Biblical Giants and Dinosaur Bones

Aeneas asked a question in a comment to an earlier post about the faked giant human skeleton:

I’d like you to comment on the dinosaur bones angle as well. It is certainly not an unreasonable theory for all the stories of giants in the past, including the Bible. I lean towards believing your theories on Gen. 6, but I think this one should at least be considered.

Aeneas (and others) may not be familiar with all my views of Genesis 6, namely the giant issue, so I thought I’d answer this question with a post.

I don’t think for a minute that the biblical giants were 10-20-30 feet tall. I think they were (like today) 6-8 feet tall. The giants of the Bible were not unusually tall BY OUR STANDARDS. Based on human skeletal remains that have been recovered from the biblical period (and there aren’t many – they didn’t embalm, and less than 10% of the Holy Land has been excavated by any standard of thoroughness), the average male height was a few inches over five feet tall, with women shorter. This is typical around the world for ancient times. Great height was unusual. The average height in modern times on into today is greater because of better nutrition, longer life spans, medical advances, etc. I personally don’t believe that the biblical giants were much over seven feet tall, which would have been HUGE compared to the norm (imagine walking into a settlement where 6-7 feet was the norm when everyone you knew was a foot shorter!). According to the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, which has as a slightly different text than the one Jews have used since the first century AD) and Dead Sea Scroll readings for the Goliath story, Goliath was actually 6 feet 6 inches (and for those who wonder, it is Og of Bashan’s COFFIN that measures around 12 feet, not Og – read Deut 3:11 – so we really don’t know how tall he actually was — I’d guess he’s within my proposed range). That is the best reading for the original text based on the cumulative text-critical issues in 1 Sam 17-18 and the broader book of Samuel itself (i.e., textual critics have long known that the Masoretic text of 1 Samuel is in poor shape in many places, compared to the Septuagint, which is frequently agreed to by the Dead Sea scroll text of Samuel). If yo u know Hebrew and might enjoy reading about the textual mess of 1 Samuel, I’d recommend P. Kyle McCarter’s 1 Samuel commentary in the Anchor Bible series. There are more thorough and technical discussions of the text of 1 Samuel, but this one is more readable (still, it won’t be easy for those uninitiated in academic biblical studies and textual criticism).

Consequently, there is no need to appeal to dinosaur bones for the biblical giants. Dinosaur bones as the explanation for purported giants in non-biblical writings like Josephus are a good explanation. That issue was the subject of Adrienne Mayor’s Princeton dissertation (or maybe it was a thesis – can’t recall just now) which was published:

The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times.

Mayor now has a second volume, devoted to the same issue in Native American legends:

Fossil Legends of the First Americans

Good question, Aeneas!

29 thoughts on “Biblical Giants and Dinosaur Bones

  1. I don’t see any evidence for heights of twenty or thirty feet in the Bible, but I don’t think the height of the Septuagint reading is at all compelling within its own context. The weights of Goliath’s coat of mail was a bit over one hundred and sixty pounds, and the weight of his spear point was about twenty pounds. These would be on the high end for a horse mounted knight of medieval Europe. In the Levant in summer, and on foot, which is how Goliath fought, these weights would so slow down a six and a half foot tall man as to make him easy pickings for a lighter armed fellow who had more agility of movement, like say, a Saul, who was head and shoulders above all the people. (And Saul’s favorite weapon appears to have been his spear.)
    The entire context of the story is about how exceedingly huge Goliath was. The staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, its head was twenty pounds, his mail over one sixty, in addition he wore greaves of brass, another man bore a shield in front of him, and Goliath wore a sword to boot. His total armor that he carried must have totaled two hundred pounds or more. This would have been an extraordinarily heavy armor for even a three hundred and twenty pound man fighting on foot in the Levant. Add to this, that everything we know about the armor of the time and place indicates that they favored light, not heavy armor.
    I cannot speak to the dead sea scrolls evidence, but the above indicates why I think that the Greek version’s total witness indicates that they translated the height incorrectly. I believe the Massoretic witness comes out as the more credible.
    However, I would agree with you that Og’s bedstead may well have been his coffin, and that in any case it is not his own size that is being described but that of what contained him.
    I would also agree that the mention of giants in the Bible does not necessarily indicate people who were consistently larger than our largest men. A seven or eight foot tall man may well approximate what a normal giant’s height was.But I do think that the text indicates that both Goliath and Og were unusually large even for giants.
    As for textual issues we will have to disagree. Most of the issues I am aware of in Samuel have more to do with a failure to read what is actually said than with divergent evidence (1 Samuel 13:1 for example). And while I believe that all evidence ought be preserved and considered and compared, I have no tolerance for the kind of textual scholarship that adds words and deletes words from what we have received, based on scholarly inability or refusal to believe the record we have been given by God.

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