NEWS

CHAPTER 3: HOLY SCRIPTURE AND ITS INTERPRETATIONS

If, as we usually say, seeing is believing, then reading the Scriptures is generally held to be in the same category – for is not the Bible the word of the Lord, transmitted by inspired writers, men of  God?  It is a fact, however, that there are many versions of “the Bible” and different editions say different things.  To a large extent, as with so many other matters, it depends what viewpoint one possesses, what angle one wishes to promulgate – where, in modern parlance, one is coming from. The Books themselves often are in conflict with each other or gave a different view of the same event.  Add to this varying translations, interpolations, even distortions and misunderstandings, on the part of writers and scholars of disparate faiths through the ages, and indeed readers of the Bible may be forgiven for being confused.  And references to giants  as well as  associated creations such as  angels,  fallen or not, semi-divine beings, heroes and warriors, come in for more than their fair share.  Some terms indeed are so hard to comprehend that many Bible commentators did  not try – and left it up to  individual readers

Original Texts?

It has to be remembered that “original”  texts were written in a form of Hebrew but that much used versions such as the Septuagint, the Greek translation, are often  less authentic than the original.  Christian translations contain Christian bias and are often quite different from Jewish versions. Perceived contradictions and believed errors are edited out by means of simply omitting words and phrases, filling in blanks, altering punctuation or switching between different versions. Translators through the ages have made the text say what they want it to say.  It is impossible to find two versions alike (from the scores of translations).  Indeed, THE SAME VERSES  are not by any means to be found in all Bibles. Possibly the most famous translation of the Bible is the King James version (published in 1611) where many verses appear that are not seen in later versions such as the Revised Standard Version, or New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the Good News Bible and other modern translations.
Much of Scripture appears to be derived from ancient documents that considerably predate the Bible.  Therefore it may be deduced that stories of giants, people and warriors, usually have a very ancient lineage.  Writers, inspired or not, drew on much older sources as well as oral tradition when they told of giant beings who seemingly existed in remote times.  Many ancient civilisations speak of these huge beings; it is hard to believe that the esteemed writers of old deliberately made up such accounts – what was the point and would they lie?

Translators’ Prefaces revealing

Translators’ prefaces to the different versions are very revealing: that the task before the translators  is difficult in the extreme is not in question.   All of them are at pains to explain  how they arrived at their version; words taken from the Good News Bible (Preface) are typical and give some flavour of the problems.
“The basic text for the Old Testament is the Massoretic Text printed in ‘Biblia Hebraica’, 1937, [text of the Hebrew Bible compiled before the 10th century by a group of Hebrew scholars called Masoretes].  In some instances the words of the printed text have been divided differently or have been read differently; at times a variant reading in the margin of the Hebrew text has been followed instead of the reading in the text; in other instances a variant reading supported by one or more Hebrew manuscripts has been adopted. Where no Hebrew source yields a satisfactory meaning in the context, the translation has either followed one or more of the ancient versions e.g. Greek, Syriac, Latin or has adopted a reconstructed text, technically referred to as a conjectural emendation, based on scholarly agreement…”
It is clear therefore even from this short passage that readers can never be sure they have a rendition true to the original; in fact it is more likely that they have not.  The key word, “Nephilim” which has been looked at earlier, is very much a case in point. The word is Hebrew in its etymology and appears as a generic term in the Bible to suggest huge, strong, maybe violent people. The  passage later in the Bible we have quoted where the Israelites compared themselves to grasshoppers would seem to bear out this interpretation. A textual difficulty is in the word Nephilim where it is translated as giants (as in the King James Version and the Good News Bible, among others) while in others it is simply left as it is. This itself has led to much discussion – and divergence.  Nephilim is translated as giants in the New King James Version, New Americam Standard, and Vulgate versions, while the Revised and New versions and the New International often transliterate the Hebrew (representing words or sounds in another language).  Possibly Ezek 32; 20-28 refers to Gen. 6; 1-4 where it speaks of the gibborim (warriors) who have fallen in battle and now are in Sheol (Hell). “Gibborim” itself is an example of individual interpretation: in the NKJV, NASB. and RSV they are “mighty men”; in the NRSV and NIV they are “heroes”.

