Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Mythical Creatures: Biblical Giants

Resting giant by merl1ncz
There were giants on the earth in those days...

Giants can be found within mythology in many different countries and within many different cultures around the world.  A giant is an imaginary or mythical being of human form but superhuman size.  Generally, giants have differing characteristics depending on the culture, region, and purpose of their existence.  In this post we will look at the giants of the Bible and, while I am not trying to prove or disprove the idea that giants once existed, we will take the accounts written at face value.

Nephilim by ertacaltinoz.
The Nephilim

The Nephilim are touched upon in the Hebrew scriptures as well as in the Old Testament.  They were said to have lived in the Hebron Valley in Canaan before the time of the Flood and are described as being vast in size.  The Nephilim were the sons of Anak and may also be referred to as the Anakim.  According to Hugh of St. Cler's Opera, after the Flood, these giant sons of Anak had been born in the Hebron valley, had traversed in Egypt , and were known as the Titans.

There were giants io the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
Genesis 6:4

For those that believe giants once walked the earth, this verse is one of the most important.  However, it is not a direct translation from Hebrew into English.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of the 'Elohiym (Powers))' come to the daughters of the human and they brought forth to them, they are the courageous ones which are from a distant time, men of the title.

Before we look for other passages within the Bible that may make mention of giants, we need to look at the etymology of the word Nephilim to see if there might be a reason for it having been translated to giants.  It is generally agreed that Nephilim is derived from the word nephal.  The most common meanings for the word nephal are:
Nephilim by JoelWhite

1. To fall (to the ground)
2. To fall (as in battle)
3. To be cast down
4. To desert a location
5. To fail

So, the direct translation from Nephilim' to giants is a misinterpretation which was first used in the King James Version of the Bible.  The most common translation used is the Fallen Ones which is, probably closer to the mark.  The Septuagint translation uses the term giantes' or 'earth-born' and this is the big reason our modern English translations translate the word giants for the Hebrew word Nephilim.  Another term used was Hag Gibborim which means the mighty ones.

Genesis 6:4 is not the only passage to mention the Nephilim and, although they are not necessarily referred to as giants, the following verse does give the impression that the Nephilim were in fact giants. 

And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.
Numbers 13:33

Nephilim by erenarik
This verse may provide an additional reason for the view that the Nephilim were giants.  Why else would those sent to Canaan to spy for Moses feel like grasshoppers in comparison to the Nephilim?  Another passage which provides reason for the perception that the Nephilim were giants and, perhaps, fallen ones comes from the Book of Enoch, where it states:

And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisition of men.  And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind.  And they began to sin against birds, and beasts, and reptiles, and fish, and to devour one another's flesh, and drink the blood.  Then the earth laid accusation against the lawless ones.

These verses make it clear that the offspring of the sons of god, here being some two hundred angels who descended [in the days] of Jared on the summit of Mount Hermon', were giants and, in devouring 'mankind... one another's flesh, and drink[ing] the blood they could also be considered as fallen ones. 

We also have the measurement of 3,000 ells to help give us an idea of the height of these giants.  One ell was equivalent to six handbreadths, which equals 57.185375cm.  This means that the Nephilim were around 5628ft tall - the size of mountains.  It's hardly a surprise that one might feel like a grasshopper when stood next to a being the size of a mountain.

Og, The King of Bashan

Og’s bed (engraving) by Johann Balthasar Probst
Og, the king of Bashan, was nothing close to the 3,000 ells tall giants from the Book of Enoch, but would still be considered a giant.  King Og was 'also known as a Hapalit, meaning the 'Escapee' (i.e., from his delivery from the Flood).  He is 'described as having multiple fingers and toes and being such an immense being that the waters only lapped by his ankles.'  Some accounts have Og persuade Noah to 'allow him to sit astride the roof of the Ark.'  He is said to have been exiled after attempting to seduce Noah's wife, Sarah.  Og was later defeated by Moses, who chopped him 'at the ankles', and he 'became the mountain range from which they viewed the Promised Land.'  Here, the verse of particular interest is the size of Og's bed.

(For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim.  Behold, his bed was a bed of iron...  Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth according to the common cubit.)
Deuteronomy 3:11

The first thing to take into account, when taking this story at face value, is that rephaim can be translated directly as giants.  Next we have to look at the size of Og's bed.  Nine cubits is equal to 16ft 4in and four cubits is equal to 7ft 3in.  Now, if Og were the length and breadth of this bed, he could definitely be called giant.  However, it is worth noting that he was a king and it might be considered normal for a bed to be larger than the person occupying it, especially a king. 
While most accounts make Og around nine feet in height, ‘in some accounts he is said to have been taller, and according to the ‘Targum,’ he was ‘several miles’ in height.’

