Wednesday, July 8, 2015

They Might Be Giants

Discussing with a friend of mine the various aspects of mythology and particularly mythical creatures mentioned in the Bible and how they are sometimes sanitized in translation, I decided to complete a post I have been working on for some time. These mythic elements are there and while I do not feel bound to treat them all as literal, and I do not know if the original authors thought them literal, they must nonetheless be understood in their original context. We need not have a translator shield our eyes from what the text plainly says. This post therefore will deal with the subject of giants.

The Bible mentions various races of giants. The giant stories seem to have been restricted to the earliest, somewhat legendary histories of national origins of the various peoples in the area including some great stories of Israel's founding heroes. If you are a fan of the documentary hypothesis you will find that the giant stories do not come from a single textual tradition although some names for the giants might be specific to certain sources.

Nephilim

The first giant group mentioned is the Nephilim. Their name means "fallen ones". We are given their background in an origin story. They appear in Genesis 6:1-4. While KJV does a pretty good job of these verses I give my own translation below:

  1. And it came to pass, when the Adamites 1 were polluted greatly 2 upon the land 3, and daughters were born unto them,
  2. And the sons of the Elohim saw the daughters of the Adamites that they were good 4; They then took them wives of any which they chose.
  3. And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always advocate for the Adamites, for that he also is flesh, and his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
  4. The Nephilim 5 were in the land in those days; and also after that, because the sons of the Elohim came to the daughters of the Adamites, and they bore to them these, the mighty ones, which from eternity were men of the name.

From these verses we find a lot of information. We learn:

  1. The genesis of the Nephilim was an act of wickedness
  2. A group of divine or semi-divine beings fathered them with human mothers
  3. The mortality of the race of Adam is emphasized
  4. The Nephilim were mighty ones (usually a warrior appellation) and men of "the name" (perhaps a religious designation)

We have for these verses an inspired revision in the Joseph Smith Translation located in the Book of Moses. Far from striking the mythical beings from the record he actually adds significant details to the story. In 7:15 we learn that they had a confrontation with Enoch. In 8:13 we learn that the title "sons of God" was used by Noah and his family. The progenitors of the Nephilim are reduced to a mortal and very human "sons of men" in 8:14. In 8:15 the wickedness of the situation is made more explicit and the specific charge of prostitution is added to the mix. In 8:16-17 we have additional details of Noah prophesying to the people and warning them of the coming death and reckoning for their actions. In 8:18 we see a confrontation between the giants and Noah and Noah's use of divine power for protection. In 8:19-20 Noah's priesthood authority and connection to Enoch are emphasized. The progenitors are again referenced as "children of men". Then in verse 8:21 the response from the wicked progenitors comes claiming the title "sons of God" and point to their ability to produce children that are "mighty men" and "men of renown" (this is how KJV renders "men of the name").

This revision certainly doesn't step away from some of the more sensational elements. It seems in this version the Nephilim are a competing religious group to the teachings of Enoch and Noah. Rather than true divine heritage, they come from a group claiming a level of divinity, not unlike Nimrod in Genesis 10 or the tower builders in Genesis 11:4. The inclusion of prostitution in this story paints them as abusive of their ecclesiastical station. Their claims of military prowess for their race seems especially human. The title "men of the name" could refer to the Divine name which would grant to its knower power and authority. This is echoed in the referenced Genesis 11:4 and forms a nice counterpoint to David's claim to "coming in the name of Yahweh" when confronting Goliath (1 Samuel 17:45). Claims of such hidden knowledge are common in Middle Eastern literature and would establish the Nephilim as a false priesthood teaching a sexually immoral code while elevating themselves to divine status.

The Nephilim will show up in again in Numbers 13:33.

  1. And there we saw the Nephilim! The sons of Anak from the Nephilim! And we were in our eyes like grasshoppers! And truly are we in their eyes!

