Veneration (Gilbert and Gilbert)

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 Rephaim

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.

Chapter 2

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).

Amorite Afterlife

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.


Bibliography from Veneration

This is a condensed bibliography from Derek Gilbert’s Veneration

Conrad l’Heureux, “The yelide harapa—A Cultic Association of Warriors.” Bulletin of the American
Schools of Oriental Research
No. 221, (Feb., 1976), pp. 83-85.

E. C. B. MacLaurin, “Anak/ʾανξ.” Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 15, Fasc. 4 (Oct., 1965), pp. 468-474.

Brian B. Schmidt, “Israel’s Beneficent Dead: The Character and Origin of Israelite Ancestor Cults and
Necromancy.” (Oxford: University of Oxford doctoral thesis, 1991), pp. 158–159.

Amar Annus, “Are There Greek Rephaim? On the Etymology of Greek Meropes and Titanes.” UgaritForschungen 31 (1999), pp. 13–30.

Amar Annus, “On the Origin of Watchers: A Comparative Study of the Antediluvian Wisdom in
Mesopotamian and Jewish Traditions,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha vol. 19:4 (2010), pp. 277–320.

Christopher B. Hays, “An Egyptian Loanword in the Book of Isaiah and the Deir ʾAlla Inscription: Heb. nsṛ, Aram. nqr, and Eg. nṯr as “[Divinized] Corpse.” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections Vol. 4:2
(2012), p. 18.

George C. Heider, The Cult of Molek: A Reassessment (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1985), pp. 90-91.

Brian R. Doak, “Ezekiel’s Topography of the (Un-)Heroic Dead in Ezekiel 32:17–32.” Journal of
Biblical Literature
, Vol. 132, No. 3 (2013), p. 611.

Ronald S. Handel, “Of Demigods and the Deluge: Toward an Interpretation of Genesis 6:1–4.” Journal of
Biblical Literature
106 (1987), p. 22.

Frölich, Ida (2014). “Mesopotamian Elements and the Watchers Traditions”, in The Watchers in Jewish and
Christian Traditions
(ed. Angela Kim Hawkins, Kelley Coblentz Bautch, and John Endres; Minneapolis:
Fortress), p. 23.

Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism

Reicke, Bo. Disobedient Spirits and Christian Baptism: A Study of 1 Peter III.19 and its Context. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005 [1943].

Bo Reicke’s monograph remains probably the definitive text on the descent of Christ to the underworld.  Although a critical scholar himself, Reicke understands the text to be about those spirits who rebelled around Noah’s time and are currently locked below Sheol.  Reicke’s work is extremely difficult, as he has long passages in Greek and Syriac that aren’t always translated.  Reader betware.

First problem:  What is the connection between 3:19 and 4:6?  In the history of exegesis, it was tempting for early fathers to conflate the two verses into referring to the same event.  An unfortunate result was something like universalism.  If it wasn’t universalism, it seemed to read the obedient fathers in the Old Testament as the disobedient spirits in prison, which also seemed wrong.

Another possibility, perhaps even more bizarre, is that these referred to disobedient Old Testament persons who were converted by the preaching of Christ (Reicke 27).

Athanasius: connects 3:19 with the traditional “descent” view (Ep. ad Epict, sect. 5).

Syriac tradition:  Standard Hollensturmung motif.  Quite lyrical poetry but nothing really new.

Augustine: Did not think 3:19 referred to the descensus ad infernos. He correctly notes that the text says nothing about the righteous dead.  To be sure, Christ did go down to the realm of the dead or underworld. So far Augustine’s interpretation is quite good.  He then says that the text means Christ appeared to the spiritually dead on earth, which is not what the text says. We can credit Augustine for intellectually separating the descent from 1 Pet. 3:19, but we cannot follow his allegorical interpretation of it.

Bellarmine:  Correctly notes that it refers to the underworld, but he tries to tie it in with Purgatory.  The same difficulties mentioned above apply here.

Scholastic Lutheranism: Correctly rejected the allegorical spiritualism of older Protestantism.  They saw it as Christ manifesting his power over defeated spirits (45).  This has the right idea but it seems forced onto the Noahic context.

