A response to Deane Galbraith. Is there a kernel of truth in the Biblical giant narrative?

Deane Galbraith is a biblical scholar, and a self-described ‘gigantologist’, meaning he studies the Biblical giants, and there reception throughout history. I, as a person also fascinated with the biblical giants, have learned a lot from Deane’s blog, ‘Remnant of Giants’, but I disagree with Deane on many issues, such as whether or not there is a Kernel of truth in the biblical giants existence. Deane says:

The giant grapes and giant inhabitants fit very well together. Indeed, motifs of “eating” or “devouring” are ambiguously associated with both the land and its inhabitants in Num. 13.32 and 14.9. Therefore, we should not – as some commentators have done – search for examples of very tall humans as the “historical kernel” of this account. Instead, the author of Num. 13-14 is describing the Anakim in fantastic terms: as eaters of grape bunches so large that it is impossible for a single person to carry one! The height of the Anakim is removed from the realm of ordinary human parallels, consistent with their assignment to an ancient era, before regular mortals (the Israelites) occupied the land. The narrative in Num. 13-14 leads us into the realm of the fantastic.

I do not wish to comment on the veracity of Galbraith’s links between the giant grapes and the giant Anakim, but assuming there is a link, and the Anakim were of a ridiculous height and strength, two things can be possible at the same time:

  1. The biblical giants were based on real life men of large size.
  2. The biblical giants were distorted, and exaggerated into monsters.

I think a good case can be made for my position, for whilst Gilgamesh is described as 11 cubits (15ft) tall, and Achilles was 33ft tall, Goliath is a much more modest 6ft 9 inches tall in our earliest sources (DSS, LXX and Josephus).

The point being is that Goliath does not fit the bill of a made up giant. Had he been made up, the biblical author surely would have given him a ridiculous height. Yet he didn’t.

Now I would agree with Deane that the story did not play out as 1 Samuel 17 says it did. Probably, it was truly Elhanan who slew Goliath, as 1 Samuel 21:19 says. But the height of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 is very likely in my opinion based on a memory of a real life giant.

Like with Stanhope, I bear no ill will against Deane, whom I like a lot, hopefully Deane will respond to my points, and we can have a fruitful discussion.

rkb ‘rpt, out!

10 thoughts on “A response to Deane Galbraith. Is there a kernel of truth in the Biblical giant narrative?

  1. Two items here. The characteristics of the earth before the Flood would have allowed humans and animals to have a larger bone structure. I know that today we accept millions of years of physical exiatence, but we do have the remains of animals which would have been destroyed in the Flood, but the human giant remains cannot be found. Why would we assume humans would have been in proximity to the animal remains that were foud? We already assume due to dating they did not live at the same time. If you accept the Genesis account, they did live at the same time, just not the same place. Also they could have been taken off the earth before the Flood, similar to the teaching that some will be taken to heaven before the final judgment that is yet to come. Remember the account was about the descendants of Adam and Seth. The original 6th day humans who fit the description of images of the divine, “sons of God”, would not necessarily have been part of the strife between God and Humanity. The original humans were probably on God’s side of the issue. The wickedness may have only been described to the offspring. When Adam was genetically altered it could have been a very significant difference. It is interesting though that we do have ancient descriptions from the earliest civs the difference in size between these “divine” humans and the humans after the Flood. That is the second point.

    Would not the art drawings and even “stick” art seem to indicate that these humans did exist, and may even have been allowed to come back to earth if for not a short period of time after the Flood? It seems the default is always some literary device just to teach a truth. The truth they actually existed and the Bible is an accurate account comes to mind.


    1. When it comes to autochthons and founding kings, the Greek sources often indicate a part-divine parentage. So at least in this sense the gigantic (8-feet-tall?) Laestrygonians might be considered part ‘divine’. Yet it is also clear that they are mortal, so more of an exotic cousin of ordinary humans than ‘gods’. Although Hesiod provides a more mythic, divine origins for Cyclopes, in Thucydides the Laestrygonians and Cyclopes possess this more legendary, divine-kingly and heroic character. It’s not entirely clear, I admit. Yet there are parallels in Greek literature which suggest the legendary interpretation is the stronger one. For example, the Marmor Parium / Marble of Paris (264 BC) reports that an autochthon Cecrops preceded the first king of Athens. Philochorus (4thC BC) records that Cecrops’ father is the giant Ogygos, perhaps linked with the biblical King Og. Likewise, the warrior-king and city-founder of Miletos, Anax, is also gigantic – mortal, yet gigantic. It’s these types of connections which suggest we are dealing with heroic royal figures, with semi-divine genealogies, but not ‘gods’. And there is a further connection between Anax and the Greek anax and the biblical ‘sons of Anak’ that I have discussed in a recent chapter, “Origin of Archangels” (2019, in Class Struggle in the New Testament).

      Much the same conclusion holds, I think for the biblical Rephaim and Ugaritic rp’um. At Ugarit, the rp’um are deified kingly ancestors – human but deified in life and death. We see this clearly with Yaqar in KTU 1.113 (line 26), who is the oldest king, but also referred to as ‘il ( a divinity). He is identified as one of the rp’um too in KTU 1.166.14. Against some earlier scholars, there is no evidence that Rp’u was an independent god at Ugarit. Rp’u appears in no god lists, no sacrificial lists, and while gods have heavenly residences the ‘king’ (mlk) and rp’u of KTU 1.108 reigns in Athtarat and Hedrey on earth. He is also repeatedly described as ‘eternal king’ (mlk ‘lm) in KTU 1.108, an epithet of another historic, earthly king, Amenophis III (KTU 2.42.9), cf the rp’u Yahipan (KTU 1.22 i 10).

