In this week’s parasha, Devarim, Moses recounts the journeys and battles of the Israelites and mentions a number of mysterious peoples:
The Emim dwelled there previously, a great and numerous and tall people, like the Anakim. They are also considered Rephaim, like the Anakim, and the Moabites called them Emim… Rephaim dwelled there formerly, and the Ammonites called them Zamzumim. A great and numerous and tall people, like the Anakim, but God exterminated them… For only Og, the king of Bashan, was left from the remnant of the Rephaim. His bed was a bed of iron… nine cubits was its length and four cubits its width… (Deuteronomy 2:10-11, 20-21, 3:11)
Moses is apparently describing a race of giants, “great and tall”, of whom only one remained—Og (of whom we’re written in the past)—whose bed was nine cubits long, or approximately 18 feet! Who were these Rephaim, and how are they different from Anakim? What do they have to do with the Nephilim of Genesis, who are also thought to be giants?
The Zohar (III, 160b-161a) carefully explains the difference between these giant titles. They were first called Nephilim, literally “fallen ones”, referring to a group of angels that descended to Earth to live among men. Jewish tradition generally speaks of two such angels, Shemhazai and Azazel (or Aza and Aza’el), though other texts speak of many more. The apocryphal Books of Enoch describe some 200 angels, and Shemhazai was only one of their leaders. They are called ‘Irin, “watchers”, originally sent to Earth to watch over humans.
When these angels mated with human women, they produced hybrid offspring that were giants, and these were called Anakim, literally “giants”. When the Anakim themselves mated with humans, their children were already much weaker than their predecessors, and more human-like. This third generation were called Rephaim, which literally means “weak ones”. This is why the parasha says that Og was the last of the Rephaim, for the Talmud (Niddah 61a) teaches that Og was the son of Ahiyah, who was the son of Shemhazai, the fallen angel. Therefore, Shemhazai was one of the Nephilim, Ahiyah was one of the Anakim, and his son Og was of the Rephaim. The Israelites decimated Og and his army when he confronted them in the Wilderness, putting an end to the last trace of the ancient giants and fallen angels.
In Hebrew, rephaim also has the connotation of “ghosts”. This actually comes from the Zohar, which goes on to state what happened to the Rephaim: while they had partially angelic souls, their bodies were far too human. The result of this was that their spirits would live long, but the bodies would deteriorate and they would become incredibly ill, again explaining why they are called Rephaim, or “weak ones”. Once they got really old and decrepit, the Rephaim had no will to live, but their angelic souls simply wouldn’t die! So, the Zohar explains, they had no choice to but to commit suicide.
Most of the Rephaim jumped into the sea and had themselves drowned. Others imbibed various poisons. Unfortunately for the Rephaim, this did not help. Their bodies were dead but their souls were still too attached to this world. The souls were unable to escape and wandered the Earth aimlessly as spirits. This is why “Rephaim” also refers to ghosts, as we see in a number of places in the Tanakh, such as Isaiah 14:9 and Proverbs 9:18, where the Rephaim are described as stirring in She’ol (the underworld); or Isaiah 26:14 and Psalms 88:11, which suggests Rephaim are among the dead which cannot rise again.
If that’s the case, why was Og so unique? He did not show any signs of getting weaker. Og was a mighty warrior, and the Midrash states that Moses feared him greatly. I believe Og was able to avoid the fate of the Rephaim because he had become a disciple of Abraham. The Zohar goes so far as to state that he had himself circumcised, too, together with Abraham (Zohar III, 184a). This is why Moses feared him, for Og had a great deal of merit being a student and servant of Abraham, and Og bore the mark of the Covenant as well. God came to Moses and said, “Do not fear him for I will deliver him, and all his people and his land, into your hand” (Numbers 21:33).
While Og had merits from his past, he left the path of righteousness. It seems that as the last of the giants, his power and longevity got to his head. He styled himself a god on Earth, and that hubris led to his downfall. There is historical evidence for this suggestion, as archaeologists have discovered a 13th century BCE clay tablet (Ugarit KTU 1.108) which describes Og as “king of eternity”, and the “god who rules in Edrei”. The text calls him Rapiu, which scholars believe is the Ugaritic word for Rephaim.
The Ugaritic culture operated a strong cult of the dead, and worshipped the Rapiu, thought to be great kings that have passed away. This is another explanation for why Rephaim refers to ghosts, particularly the ghosts of great kings. Indeed, Isaiah 14:9 links the word Rephaim with the “chiefs of the earth” and “kings of the nations”. While historians still have little documentation for the Rapiu, there is a far richer set of texts describing the Anakim, more popularly known as the Anunaki.
Anunaki and Conspiracy
Ancient Mesopotamian texts all speak of a race of “gods” referred to as the Anunaki. They are depicted as the children of An, the god of the sky, and Ki, the god of the Earth—hence the name. They are powerful giants that sometimes descended to this Earth and interacted with humans, often exploiting them for their own benefit. In one later version of the myth, a weaker race of “gods” called the Igigi (perhaps related to the name “Og”) were being used for hard labour and eventually rebelled against their Anunaki overlords. The Anunaki, led by Enki, then created humans as a replacement for the Igigi, to serve the Anunaki.
