The (tall) Goliath Family of First-Century Jericho

In “Revising the Hebrew Dictionary (DCH). 2. The Goliath Family” (October 2015), David J.A. Clines has some interesting things to say about a first-century inscription from Jericho.

The Goliath Family Tomb, Jericho

The Goliath Family Tomb, Jericho

Clines refers to an excavation carried out in the late 1970s, in which the bones of various members of the Goliath (גלית/ΓΟΛΙΆΘ) family were found in a first-century monumental tomb in the Jewish necropolis at Jericho. As Clines summarises, “the bones of family members were contained in 22 ossuaries (and elsewhere in the tomb) and there are some 32 inscriptions on 14 of the ossuaries.” The original report on the excavation of the family tomb is found in director Rachel Hachlili’s report, “The Goliath Family in Jericho: Funerary Inscriptions from a First-Century A.D. Jewish Monumental Tomb”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 235 (1 July 1979): 31-66.

Goliath Family Tomb inscription 9 ("Yehoezer son of Yehoezer Goliath") in Greek and Hebrew

Goliath Family Tomb inscription 9 (“Yehoezer son of Yehoezer Goliath”) in Greek and Hebrew

Why did a Jewish family take the name Goliath, the name of the famous Philistine foe? Hachlili’s suggestion was that it was a nickname, due to the great height of some of the family members. For example, the “Yehoezer Goliath” of inscription 9’s “Yehoezer son of Yehoezer Goliath” (right) – if he may be identified with Yehoezer bar Eleazar of inscription 12 – was 188.5cm (6 feet 2 inches) tall. Given the average height of Jewish males at this time of 5 feet 4 inches, Yehoezer bar Eleazar would have easily been nicknamed “Goliath” (who in the Greek Septuagint was 6 feet 9 inches).

Clines calls the explanation “intriguing rather than definitive”. Indeed.

1 Comment

Filed under 1 Samuel 17, Ancient Jewish texts, Biblical Giants, Goliath

Writings by Ancient Rephaim Found! The Lost Book of King Og

King Og of Bashan depicted against ordinary Israelite

King Og of Bashan depicted against ordinary Israelite

It has been long rumoured that a work by King Og, the last of the Rephaim/Giants, was hidden in the Secret Vatican Library in the Department of Ancient Documents and Surviving Occult Findings

In the past few days, the existence of the Lost Book of King Og the Giant (dated ca. 1400 BCE) has been confirmed by the murkier recesses of the internet. A new website, The Lost Book of King Og has made available an English translation of the largely extant Chapter 7 of this ancient seven-chapter work.

The contents are fascinating. Chapter 7 begins with taunts from King Og to Israel, in which the former appears to compare Israel to ants buried in fecal matter. There are also tantalizing references to “my brethren” which seem to refer to the antediluvian Nephilim (Gen 6:4).

Are the tales of my [exploits] not [traveling] to you O [fecal worm?] of Israel? Of my power [. . .] renowned fields of my [Pre-Adamic/Pre-Watcher][Nephilim] brethren? [. . .murder. . .] How we turned our wrath [. . .mercy. . .a foreigner. . .] the old world stood.

In another section of the chapter, King Og declares that his age is 800 years – confirming the great age attributed to Giants in other ancient texts. This puts his birth a little after the Flood, according the Bible’s internal chronology (which suggests the “translator” may have miscalculated a little).

It is a truly incredible find. Read the published translation of Chapter 7 of The Lost Book of King Og here.

The publication of The Lost Book of King Og provides further evidence of the existence of giants at the time of the conquest. It may be compared to the letter sent by the Confederation of Giants to Joshua, found in Book 27 of the Samaritan Book of Joshua, the original of which may well date as early as the invasion of the land of Canaan in ca. 1456 BCE.

The translator of The Lost Book of King Og, Demmon, is also the author of an online serialized werewolf story, The Gonteekwaa much longer work of fiction.




