Giant Speculations

I recently watched Jack the Giant Slayer, and it reminded me of an idea I had wanted to explore but never got around to. The film is based on the fairy tale, Jack and the Beanstalk. In this well known story, the giant lives in a land that is somewhere between heaven and earth. When Jack buys or trades for some magic beans the adventure begins. Accidentally planted under his house, the bean sprouts and grows into the clouds all the way up to the giant’s land.

Odysseus and his men blind the cyclops Polyphemus. Does the Bible provide any historical support for such a legendary encounter?

Odysseus and his men blind the cyclops Polyphemus. Does the Bible provide any historical support for such a legendary encounter?

Whether one has watched Mickey and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Slayer, or any other rendition of this fairy tale, the overall story is the same. Jack climbs the beanstalk and confronts a giant or group of giants that have a hankering for human flesh. Here’s what captured my attention recently. Why is it that so many stories of giants portray them as man-eating monsters? Is it just a natural fear that we have that something so much larger than ourselves could possibly devour us? Or is there any basis in reality for these ideas?

In Homer’s Odyssey, the hero Odysseus and his crew have some close encounters with man-eating giants. Book Ten tells us that upon reaching the island of the Laestrygonians, Odysseus sends men to search out the island. The men follow a large girl to her father’s palace. Here is how an online English translation of the Odyssey describes what happened next:

On entering his fine palace, they found his wife there, massive as a mountaintop, and they were shocked. She called her husband, mighty Antiphates, straight from their gathering place, and he embarked on their cruel destruction. He promptly seized one of my men, and prepared to eat him, while the other two sprang up and fled to the ships. Then Antiphates roused the city, and hearing his cry the huge Laestrygonians crowded in from all sides, a countless host of Giants not men.
From the cliffs they pelted us with the largest rocks a man could lift, and from all the ships there rose the groans of dying men and the splintering of timbers. Spearing the men like fishes, they carried them off to their loathsome feast.

Perhaps the most famous tale from the Odyssey appears one book earlier when Odysseus visited the island of the Cyclops (Kyklopes). There, Odysseus and some of his men are trapped in the cave of Polyphemus, a giant cyclops who devours six of Odysseus’ men. For you Percy Jackson fans out there, this is the same Polyphemus from Sea of Monsters who likes to eat satyrs and guards the golden fleece. Odysseus eventually flees from the cave after burning out the cyclops’ eye, and then barely escapes the island.

The idea of monstrous giants devouring people can be found elsewhere in ancient literature. The Book of Enoch is not part of the Bible, but it is quoted in the short book of Jude and its early chapters expand upon the fallen angel view of Genesis 6:1–4. According to 1 Enoch, 200 angels decided to marry women and sire children by them. The leaders of these angels are named, and then we are told the following:

And all the others together with them took unto themselves wives, and each chose for himself one, and they began to go in unto them and to defile themselves with them…And they became pregnant, and they bare great giants…who consumed all the acquisitions of men. And when men could no longer sustain them, the giants turned against them and devoured mankind. (1 Enoch 7:1–5)

Similar ideas can be found in other ancient Jewish literature. For example, the Book of Jubilees echoes Enoch on this point.

And it came to pass when the children of men began to multiply on the face of the earth and daughters were born unto them, that the angels of God saw them on a certain year of this jubilee, that they were beautiful to look upon; and they took themselves wives of all whom they chose, and they bare unto them sons and they were giants. And lawlessness increased on the earth and all flesh corrupted its way, alike men and cattle and beasts and birds and everything that walketh on the earth-all of them corrupted their ways and their orders, and they began to devour each other. (Jubilees 5:1–2)

The story of Beowulf might meet this criteria too since the monster Grendel kills and devours plenty of knights in this epic poem (although I happen to think Grendel was something different). I’ve even heard of some Native American legends that tell of similar ideas.

So why is the idea of man-eating giants so prevalent in ancient cultures? Does the Bible talk about this at all? Let’s take a look at the Old Testament book of Numbers to see an intriguing passage. Moses sent twelve spies into the Promised Land. Of these twelve, only two (Joshua and Caleb) encouraged the people to follow the Lord’s command to go out and conquer the land. The other ten spies were obviously afraid of carrying out the command. They reported the following details:

Thus they told him, and said, “We went into the land where you sent us; and it certainly does flow with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. Nevertheless, the people who live in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large; and moreover, we saw the descendants of Anak there. Amalek is living in the land of the Negev and the Hittites and the Jebusites and the Amorites are living in the hill country, and the Canaanites are living by the sea and by the side of the Jordan.”

