The story of the Bible giants is not the most exciting area of fringe history, but I was sufficiently intrigued by the discussion of giants in the early modern Anglo-Irish Book of Howth to do a little more research into some its claims. The text’s chapter on giants takes the form of an unfinished set of notes by an unknown hand, who appears to have been adapting into English a Gaelic transliteration of Latin texts without really understanding the underlying source material. Thus, for example, King Porus of India becomes “Parris of Find.” This alone has made it very challenging to determine exactly what the writer was talking about—so much so that the first editor of the text simply inserted questions marks beside some of the names of the giants, unable to determine what the heck they referred to. My annotations are given on my Book of Howth page, and I think I found all the giants in the passage.
One of the giants mentioned warranted only five words: “Uge was the last of the giants.” But since the text immediately contradicts this by listing many more giants who followed, I was intrigued enough to try to find out who “Uge” was supposed to be.
“Uge” is almost certainly meant to be Og, the legendary King of Bashan, described as the last of his race in Deuteronomy 3:11 and Joshua 12:4 and 13:12. He ruled over Ashtaroth and Edrei (Josh. 12:4), in the Golan Heights near Mt. Hermon. In Deuteronomy, Og is heavily implied to be a giant, so much so that where the New International Version gives “Rephaim” below, the Vulgate and the King James bible simply called them “giants”:
New International Version
Thus, Og is implied to be somewhat less than 13.5 feet tall, unless we presume that he hit his head and feet on the bed’s headboard and footboard.
According to the two Biblical texts, Moses conquered the kingdom of Og, and Numbers 21:33-35 states explicitly that Og met Moses in battle and was defeated, leaving no survivors. Despite being the “last of the Rephaites,” Og was also somehow possessed of sons (Numbers 21:35), whom the Israelites slew. Obviously, the Vulgate translation of Rephaim as giants led to the author of the Book of Howth listing Og as the last giant right before moving on to Goliath, many generations later.
Og, however, became the subject of many legends among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. According to a popular story, he was the only giant to have survived the Flood, for he waded beside the Ark, or else rode in a special compartment therein. According to the Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, Moses (who was also a giant!) personally slew Og by hitting him in the ankle: “Moses … took an axe ten cubits long, and having leaped ten cubits in height, struck Og in the ankle-bone, so that he fell, and was slain” (trans. Adam Clarke). Being more familiar with Classical literature, I’m struck by the similarity to the Greek myth of Talos, in which the Bronze Age giant is similarly slain when Medea (or Poeas) strikes him in his ankle, and lets his ichor out (Apollodorus, Library 1.9.26). Other legends made Og miles in height.
In his capacity as a pre-Flood giant, Og was identified with a figure called Ogias (Ohya) and thus described in Manichean Book of Giants, also known as Ogias the Giant, in which the giant enacted the common Near East serpent-slaying myth, battling the Leviathan; but he was also the son of Shmyz’d (Semjaza), the leader of the Watchers in the Book of Enoch (6:3). This means that because the Watchers of Enoch were meant to be read as the Sons of God from Genesis 6:4, Og was therefore one of the Nephilim, the giants whom the writer of Enoch believed had been born to the Fallen Angels and mortal women. (Mani made the Fallen Angels into demons because he did not believe evil could arise from good.)
By the time we get to the central Asian versions of the Book of Giants, we’ve traveled a bit far from the beginnings of the story, so it’s probably a good idea to back up and take a look at what non-Biblical sources have to say about Og. According to the Ugaritic texts, a dread and terrible god of the Rapi’uma (Rephaim) reigned over Athtarat and Hedrey, which correspond to the cities of Ashtaroth and Edrei, the two cities where Og ruled (KTU 1.108). A Phoenician inscription (Byblos 13) states that “the Og” was a protective supernatural being of some sort who exercised power from the netherworld and could be invoked to protect tombs.
So far so good. The scholarly view on Og gets a bit confusing from here out. According to Chaim Rabin (1915-1996), Og was originally a title, related to the South Semitic term gwg, which meant “man of valor,” not unlike the “men of renown” from Genesis 6:4—the giants! In this interpretation (outlined here), a mythical Og was a subterranean demigod or deity, not unlike the netherworld Gilgamesh—who was also promoted to Bible Giant in the Book of Giants. The authors of the Hebrew Bible therefore rationalized or otherwise adapted the god of their enemies as a flesh and blood king who had been defeated by Moses with the blessing of Yahweh.
If true, it’s possible that such kings as Agag (1 Samuel 15:8) and Gog of Magog (Ezekiel 38:2-3) share the “Og” title in some form, all the more interesting since Gog of Magog eventually becomes the Gog and Magog of Revelation 20:8, Qur’an 18:83-98, and the Alexander Romances, as well as the Gogmagog or Goemagot of British folklore (Geoffrey of Monmouth, History of the Kings of Britain 1.16). To this day Gog and Magog are depicted as giants and protectors of London in an annual pageant put on by the ceremonial Lord Mayor.
None of that tells us why Gog, Magog, or Og should be thought giants, though. For that, I think the answer might go back to the place where Og supposedly reigned—Bashan. This land bordered Mt. Hermon, which is where Enoch set the descent of the Watchers and their mating with humans. Sanchuniathon, the euhemerizing chronicler of Phoenician mythology, records (presuming we accept that at least some of his material is genuine) that the Anti-Lebanon Mountains (of which Hermon is one) were associated with giants since primeval times, in a passage directly parallel to Enoch 6:1-8:3:
From Genos, son of Aeon and Protogonus, were begotten again mortal children, whose names are Light, and Fire, and Flame. These, says he, discovered fire from rubbing pieces of wood together, and taught the use of it. And they begat sons of surpassing size and stature, whose names were applied to the mountains which they occupied: so that from them were named mount Cassius, and Libanus, and Antilibanus, and Brathy. From these, he says, were begotten Memrumus and Hypsuranius; and they got their names, he says, from their mothers, as the women in those days had free intercourse with any whom they met. (Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 1.10, trans. E. H. Gifford)
I discussed this connection more fully earlier this year, but it seems that the ancient association of Hermon with pagan divinities translated into an association with giants, who seem to have stood in for them as more acceptable rationalized substitutes.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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