Filed under Biblical Giants, Comedy, King Og

Simcha Jacobovici sees Jesus where there is no Jesus (again): This time in the Dead Sea Scrolls

jesus-toastIn his blog for The Times of Israel of March 25, 2016, journalist Simcha Jacobovici claims to have made a significant “discovery”. Jacobovici claims to have upset the current scholarly consensus that the community responsible for the Dead Sea scrolls was unconnected with the early followers of Jesus:

Now, I’ve made a discovery that may change all this. Put simply, I believe that one of the fragments called by scholars by the very unappealing name of “4Q541” explicitly refers to Jesus.

Jacobovici claims that the text in question, fragment 24 of 4Q541 (or “4QApocryphon of Levi”), mentions several items connected with Jesus: a “dove” (יונא), “crucifixion” (ותליא), a “nail” (וצצא), and the words “do not mourn for him” (אל תתאבל בה).

Jacobovici’s blog post goes on to claim that scholars have avoided what he has “discovered”. Jacobovici claims that Florentino García Martínez “must have been nervous about the original reference to ‘the nail’ [in Martínez’s earlier translation] and changed his translation”. In the Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Martínez (with Eibert Tigchelar) translates וצצא as “night-hawk” rather than “nail”, and omits any translation of ותליא. Jacobovici infers that scholars are avoiding finding Jesus in the Dead Sea scrolls: “Were scholars worried about finding Jesus in any ancient texts other than the New Testament?” Jacobovici examined 4Q541 to check that the word ותליא is there, and acknowledges that the ת is fragmentary and less than fully certain. But he believes that it is ת, so comments, “So now I became really suspicious.” When he checks the translation with Dead Sea scrolls translator Émile Puech, Jacobovici concludes that, in omitting the translation “dove”, “Puech purposely fudged the translation so that the reference to Jesus would be lost”.

There are several things wrong with Jacobovici’s article, in addition to its conspiracy-theorist tone.

First, Jacobovici’s claim that “now, I’ve made a discovery that may change all this” makes it sound as if he is the first to discover possible references to a crucifixion and related motifs in 4Q541. He is not. In fact, Émile Puech, with whom Jacobovici spoke, had proposed such a meaning in the official publication of the text, fifteen years ago, in 2001. Not only that, but Puech’s interpretation of the text has been largely followed by George Brooke, in his comparison of the Dead Sea scrolls and New Testament (Fortress Press, 2005). This is by no means, contrary to Jacobovici’s sensationalism, a “discovery”.

Second, Jacobovici is simply flat-out incorrect that 4Q541 “explicitly refers to Jesus”. For there to be an “explicit” reference, the reference must be, er, just that: explicit. Yet there is no mention of the name Jesus/Yeshu(a) in 4Q541. It doesn’t appear explicitly. Therefore, it is wrong to claim that there is an explicit reference to Jesus in the text.

Third, there is a very good reason for the hesitation of many scholars to translate the text with the words “crucifixion”, “nail”, or even “dove”. 4Q541 is a fragmentary text, and its meaning – as a result – is unavoidably uncertain. It is normally the case, in any reconstruction of fragmentary Dead Sea scrolls, that different scholars come up with quite different meanings. Nothing is unusual here, let alone worthy of conspiracy-theory sensationalism. In particular: the ו and ת in ותליא are unclear, which makes the translation “crucifixion”/”suspension” uncertain. In addition, the term צצא is rare, so we can’t be at all sure that the text refers to a “nail”. On top of all this, there are gaps in the fragment which make the context and meaning difficult to determine. This is not an instance of scholarly bias, despite Jacobovici’s attempt to portray it that way. It is, rather, an example of appropriate scholarly caution. We have a fragmentary text and we are uncertain about its meaning and significance.

Fourth: the text predates Jesus by a century or more. Let’s assume that the text does mention crucifixion and nails, mourning, and a dove. Would we then be compelled to conclude that it must refer to Jesus? Not at all. Palaeographical (handwriting) analysis of 4Q541 indicates that the text dates to the end of the second century BCE or about 100 BCE. Its style of handwriting matches that of other texts from this period (eg. 1QS, 1QIsaa, and 4Q175). Although Jacobovici does not mention it in his blog post, Puech himself dated the text some 100-150 years before Jesus. The obvious conclusion is that 4Q541 cannot refer to Jesus.