After Caleb tried to encourage the people to be obedient the frightened spies continued.

So they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, “The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:28–33, NASB)

The spies reported that they had seen giants in the land. The Amorites were giants (Amos 2:9), as were the Anakim or sons of Anak, who were “part of the Nephilim.” As I’ve explained before on this blog, the word Nephilim means “giants” (it does not mean “fallen ones” as is popularly claimed), and in this case it may refer to a specific race or line of giants.

Now look at the phrase that I put in bold. It was “a land that devours its inhabitants.” Commentators have given several possible meanings for this phrase, including one that would fit the theme of this blog post quite well. What if this phrase meant that the giants they saw in the land actually devoured the land’s inhabitants? That is, the giants ate people. If that is the proper way to understand this phrase, then it certainly helps us understand why so many Israelites would be afraid of trying to go to battle. What could be more intimidating to an ancient army than a host of man-eating giants?

Some people will object to commenting on this passage as though the spies accurately described the land because it says that they gave a bad or evil report. However, the Hebrew word used here does not refer to a false report, but a true report about bad tidings or true statements made with sinister intentions. It is the same word used to describe Joseph’s report about his brothers’ bad behavior in Genesis 37:2. The text is not telling us that the spies lied. After all, neither Joshua nor Caleb attempted to refute what the spies reported. Instead, they tried to encourage the people to prepare for battle while the other spies were trying to discourage the people.

So let’s assume that the giants in this land were eating people. When Joshua and the Israelites finally conquered the land approximately forty years later (c. 1400 BC), they either killed or drove out the giants (and other inhabitants) in nearly every place. Joshua 11:22 tells us that there were no more Anakim left in the land except in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. Those familiar with the account of David and Goliath may remember that Goliath was from Gath (1 Samuel 17), as were a handful of other giants mentioned in 2 Samuel 21.

Since the Israelites attacked from the east, it seems very plausible that some of the giants who fled would have traveled west via the Mediterranean Sea. What if some of these giants settled on some of the islands in the nearby Aegean Sea? And what if these islands just happened to be the same islands that were supposedly visited by Odysseus during his wayward return from the Trojan War, which supposedly took place about two centuries after Joshua and the Israelites entered the Promised Land? This idea was offered in 1833 by John Bathurst Deane in his book on serpent worship throughout the world.

It is conjectured by Bochart, that the first migration of the Hivites, who fled before Joshua, was that of the Cadmonites of Mount Hermon, whose leader was Cadmus, so called from the name of the people whom he commanded…Under the guidance of this hero…colonies of Ophites were settled in Cyprus, Rhodes, Samos, Chios, Icaria, etc., in those islands of the Archipelago which were adjacent to Asia Minor, if not in those which were nearer to Greece. (Deane, The Worship of the Serpent, pp. 109–110)

Could it be that some of the tall tales we read about in the Odyssey were actually grounded in real history? Obviously, these stories were greatly embellished, but if there was a real Odysseus, who returned from a real Trojan War through the Aegean Sea, is it possible that the man-eating giants he supposedly encountered were actual descendants of man-eating giants that may have been described in Numbers 13?

I realize there is quite a bit of speculation in this post. I don’t have any solid evidence that some of the giants fled to the islands of the Aegean Sea. Scripture certainly doesn’t reveal this information, although the idea is consistent with the Bible. Also, this scenario is contingent upon one particular meaning of a Hebrew phrase that is uncertain (“a land that devours itself”). Nevertheless, it provides a reasonable explanation as to why there are so many ancient accounts of man-eating giants in so many cultures from around the world. It also fits in well with the connections that can be seen between the biblical teaching on these giants (including their origin) and other ideas common in Greek and other ancient mythologies. But those connections will have to wait for another blog post.

Thanks for reading!

About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with the Attractions Division of Answers in Genesis. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including In Defense of Easter, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.


