14 min read

An Egyptian Giant?

One of David’s mighty men, Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, defeated a large Egyptian man:

And he killed an Egyptian, a man of great height, five cubits tall. In the Egyptian’s hand, there was a spear like a weaver’s beam; and he went down to him with a staff, wrested the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and killed him with his own spear (1 Chronicles 11:23).

Although he is often considered a giant, the Bible does not specifically identify this man as one, nor does it place this account with the exploits of David’s other men who slayed giants, but it does provide his height as being “five cubits” (approximately 7’ 6”). The KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV, and others insert the word “great” before “height” or “stature,” but “great” does not appear in the Hebrew. This may have been done for stylistic and readability purposes or because his height is provided later in the verse. Young’s Literal Translation renders this verse in an almost perfect word-for-word match of the Hebrew: “And he hath smitten the man, the Egyptian—a man of measure, five by the cubit—and in the hand of the Egyptian is a spear like a beam of weavers” (1 Chronicles 11:23, italics in original).

In the parallel account given in 2 Samuel 23:21 the Egyptian is called “a spectacular man” in the NKJV and “an impressive man” in the NASB. While modern man may think of a 7’6” man as a giant, it is intriguing that the Bible does not identify him as such. Perhaps this is a clue that those who are identified as giants were larger than the Egyptian slain by Benaiah. Another explanation for this omission is that many of the giants were called by their particular tribes (Anakim, Emim, etc.), but the tall Egyptian is not said to belong to any of these giant groups. If that is the case, it is curious why the biblical writers would not simply use a generic term for “giant,” such as rapha.

Following these accounts in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, the giants fade from the pages of Scripture (other than the retrospective mention of the Amorites as giants in Amos 2:9).

Extra-biblical References to Giants

Scores of giant skeletons have been allegedly unearthed in the past couple of centuries. These claims were especially popular in the nineteenth century. So far, no concrete evidence of these claims has been brought forth. Although some claim the evidence was ignored, destroyed, or hidden by places like the Smithsonian, it seems more likely that the vast majority of these reports were hoaxes created for various reasons.

So far, no concrete evidence of these claims has been brought forth.

Several websites display pictures of people standing next to or holding a giant human femur, but these bones are sculptures, allegedly replicas of a real bone found in Turkey or Greece. Once again, there are fantastic claims, but little or no hard evidence to support them.

As far as I know, no one has discovered fossil evidence of giant humans. But then again, human fossils are quite rare altogether, since humans are more capable of avoiding rapid burial in sediment and other conditions that could lead to fossilization of their remains. What is indeed significant is that many giant versions of other creatures existed in the past or still exist today. To name just a few, these include the following:

 spiders (e.g., the bird-eating spider, up to 12-inch leg span)
 moths (e.g., the Atlas moth, with a wingspan of 11 inches)
 centipedes (up to 13 inches long)
 snails (e.g., the African giant snail, up to 15½ inches long)
 frogs (e.g. Beelzebufo, 16 inches high)
 dragonflies (e.g., Meganeura, with a wingspan of more than 2½ feet)
 rats (e.g., Josephoartigasia, with a conservatively estimated body mass of 750 pounds)
 beavers (e.g., Trogontherium, about 7½ feet long)
 scorpions (e.g., the sea scorpion Jaekelopterus, estimated at more than 8 feet long)
 crabs (e.g., the giant spider crab, with a claw span more than 12 feet)
 armadillos (e.g., Glyptodon, up to 13 feet long)
 turtles (e.g., Archelon, up to 16 feet long)
 fish (e.g., Xiphactinus, 19 feet long)
 sloths (e.g., Megatherium, which stood about 20 feet)
 worms (e.g., the giant earthworm, up to 22 feet long)
 sea cows (e.g., Hydrodamalis, 25 feet or more in length)
 crocodiles (e.g., Sarcosuchus, up to 40 feet long)
 snakes (e.g., Titanoboa, over 42 feet long)
 crustaceans (e.g., supergiant amphipods 10 times larger than those previously discovered)
 squid (e.g., Mesonychoteuthis, 50 feet or more in length)
 sharks (e.g., Rhincodon, up to 65 feet long)
 octopuses with 100 foot long tentacles.

The fact that scientists have discovered animals with body sizes far greater than those observed today suggests, at least in theory, the possibility of there having also been giant humans in the past, as recorded in the Bible.

Many modern scholars scoff at the idea that there could have been giant warriors in excess of seven and a half feet tall. Consequently, the biblical dimensions of these people have often been downplayed or ignored. However, the biblical data about these people can be trusted because it is in the Word of God. Furthermore, other ancient sources describe giants, and the Anakim are even mentioned as dwelling in the land of Canaan.