Simcha Jacobovici has a history of seeing Jesuses where there are no Jesuses. A few years ago, he made the claim, since comprehensively disproved, that a portrait of a vase in a Jerusalem tomb was “a Jonah fish”, an early Christian symbol. As Mark Goodacre summarized, “He’s seeing things that simply aren’t there.” And so it continues, in the next, sensationalist Simcha TV show.


Filed under Ancient Jewish texts, Television

2016 SBL Bag Revealed: Doubles as a Bullet-Proof Vest!

A press release from the Society of Biblical Literature has revealed that the 2016 conference bag will double as a bullet-proof vest. “Safety for our members is our primary concern at the 2016 SBL/AAR conference,” stated the March 22 SBL press release.

The 2016 SBL bag / body armor

The 2016 SBL bag / body armor

“Although we are doing all in our power to limit the risk of shooting incidents at our annual biblical studies conference, we are very pleased with the design of the 2016 tote-bag. It folds out in less than 2 seconds into a vest which is resistant to an 8.0 g (124 gr) 9 mm caliber round-nosed full-metal jacket bullet travelling at up to 358 m/s (1175 ft/s).”

The design of the jacket met with approval from Baylor PhD student Chad Newhart, who is completing a dissertation on the use of the OT in the New. “The bag is way cooler than in past years. And I feel a lot safer knowing that it will protect me from any lone wolf attacks.”

“And with the different nationalities over in AAR,” added Mr Newhart, “We need to be on guard against possible extremists.”

The SBL bag/bullet-proof vest will be available from November 19, 2016.

Related News:

The BNTS Statement on Firearms At the Annual Meeting in Chester


Filed under Academic things

N.T. Wright sings “When the Ship Comes In”

Freewheelin’ travelling bard N.T. Wright has taken his heartfelt folk-singing to the masses. One of his most-loved tunes – judging by his many renditions – is Bob Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In”.

We believe it is significant that Wright has chosen a song which ends with the notable line,

… And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered

Is Wright, then, a secret gigantologist? We suspect so.

May 7, 2012, the Rabbit Room

May 12, 2012, Hearts and Minds Books

And the version that Wright remembers:



1 Comment

Filed under Goliath, Music

Luke’s alternating use of Matthew and Q

In earlier posts, I have discussed why I think that Luke was dependent on Matthew (agreeing with the Farrer Hypothesis), but that Luke also relied on Matthew’s non-Markan sources, “Q” (in disagreement with the Farrer Hypothesis). In brief, Luke has a tendency to follow either Mark or Matthew for extended sequences, but not both (e.g. Luke follows Matthew in Luke 3:1–4:13, but Luke follows Mark in Luke 4:14–6:19). On this basis, we have good prima facie grounds to expect that Luke sometimes preferred the source or sources underlying Matthew (i.e. “Q”) in preference to Matthew itself.

If this is the case, I think it would offer the better explanation of the feature of the double tradition (parallel passages in Matthew and Luke which do not appear in Mark) which has been described as “alternating primitivity”. Sometimes Matthew but sometimes Luke preserve the more primitive version of the double tradition. If we assume for the moment that Q exists, the inference is that, in some places, Matthew employs Q without Lukan expansions, whereas in other places Luke quotes Q without Matthaean expansions.

For example, where Luke has Jesus bless “you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God”, Matthew seems to turn the poor into the “spiritual poor”, changes the “Kingdom of God” into his more euphemistic “Kingdom of Heaven”, and switches the blessing into the third person, in blessing “the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Luke would seem to preserve the more “primitive” version of the underlying source (“Q”). Proponents of the Farrer Hypothesis must conversely argue that Luke, who was dependent on Matthew rather than “Q”, has eliminated the distinctive Matthaean components of the blessing.

In Matt 12:40, Matthew has Jesus explicate the “sign of Jonah”, which is the only sign which Jesus says he will offer his generation. Matthew 12:40 interprets the sign of Jonah as the alleged time between Jesus’s future death and resurrection.  By contrast, Luke 11:30 eliminates Jesus’s prediction of his resurrection. Rather, for Luke, the “sign of Jonah” means the fact that the prophet Jonah’s mission was not one of demonstrating miraculous signs, but of preaching repentance. Luke’s interpretation also agrees with the following verse (also part of the double tradition), which states that the people of Ninevah, who did repent in response to the prophet’s preaching, will be resurrected at the Judgment and condemn Jesus’s generation. Although proponents of the Farrer Hypothesis are correct that Luke is dependent on Matthew, here Luke is not, and – as we should expect – his rendition of “Q” is the more “primitive”.

