This dissertation explores the role of giants in the narrative and historiographic worlds of symbol, geography, and religion in ancient Israel. The Nephilim, Anaqim, Rephaim, Emim, Zamzumim/Zuzim, some Gibborim, and other individuals (e.g., Goliath) can all be classified as “giants”—not only with respect to their height and other physical properties, but also with respect to the negative moral qualities assigned to giants in antiquity. Previous interpreters have treated giants as merely a fantastical prop against which God’s agents emerge victorious. I argue that giants are a theologically and historiographically generative group, through which we gain insight into central aspects of ancient Israel’s symbolic world. All that is overgrown or physically monstrous represents a connection to the primeval chaos that stands as a barrier to creation and right rule. In this sense, giants represent chaos-fear, and their eradication is a form of chaos maintenance by both human and divine forces. Moreover, I demonstrate a series of affinities between the Bible’s presentation of its giants and aspects of Greek epic tradition (e.g., the Iliad, Catalogue, Works and Days, Cypria, and the Gigantomachy/Titanomachy), as well as other Near Eastern traditions. Both giants and heroes were thought to represent a discrete “race” of beings, both were thought to be larger than contemporary people, and both lived and flourished, in the historical imaginations of later authors, throughout the Bronze Age and largely ceased to exist at the end of this period. The size, strength, and physical excess of heroes and giants lead to cataclysmic judgment through the “flattening” effects of warfare and flood. After their death, these figures retain possibilities for an ongoing life in cult, and, in both Greek and Deuteronomistic historiography, the heroes and giants are positioned in a heroic age. This study argues that the Bible’s invocation of the giant constitutes a creative evaluation of Canaan’s heroic past, and stands as a forceful reminder of the place of Israel’s deity among the axes of power that giants represent. The biblical engagement with the category of the giant signifies a profound meditation on the category of epic in the ancient world— even a decisive, ultimate rejection of epic and heroism as controlling tropes of the biblical worldview.
Doak, Brian R., "The Last of the Rephaim: Conquest and Cataclysm in the Heroic Ages of Ancient Israel" (2011). Faculty Publications - College of Christian Studies. 3.