CORPOREAL ANGELS?

     The difficulty of explaining and comprehending how angels (the sons of God) with incorporeal  forms could have intercourse with women on earth can be appreciated. On the other hand, Peter in letter  2; chapter 2; verse 4, speaks of angels, and referred to the Book of Enoch where it seems “sons of God” is interpreted as “angels”.  Is there some original meaning we have lost?  Or is it easier  to keep in mind that wherever we read “angels” the meaning, or translation proper, is simply “messengers”.
Angels as wicked fornicators has been too difficult a pill to swallow for centuries.  It seems to go against all Christian belief in the innate (if this is the right word) goodness of angels; accordingly many interpretations exist. J.C. Knight, for example, speaks of “the sons of God” as not angels, fallen or otherwise, and not descendants of Seth, but “God’s avowed worshippers”, the “outwardly [note the word!] pious”; while the “daughters of men” denote women generally. (GIANTS AND THE SONS OF GOD, p.3)  He goes on to point out that Rephaim IS derived from a Hebrew word, which does mean giants; the fact that it occurs in some twenty-two passages suggests the concept of giant beings was  very much a reality to the ancient Hebrews.
In the same context, (see Gen. chap 4 and chap 11) the word “name” occurs, which has been translated “men of renown” but as we have seen in my chapter 1, this translation is faulty – but generally accepted.  (Compare Sitchin version later.) Similar difficulties arise with the Hebrew phrase referring to “God” which in fact is the PLURAL word “elohim”, meaning gods, not “God” and the interesting etymology of the Hebrew “adam”, meaning  “men” when speaking of the daughters of men (benoth ha’ adam) but is the name attributed to the first man. Verse 20; 1,2 would have “adam” meaning mankind, while in 5; 2, it would seem as if the term meant a specififc group of men.
Yet another interpretation by scholars  identifies the sons of God as rulers before the Flood who forced women into polygamous “marriage”. Indeed, literature of the Near East does describe rulers as “sons of God”. There are grave difficulties however with this interpretation as rape is understood by the former while marriage is understood in the biblical references.  This explanation does not cohere. The exegetical waters are further muddied by the use of the expression “Son of Man” where it is not always clear (but sometimes it is) that Christ himself is meant. Indeed for many scholars interpreting the expression as meaning simply “man” seemed to be less confusing. Then we have “Son of God”  which is interpreted as Christ made flesh.  The Gospels for example, show us Jesus claiming to be the Only Son, the awaited Messiah.

God’s “sons”

We have spoken of the view whereby the sons of God are identified as angels or demigods.  Apart from the common difficulties associated with this opinion one would have to accept the seemingly unjust sentence whereby humanity is being punished for the angels’ sins.  However it is not uncommon for retribution to be exacted  on related groups in the Bible (not just the prime movers) e.g. “third and fourth generation” (Exodus: 34; 6-7).
Of course the concept of angelic beings mating with earthly women could not possibly be accepted by the Fathers of the (Catholic) Church.  Polymorphism (mentioned earlier) could alone account for it – if it happened at all. For centuries there was a strong belief, by churchmen, demonologists, laypeople, that there was a category of demon or devil, that frequented the night, looking for sleeping victims with which they could have sexual intercourse.  These creatures were known as succubi or incubi: female or male demon ravishers.  Succubi endeavoured to inveigle or trick men, into sins of the flesh, while incubi, the male demons/devils/fallen angels lay on women, and had intercourse with them while they slept (or not as the case may be). Any resultant progeny was held to be deviant or deformed in some way, such as being of giant size.  All of which leads inescapably to the view that  the individual perspective  rules, when it comes to interpretation.

Lacking the originals

One cannot deny that not only interpretations vary but that there are contradictions in the Bible.  The greatest barrier to the truth (of the original message)  is that the original manuscripts no longer exist. We have only some copies that mostly date several centuries after the originals. Of course there are bound to be distortions and frankly mistakes over the centuries made by later writers, editors and redactors.  As stated, the major factor in variants between translations is religious bias. As if language difficulties were not  enough, it is always going to be difficult if a reader is ignorant of the political, social and historical background of the biblical times.  Moreover, both the Christian Church and Jewish religion were not really concerned to establish the original form of the sacred books and in fact the medieval and renaissance Christian  Church generally contented itself with adapting (and sometimes adopting) synagogue opinions.  The anonymity of most of the texts was/is always a difficulty, as well. As Soggin points out, the biblical authors (whoever they were) had a message they sought to hand on to contemporaries and to posterity; later generations applied it to their own circumstances, sometimes misunderstanding the original intention. (J. Alberto Soggin: INTRODUCTION TO THE OLD TESTAMENT, p. 10)  A  thorough  description of the stages an ancient text can go through over a long period whereby errors can occur is given in chapter 3 of Soggin’s book: copying, translating, choosing between one text and another, changing critical views – are some of them. When we realise that several translations exist (apart from those in English), such as Greek, Samarian, Aramaic, Syriac and Latin it is not surprising that authenticity to the original is difficult to come by! In addition, we have the Dead Sea Scrolls which shed new light on traditional Scripture as well as revealing new religious matter

THE CANON

     Knowing exactly what the original, true Scriptural writings and their messages were, is further complicated by the “canonicity” idea  (mentioned earlier), whereby some writings were decreed to be divinely inspired and thus they alone provided the norm for belief – and some were not. This idea of THE canon had been accepted by about 100 AD; the conception was largely the work of the Rabbis of the time, aided and abetted by the great Jewish historian Josephus (died c. 100).
It is essential to keep in mind in considering any feature of the Bible that for the Christian Churches and Jewish religion alike the Sacred Scriptures are the inspired word of God.  Both believe that the inspiration exhibited  by the authors was a special gift from God, by which no errors of a doctrinal or factual kind could be made, i.e. they at all times spoke only the truth.  On this basis, references to giants and their activities must be true. Whether one is a believer or not in organised religion, is irrelevant in this context.
Before the corpus of belief, history and story we call the Old Testament  was written down, there had been centuries, possibly millenia, of oral tradition, reflecting events in  the remote past. Put succinctly, this oral tradition produced written tradition “and then continued parallel to it so that each exercised a kind of constant control over the other”. (Soggin: p. 67)  It is probable that this consigning of chronic oral tradition to paper, so to speak, accounts for the general anonymity of the texts.  The names (or titles) under which so many of the “Books” go are misleading insofar as these nanes  or titles were bestowed  much later, to create, so it was hoped, canonical authority in ascribing the authorship to  a  noted man of God, who often, at least in the Old Testament, was a  revered prophet.  It may be opportune here to remark that the term “prophet” as written  in the Bible does not have the same connotation the present use of the word has. Rather, as Soggin says, (see chapter on the prophets of Israel, idem), we are dealing more with literary stereotypes or later reconstructions by individuals or groups who made the “prophet” the proclaimer of their own views.  Therefore prophecy which came to fruition is true and that which did not is false, thereby transforming the figure of the prophet into one who proclaimed the future – a role which the prophets did not originally have.

Prophecies and the Old Testament

“Prophecies” that came true are to be seen in the New Testament.  The latter has even more versions (differing) than the Old Testament and a similar problem over its “canonicity” –  which was fixed in the 4th century, never to be seriously questioned. For the purposes of this study, however, the New Testament is of little import.

     The Old Testament, especially Genesis, is a different proposition altogether.  The value of this book, compiled over some 1000 years, by many persons, is immense.  Its value is manifold, but one value of great relevance to our purposes may be cited: in English speaking countries “the heroes of Genesis have been adopted as the spiritual fathers of the race, having superseded those of Celtic or Teuton mythology” (Lowther Clarke, Concise Bible Commentary, p. 341).

COMMENTARIES

     This 1952 Commentary is a work of significant  scholarship. In it Lowther Clarke’s comments on pertinent words and phrases are illuminating and at the same time illustrative of the difficulties  of interpretation facing individuals.  Thus he writes of the “Nephilim” (6; 1-4), as a word of uncertain origin but probably, he says, meaning  “giants”.  His view of the “sons of God” is that these are superhuman beings partaking of the nature of elohim – the broad term for “God” (or rather as it is plural, g/Gods).  He agrees with the early Fathers of the Roman Church  that these sons of God  were fallen angels. He does however refer to the above as “myth”, with which this treatise begs to differ (see later chapters).  This story, he continues, may have originated from the myth (here we have no quarrel) in which the Titans of Greek mythology tried to storm heaven and were cast out.  There is also a reference to giants and the Nephilim  in Numbers, 13; 33 and following, which may have had a bearing on  the story.  Clarke makes here an interesting observation about  an alternative tradition in which the flood played no part, for the Nephilim “survived to withstand the Hebrews as they approached Palestine”. (p. 344)
Clarke’s comments on the David and Goliath episode are illustrative of the variations that occur between versions of the Bible.  “The discrepancies between the Hebrew text and the Septuagint [the translation into Greek] reach their height here, for the latter omits 12-31; 38; 41; 48; 50; 55; of chapter 17, and 1-5 of chapter 18.  [I refrain from the exclamation mark.]   The Septuagint translators may have been struck by the discrepancies and have omitted enough to make a coherent narrative…” (p. 418)     In The Psalms, chapter 29, verse 1, appears the translation “Sons of the mighty” from the Hebrew “sons of God (or gods)”, (in the Revised Version of 1898, which Clarke used for his Commentary). These were, he says, “angels or superhuman beings” who worship Yahweh [the name by which God was known by the ancient Hebrews] clad in holy array, that is, in garments corresponding to those worn by his priests on earth.  Noteworthy is the fact that the commentator speaks of angels “or superhuman beings” indicating beyond doubt that he himself believes something other than angels existed at the time, who partook of supranatural  essence.  Were these Nephilim?

Clarifications

All editions or versions, companions or commentaries (of the Bible) preface  their pages with clarifications regarding the text or translation they have used. The prestigious CAMBRIDGE COMPANION (to the Bible) loses no time, like the GOOD NEWS BIBLE  in entering its caveats in respect of its contents.
“In this ‘Companion’ we shall examine all those writings widely considered to be authoritative, but we shall also look at a number of the writings that were given official status only by some groups within Judaism and Christianity.” (Intro., p. 1)
Two main problems or tasks face biblical scholars: determining the original wording of the ancient texts and reconstructing the historical origins of the writings. The first undertaking is to examine and compare the earliest copies of the various parts of the Bible, as Howard Clark Kee points out in his Introduction to the COMPANION, to reconstruct as nearly as possible, its original text. (page 12).
Many “Books” (of ‘biblical’ writings)  did not find a place on the “official” list.  Others claimed to be essential supplements or addenda to the accepted or canonical ones. Some attempted to justify their claim by posing as the last will and testament of one of the major ancient figures; others claimed to be psalms or odes written by such as Solomon or Ezra.  One must remember, however, that “part of the aim of these writings was to show how these ancient figures and their insights into the ways of God were relevant for the present situations of the later writers”. (Introduction, p. 11)

Historical record according to the Bible

Accordingly, phrased simplistically, the Bible is a mixture of real history,  myth and to some extent, legend.  We have to exercise caution over the use of the word myth: (dealt with at greater length later). Myth nowadays tends to be used in the sense of something not true.  This is not the interpretation put upon it in this study –  unless indicated to the contrary.
The early chapters of Genesis, for example, are very similar to stories about the origins of the world found among Israel’s neighbours.  Acquaintance with this nonbiblical material will help us the better to understand the biblical Genesis and give us an understanding of the universality (in those days) of early traditions.  Giants or semi-divine beings, partaking of some type of godhead, figure in all the ancient stories/legends, partly because it was genuinely believed that such beings existed and partly, it has to be admitted, because they bestowed great kudos on the races or individuals who overcame them, usually with the help of God or gods who had clearly bestowed special favour on the victors.

STORIES FROM THE NEAR EAST

     The “myths” of the Near East sought to explain the hard lot of humanity because the gods had created humans, especially giant-sized ones, to do the jobs that they, the gods, did not want to do.  (This is an important theme which will be mentioned subsequently especially in relation to Sitchin’s work.) Also a common theme was that of a suffering humanity caught up in the quarrels of the gods. The order and security desired by humans was unattainable, menaced as they were by giants in their midst.  But as we have earlier intimated, the attitude to giants was ambivalent, sometimes being regarded as “men of renown”, doing good – sometimes as fearsome brutes, wreaking evil.  There was often the suggestion or implication that these Nephilim/giants possessed great longevity, even a type of immortality, though they could be killed by humans (with divine aid).
Many themes are common to Genesis and Near Eastern traditions as we have said.  One of the most notable is called the ENUMA ELISH , a Babylonian creation story written about 1100 BC. The themes of a divine spirit creating earth, light, man are virtually identical to those of the Bible. A central narrative in the “Enuma”  concerns the god of Babylon triumphing over the goddess of chaos, Tiamat, names we will mention in due course later. The creation of men and women is in Genesis something intended to be benign, whereas in other Near Eastern writings, for example, Sumerian and Akkadian (a Semitic people inhabiting the ancient Babylonian kingdom of Akkad, now in Mesopotamia), it appears that humans were created to do manual labour for the gods.  Giants were especially useful; there was a tradition that, in their early benevolent days, they looked after the physical features of earth, mountains, woods, rivers even the ground itself.
An Akkadian text, the EPIC OF GILGAMESH,   written about 1600 BC, parallels the events of Genesis, if anything even more closely than the ENUMA. For example, a man (Enkidu) is created out of earth or clay. Enki is the divine ruler of the delightful land of Dilmun, who brings about his own downfall by eating some forbidden plants, and subsequently he  experiences pain and sickness. Themes of mortality and immortality  run through the Epic just as they feature strongly in Genesis. When Enkidu dies, Gilgamesh is thrown into despair and seeks immortality but is foiled when near success, by a serpent.

The Deluge

The Deluge account in Genesis finds parallels virtually in all ancient stories across the world.  In the Epic, Noah’s counterpart is Utnapishtim and like in Genesis, the Flood is the result of the human race’s becoming disorderly – too numerous and too obstreperous.  In Genesis, the Flood is more the result of man’s wickedness, augmented by the depredations of the giants then on earth.  In the Epic it is noteworthy that warning of the forthcoming flood to be sent by gods is given by a (friendly) god! Although it is clear that the Sumerian, Babylonian and Akkadian texts are older than the conjectured dates of the Old Testament texts, it would be wrong to presume that the OT writers simply copied the older writings. What happened was that the biblical authors revised the Mesopotamian stories in order to create their own versions of the then world view.

     There is an opinion  about the “sons of god” which is a simplistic one: this reference, it is maintained, suggests the violation of the boundary between human and divine, and this was its purpose: a warning to humanity.  But we suggest there is much more to this account than that. The giant progeny for example; silence on this topic as is the wont of many commentators, will not do, in the light of the many references in the bibilical texts to giant beings. As Meyers and Rogerson say in their chapter, “The Old Testament World”  (in the CAMBRIDGE COMPANION), “The material in Genesis is deeply rooted in Near East myths, in those stories about gods, goddesses, heroes [and giants[ that attempt to explain the paradoxies of human existence” (p. 51)
One Near Eastern view relevant to our theme is that regarding the “giants in those days” reflecting the belief that life in every way was on a much larger scale in the beginning (whenever that was) than now.  The great ages of people probably express this view also. In Genesis, 6; 3, lifespans are lowered to 120 years by God – at least this is one explanation of the difficult passage.

     Differing from Clarke’s interpretations seen above, are the views expressed in the NEW JEROME BIBLICAL COMMENTARY written by Catholic exegetes (in the 1992 edition, Geoffrey Chapman, Cassell Publishers) who base their comments on the Douai version (1610) itself based on an English (Catholic) translation of St Jerome’s (died 5th century AD) Latin version of the Greek Septuagint,
An example of differing translations occasioning different comments is presented to us in the pertinent early section of Genesis where the conventional “sons of god” is given as “divine beings”. The Genesis commentators in the NEW JEROME, speak of them as being members of the class of divine beings, common, as they say, in religious texts of Canaan. Somewhat naturally, the Catholic commentators do not mention the word angels in this context.  What, we may legitimately ask, is “the class of divine beings” who sired giant offspring with mortal women?  Other and comparable literature relate tales of ancient semidivine heroes, whose origin is obscure. An even older myth speaks of marriages (or liaisons) between heavenly beings and human women which produced the pre-flood race of giants.
Comment about the “Nephilim” (as it appears in the text) suggests the word is an ancient variant of “the mighty men of old”.  These are the “fallen ones” (from heaven), the race of giants mentioned in Numbers (13;33) as the giant preconquest inhabitants of Canaan, who are the children of unholy unions. “The ancient inhabitants of Canaan were frequently referred to as giants”: (Genesis Commentary, p. 14)

