I Almost Made A Giant Error

I was working on an interesting post on a possible reflex of an Akkadian omen in the accounts of the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:32-33 (assuming they are the same) when something abnormal happened. A detailed look at the philology of the omen rendered any comparison very problematic.
Here’s the omen as translated by Leichty and von Soden, 126, “If a woman gives birth to a giant either male or female – a sinful man impregnated that woman in the street.”
It’s omen 69 from Šumma Izbu, tablet I. The ideogram complex that Leichty and von Soden translate “giant” is Á.KAM. But, despite their note on the omen and an ancient commentary on it, I can’t figure out why they translate Á.KAM this way. Based on the ancient commentary, the Akkadian reading is likely šeḫānu, which the dictionaries render “(an) ecstatic” mostly because it is related in another ancient commentary on a different Šumma Izbu omen to maḫḫȗ. Maḫḫȗ, a far more common word than šeḫānu, does indeed mean an ecstatic. But then the Semitic root ŠḪN means “(to) heat” in Ugaritic, Arabic and even in the Akkadian verb šaḫānu. So should we think of “feverish” here? The more I thought about this the less I saw a giant and giants should be quite easy to see.
Not only are there troubling philological questions about this omen, there are also other troubling questions about retrospective omens that reveal things concerning the circumstances under which a woman becomes pregnant.
Anyway, my ambition to have a post as big as Deane Galbraith’s posts at Remnant of Giants has been dashed.

Leichty, Erle, and Wolfram von Soden, The omen series Šumma izbu (Texts from cuneiform sources, vol. 4; Locust Valley, N.Y., J.J. Augustin, 1970).

4 thoughts on “I Almost Made A Giant Error”

  1. But interesting, all the same.
    Some say a search for Mesopotamian giants is futile:
    ‘ … the mixing and mingling between humans and gods as a result of sexual intercourse and also the emergence of heroes and giants—have no parallels in Mesopotamia. As a matter of fact, one might say these appear rather alien in the Ancient Near Eastern context. If I may add a little anecdote: When I presented the episode of the “Angel Marriages” to a colleague of mine in the Ancient Near Eastern Department of the University of Heidelberg and asked him to comment on it from his point of view, he wrinkled his nose, picked up the copy with noticeable distaste and said to me: “Perhaps you should take this to the Classics department”’ (Andreas Schüle, “The Divine-Human Marriages (Genesis 6:1–4) and the Greek Framing of the Primeval History.” Theologische Zeitschrift 65 (2009): 116-128, 122).
    Possibly a little over-stated, but “about” right.

  2. I’ve never really pondered on the tales of the biblical Nephilim I grew up with as a kid. Now that I have some historical knowledge on my toolbelt and now that you’ve mentioned it, I start to wonder where it all comes from.
    I don’t know about Mesopotamian mythos, but in nearby Hurrian mythos there’s the “giant stone monster” Ullikummi. He grew up to reach the heavens and threatened the gods.

  3. …not to be impertinent, but have you already found a solution to this question? I had never thought of a parallel to the biblical Nephilim in the Mesopotamian corpus, so I am quite curious if there has been any progress.

  4. dumu-edubba-a,
    No, I still haven’t figured it out but I’m open to suggestions. I know of no Nephilim parallel in Mesopotamia. Deane Galbraith, who more or less specializes in giants these days, didn’t point to one. He also dabbles in things Akkadian. I’m sure that if Deane had known a Mesopotamian parallel he would have mentioned it here or on his own blog.

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