Gilbert, Sharon and Derek. Veneration. Crane, MO: Defender Publishing, 2019.
Sharon and Derek Gilbert offer far more than a popularized version of Michael Heiser’s work. Rather, they have given the first popular level account of the Rephaim, perhaps surpassing Heiser in some areas. Even though the book is heavily endnoted and contains the top scholarship on this topic, it does not come across as an academic book.
While I am on the same line of thought as the Gilberts concerning this material, they did challenge me in new areas. One of the difficulties facing any student is the Bible’s implication that there were Nephilim/Rephaim after the flood. The obvious problems are the fact that such a flood wouldn’t have been worldwide. Even more problematic is that the flood was supposed to kill off the Nephilim. The Gilberts, however, maintain that the post-flood references to the Nephilim weren’t about actual descendants of the Nephilim, but those who worshiped them (Gilbert and Gilbert 15). That solves the problem of the flood. On the other hand, many of the references to Nephilim/Rephaim after the flood do seem to be about actual giants (e.g., Og and Goliath).
The Gilberts point out that the Amorites believed that these mighty men (Nephilim) were the ancestors of their kings (14). Their spirits are called rapha. Goliath and others, yelide harapha, descendents of the giants, were an elite warrior cult (cf. l’Heroux, “The yelide harapha–A Cultic Association of Warriors.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research No. 221, (Feb. 1976), p. 83-85).
The Hebrew writings seem to bear this out. Isaiah, whether referring to the Primal Rebel or to the King of Babylon, or both, writes that “Sheol is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades (rephaim) to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth” (14:9).
The Titan Tribe
The Gilberts, following current research, link the Amorites with the Tidanu/Didanu tribe (Gilbert and Gilbert, 17; cf. Amar Annus, “Are there Greek Rephaim? On the etymology of Greek meropes and Titanes.” Ugarit-Forschungen 31 (1999), pp. 13-30.).
The Ugaritic texts dealing with the Rephaim called them “Warriors for Baal.” Anticipating his later argument, Gilbert notes that the mountain sacred to Baal, Mt Tsaphon, will be the rallying point for Gog’s end-times armies.
The Abominable Branch
While many scholars want to see Isaiah 14 as referring to the king of Babylon, there is evidence that another character is in play. The figure is said to seek “the mount of assembly/in the far reaches of the north.” Tsaphon is Baal’s mountain. True, it is compared with Mt Zion in Psalm 48, but Nebuchadnezzar doesn’t seem interested in Israel’s liturgical worship, which makes Ezekiel 38-39 a far more likely comparison.
The prophet calls the figure a “loathed branch” (18-19). It is the word netser. Netser is sometimes used as a god or divinized dead (cf, Christopher Hays, “An Egyptian Loanword in the Book of Isaiah and the Deir’ Alla Inscription: Heb. nsr, Aram. nqr, and Egy. ntr as “[Divinized] Corpse.” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections Vol. 4:2 (2012), p.18.). In other words, this is an Egyptian loanword that means ‘dead god.’ Here is where it gets strange: when the Primal Rebel is cast down to Sheol, the rephaim are already there (28).
The authors survey the data on ritual offerings to the dead in the ANE world. The dead never really went away. This might explain Rachel’s stealing her father’s Terabim, or household gods. Even more interesting, the Semitic word for father, ab, also means “entrance to the underworld” (Nicholas Wyatt, “After Death Has Us Parted,” in The Perfumes of Seven Tamarisks (Munster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014) p.261). If this is true, then it explains the cryptic reference to the Valley of the Travelers (Abarim) where Moses probably died and where the end-times armies will gather.
Ruins of the Travelers
The Gilberts do a good job demonstrating that the oberim are the Travelers in Ezekiel 38-39. We first note that the Travelers are “east of the Sea,” or in Moab. Here is the key point: if the oberim are the spirits of the ancestors, the Rephaim spirits, then this is the place where they cross over into the realm of the living (69).
Nergal = Respeph (“dLAMMA and Resep at Ugarit: The Hittite Connection.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 98:4, 465.)
Resheph = Apollo (Apollo was also a plague god).
Inanna = Queen of Heaven (145ff; possibly identified as Astarte).
Humbaba = Guardian of Mt Hermon (161)
Enki = Satan (185; Enki is the lord of the abzu, of the earth, the dead).
El = Dagon = Kronos (196)
They spend quite a bit of time on “dolmens,” elaborate stone structures. They see them as possible “communication” doorways (115).
Although I probably agree with the Gilberts’ central claims, I hesitate to recommend this book. Some of the problems are typical with Defenders Publishers: continuous endnotes instead of footnotes, the need to identify everyone as “Dr” or “Scholar” such-and-such, and the like. Those are stylistic differences and negligible. Other problems are more substantial. This book engages in far more “reaching” and speculation than others they have written. I have in mind chapter 7.
To be sure, the book is quite uneven. Nonetheless, there are fascinating suggestions and the bibliography is top-notch in terms of academic scholarship.