Thus is the report of the spies from the first look at the promised land. It is obviously many centuries since Enoch and Noah. The Nephilim of that age have spawned a new race called the "sons of Anak" or Anakim. I will have a look at them next. I should note here that the Septuagint (a Greek translation from the Second Temple Period) does not include the reference to the "sons of Anak" in this verse but has only τοὺς γίγαντας "the giants". How the Nephilim survived the flood especially since their creation was a primary cause of God's anger is a subject of frequent speculation.

The above verses are the only ones referencing the Nephilim in the Hebrew Bible. OK, well maybe not quite. There may be a reference to them in Ezekiel 32:24.

  1. They shall not lie with the mighty ones, the Nophlim from the uncircumcised who went down to Sheol with their implements of war.

The chapter is a listing of those who have gone down in death and is a dire warning of to Pharoah that his number is about to come up. It remains unclear if the Nophlim here is the same as the Nephilim of Genesis and Numbers. One thing is clear, if they are the same they are a long dead people by the time of Ezekiel.

Anakim

Our second group of Giants are the Anakim or sons of Anak. They show up in our history around the time of the Israelite conquest. Their name meaning is not certain and may not be a Semitic name. It seems to relate to the word for neck and may mean "long necked" or perhaps "necklace wearer" or might mean something entirely different.

We are first introduced to them in Numbers 13 where verse 22 explains they have three tribes or subgroups named Ahiman (my brothers gift), Sheshai (noble), and Talmai (furrowed). These are also recorded in Joshua 15:14. They are living in the Hebron area and interestingly not only are the Sons of Anak huge, so is their food. Our intrepid spies cut down a cluster of grapes and need to carry it on a pole between two people. In 28 when the spies are giving thier report they praise the crops but warn of strong people, walled cities and seeing the sons of Anak. While Caleb alone tries to settle the people down and offer a confident reply the people eventually whip up into the exclamation noted above that the Anakim are the heirs of the Nephilim. Caleb after being the only one to express confidence in battling them goes on to personally defeat them in Joshua 15. Note that while it is often thought the names refer to tribes it is completely possible to read them as the names of individuals and so this could be referencing three specific giants. We learn from Joshua that Anak was the son of Arba, Joshua 15:13, 21:11 also Judges 1:20. Their more general defeat is recorded earlier in Josuah 11:21-22. Here they are recorded as dwelling in Hebron, Debir, and Anab. It is also noted that they populated the highlands or mountains of both "Judah" and "Israel". The mentioning of the political distinctions of the divided kingdom which began in 930 BCE is a good indicator that the text was composed centuries after the events historical setting. Gaza, Gath and Ashdod are listed as places where they continue to survive. Of course Gath will be the home of the Bible's most famous giant, Goliath. Many have therefore placed him as one of the last sons of Anak though he is never indentified as such.

The story of the spies is retold in Deuteronomy with some changes. They are mentioned in 1:28 where the exclamation of the spies is given but the reference to the Nephilim is dropped. Here Moses speaks to encourage the people in 9:2.

  1. A people mighty and tall, the sons of the Anakim, which you know. And you heard "Who can stand before the sons of Anak?!"

They are also mentioned a few times in Deuterony 2: 10,11 and 21 which will be discussed below.

Zuzim/Zazummim, Emim, Chorim, Avim and Chaphtorim

Looking at for a moment at a few less documented giant groups, we should start with Chedorlaomer the giant slayer. Chedorlaomer was king of Edom and we are told led a coalition of kings against various races of giants. In Genesis 14:5-6 we learn that he launched offensives against the Raphaim (more on them below), the Zuzim (roving creatures), the Emim (terrors), and the Chorim (cave dwellers).

These peoples are mentioned again in Deuteronomy 2:10-23. Here the Emim are listed as a vanished people who once possessed the Moabite lands and were as tall as the Anakim. In 2:11 we are told both the Anakim and Emim were accounted part of the Raphaim. The Chorim previously inhabited Mount Seir, the land of Edom where they too were vanquished by the children of Esau. The Zazummim (probably the same as Zuzim) are described in 2:20 as part of the ancient race of Raphaim that were vanquished by the Ammonites from their ancestral land. 2:22-23 relates again the children of Esau vanquishing the Chorim and adds the new groups Avim (perverters), and Caphtorim (crowns).