Giant Speculations — 22 Comments

  1. Tim,
    How very interesting and mind-opening your articles are. I enjoy reading about the parallels between our Bible and the writings of ancient historians and philosophers. The study of Giants is a particular interest I’ve had for many years and of course the intrigue was sparked by Genesis 6. Something there doesn’t fit for me however, concerning the “sons of God” being angels because of Jesus’ saying to the Sadducees when they tried to shame him on his teaching of the resurrection. He said in Matt 22:30 “… in the resurrection they are neither married nor given in marriage, but are as the angels”. This implies that angels are heavenly eunuchs with no way to procreate and thus not the “sons” of Gen 6. Coupled with the fact that Jesus is referred to as the only “begotten” son of God might imply that God, by creation, made other heavenly beings he called sons; the naughty sons of Gen 6. Thoughts?

    • Hi Jack,
      Thanks for the kind words about my articles. I’ve written an article that addresses your question about Matthew 22:30 titled “Did Jesus Teach That Angels Cannot Marry?” I think you’ll find it very helpful on this point.
      Regarding the “begotten” language…the term “only begotten” does not necessarily mean that the person is the only one who was begotten. I know that sounds strange, but Hebrews 11:17 uses the same terminology when discussing Abraham offering up his “only begotten” son, Isaac. But Abraham had another son at that time, Ishmael, and he would have six more sons after Sarah passed away. So rather than referring to the only “son” in existence, it is better to understand the term as referring to the son who is unique or in a special relationship with the father. Of course, Jesus is unique in that He is the second person of the Trinity. Isaac was unique in that God miraculously allowed Sarah to conceive and Isaac was also the son through whom God’s many promises to Abraham would come to pass.
      I hope this helps.

  2. Tim,

    Thank you so much for your articles. They are doctrinally sound.

    Now I realize no all things are essential and some people disagree with certain teachings. But I think that the position on the Nephilin you take is the one which stays true to the plain meaning of the text.

    Of course scripture doesn’t reveal all the mysteries to us, so speculation is needed and I like how you are honest about this.

    So my question is this:

    If the flood destroyed all of mankind, except for Noah and his family, how is it there were Nephilin after the flood?

    Did more angels take women born after the flood, or did some Nephilin survive the flood?

    What is your opinion?

    • Hi Julian,
      Thanks for the kind words about my articles. I really appreciate the encouragement.
      The answer to your question is found in Genesis 6:4. We are told that the Nephilim were on the earth in those days (before the Flood) and also afterward (after the Flood), whenever the sons of God came into the daughters of men…” Most English Bibles use the word “when” instead of “whenever.” This leads to some ambiguity about the meaning of the verse. Were the Nephilim already on the earth when this stuff was going on? Were the Nephilim really even the offspring of these unions? But the proper translation of ’asher in this sentence is “whenever.” According to Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar (2nd ed.), this word refers to actions that were repeated in the past, either at fixed intervals or occasionally. In other words, it wasn’t a one-time event, which is what most English Bibles imply with the use of “when.”
      Properly translating the word as “whenever” removes the ambiguity in the verse and tells us exactly who the Nephilim were and when they were on the earth: they were the offspring of the sons of God and women, and they were on the earth whenever the sons of God and women got together, which was both before and after the Flood. So the reason there were giants in the land during Moses’ day is that some of the sons of God did this again. I’ve heard people claim that the Bible never mentions angelic beings doing this after the Flood, but that’s precisely what Genesis 6:4 is telling us. Moses wrote it, and he was fully aware that there were giants on the earth in his days because of the sons of God siring children with women.
      I hope this helps. Thanks for reading.

      • Thanks Tim.

        That was what I thought as well from reading the text. Never knew that the word “when” could be translated “whenever”. That sure clarifies the text.

        So do you think there are still Nephilin being created today?

        Could these hybrid also produce offspring with women today?

        Just a curious thought.

        Thanks for your time Tim!