Who are the Spirits in Verse 19?

The first observation is that the spirits are connected with the flood story itself (52). Noting that the two possibilities are either fallen angels or human souls, Reicke points out that pneumata is not used in the NT of living humans and phylake in the NT refers to a subterranean compartment (53).

Moreover, if Peter wanted to speak about the dead, he wouldn’t have used pneuma, but psyche (54).  On the other hand, after admitting there are some exceptional cases where pneuma could refer to a dead spirit, Reicke points out that in the literature men, Watchers, and giants are often lumped together.  Paul does the same thing with various categories of angels:  rulers, principalities, etc.

Reiki then goes into an extended analysis on the text of Enoch.  None of this was new to me, having been an adherent to the supernatural worldview for quite some time.  It’s good material, though.  His main argument is that the ideas of 1 Enoch were the background for 1-2 Peter and Jude.  We can say, “God inspired them.”  That is true.  He also inspired them with quotations from Enoch in the context of ‘the angels who sinned.’  

The point common to all passages–Jude/Peter, Enoch, and Genesis 6–is that the motif of Flood is tied with imprisoned spirits who sinned (73).

It’s rare to find a critical scholar give a perceptive analysis of spiritual warfare, but Reicke does just that.  He probably didn’t intend it, which makes it even more illuminating.  He notes that “the evil spirits, pneumata, who are the forms in which the Giants appear on the earth, are thought to belong not only to the past but also to the contemporary world” (79).

1 Cor. 11 is one example.  Anticipating modern scholarship, Reicke connects the Watchers with the angels.  Reicke: “It is difficult here to avoid thinking of the well-known account of how the angels in prehistoric times were lured by the physical beauty of the women on earth. It may be noticed that 1 Cor. xi is dealing with women as they exercise their cult and pray.  And then they were of course in a special way exposed to attack from higher beings like the Angels” (82).

Reicke also connects the Giants in Genesis 6 with the Rephaim (Josh. 13:12, Job 26:5, Isa. 14:9). Reicke suggests a connection not often made in the literature: the demons and/or giants are representatives of the Fallen Watchers (85).  Even if the Watchers are chained in Tartarus, they can still influence the world.  Most amillennialists believe Satan to be currently bound but still able to influence the world.

The final point is identifying Angels/Watchers/Fallen Angels with stars.  This seems fairly standard in the literature and is well-attested in Patristic literature (cf. Ephrem the Syrian). Stars are associated both with earthly kings and fallen Watchers.  There is a close parallel between the Book of Enoch and Isaiah 24:18-22.  This same language now fits quite easily with Jude’s condemnation of “wandering stars.”

Second problem: It’s hard to see how Noah could preach to the spirits in prison.  The text itself says the spirits were already in prison in the days of Noah (99).  If that is the case, then the “spirits” can’t be the ungodly who were watching Noah build the ark.  One possible explanation is that it was Christ preaching through Enoch. Reicke notes that the Greek doesn’t allow that possibility and so concludes that it was Christ preaching.  The question remains: why did Peter seem to tie this in with the Enoch narrative?

Christ is then a New Enoch.  That fits with biblical theology.  Christ is the second Adam, the Greater David, etc. The main clause is the ἐν ᾧ clause.  To whom or what does it refer? Reicke surveys the linguistic arguments on 104ff. 

Whatever else we may think of the esoteric elements of the passage, there is a more obvious question: why did Peter bring in the Noahic elements in the first place?  Most summaries of the gospel don’t include a descent to the shades in the underworld.

What is Baptism?

Peter wants to reject baptism as a mere washing away of dirt or a ritual ceremony (188).  Reicke’s comments are refreshing.  Rather than rehash debates over to what degree baptism saves or regenerates, Reicke keeps the discussion where the text does: in the context of the disobedient spirits who are behind heathen world powers.  Because of the resurrection, baptism gives Christians the freedom from fear of these powers (199).


The locus classicus for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15.  Every apologetics ministry claims this verse.  If you place the verse within its larger context, you will see it has nothing to do with said ministries.  It is more about humility and freedom from the demon kings of the underworld.

Review of Michael Heiser, Demons

Heiser, Michael.  Demons.  Lexham Press.