Goliath by Kilandranet
David and Goliath

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle.  And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.  And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in a line of battle against the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.  And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.  He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze.  And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders.  The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron.  And his shield-bearer went before him.  He stood and shouted at the ranks of Israel, ‘Why have you come out to draw up for battle?  Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul?  Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.  If he is able to fight with me, then we will be your servants.  But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.’  And Philistine said, ‘I defy the ranks of Israel this day.  Give me a man, that we may fight together.’  When Saul and all Israel heard these words of Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
Now David was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons.  In the days of Saul the man was already old and advanced in years.  The three oldest sons of Jesse had followed Saul to battle.  And the names of his three sons who went to the battle were Eliab the firstborn, and next to him Abinadah, and the third Shammah.  David was the youngest.  The three eldest followed Saul, but David went back and forth from Saul to feed his father’s sheep at Bethlehem.  For forty days the Philistine came forward and took his stand, morning and evening.
David WIP by tomato-bird
And Jesse said to David his son, ‘Take for your brothers an ephah of this parched grain, and these ten loaves, and carry them quickly to the camp to your brothers.  Also take these ten cheeses to the commander of their thousand.  See if your brothers are well, and bring some token from them.

Now Saul and they and all the men of Israel were in the Valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines.  And David rose early in the morning and left the sheep with a keeper and took the provisions and went, as Jesse had commanded him.  And he came to the encampment as the host was going out to the battle line, shouting the war cry.  And Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army.  And David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage and ran to the ranks and went and greeted his brothers.  As he talked with them, behold, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines and spoke the same words as before.  And David heard him.
All the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were much afraid.  And the men of Israel said, ‘Have you seen this man who has come up?  Surely he has come up to defy Israel.’  Andd David said to the men who stood by him, ‘What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel?  For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?’  And the people answered him in the same way, ‘So shall it be done to the man who kills him.’
No Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men.  And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, ‘Why have you come down?  And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness?  I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come to see the battle.’  And David said, ‘What have I done now?  Was it not but a word?’  And he turned away from him toward another, and spoke the same way, and the people answered him again as before.
Paw of the Bear by DouglasRamsey
When the words that David spoke were heard, they repeated them before Saul, and he sent for him.  And David said to Saul, ‘Let no man’s heart fail because of him.  Your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’  And Sail said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth.’  But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep sheep for his father.  And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth.  And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.  Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.’  And David said, ‘The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’  And Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you!’
Then Saul clothed David with his armor.  He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, and David strapped his sword over his armor.  And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them.  Then David said to Saul, ‘I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.’  So David put them off.  Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the brook and put them in his shepherd’s pouch.  His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.
Goliath by SoldatNordsken
And the Philistine moved forward and came near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him.  And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance.  And the Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’  And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.’  Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head.  And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear.  For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.’
David and Goliath by ErikBragalyan
When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.  And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone and slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead.  The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him.  There was no sword in the hand of David.  Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it.  When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.  And the men of Israel and Judah rose with a shout and pursued the Philistines as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron, so that the wounded Philistines fell on the way from Shaaraim as far as Gath and Ekron.  And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp.  And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.
David and Goliath by blindphoenix
And soon as Saul saw David go out against the Philistine, he said to Abner, the commander of the army, ‘Abner, whose son is this youth?’  And Abner said, ‘As your soul lives, O king, I do not know.’  And the king said, ‘Inquire whose son the boy is.’  And as soon as David returned from the striking down of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand.  And Saul said to him, ‘Whose son are you, young man?’  And David answered, ‘I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.’


The story tells us that Goliath of Gath was six cubits and a span in height.  Now, while this is nothing close to the height of the Nephilim, Goliath would and still is considered to be a giant.  Six cubits and a span is six and a half cubits, which is equal to 11ft 9in - not quite as large as Og was said to be, but definitely taller than the average human.

The final thing I want to cover here are the dates that these accounts were written.  While I cannot claim that the following dates are 100% accurate, they are the dates most accepted by the majority of scholars.

The Biblical Flood - 24th century BC
The Book of Numbers - 15th century BC
The Book of Samuel - 8th to 7th century BC
The Book of Deuteronomy - 7th century BC
Book of Genesis - 5th century BC
Book of Enoch - 2nd century BC

As with many other myths and legends, the accounts of giants in the Bible may well be older, the stories having been passed down over the generations.  Regardless, the accounts of the Nephilim, King Og, and Goliath of Gath are among the oldest written accounts in existence. 

Next time we will learn about the giants of Greek mythology, from the hundred-handed giants of Gaia to the Titans.


Useful Resources
English Standard Version Bible
King James Version Bible
The Book of Enoch
Weights and Measurements
Timeline of the Flood
A Mechanical Translation of the Book of Genesis by Jeff A. Benner
Gateway to the Gods by Craig Hines
The Nephilim Question: Biblical Answers by Steve McGee
A Hitchhiker's Guide to Armageddon by David Hatcher Childress
Giants, Monsters & Dragons by Carol Rose