The enigmatic mystery of the Nephilim, the Rephaim, and the Titans

by Leolaia 35 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Leolaia

    It has been said that historical memory in oral tradition goes back only a few hundred years before it alters considerably in later retellings, and when even greater time depth is involved the mythic past fills in what has been collectively forgotten. But myths purporting to relate events hundreds or even thousands of years in the past often contain kernals of historical memory amid the layers of tradition and archetypal folk motifs. An excellent example from my own reading is that of the Inuit Eskimo in Greenland who have a rich oral tradition about the Norsemen who died out over 500 years ago and who originally colonized the land a millenium ago. The Eskimo have a repetoire of legends and stories about the Vikings their ancestors knew, which actually do contain real nuggets of historical memory from the Eskimo point of view. But many of the stories are also local adaptations of widespread Eskimo myths that can be found throughout Canada and Alaska. So it is clear that at a time depth of 500 or more years, the actual memories of real Norsemen living in their land have receded into the body of mythic tradition.

    What I would like to explore is the possibility that certain primeval legends of the Hebrews and the Greeks, especially relating to the Nephilim, Rephaim, and the Titans as a primeval race of demigods, actually preserve tiny kernals of historical memory going back to the third millenium B.C. In fact, the evidence suggests that the Greek Titans and the West Semitic legends of the Nephilim and Rephaim vaguely recall the same socio-political entity, the Didanites who were third-millenium precursors of the later second-millenium Amorite Empire.

    The Pentateuch and the "Deuteronomist History" of the OT assembles the varied ancestral traditions of the Israelites and Judeans to tell a uniform story: the two nations of the Israel and Judah are descended from a single family who, after a period of oppression by the Egyptians, returned to the Levant and conquered the land from an undeserving population of Canaanites. The OT gives a dizzying array of tribal names for the ancestral peoples of Canaan: Amorites, Hittites, Horites, Nephilim, Rephaim, Anakites, Zuzim, Zamzummim, Emim, Amalekites, Perizzites, Kadmonites, Hivites, Girgashites, and on and on (cf. Genesis 10:15-19, 14:5-6, 15:18-21; Deuteronomy 2:10-12; Joshua 17:15). Bible scholars have long noted that many of these names, such as the Amorites, Hittites, and Horites, are used in interchangeable ways that suggest that the identity of the peoples associated with the names had been forgotten. These first three, however, refer to important second-millenium empires in the Near East: (1) The Amorites were a West Semitic people of the late third and early second millenium (2200-1600 BC) who originally lived in rural lands near the city of Mari in the middle Euphrates but later founded the Old Babylonian, Isin, and Assyrian dynasties and held almost universal control over Mesopotamia by 1700 BC. (2) The Hittites were based in Anatolia (Turkey) and by the middle of the second millenium held sway over Canaan; the Hittites were speakers of an Indo-European language, and a dispute between Hittites and Mycenaean Greeks involving the Hittite city Wilusa (Greek Ilios, aka Troy) was the famous subject of the Greek Iliad. (3) The Horites were the Hurrians, an Armenian people who invaded Amorite lands around the time of the Hyksos incursion in Egypt (c. 1650 BC), took over Mari and Alalakh, founded the capital city of Nuzi, and together with an Indo-Iranian group founded the kingdom of Mitanni which held sway until Egyptian dominantion came in the fifteenth century BC. So these are not made-up names but refer to actual peoples, though the identities of these peoples had long been forgotten by the first-millenium Israelites.


    But what of some of the other peoples, the Rephaim, Nephilim, Anakites, and so forth? These names show quite a different character in the OT. They seem to denote an almost mythical race of giants living in fantastically fortified cities. Regarding the Anakites, Deuteronomy 1:28 has the Israelites complaining: "The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are huge, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there." Regarding the Nephilim, we read in Numbers 13:33: "We saw the Nephilim there, as the Anakites come from the Nephilim. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them". According to Deuteronomy 2:10, the Emim were as tall as the Anakites, and the next verse equates the Rephaim with them. Og, the king of Bashan, was regarded as one of the last of the Rephaim and his gigantic stature is described in the same book:

    "Og king of Bashan was the last survivor of the Rephaim; his bed was the bed of iron that can be seen at Rabbah-of-the-Ammonites, nine cubits long [that is, about 15 feet long] and four wide, in the common cubit.... The whole confederation of Argob and the whole of Bashan is called the country of the Rephaim." (Deuteronomy 3:11, 13)

    The bed referred to is a megalithic cromlech seen in the neighborhood of Amman; the Rephaim were thus viewed as a prehistoric race of giants living in Canaan, the builders of megaliths and enormous cities, who ruled the same area Numbers 13:25-33 attributes to the Nephilim and Anakites; all these names (including Emim, Zamzummin, and others) refer to the same legendary race. The Rephaim however are mentioned in 2 Samuel 21:15-22 as gigantic warriors living in David's day (named as descendents of the eponymous ancestor Rapha), who were allied with the Philistines:

    "David went down with his guards; they pitched camp at Gob and fought the Philistines. Then there arose Dodo, son of Joash, a descendent of Rapha. His spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze....After this, war with the Philistines broke out at Gob again. This was when Sibbecai of Hushah killed Saph, a descendent of Rapha. Again war with the Philistines broke out at Gob, and Elhanan son of Jair from Bethlehem killed Goliath of Gath, the shaft of whose speaer as like a weaver's beam. There was another battle at Gath, where there was a man of huge stature with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in all. He too was a descendent of Rapha. Jonathan, son of David's brother, Shimeah, killed him when he defied Israel." (2 Samuel 21:15-21)

    The reference to Goliath of Gath being killed by Elhanan son of Jair is evidently an independent tradition from the one related in 1 Samuel 17, which attributes the act to a young David. But the description of Goliath is similar to that of Og, Dodo, and the six-fingered giant: "One of their shock-troopers stepped out from the Philistine ranks; his name was Goliath, from Gath. He was more than six cubits and one span tall.... his breastplate weighed five thousand shekels of bronze" (1 Samuel 17:4-5).

