Is Og with the Quick or the Dead? New article from Laura Quick

Laura Quick has just published a useful discussion of the issues surrounding interpretation of King Og’s ערשׂ, in Deuteronomy 3.11, which she interprets as a literal sleeping bed rather than as a coffin or sarcophagus:

Laying Og to Rest: Deuteronomy 3 and the Making of a Myth,” Biblica 98:2 (2017): 161–172.

Quick argues first of all that there are no grounds for interpreting Og as having a link to the dead within the context of the biblical narrative in Deuteronomy 3. She points out, rightly I think, that the Rephaim, of which Og is the last member, were in the perspective of the biblical narrative alive at the time of the biblical conquest. While the Rephaim are long-dead in other poetic biblical passages, that is not the case here, because this is precisely the early pre-Israelite biblical period when the Rephaim are presented as still alive. Similarly, Francesca Stavrakopolou has argued that “It might be supposed, with Mario Liverani and others before him, that the biblical writers recast the Rephaim as giants because they believed that ‘before being dead they must have been alive . . . They should thus have been a people, one that exists no more, but lived in Palestine before [the Israelites’] arrival’” (Land of Our Fathers, 67, citing “Liverani, Israel’s History, 276. See also Loretz, Götter – Ahnen – Könige als gerechte Richter, 259–66″).

However, I note that from the perspective of the author of Deuteronomy, who knows of Og’s ערשׂ being on display in Ammon in his own day, the fact that Og is alive in the biblical narrative is evidentially neutral for identifying his ערשׂ – he’s been long dead and buried. So as King Og is now remembered as one of the long dead, it’s still just as plausible that we’re talking about his sarcophagus.

Quick also agrees with Allan Millard’s view that a bed made with iron indicates a literal sleeping bed rather than a sarcophagus, which would be made of stone. (See also Ulrich Hübner, “Og von Baschan und sein Bett in Rabbat-Ammon (Deuteronomium 3,11)”, ZAW 105 (1993): 86–92.) This is a plausible argument. And yet, as the history of debate has shown, there is a lot of uncertainty that remains. For example (and there are further possibilities), Driver (Deuteronomy, 54) suggested that the ברזל might be basalt rather than iron. As the ערשׂ is evidently on display in Ammon, in Deuteronomy’s day, this is quite understandable as a gigantic basalt tomb; but it is less understandable that there would be an enormous manmade bed with iron parts. It’s possible, but at the very least, the case is hardly laid to rest on the basis of the “iron”/”basalt”.

So Quick tries to rebut the links between Og and the dead which rely on data from outside of the biblical narrative in Deuteronomy 3, that is: the Ugaritic text KTU 1.108 (tablet ca. 1200 B.C.E.), Psalm 68, and a Phoenician tomb inscription from the early fifth century B.C.E., Byblos 13. Her reasoning here seems to be that, if these texts don’t support a chthonic connection to Og, this removes the supporting arguments upon which some scholars have relied to interpret Og’s ערשׂ as a sarcophagus rather than a bed. So this is not a direct argument for the interpretation of Og’s ערשׂ as a sleeping bed or sarcophagus. And it cannot logically have the power to put the issue to rest.

Yet Quick is right that the the general article before ʿg in the Byblos 13 inscription makes it difficult to translate the term as the proper name ‘Og’, and that the reference to Bashan/bashan in Psalm 68 is not in the immediate context related to the dead. But in respect of the Ugaritic KTU 1.108, her assertion that  “the translation preferred by the majority of Ugaritologists reads these lexemes not as toponyms, but as divine names, Aṯtartu and Haddu” – which cites only (the often idiosyncratic) de Moor – is not convincing. The relevant part of the text reads (with my translation):

yšt rpˀu mlk ˁlm He is established, the rpˀu, the eternal king,
           wyšt [ˀil?] gṯr wyqr             and established is [the god(?),] Gathar-and-Yaqar;
ˀil yṯb bˁṯtrt the god who sits (enthroned) in Athtarat,
           ˀil ṯpṭ bhdrˁy the god who rules in Hedrey.

Contra Quick, most interpreters do identify the parallel words in KTU 1.108 with the cities situated in the Hauran (biblical Bashan), south of Damascus, north of the Yarmuk River. In Deut. 1:4; Josh. 12:4; 13:12, 31, the two cities are associated especially with King Og, who is described as enthroned (Heb. √ישׁב, cf. Ug. √yṯb) in the same two cities and also as one of the Rephaim. In favour of this interpretation are Michael C. Astour, ‘Two Ugaritic Serpent Charms’, JNES 27 (1968), 21; Margulis, ‘A Ugaritic Psalm’, 294 (‘the Honor of El sits (enthroned) in Ashtaroth’); Marvin H. Pope, ‘Notes on the Rephaim Texts’, in Essays on the Ancient Near East in Memory of Jacob Joel Finkelstein, ed. Maria de Jong Ellis, MCAAS 19 (Hamden: Archon, 1977), 170 (‘the god who dwells in Ashtaroth’); Sergio Ribichini and Paolo Xella, ‘Milk‘aštart, MLK(M) e la tradizione Siro-palestinese sui Refaim’, RSF 7 (1979), 154 (‘e Yqr il risiede in ˁAṯtartu’); Johannes C. de Moor, An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit, Nisaba, 16 (Leiden: Brill, 1987), 187 (‘the god who is dwelling in Athtartu’); Dennis C. Pardee, Les textes para-mythologiques de la 24e campagne (1961), Ras Shamra-Ougarit 4 (Paris: Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisation, 1988), 81 (‘le dieu qui siege à ˁAshtarot’); Wyatt, Religious Texts from Ugarit, 395 (‘the god enthroned in Athtarat’); Gregorio del Olmo Lete, Canaanite Religion: According to the Liturgical Texts of Ugarit, tr. Wilfred G. E. Watson (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004), 186 (‘(the) god who sits in ˁAṯtartu’); DULAT, 195 (‘the god who sits in TN’); Aïcha Rahmouni, Divine Epithets in the Ugaritic Alphabetic Texts, HO, Section One: The Near and Middle East 93, tr. J. N. Ford (Leiden and Boston: Brill), 208 (‘The god who sits (enthroned) in ˁAṯtartu’).

