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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Anakim / Emim / Rephaim / Zuzim (Canaan)
Incorporating the Anaq, Emites, Repha'im, Rephaites, & Zuzites

The Levant between about 10,000-3000 BC was the centre of the Neolithic Farmer revolution in the Near East. The process of domesticating wild crops was a gradual one, taking place during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B. The subsequent Pottery Neolithic established the settlement structures which would later turn into city states, along with the crop farming and pastoralism which would support them.

In the mid-third millennium BC, city states began to appear in Syria as people benefited from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. Within five hundred years, around 2000 BC, the same process was happening farther south and west, in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast.

Semitic-speaking Canaanite tribes occupied much of the area, creating a patchwork of city states of their own. The Phoenicians (more Canaanites) also occupied parts of this region, eventually founding their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

The Rephaim or Repha'im or even Rephaites, otherwise known as the Zuzim, Zuzites, or sometimes as the Raphaim Zuzim, were Canaanite natives. They were regarded as brigands by the larger states which were forming around them in the early second millennium BC, but were probably nothing more than nomadic, cattle-herding pastoralists who mounted the occasional raid.

They are also referred to as giants, a label which often seems to have been used to mark out indigenous people who were defeated by newcomers (albeit the case that forager humans tended to be taller than farmer humans): the Finns, Germanics, and Celts in Britain all have similar references, for example.

The Emim were natives in the highlands close to the Dead Sea. Also known as Emites, the name is considered either to be an alternative for Rephaim or the two groups may have been neighbours. They are mentioned in the Old Testament's Book of Deuteronomy, which illustrates them as having been a powerful and populous people.

They were defeated by the Moabites, however, which perhaps suggests that they were no longer quite so powerful. Such a group - again referred to as giants - would be more than likely to find itself being marginalised in this way.

The Anakim are another group of 'giants', exactly the same as the Egyptian political enemies named the Anaq or Anak (the '-im' suffix is the Hebrew plural) In fact all these native groups are labelled in various ways as giants, and all were in the process of being marginalised. These were the 'sons of Anak', perhaps identifying them as a single family-based clan group rather than a more numerous population. The Israelites under Joshua claim to have kicked them out of their conquered lands, something which can tentatively be dated to the middle of the twelfth century BC.

Both the Rephaim and Enim names shown above have been translated variously as the 'terrible ones', or the 'horrible ones'. The first of them has been translated more specifically as being related to the dead, to departed spirits, the equivalent to a ghost.

That could be a reference to their marginal existence in relation to organised states. The same name seems to carry a meaning which refers to them as being mighty or tall (or perhaps a combination of both). All of these options paint them as being different from those who recorded their existence. not 'one of us'. They faded out of existence before the end of the millennium.

The problem for these 'giants' is one of diet. It's pretty clear that ancient farming societies whose people were living primarily on grain (probably in this case einkorn and barley) were getting insufficient nutrients from their diet to be able to grow to any notable height. Such people usually average out at what would be considered short, barely a metre and-a-half high. Herders on the other hand, with a more varied diet which includes meat and dairy can grow to 1.82 metres and above. These people really were giants in comparison to their farming neighbours!

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), from Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations, A H Sayce, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran, 1992, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Who Were the Raphaim? (Got Questions).)

c.1750 BC

Shinar, or Sennaar, is equated with Babylon, making the king identifiable with Hammurabi, although this theory appears to be falling out of favour with many scholars.

King Amraphel of Shinar is allied with 'Chedorlaomer' of Elam (probably King Kudur Lagamar), plus 'Arioch of Ellasar' (originally thought to be Rim-Sin of Larsa, but now thought more likely to be the early Hurrian King Ariukki), and 'Tidal, king of nations' (probably the Hittite king, Tudhaliya I).

Map of Anatolia and Environs 1550 BC
Small cities and minor states which had been founded by the Hittites littered the meeting point between Anatolia and Syria around 1500 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Together they attack the early Israelites during a general conflict. After twelve years of paying tribute, several Canaanite 'cities of the plain' rebel but are quickly brought back into line. Chedorlaomer also attacks the Rephaim and defeats them, while the Horites are said to be members of the coalition which includes Sodom and Gomorrah, and they are similarly defeated.

c.1740 BC

According to the Old Testament, the Moabites first occupy the highlands close to the Dead Sea, from which they expel the native Emim. These people may be the same as, or neighbours of, the Rephaim Zuzim, regarded as brigands by larger states but probably nothing more than nomadic, cattle-herding pastoralists who mount the occasional raid.

c.1160s BC

According to the Old Testament, the Israelites conquer a large number of cities in this decade, mostly Canaanite, and including Dor and Gezer. Not all of these conquests can be backed up by archaeological evidence, however.

In fact, archaeology has shown very little evidence of warfare in relation to most Canaanite cities around this time. It is also claimed that it is Joshua who finally expels the Anakim from the lands he has claimed (Egypt's Anaq), with some going to Philistine cities such as Ashdod, Gath, and Gezer.

Tel es-Safi
Archaeological excavations at Tell es-Safi (Tel Zafit), the most likely site of ancient Gath, show Iron I fortifications in the eastern lower city

fl c.1135 - 1115 BC

Og, king of Bashan, is described in the Old Testament's Book of Deuteronomy as the last of the Rephaim in his land. His bed is four metres long and two metres wide. The Rephaim have been enforcedly sidelined for the previous seven hundred years by established states around them, so their disappearance is not surprising.

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