See how I cleverly included all three last names for better searching? You’ll understand that if you read Jason Colavito’s latest post on “gigantology”: Micah Hanks: The Hubris of Jason Colavito and Skeptics Over Giants Is “Worthy of Study.”

Basically, Micah Hanks is riled at Jason’s skepticism with respect to alleged evidence for giants in both antiquity and modern times. Now, let’s be clear. What Jason is skeptical of is that there were giants way back when (and more recently) whose height exceeds that of very tall people today (i.e., more than 9 feet). Jason knows that there is quite good evidence for people like Robert Wadlow, who was nearly 9 feet tall, and other men who grew to taller than 8 feet (usually because of some physical abnormality). Jason just doesn’t think we have evidence of people 10-15 feet tall, like you’ll read about on many websites and blogs that talk about the nephilim.

Readers of both the PaleoBabble and Naked Bible blogs will know that I agree with Jason on this height issue. I think the only unambiguous evidence we have in the biblical text places the biblical giants between 6 and 7 feet tall. Yes, I know about the reference in Deut 3:11 to Og’s bed (note that the reference is to the bed, not the person) But I’m betting those who promote that as proof for a 10+ foot giant don’t know this (excerpted from my forthcoming book, The Unseen Realm):

. . . the most immediate link back to the Babylonian polemic is Og’s bed (Hebrew, eres).[1] Its dimensions (9 x 4 cubits) are precisely those of the cultic bed in the ziggurat called Etemenanki—which is the ziggurat most archaeologists identify as the Tower of Babel referred to in the Bible.[2] Ziggurats functioned as temples and divine abodes. The unusually large bed at Etemenanki was housed in “the house of the bed” (bet ersi). It was the place where the god Marduk and his divine wife, Zarpanitu, met annually for ritual love-making, the purpose of which was divine blessing upon the land.[3]

Scholars have been struck by the precise correlation. It’s hard not to conclude that, like Genesis 6:1-4, those who put the finishing touches on the Old Testament during the exile in Babylon were connecting Marduk and Og in some way. The most transparent path is in fact giant stature. Og is said to have been the last of the Rephaim—a term connected to the giant Anakim and other ancient giant clans in the Transjordan (Deut. 2:11, 20). Marduk, like other deities in antiquity, was portrayed as superhuman in size.[4] However, the real matrix of ideas in the mind of the biblical author may stem more from word play deriving from Babylonian mythology.[5]


[1] The dimensions were roughly six by thirteen feet.

[2] Etemenanki = Esagil (Sumerian). Doak, Last of the Rephaim, 92. Doak goes on to note that scholars who have detected this connection conclude that the point of matching the dimensions was that the biblical writer wanted to compare Og with a cultic prostitute. This is not only awkward, but fails to consider the wider Babylonian polemic connected back to Genesis 6. See also Andrew R. George, “The Tower of Babel: Archaeology, History, and Cuneiform Texts,” Archiv für Orientforschung 51 (2005/2006) 75-95; John H. Walton, “The Mesopotamian Background of the Tower of Babel Account and Its Implications,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 5 (1995): 155-175.

[3] Sacred marriage rituals included the blessing of fertility for both the land and its inhabitants. See Martti Nissinen, “Akkadian Rituals and Poetry of Divine Love,” Mythology and Mythologies. Methodological Approaches to Intercultural Influences. Proceedings of the Second Annual Symposium of the Assyrian and Babylonian Intellectual Heritage Project Held in Paris, France, October 4-7, 1999 (Melammu Symposia 2; ed. R. M. Whiting; Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project 2001), 93-136. The ritual was also concerned with maintaining the cosmic order instituted by the gods. Consequently, in addition to the giantism element, a link between Og and Maduk via the matching bed dimensions may also have telegraphed the idea that Og was the inheritor and perpetuator of the Babylonian knowledge and cosmic order from before the flood. This would of course tie him back to Genesis 6:1-4 and its apkallu polemic. See Beate Pongratz-Leisten, “Sacred Marriage and the Transfer of Divine Knowledge: Alliances Between the Gods and the King in Ancient Mesopotamia,” in Sacred Marriages: The Divine-Human Sexual Metaphor from Sumer to Early Christianity (ed. Martti Nissinen, and Risto Uro; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 43-72. In any event, the size of Og’s bed cannot be taken as a precise indication of Og’s own dimensions. There is much more at play here.

[4] See Enûma Elish 1.99–100: “He was the loftiest of the gods, surpassing was his stature; his members were enormous, he was exceedingly tall.” One scholar notes in this regard, “The huge images of Marduk at Babylon could have served as the basis for the description of Marduk and other Babylonian gods as giants. Herodotus, Histories 1.183 said the golden image of Bel in the temple at Babylon stood twelve cubits; Ktesias (Diodorus Siculus. Library 2.9.5) claimed the statue had a height of forty feet” (Russell E. Gmirkin, Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch [Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 433; London; New York: T&T Clark, 2006], 128).

