Rephaim

Ken Penner pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Thu Dec 19 11:14:52 EST 2002


Fred wrote:

> I just wonder if anybody could help me out with some insight 
> on the "rephaim". 

It's important to notice the distinction between poetic usage and prose
usage.

The lexica gloss the word as “Totengeister” (KBL3 1189), “shades,
ghosts” (BDB), “Schatten, Geister, shades, ghosts, Totengeister, ghosts
of the dead, Erdmännchen, goblins (KBL2), “ghosts (of the dead)”
(Holladay), “the quiet; or the languid, feeble, the dead, the departed”
(Davidson), “flaccid, feeble, weak, manes” (Gesenius), “Ghosts of the
dead, shades; Giants” (TWOT).

There is some difficulty in determining the frequency of this word
because there is some question about the singular form and whether the
prose usage is the same word or is a homonym. The form RP)YM in the
Hebrew Bible occurs 19 times, (Genesis 14:5, Deuteronomy 2:11, 2:20,
3:13, Joshua 15:8, 18:16, 2 Samuel 5:18, 5:22, 23:13, 1 Chronicles
11:15, 14:9, Psalm 88:11, Proverbs 2:18, 9:18, 21:16, Isaiah 14:9, 17:5,
26:14, 26:19) of which 8 are in the poetic books, and the form HRP)YM
occurs seven times (Genesis 15:20, 50:2, Deuteronomy 3:11, Joshua 12:4,
13:12, 1 Chronicles 20:4, Job 26:5) one of which is poetic.

In prose, RP)YM refers to a people or a valley; in poetry it is
associated with the dead.
Restricting our examination to poetic usage, BDB identifies parallels
with MTYM and MWT. In Isa 14:9, “rousing the Rephaim” is in parallel
with “raising the kings of the nations from their thrones.” In Prov 9:18
and Job 26:5 it is parallel with Sheol.

BDB finds its etymology in the root RPH, as “sunken, powerless, ones”,
citing the Phoenician RP)M. KBL2 lists the two possibilities of RPH or
RP), citing the Ugaritic and Phoenician parallels.

W. White in his TWOT article on Rephaim notes the instance of repa’im on
royal grave inscriptions from the Hellenistic period in Sidon, but R. L.
Harris adds that the Ugaritic evidence White cites in support of the
meaning, ‘the dead inhabitants of the netherworld’ is uncertain. Mark
Smith in the ABD article notes that in fifth-century Phoenician
inscriptions they are “those whom the living join in dying.” The “divine
Rephaim” are “the sacred shades,” i.e., the dead. They are in the
netherworld. In Ugarit, by contrast, they are an “ancient line of heroes
and kings.” Smith’s statement that “the Ugaritic view of the Rephaim as
a dead group has broadened in the biblical texts describing the Rephaim
as the dead in general” sums up the evidence for adequately.

More than simply “the dead”, the word RP)YM connotes fabled beings of
the past, who are now dead and dwell in Sheol.
RP)YM is like MTYM in that the both refer to beings that were formerly
alive, but whereas the emphasis with MYTM is on their lack of life, the
RP)YM do seem to have some kind of undead existence, but perhaps this
impression is due to the word’s occurrence only in highly figurative
passages.

In the context of Proverbs 21:16 at least (the passage in which I
studied the word), the RP)YM are extinct beings; they are dead. The
person who ignores “understanding” will end up destroyed; he’s history.

Ken Penner, M.C.S. (Regent College), M.A. (McMaster)
Ph.D. Student, Religious Studies, 
Biblical Field (Early Judaism major)
McMaster University
Hamilton, Canada
pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Vocabulary Memorisation Software: 
http://socserv.socsci.mcmaster.ca/westerholm/flash or
http://sensoft.nav.to




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