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Q&A

Does the narrator of Numbers assert that the Anakim come from the Nephilim?

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The Nephilim are named only in two verses in the Bible, in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33. Numbers 13:33 says that the Anakim come from the Nephilim, but different translations render this in a variety of ways, some making it seem like an integral part of what the spies are saying, some making it seem like an aside, possibly by the narrator or even a later editor.

Numbers 13:33 (ESV): And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.

Numbers 13:33 (NASB): 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 13:33 (CEV): In fact, we saw the Nephilim who are the ancestors of the Anakim. They were so big that we felt as small as grasshoppers.

Numbers 13:33 (JPS Tanakh): And there we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak, who come of the Nephilim; and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

With the diversity of renderings these translations give I assume the Hebrew of the verse is not the clearest. Still, based on what we know of Hebrew grammar, narratives, and dialogue, does the Hebrew text of this verse most likely mean that this phrase is something the narrator is asserting, or only a report of something the spies said?

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This is connected to the wider theme of giants in the Hebrew biblical texts, which comes from an existing precedent in the Ancient Near East (ANE) context.[1]

עֲנָק (anaq) means "long-necked" and may imply "giant."[2] Anak was the son of Arba, who was the founder of Kiriath-Arba and was considered "the greatest man among the Anakim."[3] The tribe (Anakim) came to be named after his son.

The idea of the Anakim being giants can be seen in Deuteronomy as well:

Hear, O Israel! You are about to cross the Jordan today, to go in and dispossess nations larger and mightier than you, great cities, fortified to the heavens, a strong and tall people, the offspring of the Anakim, whom you know. You have heard it said of them, "Who can stand up to the Anakim?"[4]

Deuteronomy 1:28 contains a similar statement about the Anakim, but notably, the Septuagint translated "Anakim" as "giants" in that instance. They are elsewhere identified with the Emim, Zamzummim, and Rephaim (who are also associated with giants).[5] The later Philistine cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod were considered by some biblical authors to have contained Anakim survivors of Joshua's conquests (indeed, Goliath was likely from the Anakim).[6]

The spies in Numbers are reporting their own observations and impressions, but this idea clearly has precedent in the ANE and within Torah and the wider Hebrew biblical corpus.

Concerning the whole of Numbers 13:33, the context supports that these were the words of the men/spies themselves within the narrative. This is evidenced by context clues (they are the ones speaking/reporting) and the usage of first person plural verbs both in their report ("we saw") and in their comparison ("we seemed" like grasshoppers compared to them). However, the explicit association of the Nephilim with the Anakim is likely an editor's insertion for clarity (i.e., a "gloss").[7]

Critical commentators generally assert that this account of the spies has both J and P authorship, with v. 33 generally attributed to J. However, many scholars consider the explicit parenthetic note about the Anakites descending from the Nephilim to be a gloss. The parenthetical information does not appear in the Septuagint, which further lends support to it being a later gloss.[8]

In summary, most of v. 33 in the narrative is attributed to the spies, and this specific verse is likely from J. The parenthetical information explicitly linking the Nephilim to Anak is likely a gloss inserted in the middle of the spies' report by a later redactor. This association has strong precedent in Torah and in the wider Hebrew Bible.


  1. See, e.g., Amar Annus, "On the Origin of Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions," Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 19, no. 4 (June 2010): 277–320, https://doi.org/10.1177/0951820710373978. ↩︎

  2. Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 859. It could also refer to a necklace / neck chain (cf. Prov. 1:9). ↩︎

  3. Josh. 15:13; 14:15; 21:11. ↩︎

  4. Deut. 9:1–2 (NRSV), emphasis added. ↩︎

  5. Deut. 2:10, 20–21. ↩︎

  6. Gerald L. Mattingly, "Anak (Person)," ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 222. See also Josh. 14:12–15; 15:13–14; Judg. 1:10; Jer. 47:5; 2 Sam. 21:16–22; and 1 Chr. 20:4–8. ↩︎

  7. The relevant underlying Hebrew verbs are first person plural just as is reflected in the English translations. ↩︎

  8. See, e.g., George Buchanan Gray, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Numbers, International Critical Commentary (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1903), 151. ↩︎

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This is really the only part of the answer which actually addresses the question, and you didn't real... (3 comments)

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