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Scripture citations are to the New International Version (UK)
Q Deut. 3: 11 relates that Og, king of Bashan, slept in a bed that was 9 cubits long and 4 cubits wide – 13 ½ ft x 6 ft (4.11m x 1.82m). Is this credible?
A The fifth book of the Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy, is essentially a farewell address by Moses, in which he recounts the history of the people of Israel and their victories over their enemies, exhorts them to remember Jehovah’s leading, and encourages them to be faithful their covenant after his death. Deut. 3: 11 forms part of this recounting.
(Og king of Bashan was the last of the Rephaites. His bed was decorated with iron and was more than nine cubits long and four cubits wide. It is still in Rabbah of the Ammonites.)
Verse 4 tells us that the Israelites had captured all of Og’s cities, sixty in all, destroyed them and slew the king. Og was of the race of Rephaites, a people described as ‘mighty’ giants, with particular reference to their unusual height and prowess.
In place of ‘bed’, other translations variously render the Hebrew word, ‘eres, as divan, couch, or sarcophagus (the latter possibly made not of iron, but basalt, a volcanic rock). In any case, whatever the description, the size of this manufactured piece was enormous, heavy, and built to accommodate an enormous man – the man being somewhat shorter and narrower than the bed or coffin on or in which he was laid.
Depending on the prevailing culture there were various lengths assigned to the cubit. The ‘human measurement’ – ‘the measure of a man’, cited in Rev. 21: 17 – was the distance from the elbow to the tip of the longest finger of a man’s arm: 18 inches (45 cm). For our purposes we will use this calculation, which is within the range of reason and possibility.
Applying this calculation, then, King Og, though shorter than his ‘resting place’, would nonetheless have reached to perhaps 9 feet (270 cm). The width of 6 ft (1.82m) might tell us something of his girth – or might not – unless we assume that his width was proportionate to his height.
Regardless, Og’s place of daily repose or final rest was a thing of wonder and no doubt caught the imagination of all who saw it; hence Moses’ mention of it. After Og’s death, the object – if a coffin, with him in it – was spirited away as a trophy by the Ammonites, the descendants by incest of Lot, and evidently put on display at the city of Rabbah (Gen. 19: 38; Deut. 2: 19).
Races of ‘giants’ are alluded to numerous times in the Old Testament, though in most instances we are not told their height. Still, we may assume that by comparison it was well above the average.
The Philistine’s champion, Goliath, is of particular interest (1 Sam. 17: 4-7). He was not representative in size of the ordinary Philistine. Based on the cubit cited previously, at 6 cubits and a ‘[hand] span’ he stood a little over 9 ft (270cm). Outwardly a fearsome figure, he may have been the product of rampant hormone production or faulty genes. Lumbering in his movements, his gait compounded by the weight of his armour and, likely, having poor eyesight, he was a pushover against the lithe and agile David.
See Endnotes for more information.
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King Saul is described as being taller than his contemporaries by a ‘head’ (1 Sam. 10: 23) – this was not a freakish height, therefore, but enough to command admiration from the judge, Samuel, himself, who was cautioned by God not to be partial towards him. See 1 Sam. 16: 7. The Sabeans were said to be of impressive height (Isa. 45: 14; ‘tall’ – thus, by implication, unusually tall).
Professional basketball players, fit and agile, are routinely tall – several over 7 ft (182cm). However, persons as (abnormally) tall as Og or Goliath, and others in history, have been disadvantaged in many ways and short-lived. For instances of ‘gigantism’ in the 19th and 20th centuries, see the Wikipedia entries for Anna Haining Bates (née Swan) and Robert Wadlow.
On the general topic of gigantism see here