Essentially all the cultures and nations of Mesopotamia worshipped some form of the Anunaki. They created idols bearing their images, and built massive temples in their honour. How do we make sense of the Rapiu and Anunaki, and their seemingly strong connection to the Rephaim and Anakim of the Torah? I believe the answer may be as follows:
We know that the Nephilim became sinful and exploited humanity (see for example Yalkut Shimoni, Beresheet 44). They taught humans all kinds of things, including warfare, astrology, prostitution, and the consumption of animals. (The Midrash above states that a single of them could eat “a thousand camels, a thousand horses, and a thousand bulls” in a day!) The Books of Enoch give more specific details as to which of the angels did what: Azazel taught humans how to make weapons, Barakiel taught astrology, Armoni taught them magic, Gadriel taught the use of cosmetics (for seductive purposes), and Yakum was the first to start mating with humans.
The fallen angels abused their powers, and eventually made themselves like gods on Earth. It appears that they turned themselves into idols for humans to worship, allowing them to exploit those humans in turn. It is possible that they were the original subjects of that idolatry, the original polytheistic “pantheon” from which all others sprang. Over time, a whole mythos developed around them. What the Torah tells us are Anakim became the Anunaki “gods” of Mesopotamia, with a rich made-up literature to explain their origins, with many variations of the story depending on the specific culture. Even after they were long gone, the peoples of Mesopotamia continued to worship them.
Unfortunately, those myths live on. Today, there are still countless people (thanks to YouTube and the internet) believing silly conspiracy theories that the Anunaki are still around, and secretly keep mankind enslaved. Some identify them with the Illuminati, or with an alien race of reptiles, or even with the Jews—and sometimes all three at once! The damage that those fallen angels have caused has yet to be repaired.
The confusion is exacerbated by the fact that “extraterrestrial” beings are constantly spotted all over the world. This recently made headlines when the US Navy admitted to the existence of UFOs, and had to brief the president and the Senate. The footage released surprised a lot of people, but it wasn’t new. Similar footage has been captured over the past several decades, and a ton of evidence has been amassed. Much of this evidence is presented by Robert Hastings, one of the top experts in the field. In his UFOs & Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites (both a book and documentary) presents stunning evidence from around the world. He interviews dozens of high-ranking US and former Soviet officers that served on nuclear submarines or at nuclear silos. They report that the “aliens” played instrumental roles in preventing nuclear disasters, at times even disabling the weapons systems to prevent a nuclear war! The conclusion was that these “UFOs” were benevolent, and sought to protect mankind.
In all of these sightings, the UFOs always take a characteristic shape: a flying disk or “flying saucer”. The expert on these is Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist that spent fourteen years working on top-secret projects for the US government and military industry. In 1970, he left his career to spread awareness of the existence of UFOs and “alien” life. In 5 books and over 90 papers, he presents convincing evidence of extraterrestrial flying saucers visiting our planet regularly. Stanton’s work earned him the title of “the flying saucer physicist”. It must be mentioned that Stanton was a respected scientist, not a charlatan or conspiracy theorist, and presented evidence before Congress and the United Nations.
Can we reconcile this with the Torah?
Angels and Aliens
Throughout the Tanakh, we read how our ancient prophets encountered “extraterrestrial” beings, and even witnessed “unidentified flying objects”. Eliyahu was walking with his student Elisha when suddenly, out of the sky, “there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which parted them both asunder; and Eliyahu went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (II Kings 2:11) A “chariot” from the sky literally abducted Eliyahu! Far more detail is provided by Ezekiel in the famous opening prophecy of his book. One who carefully reads his description of the “divine chariot” will undoubtedly see the striking parallels to “flying saucers”.
Ezekiel describes a flying vehicle with wings, flashing lights, electricity; a shiny, “brass-like” (or metallic) exterior, torches of fire shooting out the bottom, all controlled by a creature sitting behind a cockpit of clear “ice” (Ezekiel 1:22)—as the prophet was unfamiliar with glass. Best of all, the mechanism of propulsion is ofanim, “spinning wheels”, or “discs” (Ezekiel 1:19). We must remember that this was not just a vision or hallucination; Ezekiel interacted with this flying craft and, like Eliyahu, it took him up and transported him: “Then a wind lifted me up and I heard a great noise behind me…” (Ezekiel 3:12)
Some inaccurately believe that there is just one such holy Merkavah, or “chariot”. In reality, the Sages speak of multitudes of such chariots in God’s legions, as it says in Psalm 68:18, “The chariots of God are myriads, even thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in holiness.” Based on this verse (as well as Deuteronomy 33:2), the Sages state that 22,000 such chariots descended upon Mt. Sinai during the giving of the Torah (see Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 41). This is one reason why God is sometimes referred to in the Tanakh as Hashem Tzva’ot (יהוה צבאות), the “God of Legions”.
