|Gather 'round the campfire|
Giants are humanoid beings that are much taller and larger than ordinarily achieved by human beings. Some people afflicted with a hormonal condition called gigantism grow much taller than usual, with heights up to nine feet (2.75 meters) in height. But the giants under consideration here are creatures of folklore, and appear in Jewish, Christian, Norse, Greek and Welsh mythology and folklore.
All mammalian skeletons have a similar structure. Skull, spine, ribcage, pelvis, limbs (usually). A person on an island with an extinct species of dwarf elephants (Greece), seeing the bones but never a live elephant, might mistake them for something else entirely. An elephant skull contains a very large hole in the center (for the nose/trunk) that a layperson might mistake for an eye socket: thus the cyclops, a large humanoid mythical beast with a single eye and two terrible incisors, and (usually) a bad attitude.
A variety of peoples were alleged to have gigantic stature in the Old Testament. The preeminent giants of the Old Testament are the Nephilim, a name which the King James Version translates simply as "giants":
“”There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.
The meaning of this passage, and the identity of the "sons of God" who "came in unto the daughters of men" have been the subject of lively speculation. Some make these 'sons of God' out to be the children of Seth; but, since the emergence of Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the Books of Enoch, the majority opinion among believers in the Bible seems to be that these sons of God were angels, or perhaps fallen angels, who begat the race of giants, or perhaps ogres, by having sex with mortal women.
These giants lived in antediluvian times, but in the Flood, they were supposed to have been destroyed entirely, with the exception of the very self-serving giant Og (who was Rephaite, not Nephilite) because he was smart enough to have believed Noah's warning. So it is with no small surprise that we find peoples descended from the Nephilim tangling with the children of Israel, which would mean this giant (and his oversized sons) having sex with normal size women, ouch! Descendents from the Nephilim include:
Goliath of Gath, the giant slain by David, was, according to the Masoretic Text (the version of the Tanakh from which the King James Version translated the Old Testament) "six cubits and a span" tall (1 Samuel 17:4), which is approximately nine and a half feet, or 2 9/10 meters tall, depending on whose cubit you're using. Other manuscripts, including fragments found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the pre-Masoretic manuscript from which the Septuagint was translated, list the height instead as "four cubits and a span", or approximately six feet nine inches or a bit more than 2 meters tall; the latter is a realistic human height, which along with his hinted-at joint and vision problems suggests the entirely natural explanation that he was an untreated acromegaly sufferer.
Various other giants appear in the Old Testament narrative, who are mostly pretty forgettable:
- Ishbibenob, said to have a spear that weighed "three hundred shekels of brass" (2 Samuel 21:16).
- Saph (2 Samuel 21:18), who gets mentioned once and never shows up again, like those guys in The Iliad.
- A unnamed giant with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot (2 Samuel 21:19, 1 Chronicles 20:6). Must have been good at piano.
- Sippai, another guy who's entirely defined by being a giant (1 Chronicles 20:4). Maybe he was good at catch or something; the Bible doesn't bother with any other details.
- Lahmi, who has a spear "like a weaver's beam". (1 Chronicles 20:5). Might be the unnamed giant in 2 Samuel 21:19 who possesses a similarly-sized spear, given 2 Samuel 21 and 1 Chronicles 20 both describe similar events.
These guys don't get size measurements or lavish descriptions of their weapons and armor like Goliath, but each of the verses where they are mentioned specifies that they are his descendants, as do 2 Samuel 21:22 and 1 Chronicles 20:8. Those last two verses also add that the dudes who slew them, who are given even fewer details, were servants of King David, the original giant-slayer. It's almost like those books/movies/whatever where the first one is really strong, and then the sequels repeat the same plot over and over, with a shoddy attempt to link them together.
The apocalyptic figures of Gog and Magog are often visualized as giants.
Many pictures have been circulated around the internet by bat-shit crazy apologists who hope to prove the existence of god through photos of 10 or 80 foot giants. What makes the pictures hilarious is that they originate from photo-manipulation contests (and the range of purported sizes). Talk about creationist scepticism.
In Greek mythology, the giants (γίγαντες - gigantes) were the offspring of Uranus and Gaia. They were involved in a conflict with the gods of Olympus called the Gigantomachy, which was resolved in the gods' favor when the hero Hercules entered the battle on the side of the gods. The gods then buried the race of giants deep in the earth, where their struggles to break free caused earthquakes. Antæus was a specific giant who wrestled Hercules.
The Greek giants were also confused with the Titans, also the offspring of Uranus and Gaia, and who also fought a battle with the Olympian gods.
As chronicled in Historia Regum Britainniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth, thousands of years ago,[note 1] giants were the only inhabitants of Britain. Then Brutus of Troy (who is as fictional as the giants) came, slaughtered them all, and established a human kingdom with him at the helm. According to long-long-discarded British race myth, the Britons are descendants of the mighty Trojans. This is one such account. These purported giants made for easy explanations for how massive stone structures such as Stonehenge came to be: well hey, they were built by giants, of course!
- This was many generations before the fictional King Leir (Lear in Shakespeare), who himself ruled Britain around 1000 B.C.E.
- See generally, Jason Colavito, Fossil Mammoths and Giants.
- And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark. Gen. 7:23
- And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, who come of the giants. Num. 13:33
- The Emims dwelt therein in times past, a people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims. Deut. 2:10
- Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath. Amos 2:9
- And the coast of Og king of Bashan, which was of the remnant of the giants, that dwelt at Ashtaroth and at Edrei. Joshua 12:4
- "And there went forth a mighty man out of the army of the Philistines, Goliath, by name, out of Geth, his height was four cubits and a span" Kings I (Septuagint, equivalent to I Samuel) from the Translation by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton
- "'Skeleton of Giant' Is Internet Photo Hoax". p. 2.
- Apollodorus, Library 1.6.