Did you know that the Bible is full of giants?
Giants have always been a part of our cultural imagination, but it’s surprising to learn that the Bible is full of them—and that they’re not just the stuff of legends. They were real people, who lived, breathed, and walked around with their heads in the clouds.
Some people think that Biblical giants were just tall people like us today. But these were no mere mortals; they were giants in every sense of the word: they were enormous, powerful creatures with unimaginable strength—so much so that they could kill a man by merely touching him.
This article will explore how tall Biblical giants were, how old they lived to be, and why such an incredible race of giants came into existence in the first place!
The Bible is a world-renowned collection of stories and teachings that dates back over 2,000 years. It’s filled with incredible tales of giants, including a few famous ones like Goliath and Nimrod. But how tall were these biblical giants? What about their other dimensions? Did they have the strength to pick up cars or move mountains? And what about those that existed before the flood? In this blog post, we’ll take a look at how tall were giants in the Bible and examine some of the most popular myths surrounding them.
How Tall Were Giants In The Bible
Introduction: Giants in the Bible
The Bible describes many individuals as giants, and it also mentions several giant people groups. Interpreters have speculated about the size of these people with guesses ranging anywhere from 6 feet to more than 30 feet in height. Also, a great deal of misinformation about giants in the Bible has been proliferated on the Internet along with some fake pictures of supposed giants. So did these giants really exist? If so, how big were they?
Old Testament Giants
One of the earliest mentions of giants in the Bible is found in Genesis 14.
In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him came and attacked the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Horites in their mountain of Seir . . . . Then they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and attacked all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazezon Tamar (Genesis 14:5–7, emphasis added).
Genesis 14 does not reveal that the Rephaim, Zuzim, Emim, or Amorites were giants, but this information can be found in other places.
The Amorites are mentioned more than 80 times in Scripture, and early on, some were allied with Abraham (Genesis 14:13). They were descendants of Noah’s grandson Canaan (Genesis 10:15–16). Although the Bible does not provide this information, the Jewish general-turned-historian Josephus gives the name of their ancestor as Amorreus.1 While the Amorites are mentioned in the same contexts as other giants a few times, they are specifically described as giants in the Minor Prophets.
Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was as strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath. Also it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite (Amos 2:9–10).
Through Amos, God clearly stated that the Amorites were generally very tall and strong. Some may downplay the description of the Amorites in this passage, since these verses employ figurative language, but there are some good reasons to take this passage in a straightforward manner.2
The idea that the Amorites were giants is supported by the report of the spies whom Moses sent through the land of Canaan. The Amorites were one of the people groups they saw (Numbers 13:29), and they claimed that “all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature” (Numbers 13:32). It is telling that in their response, Joshua and Caleb did not challenge the size of the land’s inhabitants (Numbers 14:6–9).3
Deuteronomy 2 reveals that the Emim, which likely means “terrors,” were giants:
The Emim had dwelt there in times past, a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. They were also regarded as giants [Hebrew rephaim], like the Anakim, but the Moabites call them Emim (Deuteronomy 2:10–11).
Moses told the people that the Emim used to live in the territory that God had given to the descendants of Lot’s son Moab (Genesis 19:37).
The Zuzim (Zamzummim)
The Zamzummim (almost certainly the same as Zuzim in Genesis 14:5) were also called giants and listed in the same chapter as the Emim:
[The land of Ammon] was also regarded as a land of giants [Hebrew rephaim]; giants [rephaim] formerly dwelt there. But the Ammonites call them Zamzummim, a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim. But the Lord destroyed them before them, and they dispossessed them and dwelt in their place (Deuteronomy 2:20–21).
These verses explain that a group of giants known as Zamzummim had lived in the land of Ammon, “a land of giants.” God destroyed the Zamzummim so that the descendants of Lot’s son Ben-Ammi (the Ammonites) could live in the land (Genesis 19:38).4
According to Genesis 14:5, the Zuzim were in the land of Ham. This may be in reference to Noah’s son, Ham, since they descended from him. But it is more likely a reference to the Hamathites, who were descendants of Canaan, Ham’s son. While the Zuzim and Zamzummim may have been different people groups, there are enough similarities in name, description, and geographical location to infer that they were variant names for the same group.
