Canaan's Anakim
Even while they served Pharaoh, all Israel knew about the giant people who occupied Canaan. In patriarchal times these huge Nephilim half-breeds grew so numerous and became so famous for their feats of strength and daring that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob no doubt told their children stories about them. In turn, these accounts were repeated, probably with some embellishments, to all later generations of Hebrews. So, even while they toiled at making bricks in Egypt, tales about the terrible giants became a part of Hebrew lore.

When the Hebrews fled Egypt some four centuries after Abraham's time, these monstrous creatures still occupied Canaan, as did many Canaanites of about the Hebrews' own size. From the outset, therefore, these former slaves realized that they could never possess the promised land unless they killed or expelled them. As they sat in the warming glow of their campfires, they must have discussed this problem. Unfortunately, these conversations only reinforced their dread of the giants. So after their first year in the Sinai, when Moses ordered that all the men twenty years old and older be numbered for war, their apprehension about fighting the giants surely increased. And their fears, in whatever measure, must have mounted even higher when the great Hebrew prophet, led by the cloud,30 set out across the Desert of Paran toward Canaan's southern border.

This trek across that fearful desert of hot sand took a couple of months. But suddenly, out of the barren and desolate expanse of burning desert-waste, the weary Israelites came upon Kadesh Barnea,31 an oasis created by the brief course of a stream arising at the foot of a limestone cliff. Located in the southeastern corner of the Negeb, Kadesh Barnea was a well-known stopping place for the ancient donkey caravans en route between Egypt and Canaan. It also watered flocks and herds from the high and dry grazing grounds, both near and far. Here Moses ordered a halt, and for some distance around this elongated stretch of verdure and great beauty the Israelites pitched their tents.

Since leaving Egypt, the twelve wandering tribes, by the round-about route they followed, had walked over four hundred miles. Now, at last, less than fifty miles separated them from the good land the Lord God had long ago deeded to them. All they needed now to do, Moses told them, was to cross over the Negeb and wrest it from the fierce, warlike inhabitants. But gazing north across the parched badlands to the cool mountain strongholds of the giants, they wavered. Moses, not unaware of their doubts and fears and wild imaginations, urged all the men numbered for war not to be afraid nor discouraged, but to go up at once and claim their inheritance. Some tribal leaders, however, suggested: "Let us send men ahead to spy out the land for us and bring back a report about the route we are to take and the towns we will come to."32

Such use of spies being a common practice in the ancient Near East, Moses consented to their request. For this dangerous mission, each tribe chose one of its chief men. The twelve selected included Joshua of Ephraim and Caleb of Judah. Besides determining the best route for attack, Moses instructed the scouts to find out the number and character of the inhabitants, the strength of their towns and fortresses, and something about the fertility of the land.

In his journal, Moses noted that the spies set out across the hot southern steppe at the ripening of the first grapes. This almost certainly establishes early August as the time, for it was usually then to the first clusters were gathered in Canaan. The second ripening W grapes occurred in September, and the third followed in October. According to ancient rabbinical tradition, Moses had the spies pose as traders while they made their way through the northern settlements in the Negeb.33 This dry land, being suited only for pasturage, Comprised the poorest part of Palestine. Nevertheless it was inhabited by enough Amalekites and Canaanites to people twenty-nine cities, besides villages. Moses instructed the men to begin, as traders ordinarily do, by showing their ordinary wares first. Then, as they worked their way north, to offer their more valuable things.34 In such banner, the spies traversed all Canaan. In fact, as Moses was later to report, some walked all the way to Hamath, a city situated on the Orontes River about one hundred and twenty miles north of Damascus. We should not think that all twelve traveled together, lest they be suspected. They probably went in pairs, or threes, or fours, and rendezvoused at certain places along the way.

The country the spies saw perhaps may be best visualized as Comprising three parallel strips of land running north and south. The first, called the Maritime Plain, extends inward from the Mediterranean coast to a distance of from four to fifteen miles. This fertile strip includes the famous Plain of Sharon and the Lowlands of the Philistines. Behind this flat country rises the hills. These, in turn, give way to the mountains that form the backbone of the Holy Land. In eastern Palestine, the mountains and hills fall precipitously down to the fertile Jordan River Valley and the bitter waters of the Salt Sea. East of the Jordan lie the highlands of Gilead, Ammon, and Moab--lands then ruled by Rephaim giants.

At this time many Rephaim and some Horim, Avvim, and Anakim giants occupied the hill country of northern Canaan, while the Anakim completely dominated the south. The spies must therefore have seen these frightening fellows every place they went. But in their later report to Moses they mentioned only the Anakim giants--apparently because they struck more terror in them than all the rest. For ferociousness and daring, the Anakim set the standard. Against them, in fact, all the other giants were measured. Moses himself confirmed their superiority when he wrote in his book this famous proverbial saying: "Who can stand before the sons of Anak?"35

The names of places that Moses recorded suggest the route the spies took followed "along the course of the Jordan in their advance, and their return was by the western border, through the territories of the Sidonians and Philistines."36 Thus it appears that, leaving the Maritime Plain, they entered the southern foothills and began a three-thousand-foot climb toward Kiriath Arba (later called Hebron), which the giants had built on the Judaean ridge's highest elevation.

