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REPHAIM (Heb. רְפָאִים). The Rephaim are known from biblical, Ugaritic, and Phoenician sources. In the Bible two uses of the term are discernible. The first is as a gentilic (e.g., Gen. 14:5; 15:20; Deut. 2:11) referring to a people distinguished by their enormous stature. Especially singled out are Og king of Bashan (Deut. 3:11) and the powerful adversaries of David's heroes (II Sam. 21:16, 18, 20). The biblical authors trace their designation to an apparently human eponym Rapha(h) (e.g., II Sam. 21:16, 18, 20;I Chron. 20:8). The Bible's emphasis on the size and might of the Rephaim is responsible for the Septuagint's renderings gigantes and titanes as well as for gabbārē of the Peshitta and gibbarāyyā of the Targums. The Genesis Apocryphon (21:28) on the other hand prefers the noncommital rephāʾayyā.

In its second use Rephaim designates "shades" or "spirits" and serves as a poetic synonym for metim (מֵתִים; Isa. 26:14; Ps. 88:11). It thus refers to the inhabitants of the netherworld (Prov. 9:18). This second meaning is also found in Phoenician sources. King Tabnit of Sidon curses any prospective despoiler of his tomb: "May there be no resting-place for you with the Rephaim" (H. Donner and W. Roellig, Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften (KAI, 1962), 13, lines 7–8; COS II, 182), King Eshmunazar (ibid., 14, line 8; COS II, 183) employs the same formula in the plural, adding "… and may they not be buried in a grave." The chthonic aspect of the Phoenician Rephaim is made even more explicit in a neo-Punic bilingual which equates the לעל [נם] אראפאם with dis manibus sacrum KAI (ibid., 117, line 1).

The Ugaritic material is most problematic because the relevant texts referring to the rpum are fragmentary and difficult to interpret. These rpum, like their Phoenician counterparts, are divine in nature, being referred to as ilnym (I AB 6:46 ff.; Pritchard, Texts, 141; COS I, 357–58), literally "divine ones?" (cf. Heb. eʾlohim, "ghost[s]," literally "divine being[s]" (I Sam. 28:13; Isa. 8:19, 21). There is, however, no clear indication that the rpum are chthonic deities. Moreover, they seem to have a military function. One of their number is referred to as a mhr, the Ugaritic term for soldier, and the rpum are described as riding in chariots. The nonliterary Ugaritic texts mention a guild of bn rpiym who presumably were a group under the patronage of the divine rpum, as has been pointed out by B. Margulies (Margalit). In addition, the Ugaritic hero Dnil is described as mt rpi which may indicate his membership in such a group. (Marguiles errs in equating this last epithet with the alleged ṣābe bilaṭi which should be read tillati and which is not restricted to Canaan.) Another Ugaritic hero, Keret, is described as belonging to the rpi arṣ–the Rephaim of the land – a term which is paralleled by the qbṣdtn, the group associated with Ditanu.

The existence of a god named Rpu has long been indicated by personal names such as Abrpu (C.H. Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook (1965), 311, line 10; Ditriech and Loretz, 2). This is now corroborated by the publication of a text (Ras Shamra 24. 252) that mentions rpu mlkʿlm, "Rpu the eternal king" (Dietrich and Loretz, 187), described appropriately as gṯr, "mighty" (cf. Akk. gašru). Though this text is not free of difficulties, Rpu seems to be mentioned along with the r[pi] ars possibly as their patron. If the admittedly hypothetical interpretation of the Ugaritic material is correct, the biblical tradition of Rephaim as mighty warriors can be understood. Their huge stature would contribute to their military prowess. Furthermore, the biblical eponym Rapha(h) can be considered as an undeified god Rpu, more in keeping with biblical thought.

The Hebrew and Phoenician use of Rephaim as "shade, spirit," however, remains problematic. Various attempts have been made to discover an underlying etymology which would account for the development. The presence of an eponym in both Hebrew and Ugaritic, however, suggests that the ancients were unaware of the connection between Rephaim and any verbal root. It should further be noted that the verb rpʾis unknown in Ugaritic outside of the onomastica. Notions such as "heal" and "gather" or "unite" attested in other Semitic languages for the root rpʾ were often adduced to explain Rephaim, but in Ugaritic these words are not connected with the root rpʾ. In Ugaritic the word for "heal" is bny while that for "gather" is ʾsp, ḥpš and ʿdn, in reference to plants, straw, and troops respectively.


H.L. Ginsberg, Legend of Keret (1941), 23, 41; J. Gray, in: PEQ, 81 (1949), 127–39; 84 (1952), 39–41; A. Jirku, in: ZAW, 77 (1965), 82–83; J.C. de Moor, in: Ugarit Forschungen, 1 (1969); H. Mueller, ibid. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Margulies (Margalit), in: JBL, 89 (1970), 292–304; D. Pardee, in: Ugarit Forschungen, 15 (1983), 127–40; K. van der Toorn, CBQ, 52 (1990), 203–22; idem, in: BiOr, 48 (1991), 40–66; H. Rouillard, DDD, 692–700; M. Dietrich and O. Loretz, Wordlist of the Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit… (1996); W. Pitard, in: W. Watson and N. Wyatt (eds.), Handbook of Ugaritic Studies (1999), 259–86.

[S. David Sperling]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.