Creation/Evolution Journal
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Volume
5
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No.
1
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It Ain't Necessarily So: Giants and Biblical Literalism

It Ain't Necessarily So: Giants and Biblical Literalism
Reviewed by
J.R. Cole

In our culture, giants belong to the realm of St. George's dragon
and other folklore. Belief in giants as flesh and blood rather than myth can be
traced to a prescientific tradition. The Greeks had Prometheus, for example, and
Gaea and the Titans; the Scandinavian first being was the giant Ymir whose body
parts became the earth when he was slain by Odin and his brothers (a story
similar to the Hindus' account of goddess Kali).

Mythic and distant,
giants are as easy to comprehend as normal people drawn large. From ancient
mythology to Gulliver's Travels and The Attack of the Fifty Foot
Woman
, giants are conceived of as outsized but normally-proportioned humans.
In reality, however, anatomical size variation follows biological and physical
laws of scaling rather than the rules of photographic enlargement. The "attack"
of the Fifty Foot Woman should have actually consisted of her collapsing upon
her own shattered feet and legs! But, if such creatures are anatomically
impossible, they are very much a part of folk beliefs around the world. We can
enjoy their feats or comprehend their symbolic lessons or meanings without
taking seriously the biological problems of their mere existence because we all
know they are really make-believe.

Or, at least most of us familiar
with the scientific tradition know this. Scientific creationists, however, find
ancient, "normally-proportioned" giants acceptable and have even made them a
crucial aspect of their case against evolution. As a result, some creationists
spend a great deal of time looking for giant tracks in the ground and in the
Bible. While most creationists do not claim that all of the supposed human
contemporaries of dinosaurs were giants, they do use the huge size of some of
their alleged human footprints as proof of the scientific inerrancy of
scripture.

Since one can accept the laws of physical scale and still be an
antievolutionist, it is curious that scientific creationists build so much of
their current argument around the existence of superior human giants. An
extremely literal approach to the Bible might well insist that Adam and Eve had
to be normal, fully modem humans. In fact, it would seem to require a
substantial evolutionary change to convert a ten or sixteen foot Adam
into a species less than half that tall, as some creationists have claimed (cf.,
Baugh, 1983b, Burdick, 1950, Dougherty, 1978:51). Burdick (1950:6) unwittingly
writes that such evolution (he
calls it degeneration) has taken place since the days of Eden when
everything was bigger and better than it is today.

- page 49 -

Not only has man
decreased in stature from a magnificent specimen ten or twelve feet tall,
to an average today of less than six feet, but his average life has
shortened from many centuries to little more than half a century. Where do we
find any human evolution here?

People convinced that humans and dinosaurs
coexisted because the Bible implies they did have already made up their minds,
whatever the evidence. There are biblical references to "giants,"
especially in the most popular fundamentalist versions of the Bible, and the
first century historian Flavius Josephus (1850) mentions them. We have discussed
material evidence elsewhere, but the literary evidence also needs to be
examined. What does the Bible say?

Beierle (1980:95-98) cites
several biblical references to giants: Genesis 6:4 "There were giants in the
earth in those days. . . ."; Joshua 18:16 ". . . the valley of the giants on the
north . . ." (also, Joshua 15:8); I Samuel 17:4 tells the story of David and
Goliath; Deuteronomy 3:11 refers to King Og's bed as nine cubits long (up to 14
feet); Job 40:15 "Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee." Beierle claims
that behemoth refers to Brontosaurus, and the Bible-Science Newsletter
(1984b:16) claims the reference is to dinosaurs, at least.

Examined
closely, these passages are a bit different from what creationists imply, and
there are additional biblical references to giants which can be similarly
analyzed. King Og's bed size can probably be ignored (by such standards we could
prove that Hugh Hefner is a latter day giant!), but what of other
references?

Translations as well as interpretations of meaning differ. In
the preface to his history, Flavius Josephus (1850:24) notes that the Pentateuch
(the first five books of the Bible) was written enigmatically, allegorically,
and philosophically; he saw Genesis as a repository of deeper meanings, not
simply an historical primer. Beyond the cloisters of slavish literalism, most
biblical scholars today agree.

"Giant" is a common but not universal
English rendering of several different Hebrew words, as Unger (1961:402) notes.
They include Nephilim, literally "the fallen ones" (Genesis 6:4,5; Numbers
13:33). (The suffix "im" in Hebrew indicates a plural.) Rephaim are "ghosts" as
well as the aborigines of Canaan and other areas (Deuteronomy 3:11; Joshua 12:4,
13:12). Anakim, the sons of Anak, are classed with the Rephaim in Numbers
(13:33) because of their size. Goliath was a relic of the Anakim (I Samuel
17:4). "Emim" inhabited Moabite land (Genesis 14:5) and were as "tall as the
Anakim" (Deuteronomy 2:11). "Zamzumim" were giants in the land of Ammon
(Deuteronomy 2:20). These and perhaps other references can be added to
Belerle's catalogue, but even
without a closer look it can be seen that the English word "giant" does not seem
to be an adequate translation—we at least need "giant type 1, 2, 3, 4," etc.

- page 50 -

Each of these references could easily be interpreted
metaphorically. For example, David's battle with Goliath represents a
weak-looking but valiant early Israel confronting seemingly stronger neighbors
and triumphing against the odds. Indeed, a literal Goliath seems less
interesting, less evocative of a powerful image and tradition—a diminution of
David's symbolic accomplishments. "Jack the giant killer" is a motif common to
many mythic histories and folktales, not evidence of one historic
event.

