Was Og, King of Bashan, a Giant or a Ghost?

July 24 2020

In tomorrow’s Torah reading of Dvarim (Deuteronomy 1:1-3:22), Moses recounts the Israelites’ defeat of Og, king of Bashan, previously described in the book of Numbers. Here the text notes that “only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the r’fa’im”—a turn understood by the King James Version and by most rabbinic commentators to mean “giants.” According to this interpretation, Og was part of a race of antediluvian giants who once lived in the southern Levant, and Bashan a kingdom in what is now northwestern Jordan or the Golan Heights. A number of modern scholars, however, have noted that a word nearly identical to r’fa’im means “shades” or “ghosts” in ancient languages closely related to Hebrew, and have gathered other evidence to support the contention that Og was the ruler of a mythical land of the dead.

Laura Quick calls much of this evidence into question, and defends the received view:

Moses’ narration of the conquest of Bashan adds [a] detail not found elsewhere in the biblical traditions . . . : “his bed [eres] was made of iron. . . . It is nine cubits long and four cubits wide according to standard measure.”

The standard cubit is approximately eighteen-inches long, so Og’s bed was about thirteen-and-a-half-feet long and six-feet wide, implying that the man himself must have been enormous. Why does the text emphasize the measurements for his over-large bed? Noting that this seems to point to a giant instead of a shade, scholars defending the Bashan-as-underworld approach felt compelled to interpret the reference in a way fitting to Og’s role as denizen of the underworld, and thus translated eres (bed) as a sarcophagus, tomb, or grave. But this is problematic: why would a tomb be made of iron and not stone, [as are other ancient Middle Eastern graves]?

While at least one scholar has gone to great lengths to answer this question, Quick deems his argument “creative,” but ultimately unconvincing, and concludes that

the view popular among many scholars that Og was an underworld deity is based upon the misunderstanding. . . . [I]n this case the plain-sense interpretation of the verse is the best one.

Deuteronomy 3 recalls the tradition of Og in order to underscore the military power of the Israelite army. Both the size of his bed as well as the description of Og as the last of the r’fa’im serve to heighten this dramatic narrative: Og is part of the mythic past, a mighty foe, one of the giants of old, but Israel defeated him nonetheless.

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Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Translation

Iran’s Dangerous Dream of a Triple Alliance with Russia and China

Aug. 16 2022

Unlike Hamas, which merely receives support from the Islamic Republic, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—with which Israel engaged in a short round of fighting last week—is more or less under its direct control. In fact, the recent hostilities began with a series of terrorist attacks launched by PIJ from Samaria, which might in turn have been a response to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s call “to open a new front in the West Bank against the Zionist enemy.” Amir Taheri writes:

In Gaza, the Islamic Republic has invested heavily in promoting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. . . . Islamic Jihad is in a minority in Gaza, hence the attempt by Tehran to help it create a base in the West Bank.

Reliable sources in Baghdad say that [Iran’s expeditionary and terrorist paramilitary] the Quds Force has been “transiting” significant quantities of arms and cash via Iraq to Jordan, to be smuggled to the West Bank. The Jordanian authorities say they are aware of these “hostile activities.” King Abdullah himself has publicly called on Iran to cease “destabilizing activities.”

But such schemes, Taheri explains, are part of a larger strategic vision of creating a grand anti-Western alliance even while engaging in nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and Europe:

Last month, Khamenei praised Vladimr Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. And this month, China’s ambassador to Iran, Chang Hua, praised the Islamic Republic for supporting China in “asserting its sovereignty” over Taiwan.

It is clear that some dangerous pipe-dreamers in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran have fallen for the phantasmagoric vision of “three great powers” banding together and with help from “the rest,” that is to say, the so-called Third World . . . to destroy an international system created by the “corrupt and decadent.”

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: China, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Russia, West Bank