Close by Kiriath Arba lay the cave of Machpelah where the revered Abraham, his wife Sarah, and some other Hebrew patriarchs were buried. So the twelve no doubt looked forward to this part of their journey. But some of them also experienced little alarms. They now trod deep in Anakim country. Every step brought them closer to this chief city and ancestral home of the giants. Here lived the feared giants Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai. They ruled the three tribes of the Anak, who were called by their names.37 From Sheshai's name we get some idea of their height. For Sheshai, declares Bochart, "refers to his stature, which measured six cubits," i.e., nine feet.38 The Anakim also occupied nearby Debir and Anab,39 and many others could be found living throughout the hill country of Judah. A significant number of these part-animal, part-man creatures had also established communities in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod on the Mediterranean coast.40

In the plural, Anakim means "people of the necklace" or "neck-piece," and so it is explained by the ancient rabbis. The name comes from anaq, the Hebrew word for "necklace."41 Moses, in Numbers 13:33, affirms that they descended from the Nephilim. Their uncommon height was, of course, enough to arouse in people of normal size some uneasiness. But the Anakim were also a fierce, half-wild people, given to deeds of great daring. Consequently, they loved war and regarded it as a normal way of life. So ingrained was their inclination to fight that when no common enemy could be found against whom they could exercise their natural belligerency, they fought among themselves.42 Such a hostile attitude, combined with their extraordinary stature, caused shivers in most people who came in contact with them.

We have, incidentally, other records besides the Bible that bear witness to the Anakim. The Execration Texts of the Twelfth Dynasty (c. 1900 B.C.), for instance, clearly reveal that the Egyptians regarded the huge Anakim as their enemy. Written on pottery vases and clay figurines, these official documents contained the names of actual and potential enemies of the state. They also enumerated Pharaoh's curses upon them. Prepared by the priest-sorcerers, these execrations supposedly gave Pharaoh great power over his foes. The Egyptians believed that when he ordered these vases or figurines smashed, the written curses immediately fell upon those named thereon. Professor Alan F. Johnson says one recovered text, now on display at the Berlin Museum, contains "an incantation directed towards certain enemy cities and territories among which are Palestinian areas and which names specific rulers of an area called 'Iy-'aneq'." These, he adds, "could well be the Anakim of biblical materials).... In Numbers 13:33, RSV, they are mentioned as descendants of the 'Nephilim'."43

Josephus offers another historical verification of the Anakim. Jews who lived at Hebron as late as his day, he remarks, occasionally dug up human bones of a gigantic size.44 A design from the interior of the great temple of Abu Simbel furnishes yet another proof. Presented at a meeting of the Syro-Egyptian Society in May, 1856, it depicted "the king contending with two men of large stature, light complexion, scanty beard, and having a remarkable load of hair pendant from the side of the head." Other representations of the same tall people were seen at the royal tombs of Biban-el-Moluk, at Medina Tabu, at Karnak, and at the tomb of Oimenepthah I, which Belzoni opened. On a wall of the latter tomb Belzoni found a picture representing a son of the Anak. He is depicted as tall and light-complexioned. In the hieroglyphic inscription Belzoni read his name as Tanmahu, "or, by elision, Talmia,' the name given to one of the tribes of the children of Anak."45

The above-mentioned inscriptions give us some idea of what the Anakim looked like: blond giants, without much beard, and with their hair done up in such a way as to seem somehow suspended--a fashion similar to the Pan-like hairstyles of the fair-skinned, fair-headed, necklace-wearing Celtic giants who later dominated much of Europe. Such then was the physical appearance of the giants that the spies saw as they entered Hebron. As they trudged the streets hawking their wares, it soon became evident to them that the three clans of Anakim giants ruled by Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai made up most of that city's population. Of course, with over two million former slaves to Pharaoh bivouacked near Canaan's southern border, the spies came under the giants' suspicion and close scrutiny. Some of them may even have been questioned. At least something happened on this visit that made a lasting impression on ten of the Hebrew scouts--something that gave them the idea that the much larger Anakim regarded them in the lowest esteem, as inconsequential as grasshoppers.

It probably was on this occasion that Ahiman spoke the words the ancient rabbis attribute to him. These doctors of Jewish tradition report that, of the three Anakim rulers, Ahiman was the most feared. They further claim that he enjoyed frightening passersby with this sporting invitation: "Whose brother will fight with me?"46 In any event, as they gazed up at these creatures, the hearts of ten spies melted within them. Only Caleb and Joshua kept their courage; no matter their size, they remained convinced that the Israelites could fight against them and drive them off God's land.