Egypt

During the twelfth dynasty of ancient Egypt, traditionally dated from the twentieth to nineteenth centuries B.C.,22 the Egyptians practiced something akin to the modern use of voodoo dolls. A potter would make a clay figurine of an enemy they feared. The figurine had its arms behind its back and the name of the group or its leaders would be written upon it. Sometimes a bowl or block of clay was used for listing the enemies. The figurine or bowl was then smashed in a symbolic way of cursing the enemies so that they could be defeated.

Archaeologists have reconstructed many of these Execration texts (also called Proscription Lists), and some very interesting details have been found concerning the Anakim. This is an example of a text which mentions them:

The Ruler of Iy’anaq, Erum, and all the retainers who are with him; the Ruler of Iy’anaq, Abi-yamimu and all the retainers who are with him; the Ruler of Iy’anaq ‘Akirum and the retainers who are with him (emphasis added).

It should be noted that anaq (i.e., with a q in place of the k) is a common transliteration of the Hebrew word for Anak, עְַנָק (Numbers 13:33).

Another Execration text places the Anakim in the land of Canaan and even mentions the city of Jerusalem. The ancient Egyptians also called the inhabitants of the land of Canaan “Shasu.” A later text entitled The Craft of the Scribe (c. 1250 BC), which was used to train Egyptian scribes, discusses a Canaanite mountain pass during a past battle.

The face of the pass is dangerous with Shasu, hidden under the bushes. Some of them are 4 or 5 cubits, nose to foot, with wild faces.

Egyptian cubits were longer than the Hebrew common cubit. At 20.65 inches per Egyptian cubit, the Shasu mentioned in this letter would have measured between 6’10” and 8’7.” This description shows that the traditional measurement of Goliath is not as outlandish as many critics believe.

Other Ancient Reports

Nearly every place around the world has legends of giants dwelling in the land. Certainly, one must exercise caution when reading these stories on the Internet since so much of the information online is contrary to the Word of God. For example, a few years ago, pictures of giant skeletons started to appear on websites, but they were clearly doctored (apparently part of a graphic design contest).

Greek and Roman mythology mentions the Titans, Kyklopes (Cyclops), and several other giants. Norse mythology contains stories of the Frost Giants of Jötunheim. But these records are not limited to European mythologies or only to the ancient past. African and Asian people also have legends of giants, as do Native Americans.

For example, in his autobiography, “Buffalo” Bill Cody wrote the following words about a legend recounted to him by members of the Sioux tribe.

It was taught by the wise men of this tribe that the earth was originally peopled by giants, who were fully three times the size of modern men. They were so swift and powerful that they could run alongside a buffalo, take the animal under one arm, and tear off a leg, and eat it as they ran. So vainglorious were they because of their own size and strength that they denied the existence of a Creator. When it lighted, they proclaimed their superiority to the lightning; when it thundered, they laughed.

This displeased the Great Spirit, and to rebuke their arrogance he sent a great rain upon the earth. The valleys filled with water, and the giants retreated to the hills. The water crept up the hills, and the giants sought safety on the highest mountains. Still the rain continued, the waters rose, and the giants, having no other refuge, were drowned.

Undoubtedly, many of these stories contain exaggerations of the giants’ prodigious height and strength. But is it reasonable to automatically reject every one of these traditions, or, like tales of dragons, is there possibly some truth behind the legends, as is often the case? It is interesting that much of giant lore includes descriptions of a flood sent by God (or the gods) to destroy these wicked people. Could it be that while the Bible contains the true history of our past, these groups are simply repeating their own distorted versions of world history prior to and perhaps after the dispersion at Babel?

Modern Giants

So were all of these giants just people who developed gigantism? Although gigantism may account for some of the ancient giants, this proposed solution falls short of explaining many of the biblical accounts.

Modern gigantism is often caused by abnormalities that lead to excessive production of growth hormone. It is highly unlikely that Goliath, the Nephilim, Anakim, or most of the other Old Testament giants suffered from such a condition since they were often described as warriors or “mighty men,” while modern “giants” are usually awkward, uncoordinated, and endure several physical ailments. There have been some rare cases where the person could accurately be described as a “mighty man.”

Furthermore, modern gigantism is not hereditary, whereas the Bible often describes giants as being the offspring of other giants (e.g., Deuteronomy 9:2; 1 Chronicles 20:6). So the groups known as giants were not simply made up of individuals with the modern form of gigantism.