I’ve been preparing this review for about 4 years.  True, Heiser’s book has only been out around a year or so, but I knew he would write this book and I wanted to be ready.  He does not disappoint.  It is the only book of its kind.  There are evangelical texts analyzing what the Bible teaches on demons, but they either repeat cliches or only engage with a surface level reading of the text.  Unger’s is good, but he doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.  Clinton Arnold’s work is fantastic, but only focused on the New Testament.  Heiser’s is one of the first that deal with the best of critical scholarship, yet from an evangelical standpoint.  

Demons and the Dead

Early OT language about the demonic overlaps with terms used for the realm of the dead.  The key concept is that of the Rephaim.  The Rephaim could be giants or shades of the dead (1 Chr. 20:4; Isa. 26:14; Job 26:5).  At least at death they are seen as “supernatural residents of the underworld” (Heiser, loc. Cit. 345).  They were part of the giant clans specifically targeted by Moses and Joshua (Deut. 3:11, 13; Josh. 12:4; 13:12).  They are linked to the Anakim (Deut. 2:10-11).  The Anakim, as you no doubt remember, descended from the Nephilim (Num. 13:33; Gen. 6:4).

Heiser later does linguistic analyses on “Spirits,” the ob, obot, oberim; “those who have passed over.” While there are locations such as Oboth and Abarim in the Transjordan, a tantalizing clue is given in Ezekiel 39:11, The Valley of the Travellers.”  Archeology has shown the remains of megalithic minutes referring to the dead and the underworld.

Knowing one: Deut. 18:9-14 condemns sorcery, which is no surprise.  One practice would have been “utilizing the services of so’el ob we-yiddeoni” (440).  Lev. 19:31 links these knowing ones with the spirits of the oboth (side point: the KJV is actually a better translation on this one).

Azazel.  One reason Azazel simply can’t be the goat offered in Leviticus 16 is that a goat is offered for Yahweh and another for Azazel.  Leviticus 17 gives a bit more information, as it mentions “goat demons.”  The key point is not that a sacrifice is being offered to a goat demon.  Rather, the sins of Israel are being banished outside of the holy realm.

Original Rebel

This is largely a recap from his earlier works dealing with the passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel.  He acknowledges that the passages originally address a human king.  The point, though, is that the prophet’s speech draws upon elements of a primeval rebellion.  Yes, he is talking to the king of Tyre/Babylon, but no one seriously believes the king of Tyre was in the garden of Eden at the beginning of time.

Some say it refers neither to angel nor king, but to Adam in the garden.  There are some weaknesses to that approach.  For one, Adam doesn’t appear anywhere in the texts.  Further, as Heiser notes, we would have to presume “things about Adam that are not in the Genesis episode of the fall” (loc. 1497). Nor do we have any evidence that Adam ever served in the divine council or fancied himself a god.

As to the figure being thrown down to “earth,” Heiser notes places where eretz can mean the underworld (Jonah 2:6) “where ancient warrior-kings await their comrades in death” (Ezek. 32.21, 24-3o).  The divine rebel was sent to the realm of the dead, the underworld.

Satan in Second Temple Judaism

Interestingly enough, Azazel in 1 Enoch functions as the Satan figure.  The OT really didn’t make an overt identification between the Serpent and Satan.  The Serpent was seen as God’s arch-enemy, but as satan was more of a common noun, few made the connection.  This connection, however, is clearly seen by the time of the NT writers.

On the other hand, Azazel could function as the leader of the Watchers (Gen. 6:1-4; 1 En. 8:1).  On the other hand, Azazel is the tenth fallen angel listed, so he probably isn’t the leader.

While the name Belial never refers to a personal being in the OT, it clearly does in the NT. How would NT writers and readers have made the connection?  They did so by means of the intertestamental worldview (Martyr. Is. 2.4; 4.2, etc).  By the time of the NT Belial is more or less the same as “Satan.”

Demons in Second Temple Judaism

This chapter summarizes largely technical concepts and reception of texts like 1 Enoch in the intertestamental period. The one new point that I noticed was his reference to the 3rd century African bishop Commodianus (ch. 3) who linked “the disembodied existence of the giants after their death” to the existence of demons.  Does the Bible, though, say this?  Not directly, but it does give a hint that any early reader would have seen. The Rephaim lived in the underworld and were the spirits of warrior-kings.

Third Divine Rebellion: Chaos in the Nations

As in his earlier works, he links the Tower of Babel incident with the “Deuteronomy 32 worldview.”  I won’t repeat the arguments here. One question that always comes up with his take on Psalm 82 is “when” did this happen?  When did God decide to judge the corrupt elohim?  The Bible doesn’t directly say.

Cosmic Geography

Deut. 32:9 says Israel is Yahweh’s portion and “his allotted heritage.”  With reference to Azazel, deserts are often thought to be the realm of demons (something the early church echoed).  When David has to leave Israel, he says he has been “driven away from the inheritance of Yahweh” (1 Sam. 26:19).

Daniel 10:13, 20 gives the clearest, if briefest reference to cosmic geography.

The Devil and His Angels

If the Hebrew term shaitan was ambiguous, the Greek term Satanos is not.  It clearly refers to the arch-rebel.  It is interesting, however, that “Beelzebub,” the god of Ekron (2 Kgs 1:2-3) is now identified with Satanos. On the other hand, the lemma ba’al in the name could refer back to a more generic Hebrew reading, meaning prince on high, referring to Satan’s leadership.

It is not arbitrary that the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness, as that is the home of Azazel and Lillith.

What is a demon?

One problem is that we think we already know what this term means.  The fact that we don’t connect biblical dots and that we get our theology from post-Catholic pop culture only makes it worse.  This lets Jungian gnostics and others reinterpret demon as “dark psyche” within all of us.  And if you get your theology from pop culture, it’s hard to argue with them.

A demon is an evil spirit (Matt. 8:31). It’s also called “an unclean spirit.”  Note that it is not called a fallen angel.  Unclean spirit is far more precise and calls the reader back to how “clean/unclean” functioned in a biblical worldview.  Something is unclean when it is an unnatural mixture and/or was in contact with dead corpses (hint: Nephilim).

The Ruling Powers

Paul’s language of “rulers, principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, world rulers” echoes the Deuteronomy 32 worldview.  These are geographical terms. While they sometimes denote physical rulers, Ephesians 6:12, linking them to heavenly places, makes that impossible here.


Heiser correctly notes that a Christian can’t be “possessed” by a demon.  He also points out that possession is the wrong word, in any case.  He also rebuts the Peter Wagner school of Strategic Level Warfare Ministry.  Wagner correctly notes that the bible speaks of cosmic geography.  The problem is that the NT authors never seem interested in casting out lieutenant demons before getting to the generals.

I agree with Heiser that the NT never lists exorcism as a weapon to use; the fact of the matter is that the NT does use it.  But in any case, neither Heiser nor I would sanction the bizarre types of exorcism seen in Roman Catholic culture.  The best antidote to demonic activity is simply spiritual hygiene.

Some Criticisms

While the book is easily the best of its kind, it does run into a few difficulties. There is a lot of repetition in this book, both from his earlier works and from within this work.  Some of that can’t be helped.  He assumes–with reason–that not all readers will have been familiar with his earlier works.  That said, if you have read his earlier works then you more or less know the arguments relating to Enoch, apkallu, and the like.  

That’s not to say there is no new material in the book. There is, and it is good.  

Last Clash of the Titans

Gilbert, Derek P. The Last Clash of the Titans. Defender Publishing, 2018.

Derek Gilbert’s unique skill is in summarizing the very difficulty academic scholarship and placing it in a template that a) makes sense for the reader and b) puts the reader on an eschatological “high alert.”

Study notes here:

Idols were lifeless.  That’s the point.  They functioned, rather, as an antenna. 

Chapter 1: Background

Gilbert quickly goes over the Nephilim thesis, including the faulty reading of Genesis 6.  If this merely refers to the line of Seth, and not to semi-divine beings, then why: a) did they produce giants and b) why were all the Sethite boys good and the Cainite girls bad? c) how did good boys and bad girls produce giants? (Gilbert  loc. 144).

