Og and Other Giants--Then and Now

This sheet on Deuteronomy 3 was written by Marc Bregman for 929 and can also be found here

Our chapter describes in detail the battle at Edrei, east of the Kinnert (Sea of Galilee). Moses recalls how he and the Israelites had there defeated Og, the king of Bashan and his forces (Deuteronomy 3:1-14, Numbers 21:33). Og is described as having “remained from the remnant of the Rephaim; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron. Is it not in Rabbah of the children of Ammon? Nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man” (verse 11).

The Rephaim were an ancient race of giants and Bashan, the area over which King Og ruled, was called “the land of the Rephaim” (verse 13). The biblical reference to Og’s “bedstead of iron”, roughly 12 feet long and 6 feet wide, still on display in Rabbat-Amon in the days of the Deuteronomist, provided an irresistible stimulus to the vivid imagination of the Sages. According to Rabbinic Aggadah (see Legends of the Jews, III.5, pp. 98-103), the giant Og needed a bed and chairs of iron because no furniture of wood would support his tremendous weight. Every day he devoured 1000 oxen and an equivalent amount of drink. According to the second-century Rabbinic Sage and grave-digger, Abba Shaul, Og’s thighbone alone was over three parsangs (roughly one mile) in length (compare Maimonides, Guide to the Perplexed 2:47).

The cities founded by Og were surrounded by “high walls” (see Deuteronomy 3:5), that were sixty miles or more in height! On the morning that Moses approached the city he was about to attack, he first thought he saw through a new wall that had been built overnight. But as the mists cleared, he realized what he was looking at was King Og, sitting on the existing wall of his city, with his feet touching the ground below. So how could Moses possibly overcome a giant of such enormous proportions? According to the Babylonian Talmud (Berakhot 54b), Og uprooted a mountain and carried it on his head to hurl it upon the Israelite camp (reflected also in Islamic traditions about ‘Uj ibn ‘Unaq).

But the Holy One, blessed be He, sent ants who bored a hole in this enormous rock, so that it sank around Og’s neck. When he tried to pull off this proverbial “millstone around his neck”, his teeth projected on each side. When Og had been immobilized in this way, Moses took an axe ten cubits (about 15 feet) long, leapt into the air the equivalent of his own height of ten cubits, managed to strike the giant on his ankle, and thus, felled and killed him.

May it be God’s will that we have the wisdom, agility and might of Moses, in his day, to deal with the geopolitical “giants” we face in our day.

Marc Bregman is the Herman and Zelda Bernard Distinguished Professor of Jewish Studies emeritus, at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro.

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