    All this would be remarkable in itself, but there is more. The Rephaim are also mentioned as the shades, or ghosts, of the dead in Sheol. In one cases, they appear to be the ghosts of dead kings. Job 26:5-6 says: "The Rephaim tremble beneath the earth; the waters and their denizens are afraid. Before his eyes, Sheol is laid bare, Abaddon itself is uncovered". A similar remark is found in the Psalms: "Are your marvels meant for the dead, can the Rephaim rise up to praise you? Who talks of your love in the grave, of your faithfulness in Abaddon?" (Psalm 88:10-11). Another important text is Proverbs 9:18:

    "The fellow does not realize that here the Rephaim are gathered, that her guests are heading for the valleys of Sheol" (Proverbs 9:18; cf. 2:18, 9:18)

    The "valleys" in this text recall the "Valley of the Rephaim" in Joshua 15:8, 18:16; 2 Samuel 5:18, 23:13; 1 Chronicles 11:15, 20:4. It is curious that the geographical Rephaim Valley was located near the Hinnom Valley (cf. Joshua 15:8; 18:16), which would also later serve as the model of eschatological Gehenna, a region within Sheol in Jewish tradition (cf. 1 Enoch 27:1-5; Matthew 5:29-30). But the most important text regarding the Rephaim in the OT is found in Isaiah:

    "What was the end of the tyrant? What was the end of his arrogance? Yahweh has broken the staff of the wicked and the sceptre of tyrants... On your account Sheol beneath us is astir to greet your arrival. To honor you he rouses the Rephaim of all the rulers of the world. He makes all the kings of the nations get up from their thrones. Each has something to say and what they will say to you is this: 'So you too have been brought to nothing, like ourselves. You too have become like us. Your magnificance has been flung down to Sheol with the music of harps.... The dead will not come to life, the Rephaim will not rise, for you have punished them, annihilated them, and wiped out their memory" (Isaiah 14:4-5, 9-11; 26:14).

    Here we see that the Rephaim are dead kings who sit on thrones in Sheol but who have become impotent and powerless in death. This reflects the popular etymology of rp'ym as from a root meaning "weak, feeble". When combined with the material in the Pentatech and the Deuteronomist History, we gain a picture of the Rephaim and the kindred Nephilim as a prehistoric race of kings and lords, of gigantic stature, but who were wiped out by the Israelites and linger on only as shades in Sheol. This of course assumes that the two traditions can be thus combined.

    And even more remarkable account occurs in the Yahwist primeval history on the origin of the Nephilim, which Numbers 13:33 shows are equivalent to the Rephaim of Deuteronomy. According to the Yahwist account in Genesis, they are of divine descent:

    "When men had begun to be plentiful on the earth, and daughters had been born to them, the sons of God (bny 'lhym), looking at the daughters of men, saw they were pleasing, so they married as many as they chose. Yahweh said, 'My spirit must not forever be disgraced in man, for he is but flesh; his life shall last no more than a hundred and twenty years.' The Nephilim were on the earth at that time (and even afterwards) when the sons of God resorted to the daughters of men, and had children by them. These were the Mighty Ones (gbrym) of old, the men of renown" (Genesis 6:1-4).

    The bny 'lhym and bny 'l in the OT refer to the lesser deities that make up God's divine council (cf. Job 1:6, 2:1, 15:8-15, 38:7, 41:25; Psalm 29:1, 82:1-8, 89:5-10; Isaiah 14:13), otherwise called in the OT the 'dw 'l "council of El," 'lhym "gods," dqsym "holy ones," "the council of holy ones in heaven," "the sons of El," "the stars of El," and the "sons of Elyon". In Canaanite mythology, El (also called Elyon) is the father of the gods and begat seventy sons with his consort Asherah and these lesser gods, referred to in exactly the same language as in the OT, make up the divine council. According to the Baal Epic:

    "[Yamm's messengers] set their faces towards the divine mountain, towards the meeting of the council. Now the gods were sitting to eat, the holy ones to dine....There is no house for Baal like the gods, nor a court like the sons of Asherah, the dwelling of El, the shelter for his sons....Asherah went home to the court of El. She came before the divine council, and spoke of her plan to the gods, her children...The Beloved came up and insulted me, he arose and spat on me in the midst of the council of the sons of El" (KTU 1.2 i 20-22; 1.3 v 36-40; 1.4 iii 12-14).

    Some have suggested that 'lhym "gods" was the word that originally occurred in Genesis 6:1 (in a sense similar to Psalms 82:1) but the compiler of J (the Yahwist narrative) or Genesis added the word bny "son of" to remove such overt polytheism. But in any case, it is clear that "sons of God" refer to the same deities that make up the divine council in heaven. As Judaism tried to expunge all trace of polytheism from the religion, these "gods" were later regarded as "angels".

    The myth related in Genesis 6:1-4 describes the descent of these divine beings to earth where they married human women and begat mighty heroes (gbrym) called the Nephilim, the "men of renown". The name nplym "Nephilim" comes from the root *npl "to fall" which likely alludes to the descent of the sons of El. There are three texts in the OT which refer to the "fall" of the divine beings in a rebellion against El or Yahweh:

    "God ('lhym) stands in the assembly of the Mighty Ones (gbrym), he judges among the gods ('lhym).... I have said 'You are gods ('lhym), and all of you are children of Elyon (bny 'lywn), but you shall die like Adam and fall (tplw, derived from npl) like one of the Shining Ones (shrym, corr. srym)" (Psalm 82:1, 6-7).
    "How did you come to fall (nplt) from the heavens, Daystar (hll), son of the Shining One (shr)?.... You used to think of yourself, 'I will climb up to the heavens and higher than the stars of El (kwkby-'l) I will set my throne. I will sit on the Mount of Assembly in the recesses of Zaphon. I will climb to the top of thunderclouds, I will rival Elyon.' Now you have descended (yrd) to Sheol to the very bottom of the pit" (Isaiah 14:12-15).
    "Swollen with pride, you have said: 'I am El ('l) in the dwelling of the gods ('lhym); I dwell in the midst of the seas (ymym).... You were in Eden, in the garden of God.... You were annointed as a guardian cherub; you were on the holy mountain of God.... I have thrown you down (w'chllk) from the mountain of God, and I have destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from amid the coals" (Ezekiel 28:2, 13-16).

    Note that the Psalms passage refers to the gods in the divine assembly as gbrym, the same descriptor of the Nephilim in Genesis. Both the Psalms and Isaiah quotes allude to a Shining One, which recalls the Canaanite myth of Shahar, the god of dawn, whom El banished from heaven to the desolate wilderness of the earth for seven years (cf. KTU 1.23). The Baal Epic also refers to Athtart, the daystar god, joining forces with Yamm (the enemy of Baal) and "descending like a lion" (KTU 1.2 iii 19-22); both were defeated by Baal in the battle at his holy mountain of Zaphon. The rebellious god in the Isaiah passage is also interestingly linked to the Rephaim mentioned just a few verses earlier (cf. 14:4-11). The Isaiah and Ezekiel quotes clearly allude to a challenge to El's or Baal's divine authority, the latter curiously characterizing the rebel as a cherub posted as a guard on the divine mountain where Eden was located (cf. Genesis 3:24). But the Yahwist account of the descent of the sons of God to earth does not specifically characterize the descent as a rebellion and gives an entirely different set of reasons for the descent. The Isaiah and Ezekiel traditions are clearly related somehow to the Yahwist account in Genesis (and they were explicitly combined in 1 Enoch and other post-exilic works), but it is difficult to assess their precise relationship.

    But the mythological motif in Genesis 6:1-4, the intermarriage of gods and human women and their fantastic offspring, is familiar throughout the Near East. The Sumerians named gods such as Dumuzi, the god of agriculture, as their earliest kings, and many other legendary kings of the heroic age were demi-god hybrids of god and man. Meskiaggasher, a king from the first dynasty of Uruk, was the son of the sun-god Utu, and a later king Gilgamesh was believed to be two-thirds god and one-third man, as his father was the shepherd-god Lugalbanda and his mother a demigod. The Egyptians believed their own kings to be gods in the flesh. The Phoenician legends of Sanchuniathon also related how the gods came to earth, intermarried with mortal women, and with their giant children helped discover civilization:

    "From the wind Colpias and his [mortal] wife Baau were born Aeon and Protogonus, mortal men , and Aeon discovered the food obtained from trees. Their offspring were called Genos and Genea, and inhabited Phoenicia, and when droughts occurred, they stretched out their hands to heaven towards the sun for he alone is Baal-shamen, the Lord of Heaven. From Genos, son of Aeon and Protogonus, were begotten again mortal children, whose names are Light, and Fire, and Flame. These, says he, discovered fire from rubbing pieces of wood together, and taught the use of it. And they begat sons of surpassing size and stature , whose names were applied to the mountains which they occupied: so that from them were named Mount Cassius, and Libanus, and Antilibanus, and Brathy. From these were begotten Memrumus and Hypsuranius; and they got their names from their mothers, as the women in those days had intercourse with any whom they met. Hypsuranius inhabited Tyre, and contrived huts out of reeds and rushes and papyrus." (Philo of Byblos, Phoenician History, quoted in Eusebius, Praep. Ev. 1.10)

    The legend in Genesis is also closely related to that of the Titans from Greek mythology. The Titans were twelve sons of Ouranos and Gaia (that is, between heaven and earth -- two opposites), who also beget the Giants and other monsters. The children of the Titans, the Olympians led by Zeus, challenged the authority of Kronos, the head of the Titans, and cast the twelve original Titans from heaven to Tartarus in the underworld. This latter motif is reminiscent of the texts in Isaiah and Ezekiel encountered earlier. The Olympian children of the Titans intermarried with mortal men and women and produced the demigods and heroes of Greek mythology, such as Cadmus, Heracles, Achilles, Theseus, Perseus, Jason, Daedalus, and so forth (cf. Hesiod, Theogony 11.910-960). Then there are the Hurrian and Hittite myths that refer to "primordial deities" imprisoned in the underworld (cf. COS 1.68). All this is familiar to those interested in the parallels between Hebrew myths and those found elsewhere in the Near East.


    Genesis 6:1-4 functions as an etiological legend on the origin of the Nephilim, Rephaim, and similar peoples of Canaan. Hence this tradition originally knew nothing of the Flood of Noah, which would have destroyed the very ancestors of the giants that lived in the days of Moses and Joshua. The story of the Nephilim likely came from an early layer of J, the Yahwist document that was later incorporated into Genesis, that preceded the inclusion of the Flood story (cf. Numbers 13:33, which also derives from J). There are several indications that the Flood story is a later accretion to the primeval history.

    [1] First of all, note the statement in Genesis 6:4: "The Nephilim were on the earth at that time (and even afterwards) when the sons of God resorted to the daughters of men." The words 'chry-kn "and even afterwards" intrude into the text as a paranthetical gloss tacked on to harmonize the original account from J (which in Numbers 13:33 has the Nephilim living in the Promised Land in the days of Joshua) with the story of the Flood which was incorporated at a later stage. [2] The post-exilic book of Baruch makes reference to the Nephilim in language very reminiscent of Genesis 6 but designates the giants as the ancient inhabitants of Israel who perished only through lack of wisdom (that is, no reference to a Flood per se):

    "How great is Israel, the house of God, how wide is his domain, immeasurably wide, infinitely lofty! In it were born the giants, famous to us from antiquity, immensely tall, expert in war; God's choice did not fall on these, he did not reveal the way to knowledge to them; they perished for lack of wisdom, perished in their own folly." (Baruch 3:26-27)

    That a remote time before the Flood is not meant can be seen in the fact that Baruch is alluding to Deuteronomy in referring to God choosing Israel over the giants: "For you are a people consecrated to Yahweh your God; it is you that Yahweh our God has chosen to be his very own people out of all the peoples on the earth. If Yahweh set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you outnumbered other peoples, it was because you were the least of all peoples" (Deuteronomy 7:6-7).