How Tall Were They?

So just how tall were the various groups of giants in Scripture? Given the discrepancy in the ancient texts about Goliath’s height, it is difficult to base our estimate on his dimensions. The Egyptian killed by Benaiah was at least 7’6” (perhaps taller if the common cubit was not being used), but he is not called a giant. The Egyptian document, The Craft of the Scribe, placed the Shasu (Anakim?) between 6’10” and 8’7”. They had to be large enough for the Israelites to claim that they looked like grasshoppers in the sight of the giants and for God to compare the height of the Amorites to cedars.

There are two main lines of thought on this subject. One idea looks at the modern understanding of human growth. Our stature is primarily affected by our DNA with some influence from environmental factors, but we seem to be limited by the “square-cube” law. For example, let’s use my dimensions to see what would happen if I was scaled up to twice my height. This will give us a good example since I am 6’9”, and some have argued that King Og of Bashan was as tall as his bed was long (13’6”), which is exactly twice my height. So if we were to double my height, then we would also need to increase my width and depth proportionally to compensate.

This means that, along with my height, both my width and depth would double, so we would need to multiply my weight (about 250 pounds) by a factor of eight. So a person of my proportions at 13’6” would weigh 2000 pounds! Not only is it difficult for us to imagine a person so large, but also when considering the compressive strength of bone,32 we would conclude that Og’s skeletal system would be under tremendous stress, and he would be much more likely to suffer broken bones than a normal-sized person, not to mention the dangerous stress placed on his body’s other systems.

The second view is based on three points mentioned above. First, would a 5’6” individual really feel like a “grasshopper” compared to someone who is 7–8 feet tall? Admittedly, this is somewhat subjective, but the contrast seems to require a taller giant. Next, as pointed out in the second footnote, there is a strong comparison of the height and strength of the Amorites to the cedar and oak trees in Amos 2:9. Third, the evidence of other creatures in the fossil record that are far greater than twice the size of their modern counterparts provides support to the idea that the limits imposed by the square-cube law may not be as strict as we imagine them to be. For example, the meganeura is an extinct dragonfly, whose wingspan was greater than 30 inches. The Wikipedia entry (Wikimedia Commons image, right) on this creature states the following:

Controversy has prevailed as to how insects of the Carboniferous period were able to grow so large. The way oxygen is diffused through the insect’s body via its tracheal breathing system puts an upper limit on body size, which prehistoric insects seem to have well exceeded. While I don’t believe in “prehistoric” creatures (since man has been on earth since Day Six, and God has revealed what happened during the first five days in a historical account), the meganeura shows that the size limits of living organisms may be greater than expected. Those holding the second view do not have a problem with the biblical giants exceeding nine feet in height.

Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the square-cube law is accurate when applied to building materials, but it doesn’t seem to perfectly relate to biological organisms, although it probably provides some “ballpark” limits. For example, the average house cat is about 30 inches long (head to tail), 9–10 inches tall, and weighs about 11 pounds, while tigers reach 12 feet in length (head to tail), 3 feet in height, and weighs about 500 pounds.35 If we were going to estimate the weight of a 10-foot long, 3-foot tall cat using the square-cube law, based on the dimensions of the average house cat, then the numbers would not match what we see in reality. According to this rule, when we quadruple the length (2.5 feet to 10 feet), then we would need to multiply the weight by 64 (4 x 4 x 4), which means we would expect the weight to be approximately 700 pounds. This is significantly higher than the weight of a tiger of this size.

This example shows that tigers and house cats do not share the exact same proportions, but this is exactly the point. Both animals belong to the created cat “kind,” and the much larger varieties (lions, tigers, etc.) are not perfectly “scaled up” compared to the smaller varieties. If this were the case with giant humans, then perhaps a 13’6” Og isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but the notion that some biblical giants were 20–30 feet tall or greater is probably a “stretch.”

Conclusion

So which view is accurate? I honestly do not know, but the square-cube law seems to provide some upper limits, so it is unlikely that they reached 20–30 feet or more. However, I do know the Bible clearly teaches that giants existed in the past. Many of them lived in and around the land of Canaan, and Joshua was involved in several battles with them. David and his mighty men killed some Philistine giants. The Egyptians knew about the Anakim and feared them. Finally, cultures from around the world have legends that are often remarkably similar to biblical accounts, including the existence of giants.

The biblical accounts of giants are more than just “tall” tales. These enormous people truly existed, and no amount of scoffing or rationalizing by skeptics will change that fact.