An example of where Matthew seems more primitive than Luke is Matt 6:2//Luke 11:4, where Matthew has “forgive us our debts” and Luke has “forgive us our sins”. Most scholars would agree that “debts” is a peculiar Jewish metaphor for sins, which Luke would be more likely to change for a Gentile audience.

The examples are all debatable; one scholar’s Matthaean expansion is another scholar’s Lukan deletion, etc. Moreover, judgments about primitivity are influenced by the need to defend either the two-document hypothesis (where Luke is usually seen as primitive, but Matthew sometimes), or the Farrer hypothesis (where Lukan primitivity must be denied), or Matthaean posteriority (where Matthaean primitivity must be denied).

Yet on my hypothesis that Luke sometimes prefers Matthew and sometimes “Q”, we have an in-built check. We would not expect Lukan primitivity where Luke is following Matthew (e.g. Luke 3:1–4:13). Conversely, we would expect Lukan primitivity in respect of Q inserted into sections where Luke is ignoring Matthew in preference for Mark (e.g. Luke 4:14–6:13). Demonstration that this is the case must await my forthcoming book on the Synoptic problem.



Filed under Ancient Jewish texts

Believing the Giant Skeleton Myth

There is a popular internet meme involving fake photographs allegedly portraying skeletons of giant humans. You’ve probably seen a few of these photographs before, for example, the one on the left below (beside the original photograph on the right):

Left: Hoax Giant skeleton photograph; right: The original photograph from a dinosaur dig in Niger, Africa, by the University of Chicago (1993)

Left: Hoax Giant skeleton photograph. Right: The original photograph from a dinosaur dig in Niger, Africa, by the University of Chicago (1993)

A recent article published in the journal SAGE Open asks: what are the characteristics of people likely to believe that the discovery of giant human bones is true?

Participants, drawn predominantly from central Europe, were presented with the following form of the myth:

giant-skeleton-found-in-indiaRecent exploration activity in the northern region of India has uncovered the skeletal remains of a human of phenomenal size. This region of the Indian desert is called the Empty Quarter. The discovery was made by the Indian Division of the National Geographic Team, with support from the Indian Army as the area comes under the jurisdiction of the Army. The exploration team also found tablets that suggest the giant belonged to a race of superhumans that are mentioned in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic poem from about 200 BC. The government of India has now secured the whole area and no one is allowed to enter except National Geographic personnel.

The National Geographic confirmed in 2007 that the story and accompanying pictures were a hoax. The results of the 2016 study showed that significant predictors of belief in the Giant Skeleton Myth were Openness to Experience, New Age orientation, and anti-science bias:

Results showed that women, as compared with men, and respondents with lower educational qualifications were significantly more likely to believe in the giant skeleton myth, although effect sizes were small. Correlational analysis showed that stronger belief in the giant skeleton myth was significantly associated with greater anti-scientific attitudes, stronger New Age orientation, greater religiosity, stronger superstitious beliefs, lower Openness to Experience scores, and higher Neuroticism scores. However, a multiple regression showed that the only significant predictors of belief in myth were Openness, New Age orientation, and anti-scientific attitudes.

(Viren Swami, Ulrich S. Tran , Stefan Stieger, Jakob Pietschnig, Ingo W. Nader, and Martin Voracek, “Who Believes in the Giant Skeleton Myth? An Examination of Individual Difference Correlates”, SAGE Open (January-March 2016): 1–7, published online 5 January 2016, DOI: 10.1177/2158244015623592)

Thanks to Aren Maeir, director of the archaeological dig at Tell es-Safi/Gath (Goliath’s alleged hometown), for alerting me to this study. Aren also amusingly notes that, “every few months, I get an email asking me about th[ese] finds”!


1 Comment

Filed under Archaeology, Biblical Giants, Cryptozoology