The “descendants of Anak” are first mentioned in Numbers 13, when the Hebrew spies investigate the Promised Land of Canaan and return to discourage the other Hebrews from entering it. The Anakim are associated with the Nephilim from the beginning (Numbers 13:33), and they are later equated with the Rephaim, too (Deuteronomy 2:11). They are consistently described as “strong and tall”, and their cities as “large, with walls up to the sky” (e.g., Deuteronomy 1:28).
Despite this reference to “cities” in the plural, most geographic references to the Anakim before the Israelite invasion place them simply in Kiriath Arba, later known as Hebron, where it is said that three particular “descendants” or “sons” of Anak lived: Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai. They are said to have lived in Hebron when the spies arrived, and were still there 38 years later when Joshua and Caleb, the only survivors from the original group of spies, returned to drive them out (Numbers 13:22; Joshua 11:21, 15:14; Judges 1:20). However, Joshua 11:21-22 does credit the Anakim with control of a much wider territory, extending to the cities of Debir and Anab and “all the hill country of Judah, and … Israel.” One other Anakite is named in the biblical text: Arba, after whom Kiriath Arba was supposedly named. He is referred to as both “the forefather of Anak” (Joshua 15:13, 21:11) or “the greatest man among the Anakites” (Joshua 14:15). This aetiology provides no further details, and it has been suggested that, since arba is the word for “four”, Kiriath Arba originally meant “City of Four”, possibly referring to the four other names associated with the town: Ahiman, Sheshai, Talmai, and Anak himself (Graves & Patai, p. 107).
Although the biblical text states that Caleb drove the Anakim out of Hebron (Joshua 14:12, 15:14; Judges 1:20), Joshua is also credited with this feat in the larger context of driving them out of the hill country (Joshua 11:21). All references to the Anakim by that name are limited to four books: Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges. There is no clear record of the Anakim after the Israelite invasion, but since a remnant survived in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod (Joshua 11:22), it is probably safe to assume that they were assimilated into the culture of the Philistines, who were just beginning to settle in that area. These three cities went on to play a central role in Philistine politics, and Gath has already been noted for its connection to the giants. These Anakim have already been equated with the Rephaim (Deuteronomy 2:11), so they were no doubt understood to be the same as the “descendants of Rapha” who worked out of Philistine Gath in II Samuel 21:22.
II. Historical Background to the Giants
While legends of giants often sound overly fantastic, individuals of unusually tall stature are a recorded phenomenon. The key difference between fact and legend is that, by modern medical standards, giantism is normally regarded as a disease or something similarly unhealthy; the chances of an abnormally tall person having a body sturdy enough to pose a serious threat on the battlefield is somewhat unlikely.
Then again, “tall” is a relative measurement. Generally speaking, some races can be said to be taller or shorter than others, and it is possible that the Israelites were confronted with an enemy people (or peoples) that was, on the average, taller than the Israelites were. Given the popular but by no means proven belief that the Philistines came from the Aegean, some have noted the “fairly tall stature” of skeletons from the Minoan culture in Crete and sought to establish a connection between the Cretans and the Philistine giants (cf. Dothan & Dothan, p. 112).
Such efforts have their roots in the authors of antiquity, who speak of the bones of past heroes and villains that were still on display for others to see. Josephus wrote that one could see the bones of the Anakim “to this very day, unlike to any creditable relations of other men” (Antiquities 5.126). Cimon is said to have recognized the bones of Theseus on the isle of Scyros by their enormous size (Plutarch, Theseus 38), and Pausanias in his Guide to Greece speaks of two separate caches of giants’ bones that one may visit in Arkadia (8.29.4, 8.32.5).
Only two giants are actually given exact heights in the biblical accounts, and while the figures show evidence of exaggeration, neither case is wholly implausible. In a somewhat unnecessary move, Wiseman supports the plausibility of Goliath’s height (“six cubits and a span”, corresponding to about 3 metres or 9 feet, according to most translations of I Samuel 17:4) by citing anonymous skeletons with heights of up to 3.2 metres that he says have been found in Syro-Palestine; however, he does not cite any particular studies to support this claim (pp. 23, 244 n. 58). In any case, the textual evidence suggests that Goliath, while a giant, was originally somewhat shorter than the height given in most versions of the Bible today. While the Masoretic Text and certain editions of the Septuagint do give Goliath’s height as “six cubits and a span”, Josephus (Antiquities 6.171) and a Dead Sea Scroll fragment known as 4QSama both give his height as “four cubits and a span”, as do certain other editions of the Septuagint (McCarter, p. 286). One would certainly not expect copyists to downplay the challenge faced and won by David, thus it seems that Goliath was, in fact, closer to six feet nine inches tall, “a true giant in an age when a man well under six feet might be considered tall” (McCarter, p. 291). The only other giant for whom we are given an exact height is Benaiah’s Egyptian victim, who was five cubits tall (roughly 2.3 metres) according to I Chronicles 11:23, though this would appear to be a gloss on the heightless account in II Samuel 23:21; in any case, such a height is plausible, if remotely so. (We are also given the impressive length of Og’s bed, but for Og himself no exact height is given.)
Giantism is not the only medical anomaly suggested to explain the giant stories. The Hebrew word anaq can mean “necklace”, as in Proverbs 1:9, and it has been suggested that the Anakim (anaqim) were people with “grossly enlarged necks due to endemic goiter”, which would have resembled great puffy “necklaces”. Sussman (ABD 6.13) finds this explanation unlikely, since there is no evidence for a widespread condition of this sort in the ancient Middle East, though he notes that “the pituitary abnormalities associated with giantism and acromegaly are, in fact, associated with goiter. It may be that our texts give a clue to accurate observation” (ibid.). Mattingly (ABD 1.222) has also suggested a connection between anaq and the Anakim, though for him anaq would indicate a “long-necked” people, and thus the giants.
Many other explanations exist for the name of the Anakim. Moshe Dothan, an excavator with years of experience on the Philistine sites, has sought to equate the Anakim with the early Aegean settlers on linguistic and archaeological grounds. Between the Canaanite and Philistine layers at Ashdod (one of the Anakite cities in Joshua 11:22), he discovered evidence of a Mycenaean settlement that pre-dated the later Philistine culture. Dothan thus called these early settlers Anakim, “taking [his] cue from the Bible” (Dothan & Dothan, p. 169). Dothan’s hypothesis for the origin of the name itself is that “Anak” or “Anakim” may be derived from the Greek “Wanax”, which he describes as “a generic name for the king or head of a community or of tribes.” He says the one major difficulty with his theory is that “it is not so easy to transform the Greek omega and make it an ‘ayin in Hebrew in this period” (Dothan, in Shanks, p. 47). Another problem may be that all the biblical references to the Anakim occur well before the Israelites encounter the Philistines; as we have seen, the only explicit references to a race of giants fighting for the Philistines refer to them as Rephaim or “descendants of Rapha”.
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