    [3] Another indication that the Flood story was later added is the following about the Nephilim: "These were the mighty ones (gbrym) of old, the men of renown ('nsy h-sm)" (Genesis 6:4). If these men were so renowned and famous, why is nothing said in the Bible about them? Well, maybe one of then is mentioned in Genesis! Note the following in 10:8-9:

    "Cush became the father of Nimrod who was the first mighty one (gbr) on earth. He was a mighty (gbr) hunter in the eyes of Yahweh, hence the saying ('mr), 'Like Nimrod, a mighty (gbwr) hunter in the eyes of Yahweh.' " (Genesis 10:8-9)

    So the Nephilim are equated with the "mighty ones of old" and the "men of renown" in ch. 6 and then four chapters later we meet a fellow from the distant past named Nimrod who is called a gbr "mighty one, mighty" no less than three times and who apparently was so famous there was a saying about him. If it weren't for the Flood intervening between ch. 6 and ch. 10, he would be the textbook example of a Nephilim. And further evidence that he was connected with the Nephilim can be found in later Jewish tradition which may preserve older traditions not recorded in the Bible. Because of the proximity of the Nimrod story and the Tower of Babel story in ch. 11 and the statement in 10:10 about Babel being the beginning of his kingdom), Nimrod is generally associated in Jewish tradition with building the Tower. Eusebius cites a tradition by Pseudo-Eupolemus that refers to the builders as "giants": "These were giants and they built the tower well known in history. When the tower was destroyed by God's power, these giants were scattered over the whole earth" (Praep. Ev. 9:17:2-3). Another tradition, deriving the name of the primary builder through back-formation from Babel , identified him as a giant and said he "came to dwell in Babylon, there he built a tower and lived in it. It was named Belus after Belus who built it" (9:18:2).

    [4] The fourth piece of evidence that the Flood story was later added to the primeval history relates to Noah himself . Noah was originally an agricultural hero, famous for his discovery of wine. In the older Canaanite tradition, Noah would have been analogous to the demigods in Sanchuanthon's history who discovered hunting, fishing, herbs, writing, etc. The crucial fact is that the name nwch "Noah" is related to the word nchm "comfort". Now the obvious foreshadowing to the name occurs in Genesis 3:17, the curse on Adam, referring to the "toil" and "suffering" in agricultural work and the "sweat on your brow" it brings. Then in Genesis 5:29 Lamech, the father of Noah, says when he names him: "Here is the one who will give us, in the midst of our toil and the laboring of our hands, a consolation derived from the ground that Yahweh cursed." So there is an obvious backward reference to Genesis 3:17. But the forward reference cannot be to the Flood (which certainly brought no such comfort), but to Noah's discovery of vine-culture, which brought comfort derived from the ground (Genesis 9:20-24). In this vein, also note Proverbs 31:6-7 which recommends "wine for the heart" and declares, "Let them drink and ... remember their misery no more." The intervening Flood story breaks up the connection between the wine discovery in ch. 9 and the naming of Noah in ch. 5 and thus probably conflates an agricultural hero with the survivor of a cataclysmic Flood.

    Genesis 9:20-24 also introduces Noah in an entirely new character, as not only the discoverer of the vine but the first victim of its effects. The Noah of vs. 20-27 comes from a different cycle of tradition from the righteous and blameless patriarch who was the hero of the Flood. Note that v. 20 calls him "Noah the husbandman " which implies the existence of traditions about his work in agriculture. In fact, there is an infamous problem in the position of this episode after the Flood story. In the Flood narrative, Noah's sons are married men who take their wives into the ark. Here, on the contrary, they are represented as minors living in the "tent" with their father; and the conduct of the youngest is conceived almost as an exhibition of juvenile immaturity. The most likely explanation, then, is that Genesis 9:20-27 belong to a stratum of the Yahwist writer (J ) who knew nothing of the Flood. Note that in v. 24 the offender is the youngest son of Noah, and in v. 25 he is named Canaan, while Shem and Japheth are referred to as his brothers. It is true that in v. 22 the misdeed is attributed to "Ham the father of Canaan" but the words appear to harmonize the account with vs. 18-19 (of the Flood account), and the words leave unresolved the problem between v. 24 and v.25. Not only is there a problem with the position of this story after the Flood account, but it interrupts the connection between v. 19, which describe Ham, Shem, and Japheth as the fathers of humankind, and Genesis 10-11 which lay out how this happened. By all appearances, this story seems to be independent of the Flood narrative.

    [5] The final piece of evidence indicating that Flood narrative was added later to the account relates to Cain. As the eponymous ancestor of the Kenites (cf. especially Numbers 24:21-22, which refers to the Kenites by the name of their ancestor Cain), his nomadic line obviously did not perish but remained in existence throughout Israelite history (Genesis 15:19; Judges 1:16, 4:11; 1 Samuel 14:6; Jeremiah 35:1-19). Their nomadism and lack of agriculture is related in Genesis 3:12-16, their specialty in metal-working is mentioned in 4:22, as well as their focus on music (4:21). The Cainite geneology in Genesis 4 is evidently from a Kenite source that viewed their ancestor as the founder of human civilization. There was thus no hint of a Flood wiping out human society in the Yahwist account that posits Cain as the ancestor of the Kenite portion of the Judean population.


    From the foregoing, we can see that the Nephilim and Rephaim are names for a race of prehistoric inhabitants of the land, of gigantic stature and of divine descent, who barely survived into the days of Joshua and David but who were the famous heroes and kings of old. Now they reside in Sheol as shades and ghosts. This notion was not invented by the Israelites. It can also be found in the literature of the Canaanites who preceded them, as well as in later Phoenician texts. Sarcophagus inscriptions of Phoenician kings allude to the Rephaim in a manner reminiscent of Isaiah:

    "I, Tabnit, priest of Ashtart, king of the Sidonians, son of Eshmunazor, priest of Ashtart, king of the Sidonians, am laying in this coffin. Whoever you are, any man who comes upon this coffin, do not, do not open my cover and disturb me, for no silver is gathered with me and no gold is gathered with me or any kind of riches. Do not, do not open my cover and disturb me, for such a thing would be an abomination to Ashtart! And if you do open my cover and disturb me, may you have no offspring among the living under the sun or a resting place with the Rephaim" (Inscription of King Tabnit of Sidon, COS 2.56, 1-8).
    "For any king or man who opens the cover of this resting-place or carries off the coffin of my resting-place and moves from this resting place, let him have no resting-place with the Rephaim, let him not be buried in a grave, and let him have no son or offspring to take his place" (Inscription of King Eshmunazor of Sidon, COS 2.57, 4-13).

