I’m often asked why I spend time looking for the truth behind fringe historians’ claims. The short answer is that I have the time and the familiarity with their claims to do so, but the larger answers is that so much of our economy is based on purposely hiding information for personal gain. A good example of that was the shock I received this morning when the bill for my new boiler showed up. When I signed the paperwork for it, I opted for a financing plan that the company assured me was “financing” through a major national bank, with fixed monthly payments for what I was made to understand would be two years. If I had known what was apparently buried ten pages into the “financing” agreement I would never have signed it. The “financing” agreement was actually a credit card they took out in my name, with a 28% interest rate, generating more than $2,000 in interest over the life of the “financing,” which was actually four years, paying only the minimum. By omitting key information—that this wasn’t a financing loan from a major bank but rather a credit card with a picture of a hammer on it, I was, in theory, out an extra $2,000 on top of the original cost of the boiler.
I especially liked the part where the heating company pretended in front of me that they were negotiating the financing terms with their bank when they were actually filling out a credit card application. I could have done that!
It’s my own fault, of course, for not reading the ten pages of legalese—not that I had much choice, since I didn’t actually get to keep a copy.
So what does this have to do with fringe history? The same lessons apply, to an extent. Fringe historians present a selective and often false version of history and then blame the audience for believing the pitch and not doing extensive outside research to evaluate their claims. Graham Hancock was perhaps the most honest about this when he wrote that he considered himself akin to a lawyer and fringe claims his client: “So it is certainly true, as many of my critics have pointed out, that I am selective with the evidence I present. Of course I’m selective! It isn’t my job to show my client in a bad light!”
And if you aren’t looking for the rest of the evidence, then you’re the sucker—as fringe historians laugh all the way the bank. On the plus side, at least fringe history books don’t charge interest.
So that was my moment of anger this morning.
But in terms of this week’s discussion on giants, I’d like to direct your attention to Mike Heiser’s blog, where Heiser has a fascinating addendum to the question of Og, the Biblical giant from Deuteronomy. According to the Biblical text (Deut. 3:11), Og was possessed of a singularly large bed, which gigantologists use to suggest that Og was nearly as tall as his sleeping place: “His bed was decorated with iron and was more than nine cubits long and four cubits wide.” For centuries, gigantologists have argued that Og must have been nearly thirteen feet tall—the Bible scholar Adam Clarke famously argued as much in his influential 1831 Biblical commentary. But as Heiser points out, the measurements of Og’s bed are identical to those of the ritual bed of Marduk and his consort Zarpanitu at Babylon, where the Babylonian king enacted an annual ritual marriage in the god’s stead. The measurements are given in the so-called Esagil Tablet, 229 BCE copy of earlier texts, in line 34: “The bed: 9 cubits the length, 4 cubits the breadth” (trans. A. R. George). Therefore, the Biblical writers appear to have been likening Og to the Babylonian god, or at least were implying that Og participated in a similar religious ritual. The point is that the size of the bed implies nothing about Og’s height any more than it does the size of the kings of Babylon who used Marduk’s bed.
I’ll leave you to read the rest of the analysis on Heiser’s Paleobabble.
Instead, I thought I’d finish with a discussion on giants from Peter the Venerable, a medieval Cluniac monk best known as the first serious scholar of Islamic texts in the West. Peter didn’t like Islam, but he also found the Jews to be obdurate in their refusal to become Christian, and he dealt with the issue of giants in trying to explain why the Jews’ views on giants were ridiculous, particularly the claim in the Targum Jonathan that Og was, by Peter’s calculation, 690 cubits high! Here’s the Targum Jonathan text commenting on Numbers 21:33-35:
Og having observed that the camp of the Israelites extended six miles, he went and tore up a mountain six miles in its base, and put it on his head, and carried it towards the camp, that he might throw it on the Israelites and destroy them; but the word of the Lord prepared a worm, which bored a hole in the mountain over his head, so that it fell down upon his shoulders: at the same time his teeth growing out in all directions, stuck into the mountain, so that he could not cast it off his head. Moses, (who was himself ten cubits high), seeing Og thus entangled, took an axe ten cubits long, and having leaped ten cubits in height, struck Og on the ankle bone, so that he fell and was slain. (trans. Adam Clarke)
And here is Peter’s response:
I propose only one thing against your insanity, which ought not to be the subject of debate any longer but which ought instead to be laughed at, since it is so clear that it does not lie hidden from blind men. […] Since [Moses] said that the bed of this giant was nine cubits long and four cubits wide, certainly he showed that he had to have been somewhat less than the bed in terms of height and width. […] Was he, then, longer and wider than his own bed? I believe that here the Jewish argument is put to rest. (Against the Inveterate Obduracy of the Jews 5, trans. Irven M. Resnick)
Peter goes on to refute the idea that Moses was a giant, for why would he be impressed by a bed smaller than he himself? The long and short of it, though, is that claims for superhuman giants have been subject to fanciful exaggeration for as long as they have been made, and the closer one looks at the original claims the less there is to see.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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