Neolithic and Early Bronze Relics in Stories about the Rephaim

by Leolaia 9 Replies latest watchtower bible

  • Leolaia

    As many of you know, the lore about the Rephaim constitutes one of my biggest current interests in the OT. The Rephaim (also known as or affiliated with the Nephilim, the Anakim, the Zamzumim, etc.) were believed by the Israelites, the Canaanites, and the Phoenicians to be the aboriginal inhabitants of Canaan, the great and mighty kings of old, and who currently reside as ghosts in Sheol (cf. Genesis 14:5; Deuteronomy 2:10-11, 3:11-13; Proverbs 9:18; Isaiah 14:4-11; 26:14). The Nephilim were explicitly described as of divine descent in Genesis 6:1-4, and both the Nephilim and the Rephaim were described as giants in Numbers 13:33; Deuteronomy 2:10-11, 3:11-13; 2 Samuel 21:15-21 (cf. also 1 Samuel 17:4-5). The Rephaim mattered in Canaanite and Israelite society because they were the heroes of legend and song and through ancestor worship were believed to bless and "heal" (Hebrew rp'ym literally means "healers") through their semi-divine powers. According to the Phoenician legends of Philo of Byblos and their Sumerian/Akkadian counterparts, the first race of kings and city-builders were giants, primordial gods, and deified kings; the city of Sidon was thus built by son of Pontus (=Yamm) the sea god. A Ugaritic liturgical text summoning the Rephaim in fact names "Sidanu" as one of the Rephaim residing in the underworld. In later Jewish myth (cf. 1 Enoch, Jubilees, the Qumran Book of Giants), these divine bestowers of civilization were recast as fallen angels who taught man all the evil aspects of civilization. Thus in Ezekiel, the ancient hero Danel was revered as a wise and righteous man of old (mentioned in the same breath as Noah), whereas in 1 Enoch he appears as one of the wicked angels, and in Jubilees he is the father-in-law of the antediluvian hero Enoch (Ezekiel 14:12-20, 28:1-3; 1 Enoch 6:7, 69:2; Jubilees 4:20). The ancient hero Gilgamesh, king of Uruk and subject of the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, is also recast as fallen angel in the Book of Giants (cf. my post on the subject). The ancestor cult that revered these heroes of old centered on their chthonic king (mlk) named Malik or, as pronounced in Judean Hebrew, Molech. The third millenium BC tablets of Ebla mention the god Malik who is equated with Nergal in Akkadian texts, he appears in Ugaritic texts as well as the title of the god Rapha/Rapiu (the "king of eternity" in the underworld), the LXX version of Amos 5:26 (cf. Acts 7:43) equates Molech with the god Raphan, and even the Quran, sura 43:77 mentions Malik as an angel of hell. The cult site of Molech in Judah, namely the Hinnom Valley, later became associated with the underworld and hell (e.g. Gehenna) in rabbinical Jewish and Christian tradition. The cult site of Rapha/Rapiu in northern Israel was located in the Bashan region, specifically the cities of Edrei and Athtarat (biblical Ashtaroth). The Ugaritic text KTU 1.108 indicates that he was "enthroned" in both cities:

    "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).

    The OT also links these very same cities with the Rephaim. In Genesis 14:5, the Rephaim were located in "Ashtaroth-Karnaim" (Ashtaroth of the horns), whereas in Deuteronomy 1:4, 3:10 and Joshua 9:10, 12:4, 13:12, 31 the Rephaim king Og was said to rule from the cities of Ashtaroth and Edrei. Even as late as 1 Maccabees 5:37 do we read of a town called Raphon in the Bashan area, and the name survives in the modern er-Rafeh (located 8 km. from ancient Athtarat). For more information, please see my detailed post on the subject.

    For the Canaanites and the later Israelites and Jews, the concept of the Rephaim constitued a means of constructing a "mythic past" in the fullest sense of the term. We today tend to think of the Canaanites and Israelites as very ancient peoples; 1200 BC, the time when the last of the Ugaritic texts were written, was about 3,200 years ago. To us, that's ancient. But Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world, goes at least as far back as 7000 BC. So 5,800 years separates the Neolithic town from 1200 BC -- a much longer time depth! The ancient Israelites and Canaanites were living in a world already ancient, filled with ruins and objects that have no relation to the peoples currently living in the lands, but must have belonged to unknown mysterious peoples who came before them. It should thus not surprise us that stories about the Rephaim reference actual ruins and objects that date back to Neolithic times. I will give two examples.