In addition, the preposition b- does not ever mean ‘with, in the company of (a person)’, which favours the toponymic interpretation (Rahmouni, Divine Epithets, 38).

The spelling of Ug. hdrˁy versus Heb. אדרעי is not a common transition in North-West Semitic but is not unattested (e.g., Akkad. ewūm ‘to become’, cf. Aram. hǝwā: Sabatino Moscati, Anton Spitaler, Edward Ullendorff, and Wolfram Von Soden, An Introduction to The Comparative Grammar of the Semitic Languages: Phonology and Morphology, PLONS 6 (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1969), 42. Alternatively, Baruch Margulis suggests a scribal error of hdrˁy for ˀidrˁy, given the similarity of h and ˀi and the single, small missing wedge which would be involved (‘A Ugaritic Psalm (RS 24.252)’, JBL 89 (1970): 294). Nicolas Wyatt dismisses the difference as insignificant, imploring, ‘This is a school exercise!’ (Religious Texts from Ugarit: The Words of Ilimilku and His Colleagues, BS 53 [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998], 396 n. 8).

So there is life yet in King Og’s sarcophagus, I think.

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The Origin of the Giant King Og of Bashan

While some people make a name for themselves, in the case of Og, it may be that the name created the person.

Deuteronomy 3.11 describes King Og of Bashan as ‘the last of the remnant of the Rephaim’ and notes that he is buried in a sarcophagus nine by four cubits in size (13 1/2 by 6 feet). Deuteronomy 1.4 describes King Og as reigning in two cities, Ashteroth and Edrei. In addition, a Ugaritic text from about 1200 B.C. (KTU 1.108) states that another member of the Rephaim (or as they said in Ugaritic, a member of the Rapiˀuma) reigned at Ashteroth and Edrei (or Athtarat and Hedrey). Again, an early fifth-century B.C. tomb inscription from the Phoenician city of Byblos (Byblos 13) summons ‘the Og’ against anybody who would disturb the dead person’s remains.

Gregorio del Olmo Lete follows a fairly widespread understanding when he posits a three-stage development in the traditions about Og: 1. a ‘mythical ideological framework’ was developed at Ugarit concerning the Rephaim; 2. a ‘historical’ record was composed in the Hebrew Bible; and 3. a mythological transformation of the historical Og took place in Phoenicia.

But a couple of factors suggest, to the contrary, that the purportedly real King Og of Deut. 3 was a development from the general title ‘og’. First, the only etymology of ‘Og’ which makes sense of his association with the warriors of the Rephaim is, as Chaim Rabin suggested, something similar to the South Semitic ǵwg, meaning ‘man’ or ‘man of valour’. Thus, ‘Og’ is not a personal name but a title of a Canaanite king. It is similar to other titles of the Ugaritic and Canaanite kings which emphasise their manhood par excellence, and thus their strength and military prowess: e.g., ish, amēlu, mt (Del Olmo Lete, ‘Los nombres “divinos”‘, 257-66). Second, the Phoenician tomb inscription Byblos 13 has a definite article before ‘Og’, making its interpretation as a personal name unlikely. It is more likely that the invocation is of ‘the og’, referring to some powerful being who could deal to anybody who desecrated a grave. (Yet note that there is some debate about the transcription and translation of hʿg, originally by Jean Starcky, ‘Une inscription Phénicienne de Byblos’, 1969.) Third, Byblos 13 parallels other tomb inscriptions (KAI 13.8 [the Tabnith inscription] and KAI 14.8  [the Eshmunazzar sarcophagus]) which also summon powerful beings to deal with desecrators of graves, except that the beings are the Rephaim (rpum). The Rephaim and the og are to some extent interchangeable on these Phoenician tomb inscriptions! Therefore, ‘the og’ might be interpreted as a powerful warrior and member of the Rephaim – all qualities which fit with the biblical King Og, except that the general noun ‘og’ has become a proper name, ‘Og’.

A weakness of Del Olmo Lete’s proposed tradition-historical development is that it provides a progression from myth to history to myth. More parsimonious and having the support of the factors listed above is a progression from a mythical early king and member of the Rephaim who is long dead but continues to exercise some power in the netherworld (including gravesites) to a ‘historicised’ or ‘euhemerised’ character believed to have the name ‘Og’ rather than the title of ‘og’, who is made a king in Ashteroth and Edrei and a member of the Rephaim.

The likelihood, therefore, is that Og’s name preceded his invention, in the Bible, as a person.

Updates:

1. Note the interesting comment in the comments section below by Chaim HaQoton: “the notion that Og was a title for the Bashanite King is already found in Medieval Rabbinic literature, see Daat Zeqanim [דעת זקנים] to Genesis 24:39”.

2. Jim Davila (Paleojudaica) comments on this proposal for the origin of Og, on his blog, that “something like that sounds plausible to me”.