        • Hi Julian,
          I don’t think that there are still Nephilim being born today. They seemed to have been killed off during the reign of King David. Maybe there were some others who lived elsewhere for a while longer, but I don’t think there are any today. The Bible tells us that there were giants who were born from other giants, so I don’t think there is any reason why Nephilim wouldn’t be able to reproduce.
          Why aren’t they here? Here’s some more speculation, but I don’t think they are necessary anymore from the enemy’s viewpoint. I can think of two main reasons why they might have been on earth. First, they seem to have been bred in an effort to keep God’s promise to Abraham from coming true (about giving the land to him and his descendants). Abraham was in Hebron when God made that promise, and when the Israelites came out of Egypt, the Anakim (who are of the Nephilim) seemed to be centered in Hebron (Kirjath Arba). The second reason is that they may have been bred to prevent the “seed of the woman” from ever being able to come to earth to crush or bruise the head of the serpent. Obviously, once Jesus was born there was no reason to try to prevent Him from coming.
          If either of these two reasons are accurate, then there is really no reason for them to be here. We don’t fight battles by the strength of the individual anymore, we have long-range missiles, bombs, and planes that can be used in battle. So a giant doesn’t really provide a big advantage like they may have in the past. Also, I don’t know if there are any other fallen angelic beings around that are capable of doing this. The ones who did it before are locked up until the day of judgment. I think it’s possible that there are some demonic beings that are trying to do this again, but they may not be capable. If you look at many of the alien abduction stories, you’ll see that the abductees almost always confess to having undergone some sort of sexual experimentation during their abduction. It sounds very similar to the Medieval stories of the incubus and succubus—demons that would rape an individual in the night. I’m not saying that I buy into all of the alien abduction claims (I’m sure many are hoaxes), but it seems unlikely to me that all of them are hoaxes, and I don’t believe they are aliens.
          Hope this helps.

    • Hi Edward,
      While you and I disagree on many points, I do agree that creationists need to be much more careful in what they present as evidence. While I believe most have good motives for doing what they do, if they are presenting false information as fact, then they are lying to their listeners. Of course, the same holds true for evolutionists or anyone who sets out to teach in any capacity.
      I don’t normally allow links to other websites in my comments, particularly to sites that are so contrary to my own views, but I’ve decided to let these stay. Thanks for chiming in.

  3. I truly appreciate your willingness to explore and test hypothesis against scripture, always keeping a balance and distiquishing between undisputable fact and “something to consider.” Thanks for posting!

    • Thanks Jeff. I strive to be cautious in how I approach Scripture and how I understand what has been recorded in history. I’m glad to know that this comes through in my writing. Just let me know when/if I get out of line. 🙂

  4. Homer’s Illiad is clearly grounded in fact (not of course the references to pagan deities, but the Greeks apparently did fight a war with Illius (Troy) in Hittite territory during a time when the empire was in the midst of great civil conflict, and pictures correctly some of the military tactics and weaponry of the time. A lot of what we know from this era is speculative (everytime they dig up a tell, they are required to re-write the ancient near eastern history books).

  5. This was a well written article! After believing the Godly line of Seth teaching for so many years, I have come to believe the Nephilim were actual angelic/human hybrids. Their stories are told not only in ancient times, but in our modern and post-modern era—super heroes cartoons, television shows and movies that are about hybrid beings, super heroes and half angelic beings, like the “City of Bones” movies and books.

    Not wanting to get too “out there” on this topic, but the stories of people claiming to have been abducted by aliens, having medical experiments/exams done on their reproductive organs, and their claims of seeing and/or interacting with hybrid “alien”/human beings have a very strong resemblance to the events of Genesis 6. Jesus did say before He came back, our world would be as it was in the days of Noah. I don’t believe he was only referring to an extremely sinful world when He stated that prophecy.

    Just some things to ponder. You might want to look up L.A. Marzulli if you have not done so already. He is a Christian and an expert in the study of the Nephilim legends.

  6. Excellent article, Tim! In my research of this subject, your writings are by far the most professional and Scripturally sound I have found. I look forward to studying your other articles, your thesis, and your books. I am curious specifically to hear what you think of Pausanias (the second-century AD Greek geographer). Pausanias claims that in his day the sea washed out many giant human bones in the place where some of the Greek heroes were buried. He also states that on an island near Miletus one of the sons of Anax (sons of Anak?) was buried, and corpse was not less than ten cubits.