    I believe the Bashan area became a cultic site for ancestor worship because of the high number of Early Bronze megalithic structures in the area. About 8,500 dolmens (table-like tomb structures composed of two standing stones spaced apart and covered with a flat horizontal stone) have been identified in the Golan Heights area and in the vicinity of Galilee, of varying styles and sizes. The largest dolmens contain stones weighing 50 tons and stand 7 meters (22 feet) in height. It is thus hardly a surprise that giants were believed by the Canaanites and Israelites to have built these massive structures. Some structures date as early as 3000 BC but most date to Early Bronze III (2400-2200 BC) and Middle Bronze I (c. 2200 BC). Especially noteworthy are the archeological finds in some of the Golan Dolmens, which include javelins of a type found at Ugarit dating back to 2400 BC, and especially common among the Ugaritic "necklace wearers" several centuries later. The cultural connection thus suggests that the Ugaritic culture was linked to the more ancient culture that produced the dolmen structures.

    In the OT, standing stones were attributed to the patriarchs and Joshua (cf. Genesis 28:18-19, 31:44-47, 35:14; Joshua 4:3, 7:25-26, 8:29), but there is then the bed of the Rephaim king Og which, though described as made of iron, is described as 13 feet in length and still standing in Rabbah -- a description that suits very well the dolmen structures of the area (Deuteronomy 3:11). The term 'rs commonly translated "bed, couch" (cf. NIV, RS) is likely a basalt tomb or sarcophagus of suitable size to contain the remains of a giant Rephaim king, and bzl "iron" is thought by Alan Millard (cf. Biblical Archaeology Review 6:16-41, 44 [1990]) to derive from the iron-like color and texture of the basalt. The use of words for "bed, couch" ('rs, mtth) for tombs are attested both in the OT (cf. Genesis 47:30-31) and in the Phoenician funerary inscription of Eshmunazor, which interestingly also mentions the Rephaim in connection with his funerary "bed" or "couch" (translated by McCarter as "resting place"):

    "May no royal race and no man open my funeral couch, and may they not seek after treasures, for no one has hidden treasures here, nor move the coffin out of my funeral couch, nor molest me in this funeral bed, by putting another tomb over it....For the punishment of the violators shall be: Every royal race and every man, who shall open the covering or this couch, or who shall carry away the coffin where I repose, or who shall molest me in this couch, they shall have no funeral couch with the Rephaim" (Sarcophagus Inscription of Eshmunazor, King of Sidon, COS 2.57)

    So the story in Deuteronomy apparently alludes to the Early Bronze structures in the Bashan area as material evidence of the extinct Rephaim. There are similar mentions of dolmens in the Canaanite legend of Aqhat which tells the story of the "Rapha man" Danel, which is possibly also set in the Bashan area. In the beginning of the story, Danel complains to El that he has no son, and thus has no one "to set up the tomb (skn) for his father's ghost ('lb), in the sacred precinct the monument (ztr) of his clan, to draw out his father's smoke from the ground, the guardian of his place from the underworld" (KTU 1.17 i 25-28). The term translated "tomb" literally means "storage place" (cf. 'ry-msknwt "store-cities" in Exodus 1:11) but also is related to the word for "stela" (thus translated as such by Wyatt), and the paralleled term ztr also means "monument". The term 'lb refers to chthonic deities, possibly related to the biblical Rephaim in Sheol and the 'b "ghosts" of the OT. It is thus appropriate for the "Rapha man" to be considered with the building of his own "storage place" monument.

    Another important structure in the area (16 miles east of the Sea of Galilee) is the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze ringed structure called Gilgal Rephaim or Rujm el-Hiri, built by an early population that antedated the Canaanites, which contains about 37,000 tons of basalt stones and was presumably used for astral observations:

    It is noteworthy that this massive structure was located 10 miles from ancient Athtarat (biblical Ashtaroth) and the reference to the Rephaim in Genesis 14:5 locates them in Ashtaroth-Karnaim.


    Later in the Aqhat legend, the war goddess Anat offers Aqhat immortality in exchange of his composite bow. She declares him a gzr "hero" and promises that he would be "celebrated in poem and chant, beautiful songs will be sung about him, this kind of life I will give Hero Aqhat" (KTU 1.17 vi 31-34). But Aqhat replies:

    "Do not deceive me, O Virgin, for to a hero your deceit is rubbish! At his end, what will a man receive? What will he receive as his destiny? A coating will cover my head, lime-plaster will deck the top of my skull. For I shall die as all men die, indeed I shall die like all mortals" (KTU 1.17 vi 34-39).

