Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Shorts, Episode 3
Goliath went down in history as the Bible’s most (in)famous giant. How tall was he? That all depends on which manuscripts of the Hebrew Scriptures you read. The Masoretic Text sets him towering at about 9.5 feet, whereas the Septuagint and 4QSamuela feature a shorter giant coming in at about 6.5 feet (cf. variant readings in 1 Samuel 17:4).
As far as giants in the Bible go, however, Goliath is far from the most notorious. In fact, giants enter the story within the first few chapters of Genesis.
On the eve of the flood when wickedness ran rampant in the world, Genesis 6:4 casually mentions: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.”
In case you missed it, these Nephilim were the offspring of angels who descended on earth to have intercourse with human women. After this, Genesis 6:5 continues without explanation of the life, times, or fate of these pre-diluvian hybrids.
This reference in Genesis may seem out of place to modern readers, yet in antiquity it was part of a larger complex of traditions known as the “Watcher Myth.” We hear variations of this related in writings in the mid-Second Temple period, such as 1 Enoch and Jubilees.
Most ancient Jewish texts, however, spend more time thinking about the problems of the parents in this myth. How could these angelic fathers abandon their heavenly posts? What sort of illicit knowledge did the human women obtain from the partnership? The kids, as gargantuan as they are, are easily overlooked.
That is, except in the Aramaic Book of Giants. This work found in multiple fragmentary copies among the Dead Sea Scrolls steps into the gap and explores the untold story of the Nephilim.
As part of the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Shorts series, I explore the historical, cultural, and theological questions of the Aramaic Book of Giants by asking the question, “What happened to the giants in the Bible?”
Andrew Perrin is the Canada Research Chair in Religious Identities of Ancient Judaism and Director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. His work on the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls has won the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise and the David Noel Freedman Award for Excellence and Creativity in Hebrew Bible Scholarship. For more on his work, connect on Twitter and Instagram (@ab_perrin) and the website www.andrewperrin.com.
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