    In Ugaritic texts, the term is used to refer to deified royal ancestors. KTU 1.161 is a liturgy commemorating the accession of the last king of Ugarit, Ammurapi III and his queen Tharyelli, and the death of his father King Niqmad IV (c. 1200 BC), and it summons the names of the Rephaim kings in the netherworld to offer their blessing on the new king. This text is of crucial importance in shedding light on the historical memory behind the Rephaim viewed by the Canaanite kings as their ancestors:

    "The written record of the sacred celebration in honor of the Shades (zlm). You are summoned, O Rephaim (rp'm) of the netherworld, you are summoned, O council of the Didanites (ddn)! Invoked is Ulkan, the Rapha. Invoked is Taruman, the Rapha. Invoked is Sidan and Radan, invoked is Thar, the eternal one. You are invoked, most ancient Rephaim! You are all summoned, O council of the Didanites. Invoked is Ammithtamru, the king, and invoked as well is Niqmad the king. O throne of Niqmad, may you be mourned! And lamented be his footstool. Let the table of the king be mourned in his presence. But let their tears be swallowed, and their dreadful lamentations. Go down, O Shapsh, go down, O great luminary. May Shapsh shine upon upon him. After your lord from the throne, after your lord to the netherworld descend! To the netherworld descend and go down low into the earth. Down to Sidan-and-Radan, down to the eternal one Thar, down to the ancient Rephaim, down to Ammithtamru the king, and also down to Niqmad the king. One, make an offering, two, and make an offering, three, and make an offering, four, and make an offering....Hail, Ammurapi! And hail to his household! Hail, Tharyelli! Hail to her household! Hail, Ugarit! Hail to her gates!" (KTU 1.161, 1-34)

    This remarkable text "summons" the Rephaim, just as Yahweh "rouses the Rephaim of all the kings of the world" in Isaiah 14:9-11. The Rephaim are also summoned by name. Some of these names are of historical kings of Ugarit; this is the case of Ammithtamru and Niqmad, who are listed in the official Ugarit King-List (KTU 1.113). The King-List however shows that all kings of Ugarit were deified, as the word il "god" is affixed to each name. The Rephaim are also not entirely powerless as Isaiah would have it -- they have the power to bless the living king. The rest of the names are not known as kings of Ugarit and represent both eponymous ancestors and mythical kings of yore. In his history of the third millenium BC city of Ebla, Michael Astour points out that three of the names in the Rephaim text refer to cities in Syria and northern Mesopotamia: Sidon (cf. Ugaritic sdn "Sidan", Eblaite Si-da-nu ki , and biblical Sidon), Redan (cf. Ugaritic rdn "Radan," Eblaite Rad-nu ki , and Akkadian Ri-da-(an-)na ki ), and Tarmanu (cf. Ugaritic trmn "Taruman," Eblaite Ta-ra-ma-nu ki ), a city in northern Mesopotamia. The same phenomenon is found in the Eblaite King-List, in which the earliest kings are the names of toponyms, and the Semite geneology of Abram in Genesis 11:10-26 refers to toponyms in northern Mesopotamia (more on that later). But the name "Rephaim" itself is derived from the name of the god Rapiu or Rapha, which in West Semitic means "healer". KTU 1.108 links him to the Rephaim, and of interest are the epithets associated with him:

    "May Rapiu, king of eternity, drink wine, yes, may he drink, the powerful and noble god, the god enthroned in Athtarat, the god who rules in Edrei, whom men hymn and honor with music, on the lyre and the flute, on drum and cymbals.... May the god drink, the god who subdued the calf of El, [the beast of] the god Shad, may the king of eternity hunt... [May all be blessed] with the strength of Rapiu, king of eternity, with his help, with his power, by his rule, by his splendor, among the Rephaim of the netherworld. May your strength, your help, your power, your rule, your splendor be in the midst of Ugarit, throughout the days and months, and the gracious years of El" (KTU 1.108 R 1-3, 11-13, V 22-29).

    Here Rapiu/Rapha is designated as a divine king, with power and splendor, enthroned in Athtarat and ruling in Edrei (idr'), and associated with the Rephaim of the underworld. According to N. Wyatt, Athtarat and Edrei are two Syrian cities located south of Damascus in the Hauran -- that is, biblical Bashan -- the home of the giant Rephaim Og! Now this gets interesting. The same locality is associated with the Rephaim by both Ugaritic Canaanites and the biblical author of Deuteronomy. And note how this king of eternity is described as a "hunter," and mentioned with Anat as "the god who subdued the calf of El" (cf. KTU 1.3 iii 44 where Anat takes credit for hunting El's calf Atik), a motif shared by the "mighty hunter" Nimrod. But the connection with the Hauran does not stop there. Egyptian inscriptions attest a toponym nw.rpi in the area of the Hauron, a town named "Raphon" is mentioned in 1 Maccabees 5:37 in the same area, and the name survives in modern er-Rafeh in the Hauran. All of this suggest that biblical Bashan was a cultic site where Rapiu was venerated as "eternal king", and the town was named after him.

    But who were the Didanites? The Canaanite text equates them with the Rephaim. There is more on them in the Keret Epic, which relates the story of Keret, king of the "House of Habur", whose family was tragically destroyed. But El blesses him and prophesies that his family would be restored: "Be greatly exalted, Keret, by the Rephaim of the netherworld, in the gathering of the assembly of the Ditanites (dtn)" (KTU 1.15 iii 2-4). Here the name is spelled differently, but the same group is meant. Finally, there is the Tale of Aqhat which concerns a wise and possibly divine ruler named Danel, a "Rapha man, the valiant Harnamite man" from the days of yore (KTU 1.17 i 1-2), whose child Aqhat was killed by the goddess Anat and her henchmen (KTU 1.18-19). Here we meet one of the Rephaim in life, and the story of Danel was well known in Israel as it was mentioned in Ezekiel 14:12-20, 28:1-3, and 1 Enoch 6:7, 69:2 characterizes him as a fallen angel, confirming again the relationship between the Nephilim of Genesis 6 with the Rephaim venerated by the Canaanites. Harnam is an obscure name but is best explained either by the Hamrin region of the Amorites or Mount Hermon near Phoenicia.