    • Hi Richard,
      Thanks for the very kind and encouraging words. The claims of Pausanias are very interesting. I’ve got his writings in Greek and English and just did some quick reviewing of this passage. The possible connection to Anak is obviously the most compelling for me. I also find it interesting that he calls Protophanes a nothas (illegitimate), and calls him the son of Gaia (a gigantes, translated “giant” and literally means born of earth). Why would giants be called “born of earth”? Of course “earth” in Greek mythology is the goddess Gaia, and according to some ancient Greeks, the gigantes were conceived when some of Uranus’ blood was spilled on the earth after his sons (the titans) castrated him. But why would giants be given a title that means “born of earth”? After all, aren’t we all earthborn? Could it possibly be a reference to their father(s) not being from earth and that these gigantes seemed to be supernatural, they were still born of earth? Again, there’s some speculation here, but the connections are very intriguing and worth some more digging.
      I’m glad to see that Pausanias’ writings are being treated with much greater respect now than they were in the past. Similar to the way that archaeology has shown that Luke was a meticulous recorder of places and people, archaeologists have been able to show that Pausanias was quite accurate too, so his writings shouldn’t be brushed aside so easily, although he (unlike Luke) probably exaggerated at times.
      The length of the corpse being no less than 10 cubits is greater than I would expect. I have my doubts that they could have reached these heights because of the extreme stresses that would be put on the skeletal system and many of the inner organs. For example, I’m roughly 6’9″ and 250 pounds. Og, the former king of Bashan, had a bed that was 13.5 feet long (Deuteronomy 3:11). If he was as tall as his bed was long, then he would have been exactly twice my height. If he had the same build as me, then it would put him at 2000 pounds! It’s hard to imagine someone being able to move efficiently at such great size. But this report from Pausanias has the skeleton of Protophanes as being at least 18 feet long, so he would have been far more massive. Of course, this section of Pausanias was secondhand or thirdhand information, so it could have been greatly embellished. It wouldn’t surprise me to discover that the ancient giants were between 8–12 feet tall, perhaps a little more, but it’s hard to imagine them being much bigger.
      Thanks again for the comments. I’ll keep digging into Pausanias and I’ll let you know if I discover anything else.

      • <<>> I don’t remember the details from my physics class in college, but when we studied King Kong our professor taught us that such a huge creature would be far more fragile than agile. This limitation would also seem to apply to the Greek heroes in the ILIAD and the giants in the Bible. I have wondered if their supernatural origin would account for this paradox. It is difficult to imagine even a ten foot tall giant having the agility attributed to them in the ILIAD. But a person who is half angelic might not be bound by the same laws of physics as we are. However, I do agree with you about the tendency to exaggerate. Philostratus who wrote about the discovery of giant bones in the third century AD said Achilles was 33 feet tall! That would make Achilles well over twice as tall as anyone else said he was.

  7. Well as I am sick in bed, decided to read this one about giants. Got half way through and realized I was going to stop, and take it up again when feeling better. I always just shrugged it off, well I want to dig deep in what you said. Good job. By the way I think you meant Numbers 13. Keep the faith, A sister in Christ, Mary

  8. I loved this article. Frequently I am told by skeptics that the “stories” in the Bible are just myths, like the ancient Greek and Norse myths. But what if many of those ancient pagan myths are actually based on true history? I believe that at the confusion of languages at Babel that 70 angels were sent by God to teach 70 distinct tribes (who spoke 70 different languages) the truth about God, leaving the descendants of Shem and Eber to learn directly from God through the prophets. Over time the people of those 70 non-Hebraic tribes began to worship their angelic teachers, and the teachers (most of them anyway) accepted their worship, becoming the gods of ancient mythology. They then took the truth and twisted it and distorted it and inserted themselves into the stories, peppering them with half-truths, so that ALL religions possess parts of the truth, but only Christianity contains the fullness. After the birth of the Christian religion, God once again placed angelic Watchers over the first churches (over at least 7 of them), and once again some of those angels failed in their assigned duties. They were there on assignment to keep the churches safe from infiltration, but fell asleep on the job. In ancient times God spoke to the pagans through angels. In the first century God spoke to the angels stationed on earth through the apostle John, reversing our roles. What do you think?

      • Hi Kathy,
        I can’t speak for Tom, but generally when people refer to 70 “sons of God” they draw that number from the ancient Ugaritic texts which give this number (see page 3 of Michael Heiser’s article for more details). Many of their views closely parallel what is found in Scripture, so the comparison gives us an interesting possibility. Also, if you count up the number of people groups listed in Genesis 10, it also comes to 70 (Japheth-14, Ham-29, Shem-27). Deuteronomy 32:8 says that God divided the people at Babel according to the number of the “sons of God” (bene ha ’elohim). Hope this helps.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *