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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:4, Winter 2022

Epistles: Biblical Profile: The Riddle of the Rephaim

By Jonathan Yogev

Biblical Archaeology Review

The identification of the beings known as “Rephaim” in biblical and ancient Near Eastern sources has caused much bewilderment throughout the years. Biblical dictionaries and encyclopedias usually provide two main meanings for the word: (1) ghosts or shades of the dead, and (2) a mythical and ancient race of giants. These meanings are mostly derived from the mentions of the Rephaim in the Bible.

The Rephaim appear in the Bible in a variety of contexts. Here are some examples (author’s translation):

Only King Og of the Bashan was left of the remaining Rephaim. His bedstead, an iron bedstead, is now in Rabbah of the Ammonites; it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide, by a standard cubit.

Deuteronomy 3:11

After this, fighting broke out with the Philistines at Gezer; that was when Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Sipai, a descendant of the Rephaim, and they were humbled.

1 Chronicles 20:4

Do you work wonders for the dead? Do Rephaim rise to praise you?

Psalm 88:11-12

It will save you from the forbidden woman, from the alien woman whose talk is smooth. … Her house sinks down to Death, and her course leads to the Rephaim.

Proverbs 2:16-18

The dead will not live, the Rephaim will not rise, you punished them and brought them to ruin; you wiped out all memory of them.

Isaiah 26:14

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