Further, as Gilbert notes, the two surviving sons are mentioned “nowhere in Genesis 6, so reading Seth and Cain into an interpretation” is eisegesis. Appealing to Jesus’s passage in Matt. 22:30 only dodges the hard question.  Jesus was talking about procreation, and he said they only couldn’t do it in heaven. When angels, for lack of a better word, get to earth they can do human things.

Chapter 2: Gods of the Amorites

Mountain cosmology: “the mount of assembly of the divine rebel in Eden is the holy mountain of the Caananite storm god” (1206).  It is Mt. Zaphon, today’s mountain Jebel al-Aqra.

Rephaim: Lords of the Corpse

The etymology of the Rephaim is difficult to discern.  On one hand the lemma rp can simply denote healer and is sometimes used of Yahweh (cf Michael L. Brown, Israel’s Divine Healer). In terms of spiritual warfare (and the Canaanite invasion) it has a darker background.  Some Rephaim were kings, such as Og and Sihon.  Other times they are described as spirits of the dead (Job 26.5; Ps. 88.10).

Isaiah 14 links the Rephaim to Baal and Gog.  It describes the shades (rapha) as rising to greet Lucifer (or he who inhabited Mt. Zaphon, more on that later).

Mt. Zaphon (tsaphon) is in what biblical writers called “the far north,” modern day Syria.  Since that marked the northern end of an invasion route, it made sense to see it as the far north.  It is in the area of Bashan and Hermon, the location to which the fallen Watchers descended and the gate to the underworld.

Chapter 4: From Mesopotamia to Greece

In Greek mythology the Titan Kronos was sent to Tartarus.  Gilbert makes clear this isn’t simply another word for Hades.  Peter knew that term and used it elsewhere (Acts 2:27, 30).  This was a specific place for the “angels who sinned” (who 1 Enoch calls the Watchers and the Mesopotamians call the apkallu; the Greeks call them the Titans).  This means, quite obviously, that fallen angels aren’t demons, since demons are anywhere but the abyss/Tartarus when we see them in the gospels.

It is Gilbert’s argument that the Rephaim “are the demigod sons of the Watchers” (67).

Gilbert points out that in Ugaritic/Amorite cosmology, it took three days for the dead Rephaim to respond to the summoning ritual (KTU 1.21.ii: 1-7).  While we don’t know much about the ontology of the netherworld, we do know that Jesus proclaimed (not preached) to spirits in prison.  Further, Peter mentions these spirits in prison in connection with Noah, referring back to Genesis 6 (and forever demolishing the Sethite thesis). 


Gilbert skillfully dismantles the claim that Gog = Russia.  The Hebrew rosh refers to Gog as a prince, not to Rosh as a place, which some take to be Russia.  Even though the text mentions “the uttermost parts of the north,” to an Israelite this would have been obvious by its very name: tsaphon.  It would have been Mt. Zaphon. The names Ezekiel gives are all in present-day Turkey.  Even more, the war will “bring fire on Magog’s coastlands. Russia has never been a coastal power.

Therefore, we aren’t looking at a geographical north, but a cosmic north (Gilbert 120).  This war is between Mt Zaphon and Mt Zion–it is a “supernatural war for control of the mount of assembly, the har mo’ed (122).

So who is Gog?  The location puts him/it in Turkey, seeming to make him an Islamic leader.  That might not be right, though.  The language of the war is spiritual, located in the cosmic north on the slopes of Mt. Zaphon.  Gilbert doesn’t think he is Baal, though, even though we are at the location of Baal’s mountain.  Gog is Antichrist, which means he can’t be Lucifer or Baal.

Valley of the Travelers

This is the neatest part of the book.  I think there is sufficient evidence to see the Rephaim as the spirits of dead kings, probably Nephilim.  They are currently in the underworld.  Ezekiel 39:11, having documented Yahweh’s slaughter of Gog’s forces, talks about blocking the valley of the Travellers.  This valley is “east of the Sea,” which Gilbert posits as east of the Dead Sea.

The Hebrew word for traveller is oberim, based on ‘br.  It means to “pass from one side to the other.”  What Gilbert is arguing is that it means to pass from one plane of existence to another.  Numbers 21:10-11) mentions the Israelites camping at Oboth and Iye-abarim opposite Moab. Oboth derives from ‘ob, “which refers to summoning spirits of the dead” (Tropper, J. “Spirit of the Dead.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (Leiden; Boston; Koln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans), p. 806).

This is the same area where Moses was buried in, “a place where the Rephaim spirits reputedly crossed over to the land of the living. Is that why Satan, lord of the dead, thought he had a right to claim the body of Moses after his death” (Gilbert132)?  This is the same area where Israel was ensnared by Baal Peor.  Peor means “open wide” (Spronk, K. “Baal of Peor.”  In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.) (Leiden; Boston; Koln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans), p. 147).  He is the lord of the entrance to the underworld. 

But does this actually prove the Rephaim were the Travellers in view?  According to ancient texts, probably.  Ugaritic texts specifically referred to the Rephaim as “travellers” (KTU 1.22 ii, 20-27; I, 15).  In connection with Ezekiel, these spirits are going to be at Har Mo’ed.

One of the problems with Armageddon taking place at Megiddo is that Jesus is supposed to land at the Mount of Olives, which is more than fifty miles away.

Gilbert ends by identifying Antichrist as the Chaos figure (Tiamat, Leviathan, Typhon).  Interestingly enough, Irenaeus said Antichrist would be a Titan (Adv. Haer. V.30).

This is not an academic text, but Gilbert has marshaled the best scholarship and we, the readers, are given the opportunity of evaluating the evidence.  On several new points, while not intending to be a scholarly text, Gilbert has broken fresh ground.  

Rephaim: Dictionary Deities Demons

In 1 Sam. 21:15ff, they are giants with six digits. The author argues that the appearances in the poetic texts shouldn’t be conceptually identified. In Isaiah 14 they are identified with all the kings of the earth. They belong to the Netherworld, the Pit (vv. 9, 14). In Job 26:5 they are located beneath the waters under the earth.

The picture is somewhat different in the historical books, though not as much as the author suggests.  Og is the last of the Rephaim (Dt. 3:11). They lost a battle in Gen. 14.

1 Enoch 6-14 attempts to tie these traditions together, noting that they are giants from the netherworld.

My own opinion is that they were a race of giants, an offshoot of one of the Nephilim clans.  They were also royalty who have now been assigned to Sheol.  There are hints in Ezek. 40-48 that they might be unleashed in the Apocalypse.

Bashan (Dictionary Demons Deities)


(G. Del Olmo Lette).  “For the Caananites of Ugarit, the Bashan region, or a part of it, clearly represented ‘Hell’, the celestial and infernal abode of their deified dead kings” (162).  Further, Bashan is the land of the Rephaim (Dt. 3.13). The author gives a good analysis of the contrast between Bashan and Mt Zion in Psalm 68, a contrast that is often lost in modern translations.

In Psalm 68.15 Bashan is the har elohim, which is usually translated as the mountain of God.  But that’s incoherent in the text. It is being contrasted with Zion, so it would then read,

“Why do you look with hatred, O mountain of God, at the mountain of God?”

But if elohim is taken as a plural, then it makes perfect sense:

“Why do you look with hatred, O mountain of gods, at the mountain of God?”  That’s an actual contrast.“

Basics of Ancient Ugaritic


Williams, Michael.  Basics of Ancient Ugaritic.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2012.

While this presentation has severe limitations, in many ways those limitations aid the intermediate reader in Hebrew studies.  As is commonly pointed out, the vocabulary between Hebrew and Ugaritic is almost identical in places. This aids the Hebrew student. Further, Ugaritic concepts (or perhaps concepts common to both Ugaritic and Hebrew) shed light on sometimes ambiguous Hebrew passages.

If you study this book, you won’t be able to read cuneiform.  That’s not really a drawback, since never in your life will you be in a situation where you will need to do that.  Therefore, Michael Williams simply transliterates the cuneiform. That is valuable for the Hebrew student since he can see parallels between the two languages and cultures.

As lagniappe, I will summarize Williams’ chapter on the conceptual world of ancient Ugarit.

The Ugaritic World


  • El, father of the gods and head of pantheon.
    • Ba’al, Anat, and Mot are his children.
    • Aged deity who does not actively rule. In Ezekiel 28:2 the King of Tyre says, “I am El, king of the gods.”
    • He lives on a cosmic mountain
  • Ba’al
    • His name means lord.
    • Defeats the sea god, Yamm, and the dragon Lotan.
    • Associated with the weathe.
    • He lives on Mt Zaphon
  • Anat, sister and consort of Ba’al.
  • Athirat/Asherah.
    • The great goddess, consort of El.
    • Worshipped in Tyre and Sidon primarily, perhaps explains Jezebel’s actions (1 Kgs 16:31-32, passim)
    • Associated with a cultic pole or phallic symbol (Deut. 16:21; 7:5).
  • Yamm, the Sea
    • Son of El, enemy of Ba’al
    • Sometimes associated with Lotan (Heb. liwyatan) or Tunnan (tannin).
    • Bible mentions a cosmological battle with the Sea (Ps. 74:13. 89:9-10).
  • Mot.
    • God of Death. Enemy of Ba’al.

Literary Figures

Who is Dan’el? See Ezek. 14:14, 20, and 28:3.

Lotan = Leviathan

Rephaim: these are the inhabitants of the underworld (Williams 21ff). They are rapa’uma.  The key passage is Isaiah 14:9, “The realm of the dead is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the repa’im to greet you, all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones–all those who were kings over nations.”

But they aren’t just demon kings of the underworld.  There was perhaps a parallel race above. King Og was the last of the Rephaites” (Deut. 3:11).

Review: Lost World Canaanite Conquest

The book was a sheer joy to read. It was accessible yet maintained the highest rigors of scholarship.  John and John Walton affirm the historicity of the conquest narrative, yet they avoid “easy” answers often given by evangelical apologists.  They invite us to enter the thought-world of an ancient Hebrew. They do so by outlining 21 propositions (see below)See the source image

Walton’s propositions:

  1. Reading the Bible consistently means reading it as an ancient document.
  2. We should approach the problem of the conquest by adjusting our expectations about what the Bible is.
  3. The Bible does not define Goodness for us or tell us how to produce goodness, but instead tells us about the goodness God is producing.
  4. The bible teaches clearly and consistently that affliction by God cannot be automatically attributed to the wrongdoing of the victim.
  5. None of the usual textual indicators for divine retribution occur in the case of the Canaanites.
  6. Genesis 15:16 does not indicate that the Canaanites were committing sin.
  7. Neither the Israelites nor the Canaanites are depicted as stealing each other’s rightful property.
  8. The people of the land are not indicted for not following the stipulations of the covenant, and neither is Israel expected to bring them into the covenant.
  9. Ancient law codes such as Lev. 18-20 are not lists of rules to be obeyed, and therefore the Canaanites cannot be guilty of violating them.
  10. Holiness is a status granted by God; it is not earned through moral performance, and failing to have it does not subject one to judgment.
  11. You can’t make a comparison between the Canaanites expulsion from the land and the Israelites’ exile.
  12. The depiction of the Canaanites In Leviticus and Deuteronomy is a sophisticated appropriation of a common ANE literary device.
  13. Behaviors that are described as detestable are to be contrasted with ideal behavior under the Israelite covenant.
  14. The imagery of the conquest account recapitulates creation.
  15. Herem does not mean utterly to destroy.
  16. Herem against communities focuses only destroying identity, not killing people of certain ethnicities.
  17. The wars of the Israelite conquest were fought in the same manner as all ancient wars.
  18. Rahab and the Gideonites are not exceptions to the Herem.
  19. The logic of the Herem in the event of the conquest operates in the context of Israel’s vassal treaty.
  20. The OT, including the conquest account, provides a template for interpreting the NT, which in turn gives insight into God’s purposes for today.
  21. The application of Herem in the New Covenant is found in putting off our former identity.

Examination of his Propositions

P(1) – (2) should be noncontroversial.  The Bible is an ancient semitic document and it should read like one.  It has different assumptions on “what is the worst that could happen?” For us, the worst that could happen in life is genocide or famine.  For a Hebrew it was an improper burial and being forgotten (Ecclesiastes).

