Gilbert House Fellowship #385: 2 Samuel 21

THE BELIEF that the Philistines were giants (or had giants among them) with six fingers and toes on their hands and feet comes from 2 Samuel 21. That’s not necessarily what those verses mean. 

As we discussed in our study of 1 Samuel 17, the oldest Hebrew sources, the Dead Sea scrolls and the first-century historian Josephus, record that Goliath of Gath was four cubits (not six) and a span, or about 6’9”. That’s still big, but not as big as he’s usually depicted. 

In 2 Samuel 21, the Hebrew phrase translated “descendants of the giant(s),” yelide ha-rapha, doesn’t mean that the Philistines defeated by David and his men were literal genetic descendants of the Rephaim/Nephilim. According to scholar Conrad L’Heureux, the word yelide more accurately means “one who is born into the group by adoption, initiation, or consecration;” in other words, a member of an elite warrior cult whose patron was “the rapha”—a word that is the singular form of Rephaim. 

Who was “the rapha”? We can’t say for sure. The Canaanites venerated a deity called Rapiu, the “king of eternity,” who ruled at Ashtaroth and Edrei, the royal cities of King Og of Bashan, a land that was believed to be the entrance to the netherworld. While Rapiu is the singular form of rapiuma (the Canaanite form of Rephaim), we don’t have an explicit link between Rapiu and “the rapha.” 

All that said, it is possible that this warrior cult engaged in rituals that enhanced its members epigenetically. After all, they were able to wield 12-pound spears with shafts “like a weaver’s beam.” 

One of the clues is in the name of the Philistine warrior Ishbi-benob. That name should be rendered Ishbi ben ob, or “Ishbi, son of the medium.” The Hebrew word ôb, usually translated “medium,” means “owner of a necromantic ritual pit,” and it’s related to the Sumerian abzu, from which we get the word “abyss.” 

In short, the Philistine “giants” were demon-worshipping, and possibly demon-possessed, warriors, similar to Viking berserkers. 

We also note that the verse mentioning the six-fingered Philistine, 2 Sam. 21:20, doesn’t necessarily mean that this was a trait of the Nephilim. This (and its parallel, 1 Chr. 20:6) is the only verse that mentions polydactyly in the Bible. Since the giants of Noah’s day were destroyed in the Flood, this may not be a genetic trait of the Nephilim at all. 

To be clear, we’re open to the idea of a post-Flood incursion of giant divine-human hybrids. But such an incursion is not explicit in the Bible and it can’t be proved archaeologically—at least, not yet. 

Get our free app! It connects you to these studies plus our weekly video programs Unraveling Revelation and A View from the Bunker. Best of all, it bypasses the gatekeepers of Big Tech! The app is available for iOS, Android, Roku, and Apple TV. Links to the app stores are at

Video on demand of our best teachings! Stream presentations and teachings based on our research at our new video on demand site!

Check out our online store! is a virtual book table with books and DVDs related to our weekly Bible study. Take advantage of our monthly specials here.

NOTE: New dates for our tour of Israel! We will lead our next tour through the Holy Land March 25–April 3, 2025, with an optional three-day extension to Jordan featuring visits to Mount Nebo, Wadi Rum, and Petra. Our special guests are Timothy Alberino, Dr. Judd Burton, and Doug Van Dorn!

For more information, log on to

Click here for the complete archive of our New Testament Bible studies to date, and click here for the Old Testament studies to date. Or go to for all of the audio.


  1. Great article! Dr. Laura Sanger has talked about epigenetic on Table Talk some time ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.