    It has long been recognized that the Greek myths are heavily dependent on the mythologies of the Near East. The myths themselves make this evident, as they frequently refer to localities in the Levant. Zeus fights the monster Typhon from Mount Casius located in Lebanon, the same mountain where Baal fought Yamm and Mot in the Ugaritic myth. Perseus saves Andromeda (< West Semitic 'nt rmt "Queen Anat") from the sea monster on the Levantine coast near Jaffa. The multi-headed dragon Ladon that guarded Hephaestus' golden apple tree is none other that the Lotan/Leviathan monster from Canaanite mythology. Aphrodite is based on Athtart/Astarte and Adonis (< West Semitic 'dn "lord," synonym of b'l "Baal") is based on the cult of Baal/Tammuz. Poseidon's son Agenor ruled as king of Tyre, and his son Cadmus introduced the Semitic alphabet to the West and begat Phoenix, the founder of Phoenicia, and Cilix, the founder of Cilicia. Danaus originated in the East, his father being Belus (< b'l "Baal") and his brother being Aegyptos. Mopsus was counted as one of the Danaoi (the descendents of Danaus), being the son of Apollo, the god of the sun, and a priestess, and according to Athenaeus 8.37 he invaded Ashkelon and according to Strabo, the tribes of Mopsus invaded the Levant and settled Cilicia, Syria, and Phoenicia.

    It is clear that the Greeks received mythic traditions from the Levant, particularly through the Phoenicians who also contributed the alphabet. But the situation was already much more complex. In the thirteenth century B.C., the Levant was inundated with Aegean, Mycenaean, and other Mediterranean migrants whom the Egyptians referred to as the "Sea Peoples". Numbers 24:23-24 presents an oracle delivered against Og, the Rephaim king of Bashan, which alludes to this invasion:

    "The Sea-people gather in the north, ships from the coasts of Kittim [e.g. Greece]. They bear down on Asshur, they bear down on Eber; he too will perish forever" (Numbers 24:23-24).

    The Sea Peoples, as Egyptian records list them, included the Lukka (the Lycians), the Teresh (the Etruscans), the Shekelesh (Sicilians), the Danuna (the Danaoi of the Iliad), the Shardana (Sardinians), and the Peleshet, who settled the southern Levantine coast as the biblical "Philistines" (cf. Genesis 10:13; Deuteronomy 2:23; Amos 9:7; Jeremiah 47:4, which trace the Philistines to kptr "Crete"). The Danuna are probably connected with the Danaoi, the tribe of Danaus (which the Greeks connect with the East), and Genesis 10:4 interestingly lists the "Dananites" as associated with Kittim "Greece". Mopsus in Greek myth was associated with Cilicia and the demigod Danaus, and a remarkable inscription by Azatiwata, an eighth century B.C. Hittite ruler of Karatepe, refers to the royal dynasty of Adanawa, the capital of the plain of Cilicia, as the "House of Mps" (COS 2.21). Cadmus is derived from the West Semitic root qdm "east" (cf. Kedemeh in Genesis 25:15), Apollo's epithet Smintheus probably derives from West Semitic smnt "lyre," and Apollo itself is based on *ypl, the aphel form of *npl "to fall," the same root as nplym "Nephilim". So it is quite clear that demigod traditions of the Greeks have some historical link to the Sea People movement and reflect both the settlement of the Levant (as claimed in myths on the sons of Mopsus) and the backflow of Semitic culture to Greece (as claimed in myths on Danaus and Cadmus).

    And then there is the Israelite tribe of Dan which Yigael Yadin suggested was identical with the Danuna of Egyptian records and the Danaoi of the Greeks. First of all, Genesis 49:16, while designating Dan as a son of Jacob, simultaneously presents him as previously standing outside the tribes of Israel, and his characterization as a "serpent on the road, a viper on the path" recalls the fate of Cadmus and his wife who were transformed into snakes. Second, Judges 18:1 explicitly states that Dan had no inheritance among the tribes of Israel, and locates the Danites near Gath and Jaffa -- in other words, coastal territory near the Philistines. Egyptian records indicate that the Danuna Sea People also settled near Jaffa. No less astonishing is the fact that no genealogical lists are given in the OT for the tribe of Dan, nor details of the the conquest of cities in the southern heritage. Even more significant is the fact that the Song of Deborah, a genuinely archaic text from the tenth or eleventh century BC, asks, "Dan, why did he remain in ships?" (Judges 5:17). The implication is that the Danites were occupied with ships, as Reuben staying amid sheepfolds and Asher dwelling on the coast, and this again fits the view of the Danites as originally living on the coast as one of the settled Sea Peoples. And then there is Samson, the legendary hero of the tribe of Dan. He has very close ties with the Philistines, his first wife being a Philistine (Judges 14:1), he knows a prostitute in Gaza (16:1), and his second wife Delilah is a confidante of the Philistine leaders. But his heroic characterization in Judges, from his fantastic strength to his aptitude with riddles and exploits, and especially his name and those of cities in his vicinity (cf. Samson < West Semitic sms "sun", the cities Ir-Shemesh and Har-Heres), suggests a connection with mythological sun-heroes like Hercules, Perseus, and Mopsus. For instance, Mopsus was the son of Apollo, the god of the sun, and is best known for his outstanding use of riddles. One of the stories connected with him records a riddle contest between him and the prophet Calchas which resulted in his victory and the prophet's death. All this closely recalls Samson's obsession with riddles in Judges 14:12-20. The parallels between Samson and Hercules are also well-known and suggest that either Samson is a Levantine version of the Greek heroes (hardly surprising if the Danites were of Greek origin, as Genesis 10:4 also suggests) or that Hercules and Mopsus are Greek versions of Levantine heroes (again, hardly surprising considering the extensive influence of Canaanite and Phoenician legends on Greek mythology).

    Is it then possible that the Titans and the demi-gods of Greek mythology derive from the Rephaim of Canaanite legend? We should first note that Greek Titanos is the phonetic equivalent of the Didan (Didanites) of the Ugaritic texts. As for the god Rapiu/Rapha, his name plausibly corresponds to Orpheus, the son of Calliope and Apollo, who numbered as one of the Argonauts and who descended to the netherworld to find his dead wife. He was also a god of music, which recalls how the cult of Rapiu specialized in honoring their ancestor with music (see KTU 1.108 above). Moreover, he was regarded as the founder of the Orphic cult which venerated snakes (a possible link to Cadmus and the Phoenician snake-cult?) and looked to the demi-god Dionysius as the source of all good, born of a union between Zeus and the human woman Semele of Thebes. And the preceding discussion has shown that other demigods such as Cadmus are definitely of West Semitic origin. So it appears a plausible case can be made linking the Greek traditions with the similar West Semitic legends about the Rephaim.