Little is known about these minor groups. The Chorim make a brief additional appearance in Genesis 36:20,21,29. The Avim show up in Joshua 13:3 and 2 King 17:31. Caphtorim also have mentions in Genesis 10:14 and 1 Chronicals 1:12. These references are quite brief and it is far from certain that they are intended to reference the same people in these verses or if it is a coincidence of name.

Raphaim

The Raphaim are yet another interesting term/group in the realm of the giants mentioned already above. The name means "powerless", "dead", or "shadow like". The word also seems to evolve somewhat over time. At one early point it seems to specify a descrete group of giants (Genesis 14:5, 15:20). Later it seems to be a general heading under which all other groups of giants are listed (Deuteronomy 2:11). Finally in later literature it takes on a meaning of dead spirits residing in Sheol (Isaiah 14:9).

The Valley of the Giants or Valley of the Rephaim becomes a place name in several verses. The place is often described as a fearful location, perhaps out of thought that giants still dwell there. (Joshua 15:8, 17:15 (land rather than valley), 18:16, 2 Samuel 5:18,22, 23:13, 1 Chronicals 11:15, 14:9, Isaiah 17:5)

In a series of verses from Isaiah and the Wisdom literature (Isaiah 14:9, 26:14, 26:19, Ps 88:11, Job 26:5, Prov 2:18, 9:18, Prov 21:16) the word Raphaim is used specifically to refer to the dead or maybe a subgroup of the dead in Sheol or the Pit. While it seems unlikely that the word still means giants in these verses, the similar use of Nephilim/Nophlim in Ezekiel 32:24 above seems to strengthen the idea that the link between giants and the dead was not lost on the ancient writers. My teenage daughter was particularly excited to learn about the possibility of giant zombies in the scriptures.

Og of Bashan

Deuteronomy 3 tells of the defeat of Og King of Bashan in battle by Moses. We learn in verse 11 (also Joshua 12:4 and 13:12) he was the last of the Rephaim (although others will be told of later so he must not have been that last). He is noted for his remarkable king sized bed at 9 cubits by 4 cubits (maybe 13.5 feet by 6 feet). It was a major defeat and referred to in several places in the Hebrew Bible.

Goliath

Of course the most famous story of a giant is that of Goliath recorded in 1 Samuel 17. Hailing from the city of Gath where the Anakim were not vanquished, Goliath is described only as a Philistine. The words Nephilim, Anakim, Raphaim or any of the other names discussed above do not appear in the story. He is described as being 6 cubits and a span (maybe 9.5 feet) tall. Like Og his personal items are remarkably large. His sword would later be used as a personal weapon of the older David (1 Samuel 21:9, 1 Samuel 22:10)

David's Giant Slayers

In 2 Samuel 21 we have a final charge of David's men against the Raphaim. Ishbi-benob (dweller of Nob) attempts to kill David but is taken out by Abishai Ben Zeruiah, causing David's team to rethink policies about taking David with them on away missions (insert Star Trek TNG joke here). Then at Gob, Shebbechai slew Saph (tall). A second battle of Gob results in slaying Lahmi (my bread), brother of Goliath 6 by Elhanan ben Jaareoregim. Finally a battle in the land of Gath, the giant stronghold itself, where they meet a nameless six fingered man (insert Princess Bride joke here) who is dispatched by David's nephew Jonathan ben Shimea. Thus the final four of the mighty Raphaim are destroyed.

Gibor

One final note needs to be made about Job 16:14 thanks to the KJV which translates "giant" here. The Hebrew is Gibor or "mighty man". This is an appellation that the Nephilim took at the beginning. It is a common title indicating a military or warrior status and was used by David's warrior, giant slaying heroes as well as other groups. I see no justification to render it as "giant" here but rather "warrior" which most other translations do.