    The context is obviously funerary and Aqhat is indicating that his skull would be coated (spsg) with lime (chrs), and this is exactly what Anat does after he is killed by her henchmen: "She incised the gums of his mouth, she grasped his teeth and extracted them, she plastered his crown with lime, in accordance to with the wish of the chthonics, and the instruction of the Nethergods" (KTU 1.19 i 7-12).

    This was not a practice followed by the Ugaritic population (it was, in fact, discontinued by 5500 BC), but it was typical of the Neolithic (c. 7000-6000 BC) plastered skulls discovered at Jericho and in various sites throughout the Golan Heights (especially in the Chuleh Valley adjacent to the Sea of Galilee). Not only is the skull plastered in the Canaanite story but the teeth extracted as well. Forensic study of the Neolithic skulls has found that the teeth from the lower mandible were extracted prior to the plastering -- exactly the situation described in the Aqhat myth. So how was such an ancient practice described accurately thousands of years later?

    Margalit (p. 309) suggests that such skulls were also discovered back in the Middle Bronze and Late Bronze Age, and were objects of curiosity in their day. Some of the skulls found recently in the ancient Bashan area were recovered fairly close to the surface. Such strange relics were correctly regarded by the ancients as of great antiquity, belonging to even earlier inhabitants of the land, and thus stimulating the imagination of others. In a story about one of the Rephaim (Danel) that was set in the Jordan Valley near Bashan, that referred to pre-monarchial social organization (i.e. Danel, like Job, was a "judge" who administered justice in the city gateway), and described a 'pre-historic' world with regular contacts between gods and men, the author of Aqhat quite understandably alludes to "relics" of a bygone world, just as Deuteronomy mentions the massive resting-places of the dead Rephaim.

  • Narkissos

    Very informative and enlightening, as ever.

    One Hebrew word which especially "sounds neolithic" to me is the toponym Gilgal, which actually functions as a noun with the article (haggilgal = the gilgal) and is referred to a variety of places in the narratives. Cf. the etiology in Joshua 4 with the twelve stones from the Jordan or the formula happesilim ("statues"?) 'asher 'eth-haggilgal in Judges 3:19.

  • Leolaia

    Thanks Narkissos, I found it to be quite fascinating stuff too. There's one more thing about the Aqhat legend I should mention. The Greek hero Actaeon is thought by some to be a later reflex of the West Semitic Aqhat, in both name and story. Actaeon was the grandson of Apollo through his father Aristaeus (the discoverer of honey) and Cadmus through his mother Autonoe (Hesiod, Theogony 975; Pindar, Pythian 9.3; Apollodorus 3.25-31). This firmly places Actaeon within the same era of heroic demigods as in Phoenician mythology. The names Apollo and Cadmus themselves are also of West Semitic origin (cf. Apollo < ypl "he fell" from the same root as npl in "Nephilim", and Apollo's epithet Smintheos < smnt "lyre"; Kadmos < qdm "east"). Aristaeus, the Greek equivalent of Danel, was also famed for having been taught the arts of healing (cf. Danel as a "Rapha man" < rp' "healer", the Rephaim were "healers") and prophecy (cf. Danel uttering a curse on the land like the OT prophet Elisha) by the Muses. Aristaeus was also the half-brother of Orpheus, the Greek equivalent of Rapha/Rapiu, the king of the Rephaim. According to Ovid (Metamorphoses 3:160-240) and other Greco-Roman writers, Actaeon was killed by dogs after offending Artemis, the goddess of hunting and war. The specific scenario is different (Actaeon offends Artemis by seeing her naked while he is hunting, and Artemis transforms him into a stag, who is then killed by his own hunting dogs), but there are many similarities:

    • Artemis is the equivalent of Anat. She is described as a virgin, and one of Anat's titles in the Aqhat legend is btlt "Virgin". Artemis hunts with a bow (and in the Trojan War narratives, her mother also threatens her with her own bow) and in the Aqhat legend, Anat covets Aqhat's composite bow which was bequeathed to Aqhat by Kothar-and-Hasis to aid him in his hunt (cf. KTU 1.17 v 35-40). Thus Aqhat is a hunter as well. In other Ugaritic texts, Anat boasts of killing such creatures as Encircler-with-seven heads, Arsh, El's calf Atik, El's bitch (perhaps a female equivalent of Kerberos), and so forth (KTU 1.3 iii 40-45). Another text (KTU 1.108) associates Anat with Rapiu, the king of the Rephaim, and describes them both as hunters. Anat's sister Athtart is also a huntress (cf. KTU 1.92), and both goddess are almost inseperate in Canaanite myth.
    • Actaeon offends Artemis by seeing her naked, hunting on her own lands. Aqhat offends Anat by rejecting her appeals to give her his composite bow.
    • Artemis kills Actaeon through indirect means, by having his own hunting dogs kill him. Anat kills Aqhat through indirect means, by having two eagles hunt him as their prey. In both stories, the hunter becomes the hunted.
    • According to Callimachus (Hymn V, Pallas 106), Actaeon's mother then recovered her son's bones. In the Aqhat legend, Danel recovered his son's bones by tearing upon the stomachs of the eagles that killed Aqhat.
    • Aristaeus was "deeply grieved by the fate of Actaeon" (Pausanias, 10.17.3), and Danel's grief over Aqhat resulted in a banishment of Baal, attracted the sympathy of El, and if Ezekiel is to be believed, likely resulted in the return of Aqhat from death.

    Not the same story, but similar, and the names Aqhat and Actaeon are quite similar.....

  • Leolaia

    Isn't that a southernly Gilgal tho?

  • Narkissos
    Isn't that a southernly Gilgal tho?

    Definitely. According to the Joshua story it is West of the Jordan, near Jericho. Yet it is a largely fictitious story which might preserve the name of several holy places (cf. the gilgal of Deuteronomy 11,30, supposedly near Shechem, or the gilgal of 2 Kings 2,1; 4,38, near Bethel: there's still a Jiljiliya 12 km north of Bethel).

  • frankiespeakin


    For the Canaanites and the later Israelites and Jews, the concept of the Rephaim constitued a means of constructing a "mythic past" in the fullest sense of the term. We today tend to think of the Canaanites and Israelites as very ancient peoples; 1200 BC, the time when the last of the Ugaritic texts were written, was about 3,200 years ago. To us, that's ancient. But Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world, goes at least as far back as 7000 BC. So 5,800 years separates the Neolithic town from 1200 BC -- a much longer time depth!

    From what I have read Jericho may even go back farther to 8000 BC so I think you are staying on the conservative side to make your point,,thus the "at least" qualifier in your estimate. Interesting,, when you do the math.

    Also I remember reading that the fertile cresent had periods of severe drought that seems to be cyclical,,and lasting many decades or even hundreds of years,,this would cause a shifting and migration of the population and has been given as a reason for why in the account of Abram in Gensis,,we get the picture that the promised land was sparsely populated in Abram day,,being that Abram was a sorta merchant prince from across the Euphraties river and was able to move about freely thru the land,, even though he had a small army traveling with him. For if the land was more populated such would not be permited.

    The reason why I mention that is,,this also may support your point:

    the concept of the Rephaim constitued a means of constructing a "mythic past" in the fullest sense of the term.
  • Leolaia

    I just found one Ugaritic text that further clinches the case that Malik/Molech and Rapiu/Rapha were equivalent. In KTU 1.100, the "Myth of Shapsh and the Mare", we read:

    "Shapsh, my mother, carry my voice to Milk in Athtarat. A spell against the bite of a snake, against the venom of a snake that has sloughed" (KTU 1.100 R 40-43 | B IX).

    Milk, which is also vocalized as Malik(u), is located in the same town in Bashan as Rapiu according to KTU 1.108 and the Rephaim king Og in Deuteronomy and Joshua. Shapsh, having a nightly passage through the underworld, naturally would call to the "king of eternity" of the Rephaim (rp'm "Healers") to help cure her mare from snakebite (snakes were also chthonic in aspect).

  • badboy


  • Leolaia

    Yes, that is one of a group of words that look like early loans between Proto-Indo-European and Proto-Semitic, e.g. IE *krn "horn" (cf. Latin cornu) and Proto-Semitic *qarn- (cf. Akkadian qarnu-, Arabic qarn-), IE *teh 2 uros "bull" (cf. Latin taurus) and Proto-Semitic *thawr- (cf. Akkadian shuru, Arabic thaur), PIE *woino "wine" (cf. Greek oino-) and Proto-Semitic *wayn "wine", etc. There are also later cases of borrowing through contact with Indo-European peoples, such as the early Aryan Mitanni, the early Greek/Anatolian Philistines, and the Anatolian Hittites.

  • hamsterbait

    I love this stuff. I just don't have the time or library to do it myself.

    OXO Leo!!


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