The most common term used to describe giants in the Bible is rephaim (e.g., Deuteronomy 3:11, 13). It may refer to a certain people group,5 or it may be a term that simply means giants. The singular form, raphah, also appears several times (e.g., 2 Samuel 21:16, 18, 20).6
The third chapter of Deuteronomy contains an interesting account of the victory of the Israelites over Sihon, the king of the Amorites, and Og, the king of Bashan.7 It is here that we learn an intriguing detail about Og:
For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the giants [rephaim]. Indeed his bedstead was an iron bedstead. (Is it not in Rabbah of the people of Ammon?) Nine cubits is its length and four cubits its width, according to the standard cubit (Deuteronomy 3:11).
Some translations use the word sarcophagus (NEB) or coffin (TEV, CEV) in place of bedstead, for the Hebrew word עֶרֶשׂ (eres). The majority of English Bibles render this term as bed or bedstead, which makes sense since eres means couch, divan, bed, or bedstead. Also, it would be indeed strange to translate it as sarcophagus since these were made of stone or marble, and Og’s “bedstead” was made of iron.8
Whether Moses referred to Og’s bed or coffin is not particularly relevant to the discussion at hand. However, the size of this object is noteworthy. We are told that it was nine cubits long and four cubits in width “according to the standard cubit.” Since the standard cubit is approximately 18 inches long, then Og’s bed or coffin was about 13.5 feet long and 6 feet wide. To put this in perspective, if stood up on end, the height of this bed would have been exactly twice as tall as a person who is 6 foot 9 inches tall. Of course, he may not have been as large as his bed. Some authors have attempted to downplay the significance of these dimensions, but the Bible clearly identifies Og as a giant.
The earliest mention in giants in the Bible is just prior to the Flood account.
There were giants [nephilim] on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown (Genesis 6:4).9
The word translated as “giants” in this verse is the Hebrew word nephilim, and many Bible versions simply transliterate it as such. There has been much debate over the meaning of this word. Some believe it comes from the Hebrew verb naphal, while others claim that it is from the Aramaic noun naphil.10 These individuals are described in Hebrew as gibborim (“mighty men”).11
The nephilim were mentioned again when the spies returned from their exploratory mission of the land of Canaan. These men reported that Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai (descendants of Anak, progenitor of the Anakim) dwelt in Hebron. They also stated, “the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:28). The chapter concludes with ten of the spies giving “a bad report” trying to convince the Israelites that they could not conquer the land:
The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size. 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 13:32—33, NASB).12
The Anakim were mentioned in several of these passages. They were perhaps the best known of the giants dwelling in the land of Canaan at the time of the Exodus. As stated in the verse above, they were part of the nephilim. If nephilim simply refers to giants in general, then the Anakim are just said to be giants in Numbers 13:33, which is consistent with their description in this passage. So the Amorites and other giant people would also be nephilim. If nephilim refers to a particular giant tribe, then the Anakim were part of this line.
Numbers 13:22 states that Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai were descendants of Anak, who was obviously the namesake of the Anakim. Both the Emim and Zamzummim were compared to the Anakim, as they were both “a people as great and numerous and tall as the Anakim” (Deuteronomy 2:10, 21; 9:2).
Anak was the son of Arba (Joshua 15:13). Little is known about Arba, and his ancestry is not provided. However, he was apparently somewhat legendary as indicated by the parenthetical statements in the text when his name appears. The city of Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob settled and were buried was also called Kiriath Arba.13 We are told that “Arba was the greatest man among the Anakim” (Joshua 14:15), and “the father of Anak” (Joshua 15:13; 21:11).14 Kirjath Arba was also called “Mamre” in Genesis 35:27. Mamre was an Amorite, who was an ally of Abram (Genesis 14:13). This man owned some trees by which Abram settled, and at some point, part of Hebron became synonymous with his name.
