Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How Tall Were the Giants in the Bible?

(Photo from The Seattle Times story found HERE)

It is interesting how from time to time certain subjects pop up with unusual frequency. Over the past couple weeks I have talked to multiple people who were curious about the height of the giants in the Bible.

There is a great deal of information circulating on the internet about these giants along with various theories connecting them to demons, aliens, and various types of governmental and/or scientific conspiracies. I am not going to take the time to deal with all of that, but given all the misinformation I did think it might be helpful to answer the basic question about their height.

Internet references vary widely in their claims but many of them are in the 20 to 30 foot range, and several have heights up to 450 feet tall! Since the Bible is often used to provide support for the idea that these giants existed, I would like to look at what the Bible actually says about the height of the ancient giants.

The Bible does record that giants existed in the ancient world and mentions them in several places. Most of these references do not provide exact height dimensions but describe people of great size and power. A typical example is the report of the spies who were sent to scout the land in Numbers 13 who said,

“…all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 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 13:32-33 ESV)

or the record in Amos chapter 2 where the Lord says…

“Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars and who was as strong as the oaks..." (Amos 2:9 ESV)

While clearly references to very large and powerful people, it is not necessary for us to assume that these are literal proportions. It is far more likely that this is figurative language. The point is that they were very large and not that they were actually as tall as trees or could squash normal men under their feet. We can be confident that this is figurative language because there are a few places in the Bible where we are given size dimensions for those who are called giants. Although still remarkably large, they are nowhere as large as some of the internet sources claim.

For example, in 1 Chronicles 11:23 we learn that one of David’s mighty men struck down an Egyptian who was a "man of great stature" who was 7 foot 6 inches tall. The Bible does not refer to this man specifically as a giant, however, he is given special attention as a result of his uncommon height. If there were 450 foot tall men around, I am not sure 7’6” would have been that impressive.

Of course, the most famous giant is Goliath of Gath (2 Samuel 15:21-22). In 1 Samuel 17:4-7 we are told exactly how tall he is. Most translations follow the Hebrew Masoretic text for this verse which reads, "And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span." That is 9 feet, 9 inches tall.

Interestingly, even this height is challenged because there are variant readings of this verse. Many of the oldest versions say Goliath was 4 cubits and a span (6’9”), which is why some English versions, such as the NET, record his height as "close to 7 feet tall".[1] Some argue that the size and weight of Goliath’s armor indicate the 9’ number is more likely. In any case, Goliath is between 7 and 10 feet tall. This is a big man, but nowhere near 20 or 30, let alone 450 feet!

Perhaps even more remarkable than Goliath, however, is the giant named Og who was king of Bashan and likely the tallest man mentioned in the Bible. The Book of Deuteronomy records the following:

"For only Og the king of Bashan was left of the remnant of the Rephaim. Behold, his bed was a bed of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the Ammonites? Nine cubits was its length, and four cubits its breadth, according to the common cubit." (Deuteronomy 3:11 ESV)

The Rephaim were considered giants and although the Bible does not give us Og’s specific height, his bed is 13 feet 6 inches long and 6 feet wide. If we assume that the king had a bed that fit him comfortably, it seems reasonable that he was likely between 10 and 12 feet tall.

Again, this is extreme size but nothing close to 20, 30, or 450 feet. Based on the various references given in the Bible it appears the giants of the ancient world were generally between 7 ½ and 10 feet tall. Nowhere in the Bible are there any people who are said to be anywhere close to 20 feet tall.

Where do people get these extreme figures? The exaggerated figures result partially from a blending of biblical texts with ancient mythological texts. Most ancient cultures had stories about giants. Pagan mythological references, as well as non-biblical Jewish literature such as the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jasher are frequently referenced.[2]

In an effort to boost the credibility of these books it is sometimes pointed out that although they are not biblical books, the Books of Jasher and Enoch are referenced in the Bible. We need to keep a couple things in mind regarding this. First, the Books of Jasher we now have (there are as many as 5) are not the same Book of Jasher the Bible references (Josh. 10:13, 2 Sam. 1:18). They are much later texts that have been given the ancient name. Second, simply because the Bible references a book does not mean that everything in that book or by that writer is true, good, or even helpful.

We do have copies of the Book of Enoch referenced in the Bible (Jude 1:14). Enoch is a Jewish religious book written during the time between the Old and New Testaments but although well known to both Jews and Christians it is not part of either the Jewish or Christian Scriptures. Intertestamental books like Enoch are important and helpful because they provide insight into the language and culture at the time the New Testament was written, but they are not inspired and therefore not reliable as foundations for doctrine and teaching. In fact, much of what they contain fall into the category of myths and fables that we are warned to avoid (1 Tim. 4:7).

In any case, the 7th chapter of the Book of Enoch specifically references the height of the giants. The translation I have says, “And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants, whose height was three thousand ells: Who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind.”[3]  An ancient ell is roughly a cubit or 18 inches. Therefore, the text actually says that these giants were 4,500 feet tall. Many supporters of the extreme figures argue this is a textual error and the verse should read 300 ells, or 450 feet.

Just to put this in perspective, the Statue of Liberty is 151 feet tall. Even if you include the base, she is only 305 feet tall. To give you an idea of the size we are talking about, if the faces on Mount Rushmore had bodies, they would be 465 feet tall.

Compared with these numbers, the 20 and 30 foot references coming from ancient mythological literature do not seem quite as incredible. The bottom line, however, is that none of these extreme figures, including 20 and 30 feet, come from the Bible. The giants whose heights are recorded in the Bible are between 7 and 10 feet tall and one had a bed that was a little over 13 feet long.

[1] Examples listing Goliath as around 7 feet include the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Samuel. The ancient Jewish writer Josephus also follows this reading.

[2] Often there are also various problematic archaeological and journalistic references as well.

[3] R. H. Charles and W. O. E. Oesterley, The Book of Enoch (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917), Enoch 7:2–4.