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Giants. An integral part of any great fantasy story. Clumsy and runny-nosed, it were those hilarious giants in the Hobbit who made Bilbo realise he is a pretty good burglar. Or remember those battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings? Those fierce Cave Trolls hammering away at the fighters from Middle-Earth facing him in battle… Ok they were not giants, but you get the picture. Or the Stone Giants in the Misty Mountains, exchanging blows during that lightning storm on a scale that simply takes your breath away.
Giants always conjure up a cloud of mystery in my mind, even when I read the Bible. Most of you will know the story of David and Goliath. He was the decorated Philistine hero, mocking and arrogant, who cursed Yahweh and the Israelites who followed him. He was a big guy, “six cubits and a span” (1 Samuel 17:4). That translates into about 9.5ft, or about 2.9m! To put that into perspective; look up to the ceiling. If you are in an average house and Goliath was next to you, he wouldn’t quite be able to stand up straight.
Robert Wadlow, 8.11ft (2.47m) in the 1940 is the tallest man in recorded in modern history. Original source: https://www.businessinsider.com/tall-man-robert-wadlow-2016?IR=T
But there is more to the David and Goliath story. According to archeological evidence, the average Hebrew man of the time was not very tall, measuring around 5.5ft (1.68m). Think Harry Potter actor Harry Radcliffe or Springbok full back Cheslin Kolbe. To put this into perspective, picture Springbok Eben Etsebeth next to Kolbe. Etsebeth is 6.8ft (2.03m). Kolbe looks a bit scrawny next to Etsebeth, and Etsebeth would have looked a bit scrawny next to Goliath!
Originally posted on Facebook
Unfortunately, a lot of “fake news” about giants permeate the internet. The giants in the Bible are not quite like the giants in the fantasy stories. They were large, but certainly not Stone Giant large. Imagine smallish Cave Troll and you’re closer to the target.
The Nephilim and other giants in the Bible
Goliath was not the only giant in the Bible. Have you read the story about the twelve spies Moses sent into Canaan before they entered the land? If not, you’ll find it in Numbers 13. Ten of them came back frightened and spooked, and refused to go back to there. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who trusted in the word of the Lord and were ready to go back to fight. The reason for the others’ fear? They felt like grasshoppers next to the current inhabitants of Canaan. They were afraid (Numbers 13:33). And what’s more… they saw the Nephilim there.
Who were the Nephilim and where do they come from? We will get to that.
People with unusual height are always linked to the Nephilim or one of the associated giant clans in the Bible. These clans include the Anakim, Rephaim, Emim and Zamzummim (Deuteronomy 2:10, 20 -21 | Joshua 14:12, 15).
They also often pop into the Israelite stories of the Canaanite conquest. We hear of them from the twelve spies. We read of the giant King Og of Bashan, whom the Israelites whipped in battle (Deuteronomy 13:3). And of course we know of David beating Goliath at at his own game during the battles with the Philistines (some of the remnant of the Anakim fled to the Philistine cities after Joshua conquered those who lived within the borders of Israel – Joshua 11:12 – 23)
The giants always intrigue me. When the spies went on their scouting trip it was time for Israel to take possession of the land. Yahweh promised it to Abraham about 5 centuries earlier. Yet an interlace of other nations called the Canaanites occupied the land at that time. Some of them had to be “driven out”. Some others would have to be “devoted to destruction”, and do you know what made them different? The latter were in some way connected via one of the giant clans to… you guessed it.
The Nephilim’s offspring were occupying Canaan illegitimately. If you’re interested in going a bit deeper into this, Michael S. Heiser wrote a great blog post about it here.
But here is the thing… they not only occupied Canaan illegitimately, they occupied earth illegitimately…
Wait, what? After dropping that bomb, what pops into your mind? Did you hear somewhere that the Nephilim had some alien origin, perhaps? This is a pretty popular idea in fringe culture. Or did Hollywood tell you they are giant, benevolent but cursed creatures who roamed the earth before Noah’s flood, hoping for redemption? Alas. Film studios are great at making stories come to life, but truth not so much.
I want to be clear on why I chose to write about this topic – giants of all things! Aren’t there more relevant topics to write about? Does it matter to anyone’s salvation what they believe about these things?
Not really. But it might have an influence on your view of the Bible itself… let me share what I mean.
I spent a lot of time on the origins of the Nephilim – it was the subject of my dissertation to complete my degree. Although I find the identity of the Nephilim fascinating, it was not the key driver for choosing this theme for my paper. Rather, the driver was to pursue and illustrate the coherence of the threads running through the Bible. For my friends in the Data Management industry, it is to track the “Data Lineage” of the themes in the Christian Scriptures. This is what Biblical Theology, as opposed to Systematic Theology is all about.
A key theme we should always keep top of mind when reading Scripture is that the people who wrote and lived in Biblical times had a different Sitz im Leben than us. No, this is not an Elven phrase from the Lord of the Rings. It is a German phrase we had to learn right at the beginning of our Theological course, and it literally means “life setting”. It refers to all the things that make up a person’s surroundings, cultural context, political atmosphere, physical location, language, religious viewpoints and so on. Seems like the Germans gave us something more than just good cars, they also gave us this useful phrase… Sitz im Leben.
Before Noah’s Flood
Ok, let’s open Scripture to right before Noah’s Flood. Remember, we are on a mission to find out where the giants came from.
Here is Genesis 6:1-4 (from the ESV):
When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.
The word Nephilim can also be translated giants.
As an example, let’s take a short history detour… during the time of Jesus, the Jews often used a Greek version of their Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) so that it could be understood by more people across the known world. That version of the Old Testament was called the Septuagint. It was translated by a group of seventy scholars about 130 years before Jesus was born. The Latin number for seventy is LXX, and in Academese the Septuagint is often abbreviated as LXX, after the number of scholars involved in the translation process. End of history detour…
So, making use of our newly discovered terminology; In the LXX the word Nephilim is translated as gigantes – giants. There is also most likely a footnote in your Bible to that effect.
So there we have it. We find the first link in the Christian Scriptures where we read about the Nephilim (or giants). So according to the Bible, the giants were the children of the hybrid “marriages” between these mysterious figures; the Sons of God, and women from the human race.
In this post, I wanted to share some thoughts about the origins and lineage of the giants in our Bible. Here are some summary points:
- Giants in the Bible are not quite like the giants in our fantasy stories
- The most famous giant in the Bible, Goliath, is certainly not the only giant in the Scriptures
- We can trace back Goliath (2 Samuel) and other giants mentioned in the Bible, like those in Canaan (Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua), back to the Nephilim via the bloodlines of the giant clans (Genesis).
- In Genesis 6:1-4, we read of the Sons of God who came down to earth to “take wives” for themselves and produced an offspring.
- These offspring were the Nephilim, the forefathers of later giants like Og or Goliath.
- Interpretations of the Bible is best done by using the Bible. This is one of the key principles of Hermeneutics. The better you do that, the more the Bible makes sense.
In a future post, I will write a bit more about the identity of the mysterious Sons of God in Genesis 6 – the fathers of the giants. I have implied it here, but not everybody today believe they’re actually heavenly beings who came from heaven to fall for the beauty of our earthly women… but more about that in the next episode…