      I suggest that with the Rephaim, Anakim, Og, Ugaritic rp’um, Greek Laestrygonians, Anax, etc we are dealing with substantially the same figures: great, heroic, legendary royal figures, usually from early founding periods.


      1. The Ditanu at Ugarit may well turn an actual people into rp’um. But I think it’s important to begin with what is claimed about them at Ugarit.
        In particular, they are paralleled at least four times with rp’um. The “rp’um of the netherworld” are paralled with the “assembly of Ditan” in KTU 1.15. 3-4, 14-15; 1.161. 2-3; 9-10. So they are primarily associated with these ancient hero-kings. This is very similar to Ditan’s appearance as an ancient royal ancestor in the Genealogy of the Hammurabi Dynasty (6) and Assyrian King List (9). In GHD, Ditan is an ancestor of Hammurabi of Babylon. In AKL, Ditan is one of the early “17 kings who lived in tents” at the beginning of the list of Assyrian kings. The GHD and AKL overlap in many other names too, even though they are set in different areas and centuries apart. So this is a literary device, and any historical kernel is long lost. Furthermore, as Ditan is an early Assyrian king, as Kenneth Kitchen rightly points out, “he would hardly have been also an early king of Ugarit”. Again, we are dealing with a legendary-literary construction of an ancient king, who is accorded a high place in the afterlife, among other rp’um.

        It is interesting that Ditan, as ancient, deceased warrior-king, was remembered as the head of a group of living *elite warriors* at Ugarit. KTU 4.69 ii 9; vi 29 singles out the “sons of Ditan” to receive the highest level of payment from the state – for their services as “mrynm” (warriors) and “khnm” (priests). The mrynm at Ugarit are probably to be equated with the elite Mesopotamian warriors, the maryannu. Like their forebear Ditanu, they are elite warriors defending Ugarit.

        So while historical connections may underlie Ditanu and Rp’um, their legendary, heroic, royal character is more clear.


  2. Hi. I think it’s important to recognise that no extraordinary height was given to Greek heroes in the earliest literature. The extraordinary height for Achilles occurs in very late literature, such as Pausanias. In Homer, by contrast, heroes are only ‘head and shoulders’ taller than other men. The same trend occurs in the Goliath stories in the original version (preserved in Greek) and the later version (as eg preserved in the Hebrew Masoetic Text). Goliath is originally, in the Greek LXX, a mere head and shoulders taller than ordinary men. But in MT, he has been transformed into a giant – about three metres tall. This tendency to increase the size of heroes therefore happens in both Jewish and Greek traditions! Yet, few would conclude that the more ‘realistic’ heights of Greek heroes in Homer mean that there is any historical kernel to the account of the Trojan War in the Iliad. Likewise, the ‘realistic’ height of Goliath in the LXX version of 1 Sam 17 does not offer us any basis for evaluating that the story has a historic kernel. There may well be some historic kernel, but we just can’t tell, and really have no good basis on which to decide. There are no giant grape clusters, as in Num 13, sure. But absence of legendary motifs does not necessitate historicity. The motif of a warrior standing ‘head and shoulders’ above ordinary men could be based on some historic figure, but as the Iliad shows us, it could just as well be based on literary stereotypes about the height of heroic warriors.

    I have left aside Gilgamesh, as he is notably different from the quite comparable Greek and Jewish hero traditions. In particular, Gilgamesh is a demigod not a human, and his height is mentioned more than half a millennium before the Homeric and biblical literature. So it is difficult to make good inferences from Gilgamesh.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your reply. I think the Epic of Gilgamesh strongly emphasises that no matter how much divine blood Gilgamesh has, he is still human and mortal.I now agree with most of the points you make.


      1. Yes, fair point about the emphasis on Gilgamesh’s mortality in the Epic, and therefore his human character.

        There is an important distinction in Greek sources between the divine gigantes (of the Greek legend of the gigantomachy) and gigantes who are human. I would conclude that the use of the term in LXX draws on the non-divine, human usage – where the term refers to geographically exotic peoples, especially ancient autochthons (Hom. Od. 7.59, 201; 10.120), who can be very tall (eg. Thuc. 6.2.1). This concept is therefore very close to the Bible’s portrayal of authochthonous giants – Anakim, Rephaim – also essentially human. Somehow most commentators have (wrongly, in my opinion) assumed the divine, mythic meaning of gigantes in LXX, overlooking the non-divine, legendary Greek usage, where it applies to humans. The Greek and Hebrew application to exotic peoples and authochthenes is very close – one of the reasons I think Gilgamesh is less relevant and Greek sources much more relevant for understanding the biblical giants.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Some questions Deane:

        1) Were the Greek Laestrygonians of great height (since I understand the Greek ‘Gigantes’ were not necessarily giants)?
        2) Were the Laesstrygonians semi-divine, or fully human?
        3) Could the biblical Rephaim be of divine origin, sine they are said to be descendants of Rapha, which was a divine name in Ugarit,referring to a divine king ruling at Ashtoreth and Edrei?

        It is my personal opinion that the Israelites believed the Ancient Amorites (and particularly the Didanu or Rephaim tribe) were giants, based on their nomenclature.


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