JimStinehart at aol.com
JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Apr 13 10:19:09 EDT 2010
Off-line I was asked a question about “giants” at Genesis 14: 5. Since
this question goes to the issue of the meaning of certain key words in
Biblical Hebrew, let me answer that question on-line.
In my opinion, there are no “giants” in the Patriarchal narratives.
The “Rephaim” at Genesis 14: 5 are maryannu charioteers, often with
Hurrian names, who were common in the Transjordan, as we know from Amarna Letter
EA 197. Ugaritic literature frequently associates Rephaim, or the singular
form rpu, not only with noble charioteers, but also with being “in Ashteroth”
, which is the exact phrase at Genesis 14: 5.
The “Zuzim” at Genesis 14: 5 are the Shasu. The Shasu nomads are all over
Egyptian documents from the Late Bronze Age, such as the Papyrus Anastasi.
The spelling of the S-type sound varies slightly in Biblical Hebrew as
opposed to Egyptian, but they’re the same historical people. As to the Biblical
Hebrew language issue here, the early Hebrew author of the Patriarchal
narratives often uses an unusual Hebrew S-type sound -- samekh or ssade or zayin
-- to represent a sibilant in a non-west Semitic proper name, even where
modern linguists, erroneously focusing exclusively on sound, expect a
sin/shin. In Egyptian, s’s means “to move on foot”. That became s3sw/Shasu in
Egyptian for the nomadic people in and near the Transjordan, and it’s Zuzim at
Genesis 14: 5. In the original, “defective” Hebrew spelling, that’s Z-Z +
Finally, the “Emim” at Genesis 14: 5 are “the dreaded ones”, that is
tent-dwelling Apiru. One recurring theme in the Patriarchal narratives is that
some bad ruler might try to organize the tent-dwelling Apiru and grab huge
chunks of land. One reason why the early Hebrew author of chapter 14 of
Genesis did not use the term “Apiru” is because Abraham himself is called a “
Hebrew” just a few verses later. So in order to avoid confusing those
somewhat similar-sounding words, the author calls the tent-dwelling, disaffected
peoples of the Transjordan “Emim”.
Once one understands the nomenclature, Genesis 14: 5-6 reads like the
Hebrew version of Amarna Letter EA 197. Both documents are talking about the
same threat to the Transjordan, and hence potentially to all of Canaan: the
dreaded Hittites, under mighty Hittite King Suppiluliuma I.
Authors of later books in the Bible, writing in the 1st millennium BCE, did
not know who the historical Rephaim, Zuzim or Emim had been. It makes no
sense to rely on those later books in the Bible in evaluating chapter 14 of
Genesis, since most scholars concede that the composition of chapter 14 of
Genesis pre-dates the composition of those later books by 500 years or more.
Late Bronze Age literature from Ugarit or Egypt is a far better source for
identifying peoples mentioned in chapter 14 of Genesis. (Authors of later
books in the Bible did not even know that the Amorites were historical people
in the Bronze Age who had lived in Lebanon, not south of the Dead Sea.)
There’s no talk of “giants” in the Patriarchal narratives, which rather
have pinpoint historical accuracy in a Late Bronze Age historical context.
The Patriarchal narratives were composed centuries before the myths in the
early part of Genesis about the Flood. If you want to know what life was
really like in Canaan for the first Hebrews in the mid-14th century BCE, read
either the Patriarchal narratives or the Amarna Letters. Though the viewpoint
is somewhat different, those two sources are talking about many of the same
issues in the same time period in the same geographical locales. Neither in
the Patriarchal narratives nor in the Amarna Letters is there any talk
about the irrelevant, desolate area south of the Dead Sea. If we could just get
university scholars to, for the first time, glance north of the Dead Sea in
analyzing Genesis 14: 6-7, and stick to historical inscriptions from the
ancient world, instead of constantly citing later books in the Bible that
often post-date the composition of the Patriarchal narratives by over 500 years,
then all of a sudden university scholars would realize that the Patriarchal
narratives are not non-historical fiction. It’s just a question of getting
one university scholar, somewhere, to glance north of the Dead Sea and look
solely to secular historical inscriptions in identifying the peoples and
places at Genesis 14: 6-7. They’re all fully historical, in a Late Bronze Age
historical setting, but only for locales n-o-r-t-h of the Dead Sea.
There are no “giants” or other mythical peoples in the Patriarchal
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