Conclusions

The Israelites had a complex vocabulary for speaking of giants, probably reflecting a complex and vibrant mythology. In most every case, recollections of giants was recorded often centuries after the historical events took place. It is quite possible that actual historical events remained within the realm of more ordinary human experiance and were retold in mythic terms to perhaps capture the imagination of the hearers. Yet while most events surrounding the giants are not attested in modern revelation, the Book of Moses compels us to not step away too far in our interpretation of the stories as the Nephilim story is refined and expanded in modern inspired writings. Likewise the stories cannot be confined to the fancy of a single author but seem to be present in a variety of books and multiple authors of the Hebrew Bible.

I have limited this post to discussion of the giants from a perspective of the Hebrew Bible and I think I have covered it well and addressed all occurrences in that text. But I do wish to acknowledge there is a vast body of literature in apocryphal and rabbinic writings addressing these ancient beings. Some of it is quite fanciful suggesting Og stowed away on the ark or recounting the various giant verses giant battles that resulted in natural geologic formations. The Kabbala explores at length the idea of their being "men of the name". Some have suggested that archeological sites with stone circles in the Golan heights relate to these giants much as Stonehenge was said to have been formed by giants.

To date there is no archeological evidence to support a race of giants. Their literal existence bears little doctrinal import to me personally. I find it interesting to ponder how they may figure symbolically. All verses seem to find them war like, wicked and irredeemable. They also represented great power and perhaps even a weapon to be wielded by an unrighteousness nation. Standing against them was considered a courageous and righteous act often resulting in Divine assistance. Giant slayers include Enoch, Noah, Moses, Caleb, Joshua, David and David's mighty men. The giants represent a vanished period of chaos that has been supplanted by civilized nations, even nations outside the covenant of Abraham. Perhaps they are a symbol of the chaotic force of lawlessness itself. As such it must be our duty to drive them from our personal land of inheritance to establish a peaceful Zion.


  1. literally "The Adam" used here to reference all the descendants of Adam

  2. I take a different direction here than KJV. The problematic phrase is החל לרב hêḥêl lārōḇ which KJV readers "begin to multiply". While it is true hêḥêl can mean begin in the hiphil and hophal forms of the verb, that is not the more common meaning of the root ḥll. Even where the word means " begin" it often means the beginning of something horrible such as Number 16:46 "begun the plague" or Judges 20:39 "began to smite" or 2 Kings 10:32 "began to cut off". Much more frequently this verb means "to defile, pollute, or profane". For example this same form is rendered this way in Ezekiel 20:9, 14, & 22. The second word lārōḇ is also problematic. It is rendered as an infinitive of the geminate verb rbb which means to "be many" or "multiply". This form is interpreted this way only here. Much more commonly it is interpreted as the related noun rōb meaning "great" or "many" or "multitude" with the preposition l meaning "to" and effectively turns the word into an adverb "greatly". I think that rendering this phrase "pollute themselves greatly" works better than "begin to multiply" given the context of the Noah story. I also just find it odd sounding to say daughters start to show up only after the Adamites are multiplying. It's enough to make me feel a need to review my old biology books.

  3. The word here is ha-adamah which is the feminine and obvious parallel of ha-adam from earlier in this verse.

  4. Several bits of the phrasing here parallel the earlier creation account in Genesis 1.

  5. Our first race of giants.

  6. There is a problem with the Samuel text here which says he slew Goliath at this time. This is problematic as Goliath is very dead at this point. The parallel story in 1 Chronicles 20:5 makes it clear that our Samuel version has lost a bit of detail and it was Goliath's brother killed here, who is also named in the Chronicles account. KJV in a rare move amends the text noting it with italicized words so the two stories agree. Still neither Goliath nor his brother are explicitly called Raphaim although everyone else in the story is. Though at the end of the story it does sum up that all four were Raphaim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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