Anak in the book of Numbers and Joshua
Moving on to the book of Numbers, the comment on “Anak” (chapter 14) is that the expression “descendants of Anak” can only be construed with difficulty.  The reference according to the commentators, “appears to be with an elite warrior guild analogous to the votaries of Rapha (see Sam 21; 18-22). (p. 85). A telling comment is on the phrase “the sons of Anak who come from the Nephilim” which apparently is absent from the Greek version.  Why? we may ask.  To hide a disparity? – (the usual reason!)
The giant Anakim are mentioned again in Deuteronomy (Chapter 1: 20 et seq) where Moses’ people refuse to enter the land before them because of the terrifying sight of the inhabitants and their imposing fortified cities.  The “Jerome” comment apropos these lines is interesting in its matter-of-fact style: “The Anakim (giants) were a non-Semitic group settled around Hebron…”
Another revealing note by the commentators is that concerning Chapter 2, verses 10-12, which are usually placed in brackets in the several Bible versions.  These are described as “antiquarian notes added to this section”; that is to say they are adjudged to be interpolations by writers unknown, into the original Hebrew text.  They (the unknown writers) clearly felt this ‘clarification’ was necesssary. The Emim and Zamzummim are local giant variants of the Rephaim, first mentioned in Genesis 14; 15. It is deducible from the general context that the Hebrews did not so much win the promised land by their physical and moral strength as that the giant inhabitants’ moral turpitude was displeasing to the Lord.
The conquest was not achieved without much bloodshed: the people of Israel “wiped out the Anakim” and “utterly destroyed them with their cities…there was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel [a significant phrase, indeed]; only in Gaza, in Gath and in Ashdod did some remain”. (Joshua, 11; 21-22). (We need to remember this last line for our later understanding of events.)  This wholesale slaughter, which occurs throughout the Old Testament, is of course a rock on which much potential belief has foundered: how could an all-merciful God encourage, much less cause, this carnage?  Not unexpectedly, the “Jerome” commentators explain this by saying that though the concept [of killing]  does raise theological problems  the “viewpoint of the biblical writers must be recognised: Israel’s enemies were of no account, mere puppets, as it were, in Yahweh’s hands as he continued his purposes for Israel”.    Reading between the lines, the comment surely indicates that it was human (and fallible) men, not necessarily and perpetually divinely inspired writers who helped to compile the Bible.  This type of comment is not encountered in other commentaries on  the Scriptures.

Giant king Og

The book of Joshua, (12; 4) speaks of the giant king Og of Bashan, one of the “remnant of the Rephaim”, an illuminating reference since in the Massoretic text of the Hebrew Bible the word “boundary” precedes the mention of Og which in the view of the Jerome commentators  is “a late and erroneous addition” – but are we sure, and how do we KNOW? Ancient boundaries can change over time. The Rephaim, a word left untranslated as we have said, in some versions, is, in this locus, translated in the Septuagint version as “giants”, but in the version under scrutiny by the “Jerome” commentators is left as the original word, Rephaim.
Still in Joshua, 14; 12-15, where Caleb is reminding his leader Joshua,  of his past services, the Septuagint has “You heard this word on that day” but which is omitted in the commentators’ version of the Bible, no doubt because it would seem to imply that Joshua was not one of the scouts.  Another example (there are of course hundreds) of how things change with time, worthy of mention, is that concerning the ancient name for Hebron, viz Kiriath-arba, which meant “city of the four”. When the original meaning was lost, “arba”, “four” was reinterpreted as a personal name with the result that Arba was understood to be the founder (ancestor) of the Anakim tribe (or race). His son (or one of them) was Anak who had three  sons, we are told, Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, who are mentioned (in some versions) as of huge stature, like their father.
The most famous encounter with giants is of course the David and Goliath episode.  Even here two different stories have been combined. One, of a folktale type, depicts a young shepherd boy who distinghes himself in battle for personal ambition; the other is a more theological and sophisticated story whose purpose is to present David as a realistic successor to the throne of Saul.

