Continuing a review of more of TJ Steadman’s views on Rephaim form his book Answers to Giant Question.
You can find all of my articles regarding TJ Steadman here.
Let us continue where we left off.
TJ Steadman noted:
Psalm 88:10 “Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee?”
The first use of “the dead” here is muwth as we have seen elsewhere, referring to the spirits of those who have died. But the second is rephaim, meaning “the departed spirits.” This is the same as the description in Job 26:5.
Now we can see something of the character of the dead people in question. According to this verse, the rhetorical line of questioning implies that they are in denial and they refuse to honor God.
These are therefore characterized as evil spirits, and they are associated with the dead. But how is it that they are referred to as “departed?”
For the Israelites, when a person died their spirit was believed to reside in Sheol, the realm of the dead, which was cosmologically linked with the earth in which the body was buried. The spirit then resided in the same place as the body.
However, a departed spirit is able to leave Sheol. This idea relates closely to that ascribed to the Ugaritic r’pum (Rephaim) who were believed to be able to rise from ‘arts (the earth as the dwelling place of the dead, similar to the way Hebrew Sheol is sometimes interchangeable with ‘erets) to dwell on the earth. Hence the rhetorical “shall the dead rise to praise thee?” The implication is that the spirit in question may rise, but it was never going to.
We should wonder if we should read such distinctions in to different words for what, after all, even in English we may call by various terms such as the dead, deceased, passed away, etc.
Yet, perhaps there is something to it.
Considering TJ Steadman’s views on Rephaim, let us narrow down the linguistic some more and then drill down to the Ugaritic context.
He rightly notes:
It is worth remembering that not every occurrence of the term ‘rapha’ indicates that we are looking at the spirits of the Nephilim, although connotatively there is an association…the term ‘rapha’ is used to connect them with the opposition to God and Israel that they wrought upon the earth when they live as Rephaim. However, the actual Rephaim spirits are not only present in the underworld but roam the earth disembodied.
Here are some of the repha/rapha roots (plural):
H7495 is used for healing and physicians (related to H7499 rephu’ah that is used for medicine).
H7496 is used for dead/deceased.
H7497 is used when referring to descendants of, valley of, or land of Rephaim.
H7498 is used of a particular person mentioned in 1 Chronicles 8 vss. 2 and 37.
In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Heiser wrote, “The biblical Rephaim are never cast as ‘healers’ in context” and “some texts clearly suggest that the Rephaim are warrior kings.”
He also notes, “Isaiah 14:9 is particularly interesting in this respect, as it describes Sheol awaiting the repha’im, a term set in parallel to ‘the leaders (literally, ‘goats’) of the earth’ who were ‘kings of the nations.’”
So, Rephaim were no necessarily healers but I can tell you who is a repha healer, “I am the LORD that healeth thee” which reads YHVH Repha (Exodus 15:26).
In my article Are Rephaim post-flood Nephilim? “Dead Kings and Rephaim: The Patrons of the Ugaritic Dynasty”, I quoted Baruch Levine and Jean-Michel de Tarragon’s Journal of the American Oriental Society article “Dead Kings and Rephaim: The Patrons of the Ugaritic Dynasty” wherein they note that within a text known as KTU 1.161—which is “The written record of the sacred celebration [in honor] of the Patrons”—“Rephaim, and departed, historic kings” are referenced separately thus, “the historic kings are not among the most ancient Rephaim.”
They conclude, “our text compels us to conclude that the Rephaim are long departed kings (and heroes) who dwell in the netherworld…the Rephaim of our text are royal ancestors…Kings and heroes do, ultimately, become Rephaim…the Rephaim and the recently departed kings.”
Thus, these two categories of dead are actually one in the same but at different stages.
Is this concept that to which the Psalm and Job were appealing? Perhaps, perhaps not. Yet, it is at least worth considering in terms of literary context and historical context.
In such a case, this would not be a case of “evil spirits…associated with the dead” but different stages of death—different lengths of time that they have been dead.
We will pick up form there in the next segment.
See my books on Nephilim related issues.
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