num 13, which tend to be downsized and made more “realistic”.
In this depiction on a 4th-5thC lamp, the bunch of grapes is even lower than the spies’ feet (which must have made walking difficult):
Insofar as the biblical conspiracy theorist, the children’s book author, government propagandist, American homeschooler, and pre-modern enter into much the same dimension of fantasy as that entered into by the author of Num. 13-14 – wherein giant and human realms exist on vastly different scales – they provide far more insight into the biblical spy narrative than almost every modern biblical commentator.
So – how tall were the Anakim? Far taller than any humans we know of. In the imagination of the author of Num. 13-14, the Anakim were somewhere between 15- and 40-feet tall. Mere humans would have appeared like grasshoppers or gnats beside them.
The niche market for Christian Boys’ biblical literature has never faced more stiff competition. Nothing sells like sexism, as Zondervan well knows with its Big Bad Bible Giants, 2:52 Boys Bible, andPrecious Princess Bible. But now, the David C. Cook ministry brings Christian boys Triple Dog Dare: One Year of Dynamic Devotions for Boys by Jeremy V. Jones.
The cover features a boyish “David”, armed with a boyish slingshot, confronting a mechanised Goliath. The young rapscallion! The message is clear:
Boys want action. They don’t want to sit around and talk—that’s for grown-ups and girls. They engage life and relationships by doing something: skateboarding, playing games or re-creating favorite movie scenes. So why should faith be any different? That’s why Jeremy V. Jones created Triple Dog Dare: One Year of Dynamic Devotions for Boys—to provide the action boys need in order to grow their faith.
The Bible is full of action. Remember how David slew Goliath, Daniel faced those lions, Paul survived a shipwreck and Jesus stood up for a woman about to be killed? God made boys to take His truth and do something with it, to man up and change the world.
Well, yes, that’s the message. During his formative years, you can drive the girliness out of your boy. Did I say “boy”? No – “man up”, 8-12 year olds. It’s a man’s world for you to take, while the girls and womenfolk just sit around and talk as they are wont to do.