Did Anakim Giants Actually Exist or Are They a Fairytale?
- G. Connor Salter SEO Editor
- 2021 9 Nov
There are moments in the Old Testament where we learn about people or places that sound strange and interesting, but we get surprisingly little information about them. The Anakim are one of those instances, especially since what little we know connects them to other mysteries.
Who Were the Anakim in the Bible?
The Anakim (also called the Anakites, as in Deuteronomy 9:2) were descended from Anak, who was a descendant of a man named Arba (Joshua 15:13). Easton’s Bible Dictionary states that based on what Genesis 14:1-6 says about who inhabited Canaan in Abraham’s lifetime, the Anakim lived in what became Edom and Hebron. Easton argues that may mean the Anakim came from the area’s first inhabitants before the Canaanite nations populated the area a few centuries later. Given that Isaac’s son Esau settled in Edom, it’s possible that at some juncture Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, intermarried with the Anakim.
The first big mention of the Anakim comes in Numbers 13 when Moses sent spies into Canaan to see the land that God would give to Israel. The spies traveled to several areas, including Hebron, “where Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai, the descendants of Anak, lived” (Numbers 13:22). Assuming these were literally Anak’s sons (not descendants centuries later, like Jesus was the “son of David”), that would suggest the Anakim were a reasonably new people group.
When the spies came back and reported to Moses, they admitted the land was good but argued that it was too hard to conquer. Specifically, the spies said, “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” (Numbers 13:33, parentheticals mine).
Are the Anakim and Nephilim the Same?
The Nephilim are first mentioned in Genesis 6:4, which says they were in the world in the early days, “when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.”
Since pagan kings often claimed divine status, some scholars argue that “sons of god” is a term for pagan princes, fornicating with women from other nations and having children who were seen as powerful or sacred. It’s also possible that the “sons of god” were the descendants of Seth, Adam’s third son who he considered to be his true heir. Others have argued that demons or some kind of pre-Adamic sentient beings were present on Earth at this time and had offspring with human women. The idea that there were other sentient beings besides Adam and Eve in Earth’s early days seems to be supported by the fact that when God curses Cain, Cain worries about meeting strangers who will kill him (Genesis 4:13-14). It’s a little hard to run into a stranger when you, your dead brother, and your two parents are the only people on Earth. Therefore, we can conjecture there were other people of some kind around at this point, people not related to Cain. That at least opens the possibility for demons and other beings roaming the earth, eventually having children with Adam’s descendants.
As noted earlier, Numbers 13:33 describes the Anakim as descendants of the Nephilim. Assuming that the spies weren’t exaggerating when they said that they saw Nephilim, this would mean that at least a few Nephilim were still around, living near the Anakim. Since the authors take the time to give different names to the two groups and call one group the ancestors of the other, we can assume that something had changed to separate them. If the Nephilim were a distinct ethnic group that was around at Noah’s time or earlier, it would make sense that their descendants would have intermarried with the Canaanites and others, creating new bloodlines. As Easton suggests, the Anakim might have had a particular heritage that set them apart from the Canaanites groups, making them a third ethnic group in between the Nephilim and the general population.
Did Giants Actually Exist?
We know that there are medical conditions like acromegaly that can make people unusually large. Frequently, these conditions actually make people’s bodies weaker even as they keep growing. Robert Pershing Wadlow was 8 feet 11 inches, the tallest person on record, and he was died by age 22. Malcolm Gladwell makes an interesting suggestion in his book David and Goliath that if Goliath had acromegaly, he would have looked huge but been pretty weak in battle (which would make him more of a scare tactic than a tactical advantage). 2 Samuel 21:22 mentions Davis’ brother killing a giant with twenty-four fingers and twenty-four toes—a genetic mutation trait that can still happen today, although not necessarily connected to giantism.
However, the key question for many scholars is whether the giants mentioned in the Old Testament were unusual medical phenomena or a race of giant people. When Moses’ spies talked about the Nephilim as being huge, they didn’t have to explain who the Nephilim were, and no one rebutted their claim that the Nephilim were big. This means that their audience already knew who the Nephilim were, and it was generally understood that the Nephilim were huge. Later, David’s men are described as killing multiple Philistine soldiers who were giants (2 Samuel 22:15-22), suggesting an unusual percentage of giants in that people group. There are indications that some Anakim lived in Gath (Joshua 11:22), Goliath’s hometown, which suggests a family connection between the Anakim and the Philistine giants.
All this information suggests that the Nephilim, their descendants the Anakim, and their relatives, were all known for being giants. Whether this was because they had an odd gene pool, or had some sort of giant heritage due to supernatural ancestors, depends on where you think the Nephilim came from.
What Happened to the Anakim?
As the rest of the book of Numbers shows, the Israelite’s refusal to go into Canaan resulted in a harsh response from God. Ultimately, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, long enough for an entire generation to die off. Due to some mistakes that Moses made, he was allowed to lead the Israelites during this period but died before his people finally entered Canaan (Deuteronomy 34). His protégé Joshua led Israel after Moses’ death and took them across the Jordan river to their first conquest: the city of Jericho. After successfully defeating Jericho, Joshua slowly worked his way through Canaan, removing all of Israel’s foes.
Joshua 11:21 states that Joshua’s military conquests included killing the Anakim who were in Canaan. He removed all of the Anakim living “from all the hill country of Israel” until finally there weren’t any living in Israel’s borders. After this conquest, a few Anakim lived in surrounding Canaanite land, specifically “in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod” (Joshua 11:22). As noted above, this supports the theory that Goliath and other Philistines had Anakim (and from that, Nephilim) ancestry. What happened to the Anakim living outside Israel after this period isn’t clear.
Interestingly, Numbers 13:30 says that when the spies discouraged Israel from taking the land, Caleb spoke against the spies, asserting that Israel should take the land God had given from him. Joshua 15:14 states that a generation later, Caleb drove Anak’s three sons Sheshai, Ahiman, and Talmai from their land. Thus, we see that despite the spies’ claims that giants were unconquerable, Caleb and Joshua (the two men of their generation to outlive the wandering in the desert) proved the naysayers wrong.
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G. Connor Salter is a writer and editor, with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Writing from Taylor University. In 2020, he won First Prize for Best Feature Story in a regional contest by the Colorado Press Association Network. He has contributed over 1,200 articles to various publications, including interviews for Christian Communicator and book reviews for The Evangelical Church Library Association. Find out more about his work here.