For some of the innumerable variant readings and interpretations the GOOD NEWS BIBLE is invaluable, accessible and very readable.  Naturally only a few of the marginal notes are germane to the present study but the impression of no one single “manuscript” now extant being without doubt closest to the original, is overwhelming.

Matthew Henry

We cannot leave this section without a mention of Matthew Henry’ great work of scholarship, his  COMMENTARY on the Bible in six volumes. each about 900 thousand words in extent, concluded just before he died in 1714.  Thus his comments have the value of reflecting  non Catholic  religious attitudes of the time (he was a Presbyterian clergyman) to the Bible as well as giving the reader invaluable insights into difficult or ambivalent words and phrases. It is not clear which edition or version of the Bible he was using for his commentary but it was probably THE REVISED VERSION of 1611, often extolled as a model of English prose style.  As with all new versions of the Bible the RV aroused controversy.  The Preface to the work deserves to be quoted: “…We should  express the same notion in the same particular word; as for example, if we translate the Hebrew or Greek once by ‘purpose’, never to call it ‘intent’ if one where ‘journeying’ never ‘travelling’; if one where ‘think’ never ‘suppose’ …thus, we thought to savour more of curiosity than wisdom and that it would breed scorn in the atheist, than bring profit to the godly reader.  We have on the one side avoided the scrupulosity of the Puritans, who leave the old Ecclesiastical words and betake them to other, as when they put ‘washing’for ‘baptism’ and ‘congregation’ instead of ‘church’ , as also on the other side we have shunned the obscurity of the Papists, in their ‘azymes’, ‘tunik’, ‘rational’, ‘holocausts’ , ‘prepuce’ and a number of such like”. (Quoted in Lowther Clarke, BIBLE COMMENTARY, p 330)
The most inportant fact for our purposes is that this man of immense biblical scholarship never in his comments for a second doubts the veracity of the relation of the word Nephilim (or whatever the original Hebrew had) as “giants” – in the version of the Holy Book before him. But he had also some interesting and original insights which have been adopted in more recent commentaries, for example the descendants of Seth and of Cain regarding the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” controversy. His explanation of the former phrase is that it means those people who profess religion, its truth and morality, and that it was their marrying the descendants of Cain WITHOUT God’s permission that brought about humanity’s nemesis.  His comment on the vital section of Genesis (6;4) deserves to be quoted: “They were giants, and they were men of renown; they became too hard for all about them and carried all before them…they were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living, and they daringly insulted the rights of all their neighbours and trampled upon all that is just and sacred…this degenerate race slighted the honour their ancestors had obtained by virtue and religion and made themselves a great name by that which was the perpetual ruin of their good name”. Notice particularly the expression, “slighted the honour their ancestors had obtained by virtue…” which indicates beyond doubt that (he believed) the first race of giants had been benevolent.
Henry’s comment on the Og passage in Deuteronomy, (3; 5) where the giant king and his army confronted the people of Israel reveals the traditional viewpoint: “When God pleads his people’s cause he can deal with giants as with grasshoppers. no man’s might can secure him against the Almighty. The army of Og was very powerful…yet all this was nothing before God’s Israel when they came with commission to destroy him [Og]”.

     There are very many BASIC differences in translation, wording and emphasis between for example the Douai version of the “Jerome” commentary and the Revised Version  which Henry was using; as we have said, no two versions are alike in their INTERPRETATION, to say nothing of their respective emphases.  All however agree in their stance  of credibility towards the giant references (and races) mentioned in the Old Testament.
We are now in a position to look at the allusions to giants in the non-canonical books: the Apocrypha; the Pseudepigrapha, (writings attributed to famous names); and the Deuterocanonical books (writings regarded as of secondary importance), which ironically are of great importance  to our subject.

© A.B. Finlay Ph.D