Upon taking their leave of Hebron, the spies remembered Moses' instructions to "bring back some of the fruit of the land"--to prove to all the congregation its extraordinary fertility. Gathering the samples presented no problem. It being now about mid-September, the surrounding country abounded with excellent produce. So the spies stopped in the valley of Eshcol that opened upon the city to pluck some pomegranates and figs and to cut off a branch bearing an enormous cluster of grapes. From ancient times, the Hebron region has been especially celebrated for its vineyards. Even today clusters from twelve to almost twenty pounds, with the grapes themselves being as large as small plums, can be found there. The spies tied the branch of grapes to a pole, along with the pomegranates and figs they had picked.47 Two men took turns carrying it.

The scanty vines the Israelites grew in Egypt had produced only small grapes. So when the reconnoitering party returned to Kadesh Barnea and showed their specimens of the land's fruitfulness, the enormous cluster of grapes quickly became the talk of the camp. As many Hebrews gathered around to hear their report on Canaan, the spies acknowledged that the land did indeed "flow with milk and honey," just as the Lord had said,48 and to prove it they exhibited to all the crowd the large, succulent grapes, the figs, and the pomegranates.

But ten of the spies then solemnly warned their fellow Hebrews: "We can't attack those people. The people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.... They are stronger than we are. 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."49

The ten spies said nothing that was not true. They had, for a fact, seen many giant Anakim in Canaan. The cities there were well-fortified. And the Canaanites bore weapons that were far superior to their poorly armed divisions. These things neither Caleb nor Joshua disputed. But both men dissented from the "evil report" by their ten frightened fellows. They instead urged the people: "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."50

Moses also pleaded with the alarmed multitude: "Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place."51

From his study of the archaeological diggings, Werner Keller came to sympathize with the disheartened Hebrews for the dilemma they faced at Paran. "The reports that the spies brought back telling of the strongly fortified cities of Canaan, 'great and walled up to heaven' (Deut. 1:28), and of their superbly armed inhabitants were not exaggerated," he says. "Turreted fortresses were to the children of Israel an unaccustomed and menacing sight. In the land of Goshen, which for many generations had been their home, there was only one fortified town, Raamses. In Canaan the fortresses were practically cheek by jowl. The country was plastered with them. Numerous strong points stared down from hilltops and mountain peaks, which made them look even more powerful and terrifying. Little wonder that the report of the scouts was shattering in its effect.

"Israel was quite unskilled in the use and manufacture of implements of war. They had at their disposal only the most primitive weapons--bows, javelins, swords, knives--but certainly no horse-drawn chariots which the Canaanites possessed in vast numbers. Israel was still spoiled by the 'fleshpots of Egypt,' for which the older people among them were continually sighing and bemoaning their present lot. Despite their new faith and the experiences of the Exodus which they had shared together, they were not yet welded into a community which would be prepared to risk a clash with superior forces."52

The congregation knew the ten alarmed spies as honorable men, trustworthy, "the bravest among their tribes." So what they said about Canaan and the giants carried a lot of weight. On the other hand, they did not trust Caleb and Joshua, because those two were too closely associated with Moses and too much under his influence. Supposing, then, from what they had heard from the others, that it was impossible to get possession of the promised land, all the Hebrew men numbered for war--a total of 603,550 above the age of twenty--flatly refused to go up. Caleb and Joshua tried to change their minds. But the more they sought to persuade the people the more agitated they became. As ill feelings against the two heightened, some in the crowd threatened to stone them. They also rebuffed Moses, shouting him down. They even began murmuring against God for bringing them into the wilderness to die.

"And when the congregation was dissolved," relates Josephus, "they, their wives and children, continued their lamentation. They also blamed Moses, and made a clamour against him and his brother Aaron, the high priest. Accordingly they passed that night very ill, and with contumelious language against them; but in the morning they ran to a congregation, intending to stone Moses and Aaron, and so to return back into Egypt."53

The 603,550 who refused to go up to battle because they feared the giant Anakim fell under immediate divine judgment. As punishment for their rebellion, Moses told them they must wander forty years in the wilderness--one year for each day they explored the land. He also advised them that only two men of the 603,550 previously numbered for war would live to enter the land. The carcasses of all the rest, he said, would fall in the desert. The two men who were to survive he identified as Caleb and Joshua. Moses also wrote in his journal that Caleb, as a reward for his faithfulness, would inherit the Anakim stronghold of Hebron and the surrounding territory forever.54

To pay for their insubordination, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness exactly forty years, according to Moses' word. The final days of that wandering brought them at last to the plains of Moab on the eastern side of the Salt Sea. Here, while making preparations for the Hebrews' opening attack upon Canaan, Moses ordered a second census taken. This numbering revealed an entirely new population of 601,730 men who were twenty and above and fit for war. According to the chronicler, not one man remained of those first numbered by Moses ... except Caleb and Joshua.55 All the rest of those formerly numbered in the Sinai wilderness, who had refused to enter Canaan on account of the giants, now lay buried in the desert. (See Abraham and the Giants; David vs Goliath; Israel's Wars with the Giants; Jericho's Giants; Sihon's and Og's Overthrow)

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