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.