    The last great Sumerian dynasty, the Third Dynasty of Ur (2100-2000 BC), gradually lost control over surrounding city-states until the last king, Ibbi-sin, was hardly more than a local ruler. The collapse of Ur began when Ishbi-irra, a military officer from the Amorite city of Mari (on the middle Euphrates in northwestern Mesopotamia), established himself as king in Isin and extended his control over much of northern Sumer. The end came a few years later (c. 2000 BC) when the Elamites invaded and sacked Ur, and led Ibbi-sin into captivity. The Amorites are first mentioned in a record (c. 2200 BC) from the Akkadian king Shar-kali-sharri who mentions a victory "over the Amorites in the mountain of Ba-sa-ar," who appear to have been the local seminomadic rural population along the middle Euphrates. Onomastatic evidence shows that the Amorites were speakers of a Northwest Semitic language related to Aramaic or Canaanite. The Sumerians during Ur III knew them as MAR.TU "Westerners," and by the end of Ur III, Mari had a predominantly Amorite population. With the fall of Ur, Amorites flooded into all parts of Mesopotamia. State after state were taken over by them and by the eighteenth century B.C. virtually every state in Mesopotamia was ruled by Amorite kings. Two of these Amorite states, Isin and Larsa, engaged in a long rivalry, and ca. 1850 BC an Amorite named Sumu-abum established the first dynasty of Babylon, a previously obscure town, and by the eighteenth century the Old Babylonian empire held sway in southern Mesopotamia. The Amorites also began to settle the Levant around 1850 BC; this was when western Palestine, Syria, and later all of Palestine experienced a vigorous resurgence of fortified cities and population growth (as both archaeological evidence, Egyptian Execration texts, and the Tale of Sinhue indicate), though the central and southern hill country continued to be thinly settled throughout the Middle Bronze Age. That these newcomers were Amorites seems fairly certain, as onomastatic evidence shows. This period was also the time of the golden age of Mari in upper Mesopotamia, whereas Assyria emerged as a fledgling city-state opposed to the Amorites and culturally Akkadian. But the Babylonian dynasty crumbled in the sixteenth century BC through Kassite and Hittite expansion, and Mari collapsed as well through the growth of Hurrian, Hittite, and Assyrian empires. By this time, the great Amorite age has ended. To the Israelite and Judeans writing the source documents of the Pentateuch, the Amorites were only a vague distant memory.

    I believe the patriarchal traditions of the Pentateuch preserve memories of the Amorite origin of the Canaanites. It is remarkable that the Semite geneology of Abram, given in Genesis 10:21-25 (J) and 11:10-26 (P), almost entirely reflects toponyms in Upper Mesopotamia: Arpachshad (cf. the Assyrian district of Arapaha, possibly identical with the Arrapakhitis mentioned in Ptolemaeus 6.1.2 as a province near Armenia between lakes Van and Urumia), Peleg (cf. Assyrian palgu "canal" and Phalga, at the junction of the Charboras and the Euphrates), Shelah (cf. Salah in northern Mesopotamia), Reu (cf. Ru'ua, an Aramean tribe frequently mentioned in Assyrian inscriptions as dwellers on the banks of the Euphrates and Tigris near Babylon), Serug (cf. Sarug, a well-known city and district midway between Carchemish and Harran, and Sarugi as the name of a district near Harran in inscriptions from the seventh century BC), Nahor (cf. Til-Nahiri in the neighborhood of Sarugi), and Terah (cf. Til-sha-turahi, a town near Harran). The last three are especially important since they are neighborhoods around Harran, which Genesis 11:31-32 designates as the city where Abram's family lived after Ur, and stories of Isaac in Genesis 24 and Jacob in ch. 28 shows that the patriarchs were viewed as maintaining links with the cities of Harran and Nahor and journeying back and forth between Canaan and the homeland beyond the Euphrates. Harran was later an Assyrian capital, but in the mid-second millenium BC it was an Amorite province. Other names in the patriarchal narratives are of Amorite provenience: "Abiram" and "Ishmael" are known from Mari texts, Banu-yamina "Benjamin" appears in the Mari texts as a large confederation of tribes, Ya'qub-el "Jacob" occurs in an eighteenth-century text from Chagar-bazar in Upper Mesopotamia, while "Issachar" occurs in an eighteenth-century Egyptian list of Semite foreigners and "Zebulon" occurs in the Execration Texts. Since the Canaanites of the Late Bronze Age were ancestrally related to the Amorites of the Middle Bronze, it would not be surprising if traditions of an origin in Upper Mesopotamia lingered onward into the Iron Age.

    So who are the Didanites identified by Ugaritic Canaanites with the Rephaim? We may note that the Assyrian King List numbers a Didanu among the first seventeen "kings who lived in tents" (COS 1.135), and similar lists for the Old Babylonian kings of Hammurabi and Shamshi-Adad I trace the royal lineage back to someone named Ditanu. The name also became a royal suffix in names from the Old Babylonian period, meaning something like "prince," and occuring in names such as Ammuditana and Sumuditana. The Sumerian poem The Descent of Inanna to the Netherworld alludes the "vile people of Didanum" as a threat to the Inanna temple in Umma, and several Sumerian texts refer to a tribe of MAR.TU called Tidanum or Tidnum that eventually threatened Sumerian interests in southern Mesopotamia. Gudea, king of Lagash (c. 2140 BC), mentioned Ti-da-num HUR.SAG MAR.TU, "the Amorite mountain of Tidanum" as a source of marble or alabaster, which corresponds to Hamrin range, or a part thereof -- which recalls the epithet of Danel as a Harnamite man. But Gudea also refers to Jebel Bisri (a favorite abode of nomads) as "the mountain of the Amorites," which is the same "mountain of Ba-sa-ar" that the earlier Akkadian king Shar-kali-sharri located his victory over the Amorites. This fact is especially intriguing because Jebel Bisri is located just south of the Habur Valley and Habur owes its name to ancient Haburatum, located near Jebel Bisri near modern Hasekah at the great bend of the Habur, and according to the Keret Epic, King Keret (a descendent of the Didanites) was ruler of the "House of Habur," evidently in exactly the same region Gudea located the "mountain of the Amorites" and the "Amorite mountain of Tidanum". Shu-Sin, a king of the Third Dynasty of Ur (c. 2030 BC), described his battles with the Tidnum and the Yahmatu in the Trans-Tigris and built a large defensive wall in central Mesopotamia for the express purpose of keeping out the MAR.TU. The most critical and endangered portion of the wall was called muriq-Tidnim "Fender of the Tidnum" which ran from the middle Tigris to Zimudar on the Diyala. It is also quite possible that since "Amorite" was a label given to them by Sumerian and Akkadian outsiders, the Amorites may have called themselves the Didanum. In any event, the term originally referred to an actual people living in the rural lands near Mari and towards the north who were in a sense the precursors of the Amorite empire of the early second millenium. In a sense, the Ugaritic writers used the name Didanites in a vaguely mythical way just as the later Israelites used the more recent names Hittites and Horites without having a clear sense of identity of the peoples. All the Canaanites knew was that Didanites preceded them and were associated somehow with royal dynasties.

    As for the god Rapiu, there is copious evidence of him among the Amorites and earlier at Ebla in the third millenium BC. The name Hammurabi, belonging to the most famous king of the Old Babylonian period, means "Rapi is my kinsman" (< Amorite 'ammu rapi'), or "My kinsman is a healer," with rp' "healer" as the verbal root. d Rabu occurs as a prominent god as Ebla, which is the equivalent to Ugaritic rp'u, and Robert Stieglitz shows that his epithet mlk "king," prominent in Ugaritic texts, also occurs frequently in Ebla with reference to the Rpu deity, and suggests that the Phoenician royal god Melqart "King of the City" (and the biblical Molech, cf. 1 Kings 11:7) was an Iron Age survival of the god. In this connection, it is interesting that Melqart was regularly identified with the Greek hero Heracles in the Phoenician period, and according to Hesychios, Heracles was worshipped at the Cyprus under the name Malika. The name of the angel Raphael (< rp' 'l "God is a healer," or "Rapha is god") in Jewish religion raises the question of a connection as well. Moreover, Rapiqu occurs in the first millenium BC in a stele of Tukulti-Ninurta I as the name of a land in Amorite territory: "I brought under one command the lands Mari, Hana, Rapiqu, and the mountains of Ahlamu" (ARI 1:775), the latter reference to none other than the Jebel Bisri mountains. The name Rapiqu or Rapiqum is undoubtedly as ancient as Mari and Hana and likely stretches back into the third millenium BC as an Amorite or proto-Amorite ethnonym or toponym. But the belief in deified Rephaim-like ancestors evidently stretches back to the third millenium as well. Robert Stieglitz points out that in Ebla (c. 2400 BC), deceased kings were worshipped in a ritual performed in the garden or cemetary of the palace, where sheep would be offered to the dead kings. Two of these deities were named Kura and Barama. Curiously, the deified kings are called ga-ti-mu "former ones" in the Eblaite texts. In KTU 1.161, the Ugaritic Rephaim text, the shades are often called rp'm qdmym "ancient Rephaim," where qdmym also means "former ones".

    So the religion surrounding the Rephaim is very ancient, but the memory of the Rephaim in Ugarit and perhaps even in the OT appear to relate to the ancestors of the Amorite dynasts of the early second millenium BC.

  • shotgun

    Great stuff yet again

    I did a fair bit of research into this but only scratched the surface in comparison to this post in connecting all the groups.


  • LittleToe

    I'm starting to see why a clergy class developed, in religions.
    It would be oh-so-easy to just read all this great work, and not do any research myself.

    I remember wondering at the "Nephilim" of Joshua's day.

    Thanks again, Leo

  • gitasatsangha

    I've wondered before about the connection between various "Giants" in some cultures, with the giants typically being in a hazy distant past, even of the myths.

  • Narkissos

    Another breathtaking panorama... one major peak to me being Orpheus!

    What a shame the Mediterranean context was so long absent from Bible studies...

    Thanks again.

  • Leolaia

    gita.....I think of the notion of primeval giants as an archetypal folklore motif used for hundreds of years (if not millenia) to construct a mythic past, but the names and details associated with them may shift as older groups become fogotten and more recent groups recede from memory into a mythic age.

    BTW....I just added some new stuff on the connection between the god Rapiu and Melqart (identified by the Greeks with Heracles).

  • gitasatsangha


    I find an interesting counterpart in Vedic mythology.. Rakshashas, and Ashuras to be precise. History becomes Myth becomes Allegory. For instance it seems pretty apparent the Ramayana has some sort of historical backlog as a war between a southern Indian Kingdom, and one in Sri Lanka. Perhaps it's a sort of myth of the invasion of the Sinhalas against the Tamils. The Valmicki Ramayana treats it all as a war between a heroic avatar and his forces against demons, and the prime demon in charge in Sri Lanka. Perhaps it could also be a sort of cultural memory of the Aryan invasion against the Dravidians. Fast forward a few hundred years later and the Adhyatma Ramayana has codified the previous Ramayana legends as more of a complex allegory in Advaita Vedanta terms.

    I think most dominant cultures develop these apologetic myths at some point, wirth the exception of America. We got Paul Bunyan, and he's alright.

  • gitasatsangha

    strange.. my reply never made it. I give up on this notebook.

  • Abaddon

    That is one hell of a post; fantastic, very scholarly.

    It's interesting how the interelatedness of various mythic traditions is all so clear. It really gives persepective.

    I should look into the myths regarding the first fire-makers,, in more distantly removed cultures.

    I'm interested in whether there is any possible linguistic link between those credited with various inventions, as this would indicated an older, far older tradition. The alternatives are either discoveries are attributed to the local discovere, and there were mutilple independant discoverers, or that names were assigned to obvious mythic characters, just as an author of a fictional novel makes up the names of his characters.

  • Leolaia
    I find an interesting counterpart in Vedic mythology.. Rakshashas, and Ashuras to be precise.

    I would be interested to know of more parallels between Canaanite/Babylonian/Sumerian mythologies and the Vedas. There is the example I've already mentioned of the battle between Indra and Vrtra. There was direct contact between the Aryans and Mesopotamia, as the Mitanni empire between Armenia and Upper Mesopotamia incorporated a sizeable population of Indo-Iranians, and there is considerable evidence of Indo-Iranaian peoples before this. This fact, incidentally, has been used by maximalists to explain away the Persian and Sanskrit vocabulary in such late works as the Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.

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