Apr 222010

The early books of the Bible are littered with strange names and peoples. I mentioned giants last time and the Sons of God who came down and had sex with human females. There are also the mysterious Nephilim or Refraim (I think I am getting the words right). And in Numbers and Deuteronomy, there are the giantish Anaks or Anakim. Of course, later on there is Goliath. The Anakim and Og of Bashan, mentioned in my previous giant post, are cited by Moses’ pusillanimous scouts to emphasize the might of the Canaanite hosts the Israelites will face if they go down across the Jordan as God wants them to do. Their fear (or prudence) is infectious. God gets angry and wants to kill his chosen people (once again). But Moses (once again) talks Him down, and God merely sends them off into the Wilderness til everyone in the cowardly generation dies off.

In any case, I find these giants fascinating, as I do the prophets (like Balaam) and the dreamers (like Joseph & Jacob) and the 70 tribal elders who sit down around the tabernacle, go off into an ecstatic trance, and can’t stop prophecying (although their prophecies aren’t true). I like the Children of Israel dancing naked before the Canaanite Golden Calf and whoring with the Moabite (or was it the Midianite) women (really a quasi-euphemism for lapsing into ancient religious ways)–all these are traces of cultural elements beginning to disappear before the book and monotheism, the first signs of modernity.

I also like that 1971 George C. Scott movie They Might be Giants about a wealthy man who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes and manages to convince the psychologist his relatives hire that it’s better to live thinking there might be giants than not. Which is, of course, a re-working of Quixote. The words “they might be giants” are from the windmill chapter of the novel. Quixote convinces his friends that life is more interesting when he’s insane than when he’s not. The message of the Bible is somewhat different–there is so much effort put into stamping out the last vestiges of the ancient religions; those old beliefs are a kind of cultural insanity (uncleanness), though the problem for God and Moses is that they are also deeply attractive. As you all know (or maybe not), I wrote a book about Quixote which talks, among other things, about obsession, plot, and books.

I think I used to like Jack and the Beanstalk more than any other fairy tale. I seem to recall lying in bed a night, thinking of how I would approach a giant.

I don’t know where this is leading. Probably the fact that I drove 720 miles to Halifax on Monday and then most of the way back on Tuesday has something to do with this.


  7 Responses to “On Giants”

  1. “They Might Be Giants” right? And crap, Netflix doesn’t have it. George C. Scott and Sherlock Holmes — what a pair.

  2. So glad you posted this. In my deeply religious high school fervor, I read the Bible about 3-5 times through (depending on the book), and found it more baffling with each reading. Marveling over the bizarre names, giants, and conflicts from a literary perspective is probably the best response. Had to love the powerful women though–especially the one who drove a tent stake through the head of vile Sisera while he slept.

    To reveal more of my obsessively religious upbringing, the phrase, “They might be giants,” appears in C S Lewis’ book The Silver Chair, from the 1940s. I’d thought maybe the band borrowed their name from that line, but probably they got it from the movie instead.

    • Jael. Jael killed Sisera.

      I always wanted to date her.

      Thank you, for the C.S. Lewis reference! I don’t know how many times I’ve read that book (I read it myself and then I had two sons and read it to them).

      I use The Literary Guide to the Bible, edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. It helps to disentangle the narrative structures as I read the Bible itself. Alter is a formalist literary critic who has written good things about novel form, but he has also translated chunks of the Bible. He fits in the the Shklovskian perspective of Numero Cinq.


  3. Thanks for the recommendations! The Literary Guide to the Bible sounds like a good resource. I will now educate myself about Shklovsky . . .

  4. You wanted to date Jael? Ha! Just don’t go to sleep . . .

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.