I’ve blogged before about giant human skeletons that aren’t giant human skeletons. The first two examples I blogged about were hoaxes, created with image editing software (see here and here). The Remnant of the Giants blog recently had an interesting post about a presumed giant human skeleton discovered in Belgium in 1643. Turned out the giant was a mammoth. This is typical, both in the ancient world (as chronicled by Adrienne Mayor) and, as this article points out, in modern times as well.
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I think Adrienne Mayor makes a strong case for why the ancients believed in super tall 20 foot or taller giants — based on mistaken animal bones.
She also makes a wonderful case for the existence of real giants, 7 to 9 foot tall people in ancient times who were sometimes encountered by the Hebrews, Greeks, Romans and other ancient people. Contrary to popular belief, giants of 2 to 3 meters (7 to 10 ft) are exactly the size which the Bible describes in detail. In fact, most of the stories of giant human skeletons found in burial mounds in North America, and Europe also concern skeletons generally 7 to 8 feet long, although giants of 9 to 12 feet were sometimes reported.
The giant of Castelnau is perhaps the tallest man ever estimated from ancient bones which were documented in a scientific journal, estimated at over 11 ft tall. I would not be surprised if other scientific reports exist for persons up to this size range, although skepticism is certainly warranted.
agreed- it’s a very useful book; she has a companion volume on North American material, too.
If Goliath was the 4 cubits and 1 span tall, which are attributed to him in all the first century sources, that would make him approximately 6 1/2 to 7 ft tall. Another story concerns a Beneiah Son of Jehoiada who slays a man 5 cubits tall, which between 7 1/2 to 8 feet in stature. Thse 4 and 5 cubit tall “giants” resemble the stories of tall men recounted in the Egyptian Papyrus Anastasi I, which humorously describes the travelers tale of 4- 5 cubit tall men along the road to Megiddo, in Canaan. 5 New Kingdom cubits would be about 7 1/2 to 8 feet.
So it would appear the Bible doesn’t mention giants 20 feet tall, unless we take literal the account of the 12 spies journeying near Hebron and delcaring they stood like grasshoppers in comparison to the sons of Anak. Or how about Amos 2:9, where it says the Amorites were as tall as Cedar trees….
The Benaiah passage is textually problematic (just FYI there). The Numbers passage and Amos 2 don’t give us numerical (unit) language, so it’s easy to take that as hyperbolic expression.
Thanks for that info! I wasn’t aware of the textual problem with the Benaiah passage, that sounds interesting. But for the sake of argument, it appears that the tallest men measured in the old testament were all around 4 to 5 cubits, or within about 2 to 2.5 meters ( 6′ 6″ to 8’0″) — which would be extremely huge for the average man of those days who were only 5′ 0″ to 5’6.” Someone like Goliath who was nearly 7 feet tall, and closer to 8 feet tall in his helmet and armor would have stood a full 30 to 50% taller and more massive than normal sized men, head and chest above them. These seem to be the size of real ancient giants, warriors of about 7 to 8 or 9 feet. Ms. Mayor describes historical encounters with such giants in her interesting article:
“Giants in Ancient Warfare” by Adrienne Mayor | Papers by Adrienne. MHQ: Quarterly Journal of Military History 2, 2 (Winter 1999). 98-105.
I contend that it may have been possible some giants grew over 9 feet, such as Gabbaras, Eleazar, king Og and a few others like the Castelnau giant, but that would probably be pushing the limits of the biophysical ceiling.
The Midrash and Talmud stories of king Og are so hilarious one can hardly keep a straight face. It’s a amazing how a tall man can turn into a mountain given 3,000 or 4,000 years. I think the stories of the giants as tall as Cedars, or sons of Anak which make the Israelites feel like grasshoppers are definitely hyperoble, I agree 100% with you. Most old stories of giants are hopelessly exaggerated, and that seems to be the whole point.
agreed – and I have made these same points elsewhere on this blog.
4 cubits is approximately 12′. Not 7
Your link to the bible code pdf book is broken. I imagine that’s not helping sales 😛
which link? There is more than one, and the one I maintain is working just fine (but there may be old ones).
Kind of related – You’ve written articles about Goliath’s height. I wonder if you might blog about some of the other problems with the Goliath story as mentioned on the wikipedia page under Textual considerations.
Something like this (by me) is already online:
Yes, and thank you. I understand about the height. But it was the other issues with the story I was concerned about.
Specifically, “In 2004 Azzan Yadin suggested that the armor described in 1 Samuel 17 is typical of Greek armor of the sixth century BC rather than of Philistines armor of the tenth century, and that narrative formulae such as the settlement of battle by single combat between champions is characteristic of the Homeric epics (the Iliad) but not of the ancient Near East.”
And, “Martin Litchfield West has pointed out that a story very similar to that of David and Goliath appears in the Iliad, where the young Nestor fights and conquers the giant Ereuthalion. Each giant wields a distinctive weapon—an iron club in Ereuthalion’s case, a massive bronze spear in Goliath’s; each giant, clad in armor, comes out of the enemy’s massed array to challenge all the warriors in the opposing army; in each case the seasoned warriors are afraid, and the challenge is taken up by a stripling, the youngest in his family (Nestor is the twelfth son of Neleus, David the seventh or eighth son of Jesse).”
what is your point with respect to the last comment?
Skeptics seem to imply the David vs Goliath story was stolen from Greek literature, meaning it’s completely fiction. Do they have a leg to stand on?
no; a closer parallel is found in Hittite material. They probably say that because of the tradition where one warrior from each side fights to resolve a conflict. That tradition is old and scattered through the Mediterranean, but that doesn’t address the specific elements of the story. Frankly, it would be (at best) an argument guilty of over-generalization.