Joshua fought several battles with the Anakim and the Amorites. Eventually, he “cut off the Anakim from the mountains: from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their cities. None of the Anakim were left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod” (Joshua 11:21–22). These actions set the stage for the famous account of Goliath in 1 Samuel.
Of course, the most renowned giant was the mighty Philistine slain by David. Here is how he is described in Scripture.
And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his iron spearhead weighed six hundred shekels; and a shield-bearer went before him (1 Samuel 17:4–7).
Notice that Goliath was from Gath, which happened to be one of the three places where Anakim remained, according to Joshua 11:21–22. So although he is not called one in 1 Samuel 17, it is possible that Goliath was a descendant of the Anakim who mixed with the Philistine population in that area.15
There is some debate about Goliath’s height due to the textual variants in ancient manuscripts. Most English translations follow the Masoretic text in listing his height at “six cubits and a span” (approximately 9’9”). However, the NET Bible puts Goliath at “close to seven feet tall.” The reason for the discrepancy is that the Masoretic Text differs from some ancient texts, including the Septuagint and an ancient manuscript found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, labeled 4QSama, which list Goliath’s height as four cubits and a span (approximately 6’9”).
Many modern scholars believe there is stronger textual support for the shorter Goliath.16 But while he is not specifically called a giant in this passage, 2 Samuel 21:15–22 seems to identify Goliath as the “giant” (raphah) from Gath. There are other details provided that make the “six cubits and a span” the more likely figure. For example, the sheer weight of his armaments required that he must have been of enormous size and strength. His coat of mail weighed about 125 pounds and just the tip of his spear was 15 pounds. This does not even take into account his helmet, armor on his legs, javelin, or sword.17 Also, I personally find it hard to believe that every member of Israel’s army would have been terrified of someone who was my height (6’9”).18
There are many other details about the account of David and Goliath that are often overlooked. Most people assume David was a short young man when he fought against the giant, but the Bible is very clear that David was considered “a mighty man of valor, [and] a man of war” (1 Samuel 16:18) prior to fighting Goliath.
Other Giants in the Bible
The Bible mentions four more Philistine giants, who were relatives of Goliath from the region of Gath. 2 Samuel 21:15–22 provides a more detailed account of these giants than the record of 1 Chronicles 20:4–8, but the latter passage does provide some extra information that helps us make sense of the passage. The additional details from 1 Chronicles are provided in brackets.
When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”
Now it happened afterward that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob [or “Gezer”].19 Then Sibbechai the Hushathite killed Saph [or “Sippai”], who was one of the sons of the giant. Again there was war at Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaare-Oregim [or “Jair”] the Bethlehemite killed [“Lahmi”] the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.
Yet again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also was born to the giant. So when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, killed him.
These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants (2 Samuel 21:15–22).
David’s mighty men killed giants named Ishbi-Benob, Saph (Sippai), and Lahmi, as well as an unnamed giant with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot.20 Each of these men could have descended from the remnant of Anakim that survived in the region of Gath, Gaza, and Ashdod (Joshua 11:22).
Was Goliath one of the Nephilim?
Who and what the Nephilim were is up for debate. Before the flood, there were Nephilim that were the offspring of “the sons of God” and “the daughters of men” (see Genesis 6:1–4). The meaning of this passage is disputed. Regardless of their specific “DNA,” it seems that the Nephilim were extraordinary. All of them would have been killed in the flood, in which only Noah and his immediate family were spared. Nevertheless, the text indicates that the Nephilim also existed after the flood—they were “on the earth in those days—and also afterward”—that is, after the flood (Genesis 6:4).