[5] Marduk was a minor deity prior to the Babylonian era, where he was elevated to be king of the gods and the patron deity of the city of Babylon. His main temple was, as we have noted, Etemenanki, the ziggurat at Babylon (see Jeremy A. Black, “Marduk,” Dictionary of the Ancient Near East [ed. Piotr Bienkowski and Alan Millard; London: British Museum Press, 2000], 188-189). Marduk was therefore the chief theological rival to Yahweh in the exilic period. In biblical literature, Marduk is referred to as Merodach or Bel. Second Temple period Jewish texts contain a tradition about a giant who survived the flood named Belus, who was created with building a tower in Babylon (the Tower of Babel), in which he lived. The train of thought conceptually links Marduk and Belus the giant. The same tradition identifies Belus with the biblical Nimrod, and suggests Nimrod might also be identified with Noah. Biblical editors during the exile may have taken note of the same Bel/Belus wordplay and used the dimensions of Og’s bed to identify him with Marduk, though we cannot of course know that with any certainty. What we can know is that this sort of thinking did surface in Second Temple period Jewish writings (see K. van der Toorn, “Nimrod Before and After the Bible,” Harvard Theological Review 83:1 [Jan. 1990]: 8, 16). Lastly, though it is only speculation, it is interesting to note that Marduk’s name in Sumerian name was AMAR.UTU (“calf of Utu”; i.e., “the young bull of the Sun god”). The Sumerian for “Amorite” is MAR.TU. One wonders if the biblical scribes heard a pun behind the description of Og the giant Amorite king and Marduk’s name.

In other words, the dimensions of Og’s bed may have nothing to do with his actual size, but quite a bit to do with associating him with Marduk (the work of a later editorial hand in Deut 3) for a theological polemic.

Back to Jason ….

I also agree with Jason that “the existence of giants, if true, would prove nothing about the truth of the Bible.” The validity of the Bible’s truth claims do not depend on producing evidence for people of bizarre height. Really tall people even by today’s standards fits the narrative, given the average (small) height of male skeletons of the period (ca. 5.5 feet). The point of the biblical narrative is that there were Canaanite inhabitants who were bigger than the Israelites, and it scared the crap out of them. I believe that to be forthright reporting in the biblical text, but nephilim theorists have turned the subject into the theater of the bizarre. We’re now treated to cone heads with [to get the Talmud right] sixteen rows of teeth . . .  uh, biblical chapter and verse, please). You also don’t need whole “races” or thousands of unusually tall people with respect to the biblical language. The text can quite readily be read as denoting the presence of such people in lots of places, not that every last person in the land was a giant, or even that there were throngs of thousands in places. It’s the origin of the nephilim that takes us into subject matter that would conceivably produce disagreement between me and Jason (there’s more than one supernaturalist view of that, and I don’t know if Jason is a committed materialist or not). See my upcoming book in Feb/March 2015 (there — got another shameless plug in).

Jason’s response to Micah Hanks comes right on the heels to an email exchange I had last night. I won’t mention any names, but I offer it as illustrative that for both Jason and myself (I think I can safely include Jason here), our objections to “gigantology” are mostly about honesty.

Last night I received this link: “World’s Oldest Statue Is Of A Giant 17.4 Foot Nephilim From Genesis.” (Subtitle: The giants of Genesis are planning on making a return in the days after the Rapture). I wrote the following reply:

On the Shirig figure … the web page is pretty sad.

There are no “inscriptions” on it – decorative lines and a few words. One on the face identifies it as a goddess figure (the goddess of heaven to boot). See this link (load it up in Chrome and then have it auto-translated):

There is nothing on the figure or its original context that points to nephilim. Only the length/height. So, consider the logic. If someone dug up the Las Vegas “Tex” cowboy 9,500 years from now would they conclude that there were nephilim in the 20th century? Only if they thought very poorly.

This is the sort of thing that’s an embarrassment to biblical studies.

The sender then replied (abbreviated response): “You know, it interests me HOW you attack the analysis.   That is what fascinates me.” (That was meant in a sincere way; my issue was with the link, not the emailer).

My subsequent reply is why I bring up this conversation in this post:

[Someone’s] analysis is about honesty. It is either coherent or not. It’s faithless and dishonest to endorse an analysis that lacks a factual basis. I’m just not going to tell people something looks right when it doesn’t. That’s dishonest. It’s no more complicated than that. We either speak the truth, or we don’t.
So, yes, I’m going to be critical of an “analysis” that is nothing but pure speculation, cast as truth, and (worst of all) put forth as some sort of argument for biblical validity. It’s no wonder why people so eagerly dispense with biblical material on all sorts of issues when this (the link above) is the sort of nonsense put out there to defend the Bible. It’s terribly misguided. The Bible does not teach us to fabricate evidence to win an argument or to defend its own sacred status. That’s dishonesty.