The Book of Joshua describes the boundaries of the area inhabited
by Judeans. The Anchor Bible (Boling and Wright 1982:360) translates Joshua 15:8 as "The boundary went up the Valley of ben
Hinnom to the Jebusite ridge (or Jerusalem) from the south. The boundary went up
to the top of the mountain opposite Hinnom Valley on the west, at the northern
end of Rephaim Valley." Why is this of any interest? Because The
Interpreter's Bible
(Buttrick 1952-1953:628),for example, translates
this last clause to read "which is at the end of the Valley of the Giants
northward." Joshua 18:16 repeats this description with the same
alternative translations. Were Rephaim actually giants? This region is one of
the best explored on earth by archaeologists, and no outsized human skeletons
have ever been found. There is no more reason to think the natives were gigantic
than there is to claim that the San Francisco Giants baseball team consists of
gargantuans.

Genesis 6:4 in the Revised Berkeley Version of the
Bible (the Gideons International, 1974:4) reads: "There were giants on
the earth in those days, and later, too, when the sons of God used to cohabit
with the daughters of man, who bore them children, those mighty men of old who
made a name." The same passage in The Anchor Bible (Speiser,

1964:45-46) reads: "It was then that Nephilim appeared on earth—as well
as later—after the divine beings had united with human daughters. Those were the
heroes of old, men of renown." Speiser writes that this is a fragment of an
older Hittite myth about battling gods who mate with humans. He writes that it
may have been included in Genesis, a bit out of context, to suggest the kind of
vile conditions the coming flood would be sent to eradicate. Unger (1961:788)
gives a similar interpretation:

The Nephilim axe considered by many as
giant demigods, the unnatural offspring of the "daughters of men" [mortal
women) in cohabitation with the "sons of God" [angels]. This utterly unnatural
union, violating God's created order of being, was such a shocking abnormality
as to necessitate the world-wide judgement of the Flood.

- page 51 -

"Nephilim" also
appear in Numbers 13:33 where scouts sent ahead return to report
pessimistically that the Israelites should not march into new
territory that Caleb wanted them
to conquer. "We saw there the Nephilim, the descendants of Anak, who are the
giants. Even to ourselves we looked like grasshoppers, and so we looked to
them!" (The Gideons International, 1974). This is obviously the metaphor
and exaggeration of people afraid of the prospect of attacking a powerful foe.
The Interpreter's Bible (pp. 534-535) matter-of-factly discusses the
mythic nature of giants and notes that while some spies reported finding giants,
others did not—and the Israelites went on to conquer the territory without
encountering any. Although Josephus reports differently—that there was a "race
of giants" whose bones "are still shown to this very day" (p. 105),he
elaborates on the undependability of the spies' reports, saying that they were
terrified by the obstacles to capturing the land of Canaan p. 78).

. . . the rivers were so large and deep that they could not
be passed over; and that the hills were so high that they could not travel along
for them; that the cities were strong with walls, and their firm fortifications
round about them. They told them also, that they found at Hebron the posterity
of the giants. . . . [T] hey were affrighted at [the canaanite strengths], and
endeavored to affright the multitude also.

Caleb and Joshua had been
there, too, and they advised people not to be taken in by frightened lies, and
the invasion was carried out successfully. Also, the frightened spies who
brought back tales of giants were stricken dead by God for lying (Numbers
14:37-38)!

Job 40:15 is cited on the plaque at the McFall
site as an apparent reference to the giant trackmaker dubbed "Humanus
Bauanthropus." The Anchor Bible passage reads: "Behold now behemoth,
which I made as well as you; grass he eats like an ox" (Pope, 1965:321-323). "Behemoth" is usually translated as "hippopotamus" and traced to Egyptian
linguistic roots. It is never translated as "giant human" or "Brontosaurus"
or "dragon," as some creationists claim. The reference to behemoth in Job is
simply God's reaffirmation to Job that he created all things.

"Giant"
stories in the Bible serve various functions, but giants are never equated with
Adam and Eve or other heroes. They are always hated, feared, abnormal, foreign,
and perhaps envied, not the scions of a Golden Age. This is particularly obvious
in Joshua 13:12 where a remnant of the "giants" are mentioned, "for these
did Moses smite, and cast them out" (The Gideons International, King James
Version, 1964:226). Monsters and bogeymen beyond the horizon are a nearly
universal human myth born of fear or ignorance of the unknown—instruments of
social control reinforcing cultural solidarity. The clearest biblical references
to giants fit this broad, cross-cultural pattern.

- page 52 -

Many historical details
in the Bible can be confirmed by archaeology. But if some things can be
confirmed, it stands to reason that some things may
be falsified by material evidence.
Creationists who accept the challenge to confirm their Bible scientifically
would seem to leave open the possibility that the Bible can be proven
wrong—something other creationists would call a materialist debasing of faith.
That no giant human bones or tracks have ever been found in the Middle East is
not proof that they are not there, awaiting discovery, but such a test is not
crucial to most believers. Scientific creationists do not accept the possibility
of negative evidence, and thus they do not really espouse a "scientific"
creationism, because their a priori reasoning starts from the premise
that the Bible is accurate in every historic and scientific detail, as their
organizations' membership oaths make clear.

We have seen that there is no
scientific evidence for the existence of preflood human giants. But, perhaps
more surprisingly, there is no support for pre-flood giants in the Bible,
either. The notion that Adam and Eve and most of the people who lived before the
Flood grew to great sizes is nowhere stated in the Bible and can in no sense be
supported by the few biblical references to various hated and feared "giants."
Creationists read the Bible as selectively as they do the geological record and
thus fail to see that their preconceived conclusions about scriptural accuracy
are poorly served by their work.

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