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.
THE MEGALITHIC DOLMENS AND RING STRUCTURES OF BASHAN
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 ) 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.
NEOLITHIC PLASTERED SKULLS
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.