So, if we know that God has thousands of legions upon flying “chariots” decked out with spinning wheels at His disposal, why should we be surprised at the countless sightings of flying saucers—breaking the laws of nature and generally acting benevolently—visiting Earth? All that one has to realize is that the supposed “aliens” we hear about in the media and in science fiction are none other than God’s angels.
The Torah on Extraterrestrial Life
It is often said that the existence of extraterrestrial life is contrary to the Torah. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Way back in the 14th century, Rabbi Hasdai Crescas (1340-1410) already wrote (in his Ohr Adonai) that there is nothing in the Torah to negate the possibility of life on other worlds. On the contrary, the Sages of the Talmud understood the vastness of the cosmos, writing about the countless billions of stars out there (Berakhot 32b), the various parts of the “Heavens” and their inhabitants—and that the journey from one “Heaven” to the next takes over 500 years! (Chagigah 12b-13a) Amazingly, Sefer HaBahir, one of the oldest known Kabbalistic texts, suggests that this 500 year journey can be made by the Ofanim, those spinning wheels which “reach out” to Earth, the lowest of worlds (ch. 169).
Possibly the most blatant evidence of extraterrestrial life from the Talmud is in Moed Katan 16a. There, the Sages discuss what Deborah meant in her song when she said:
They fought from heaven, the stars from their paths fought against Sisera… “Cursed be Meroz,” said the angel of God, “Cursed be its inhabitants, because they did not come to help God, to help God against the mighty.” (Judges 5:20, 23)
The Tanakh is apparently telling us that beings from the Heavens descended to Earth to help her in the great battle against the evil Sisera. Deborah then quotes an “angel of God” who curses a place called Meroz because its inhabitants failed to help in the battle. Where is Meroz? Who are its inhabitants? Why is it an angel that is criticizing them for not coming to help? The Talmud first cites an opinion that Meroz was the name of a great man. But how could this be if the Tanakh says that the “inhabitants” of Meroz are cursed? It cannot be referring to a man; the language is clearly referring to a place. The Talmud then says that Meroz is a star! One might deduce that angels inhabit various other worlds, and they came to help Deborah and Barak in their battle. The angels from Meroz didn’t show up, so a fellow “angel of God” curses them.
Indeed, Kabbalistic texts speak of angels inhabiting other planets and worlds. The Zohar states that God created many hidden worlds in the cosmos, and they are inhabited by 60 million of God’s supernal servants and soldiers. (See, for example, Zohar II, 126b, which states: ואתעביד עלמא חדא, דנהיר לכל עלמין, עלמא סתימא דלא ידיע כלל, ובגויה דיירין שית רבוא אלף, דאינון דיורין וחילין ומשיריין עלאין) Perhaps this is the meaning of the Talmud’s statement that “God roams over 18,000 worlds” (Avodah Zarah 3a). The source for this teaching is also Psalm 68, where we read of His 22,000 chariots. Here, the Talmud interprets the verse slightly differently, concluding that God “rides his Cherub” over 18,000 worlds.
As much as mainstream media and science would like to ignore it, the conclusion from our own ancient texts and from the countless sightings of “extraterrestrial” beings is that there is certainly other life forms out there. God created far more than the little we see here on this lowly world. While it may be hard to wrap our heads around the idea of aliens and angels being one and the same, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of this conclusion. It is also important to move past the notion that angels are entirely “spiritual” entities that have no physical form, or that they inhabit some other realm outside of this universe.
Throughout the Tanakh (and beyond) we see that angels are just as much a part of this universe as humans are, and are created within the same space, as are the “Heavens”. (This idea was explained and supported fully in Mayim Achronim Chova – Secrets of the Last Waters.) They are God’s special servants and messengers, and as such are generally concealed from us. The truth is that most of this vast universe is concealed from us anyway. Scientists have determined that what we can presently see is no more than 4% of the universe. The rest is hiding behind mysterious things like “dark matter” and “dark energy”. We shouldn’t be surprised if we one day find God’s angels there.
We’ll conclude with another beautiful passage from the Talmud (Bava Batra 75a) which, upon closer examination, ties everything together. The Sages ask: what does it mean when the Tanakh says that the gates of Jerusalem will be made of precious stones? (Isaiah 54:12) Rav Yochanan taught that in the Messianic future, God will bring massive gems that are thirty by thirty cubits in size and fashion them into Jerusalem’s gates. One of Rav Yochanan’s students scoffed at this unbelievable idea, for the Earth’s precious stones are no larger than an egg! Some time later, the student was out at sea and saw a vision of angels mining massive gems precisely of that size. He asked them: “For whom are these?” The angels replied: “For the Holy One, Blessed be He, Who will in the future place them at the gates of Jerusalem.”
May we merit to see them soon.