If the Nephilim were gigantic warrior people before the flood, it is possible that giant warriors after the flood were also called Nephilim. A modern parallel might be the “modern superhero.” Everyone knows that Superman, Spider-man, and Wonder Woman do not exist in real life, but the mythology of the superhero is firmly planted in our collective psyche. When, on occasion, a policeman, fireman, or a member of the armed forces performs some extraordinarily heroic and dangerous rescue, the news media might refer to that person a “real-life superhero.” They do not mean that this person is actually endowed with superhuman powers, but that his behavior goes so far beyond the ordinary that he is living up to the commonly accepted mythology. This is a possibility in the Old Testament as well: any time an exceptional warrior was found, he was called a “Nephilim” without necessarily implying that he was the offspring of the “sons of God” in Genesis 6. This could explain how giants—fearfully large and ferocious warriors—are called Nephilim after the flood.
In Numbers, Moses sends twelve spies into the land of Canaan—the Promised Land. All the spies agreed that the land was good with plenty to offer, but ten of the spies also were fearful that Israel could not take the land because of the people living in it: “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:32–33). Here the Nephilim are described as the descendants of Anak and are associated with men of great size—giants. The best explanation seems to be that the word Nephilim had become a semi-technical term for “giant warrior.” It may have held some overtones of mystery as well, similar to the modern term monster, which can refer to size, as in monster truck. It can also have dark overtones, referring to an evil character. And finally, a monster might be some kind of abnormal or terrifying creature. With our limited knowledge of the word Nephilim, the best we can say is that it appears the Nephilim were gigantic, mysterious warriors of uncertain heritage. To the people who observed them, they seemed to be unnaturally formidable, large, and fierce.
Of all the giants, Goliath is the most infamous, although the Bible never uses the term Nephilim to describe him. Goliath challenged the armies of Israel, and only David was brave enough (because he trusted fully in God) to challenge him in battle. Goliath is described this way: “His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels” (1 Samuel 17:5–7). The footnotes in the NIV explain the ancient measurements: Goliath’s height was about 9 feet 9 inches. His bronze coat of armor weighed about 125 pounds, and his spearhead weighed about 15 pounds. Of course, Goliath fell at the hand of David. God is stronger than giants.
Second Samuel 21 records the demise of several giant Philistine warriors, all said to be descended from Rapha in Gath. (Since one of the men is Goliath’s brother, we can assume that Goliath is descended from Rapha as well): “Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels [7.5 lbs] and who was armed with a new sword, said he would kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, ‘Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished’” (verses 15–17).
In the course of time, in other battles with the Philistines, three more descendants of Rapha were slain: Saph; the brother of Goliath, “who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod”; and “a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—twenty-four in all” (verses 18–22). All of these warriors were related to Goliath, but none are called Nephilim.
There are a couple of other giants mentioned in Scripture. Og, king of Bashan, was a huge man with a huge bed (Deuteronomy 3:11). One of David’s mighty men, Benaiah, “struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. And he struck down an Egyptian who was five cubits tall. Although the Egyptian had a spear like a weaver’s rod in his hand, Benaiah went against him with a club. He snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear” ( 1 Chronicles 11:22–23). Although we don’t know how thick a weaver’s rod was, it would have to be sufficiently strong and thick enough to support the stress of weaving, and, from the way it is used in conjunction with giant warriors, we can infer that it must have been quite large.
GuinnessWorldRecords.com reports Robert Wadlow, born in 1918, to be the tallest man in modern history. He grew to a height of just over 8 feet 11 inches (“The Tallest Man Ever,” accessed 5/26/20). However, he and many other modern “giants” suffered from health problems that would not make them good “warriors.” More modest giants who are able to play professional sports are a bit smaller but still gigantic compared to the average person. There have been a good many NBA players who have been 7 feet 6 inches tall. There is no shortage of NFL players who stand 6 feet 5 inches or taller and weigh in at over 350 pounds. Professional wrestling has also had a few giants, including Andre the Giant who was 7 feet 4 inches tall and weighed over 500 pounds. It is quite possible that, at an earlier time, there was greater variation within the human gene pool, which could have produced even larger giants than we have among us today.
Goliath was very likely not the offspring of humans and angels, and he is never called a Nephilim; however, he was a fierce, gigantic warrior and might have been described, in the parlance of the Philistines or Israelites, as a “modern-day Nephilim.”