Og King of Bashan: Giant Warlord or Ruler of the Underworld?

The book of Numbers describes the Israelites’ decisive military victory over Og, king of Bashan, and their subsequent takeover of his kingdom, which appears to have overlapped with the Golan Heights. Throughout scripture there are several references to this victory; one of them, Deuteronomy 3:11, adds two noteworthy details: that Og was “left of the remnant of the Rephaim” and that he had a gigantic iron bed, “nine cubits in length and four cubits in breadth.”

Ancient and medieval Jewish commentaries stuck to a literal interpretation of the verse: the Rephaim, mentioned elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, were an ancient race of giants, and Og, being one of them, needed an enormous bed. By contrast, modern commentators have taken a far less literal approach, citing ancient Canaanite inscriptions, archaeological evidence, and the employment of an unusual Hebrew word to argue that the “bed” (eres) was in fact a sarcophagus and that Og was a mythical ruler of the realm of the dead. Laura Quick musters substantial evidence for the traditional view:

The consensus view of Og as an underworld deity has been based upon the misunderstanding and synthesis of various traditions from the Bible and the ancient Near East, creating a tradition which would have been alien to both the scribe who wrote Deuteronomy 3 and his ancient audience. . . .

Indeed, the [traditional] translation of eres barzel as “iron bed” is inherently unproblematic. Barzel is frequently attested with the meaning “iron” in the Hebrew Bible, while eres is found with the meaning “bed” or “couch” [in several locations]. However, if Og’s connection to the Rephaim is [that they, too, are] otherworldly inhabitants rather than giants, the size of his overlarge bed becomes rather awkward: what is the meaning of these unusual measurements and why have they been recorded in Deuteronomy 3? . . . Moreover, [the] reading of [the phrase] as “iron bed” [i.e., a bed inlaid with iron], . . . is backed up by archaeological data from ancient Israel.

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More about: Archaeology, Deuteronomy, Golan Heights, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas

Despite What the UN Says, the Violence at the Gaza Border Is Military, Not Civilian, in Nature

March 22 2019

On Monday, a UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry issued its final report on last spring’s disturbances at the Gaza border. Geoffrey Corn and Peter Margulies explain why the report is fatally flawed:

The commission framed the events [in Gaza] as a series of demonstrations that were “civilian in nature.” Israel and its Supreme Court, [which has investigated some of the killings that occurred], framed the same events quite differently: as a new evolution in Israel’s ongoing armed conflict with the terrorist organization Hamas. Consistency and common sense suggest that the Israeli High Court of Justice’s framing is a more rational explanation of what occurred at the Israel-Gaza border in spring 2018.

Kites, [for instance], played a telltale role [in the violence]. When most people think of kites, they think of a child’s plaything or a hobbyist’s harmless passion. In the Gaza confrontation, kites [became] a new and effective, albeit low-tech, tactic for attacking Israel. As the report conceded, senior Gaza leaders, including from Hamas, “encouraged” the unleashing of waves of incendiary kites that during and since the spring 2018 confrontations have burned thousands of acres of arable land within Israel. The resulting destruction included fires that damaged the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which conveys goods and gasoline from Israel to Gaza. . . .

Moreover, the incendiary-kite offensive was an effective diversion from the efforts encouraged and coordinated by Hamas last spring to pierce the border with Israel and attack both IDF personnel and the civilian residents of the beleaguered Israeli towns a short distance from the border fence. . . .

The commission also failed to acknowledge that Hamas sought to use civilians as an operational cover to move members of its armed wing into position along the fence. For IDF commanders, this increased the importance of preventing a breach [in the fence]. Large crowds directly along the fence would simplify breakthrough attempts by intermingled Hamas and other belligerent operatives. The crowds themselves also could attempt to pour through any breach. Unfortunately, the commission seems to have completely omitted any credible assessment of the potential casualties on all sides that would have resulted from IDF action to seal a breach once it was achieved. . . .

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Laws of war, UNHRC, United Nations