Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nefilim, Refaim, Anakim: Biblical Giants

[Goliath (and David, prematurely crowned) from Kaufmann Ms. of the Mishneh Torah, at www.hum.huji.ac.il/cja/IJA2.htm ]

Many cultures have traditions of a primordial race of giants. The Greeks have the Titans, the Irish the Fomor. Jews too. Among the monstrous beings mentioned in the Bible, few get more attention then giants. Goliath the Gittite, of course, is the banner example, but it turns out he is only the most prominent of many.

The basis for the tradition of a race of giants is Gen. 6:4, the same locus classicus for the tradition of fallen angels. The angels, as you may remember, came down and took wives among mortals. The giants were either around at the time of those events, or the offspring of those unions (the phrasing of the Hebrew in Gen. 6 is ambiguous): "The nefilim [possibly meaning 'fallen ones,' it's debatable] were on the earth in those days...," and may or may not be the basis of the stories about mythological heroes "....these were the gibborim [heroes, superheroes, demigods?] of old, the men of renown." However under-defined the language of Genesis, the earliest translation of the Bible, the Septuagint, assumes Genesis is talking about gargantuanism, translating both nefilim and gibborim as "giants."

Variously known as the Nefilim [often spelled "Nephilim"] (Num. 13:32-33), Refaim (II Sam. 21:16-22), Emim (Deut. 2:1o-11, 21), Refadim (Ibid. - though this may be a simple scribal misspelling of "Refaim") or the "Children of Anak" (Deut. 9:2), the giants were prevalent enough that the spies saw them throughout their scouting of Canaan, "...we saw men of giant stature...we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers... (Num. 13:32) and Moses repeatedly alludes to them in Deuteronomy, most notably in reference to the massive King Og of Bashan, who approached 15 feet in height (Deut. 3: 11): "Only King Og of Bashan was left remaining of the Refaim." Apparently this was not a wholly accurate report. Hundreds of years later, David's soldiers had to kill a number of them (II Samuel 21; I Chron. 20:4-8). Perhaps the different names signified different clans within the ethnos of giants.

Numerous as they are vague, these passages would be the basis for a very elaborate complex of legends about giants in post-Biblical Jewish literature.

To learn more, read the entries Giants; Goliath; Og, in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism.


Blogger Ilana said...

Gen. 6:4 wouldn't be related to Aza and Azael, the 2 "Angels of Destruction/Sabotage", benei Achiyah bar Shemchazai?
The ones who "descended" (ירדו) [not "felt"] on Planet Earth at the generation of Enosh?

4:31 AM  
Blogger Eric C. Friedman said...

Yes, according to the Book of Enoch, Aza & Uzzel (yor Azael) were indeed these angels of Genesis 6.

11:15 AM  
Blogger Eric C. Friedman said...

Additionally, the traditions concerning the Book of Enoch point out that Enoch father was named "Yared", because his was the generation that the angels descended ("yardu", as you quote).

11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep on posting such stories. I like to read articles like that. By the way add more pics :)

11:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you can't base anything on the book of enoch or any other psuedopigrapha or apocrypha books, if you do you refuse the canonization process and you go outside the canonized bible and retrieve doctrine from books that are 'uninspired of god' and 'sheer fanciful fiction'. Only the catholics used the apocrypha and the psuedo's were never in the bible. So in other words to use the apocrypha is to be leavened with catholic beliefs and to use psuedopigrapha books is plain heresy.

7:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Catholics condemn most outside books. Thye see the bible metaphorically, as it was witten metaphorically from the beginning.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Not only the Book of Enoch but also the Zohar states that These Two fallen angels were Banished into the dark mointain's.

There they remain One chained the other bound. We are told that they are the leaders of the rebellion that took place in the heavens and the leaders of all the nephilim!

When they fell to Earth? This means that these spiritual being Materialized in Physical bodies! The Midrash Ne'elam tells us that Adam and Eve are called Nephilim because they do not Have parents!
The ofspring of these Beings with human wives were the men of renown. The Giants.

3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Greeks also had giants separate from the Titans (who were essentially of the same stock as the Olympians). The "Gigantomachy" is the Greek tale of the war between the Olympian gods and the race of Giants who were born from Mother Earth (Gaia) along with the Cyclops (and their relatives, the Hundred Handed giants) and who allied with the Olympians against the Titans in the previous Titanomachy.
It's these Giants (Gigantos) who correspond to the giants in the Bible and in Norse Myth. Some suspect these myths were simply the Neolithic natives of regions the later Bronze Age tribes moved into. Not necessarily Neanderthal but more like Cro Magnon man who were essentially the same genetically, but could've been much larger than the men of bronze.
Personally, though, I don't think Myths necessarily emerge from actual reality. Men don't need a reason to imagine giants rumbling in the darkness of a storm at night.

12:03 PM  

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