P(3) is problematic in how it is stated, though I know what they are getting at. The Bible isn’t a manual for ethics or law, but I do think it gives more detail about “goodness” than they allow.  But they do raise a good point about justice and goodness: justice in the ancient world is tied to order, not so much about “getting what is owed me.”

P(4)-(8)  In many cases, this is John 9.  Walton’s argument is that the Canaanites aren’t simply being driven out of the land “because they are bad.”  I think they are much worse than Walton makes out, but his point holds. The Canaanites are losing their land because God promised the land to Israel.

But what about God’s saying that he will expel/vomit Israel out like he did the Canaanites?  True, Walton downplays that objection. ~8. “No nation other than Israel is ever reprimanded for serving other gods” (79). That kind of makes sense, since Yahweh had disinherited the nations in Genesis 10 and given them over to the beney elohim.

P(10) Good reflection against Pelagianism.  Holiness (qds) Doesn’t mean my good behavior that I have accumulated.  Objects and land in the OT are holy, yet they aren’t moral agents.

P(12) That might be true, but if the Canaanites were guilty of these actions, and if there were demonic Nephilim and Rephaim in the land, then full-scale slaughter was warranted.

P(13) His argument is that the Hebrew ra is relative to the covenant, and not an absolute standard. Nevertheless, one hopes that bestiality and child sacrifice is universally evil.

Demons and idolatry: demons were extraneous to the ANE ritual system.


“The etymology of the words enforcest he unworldly aspects of the enemy, similar to the monstrous bird-men of the Cuthean legend” (148).

“The Rephaim are most commonly associated with the spirits of dead kings, specifically” (149).

Emim: comes from the root word “ema” which would therefore mean “terrible ones” (cited in Eugene Carpenter, “Deuteronomy,” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Background Commentary, Old Testament, I:432.

P(14) This was a beautiful chapter.  The conquest narrative is much more than a typological recapitulation of creation.  In being such it shows Yahweh’s victory of chaotic cthonic forces.

P(15)-(16) Herem does involve a lot more killing than modern readers are comfortable with, but that isn’t the point of herem.  It was killing an identity. And it can’t mean total destruction. While gold and metals are herem, Bronze Age technology simply couldn’t destroy and un-atomize these metals.

However, Walton failed to note that most of the cities targeted were those with a heavy presence of Anakim and Rephaim.

Notes on Heiser’s Supernatural

This is a cliffs-notes version of his longer Unseen Realm.

Key argument: “In at least some cases, God decrees what he wants done but gives his supernatural agents freedom to decide what it means” (23).

Image of God

Genesis says God says “Create in our image” and it says God created in his image.”  Since God is speaking to the Divine council and not the Trinity, this means that the Council and God (and presumably we) have something in common (29). We are to image God’s rule on earth.

Divine Rebellions

The Old Testament never says there was an angelic rebellion (37).  Revelation 12:7-12 is talking about the birth of Christ.  There was another corporate transgression, but it was the beings in Genesis 6. Peter and Jude say that these angels are placed in eternal darkness under chains. If we take 1 Enoch seriously (and Peter and Jude) did, then from these beings came the Nephilim, and when the Nephilim died, their spirits became demons.

The physical descendants of the Nephilim are called the Anakim and the Rephaim (Numb. 13:32-33; Deut. 2:10-11; some of these Rephaim show up in the underworld realm of the dead (Isai. 14:9-11).

Cosmic Geography

Deuteronomy 32 Worldview:  Geography in the Bible is cosmic (52).

  • Daniel 9-10: foreign nations are ruled by divine princes.
  • 1 Sam. 26:19: David fears being in a land of foreign gods.
  • 2 Kgs 5: Namaan takes Israelite dirt back
  • Paul uses a range of terms for divine, hostile beings–thrones, principalities, powers

Nota Bene:

  1. Angels don’t have wings.  Cherubim do, but they are never called angels (Heiser 19).
  2. Any disembodied spirit is an elohim (Gen. 1:1; Deut. 32:17; 1 Samuel 28:13; Heiser 20).
  3. God has a supernatural task force (1 Kgs 22:19-23; Ps. 82:1).