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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Read more at Academia.edu

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

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy