• Rephaite
  • Repha’im
  • Zamzummim
  • Emim


  • Emites and Anakites were considered Rephaites (Deuteronomy 2:10-11)

Notable figures

  • King Og of Bashan (Giant)
  • Anak


  • Tall (3+ meters)
  • A formidable race
  • Strong and numerous


The term “Rephaite” or “Repha’im” from the Hebrew Bible and other ancient texts in the region refers to two distinct concepts. Firstly, in Deuteronomy 2:10-11, it denotes a people characterized by above-average height and stature. Secondly, in various other scriptures like Isaiah 26:14, Psalms 88:11, Proverbs 9:18, and Isaiah 14:9, it refers to spirits in the Jewish afterlife, Sheol, typically implying departed spirits.



The etymology of the biblical term “Repha’im” is subject to two main hypotheses:

Native Hebrew Origin

This perspective suggests that “Repha’im” originates from the Hebrew language, deriving from either of two roots:

  • רפא (Rapha): This root translates to “healing,” implying a connection to souls in Sheol (the Jewish afterlife) who await final judgment by Elohim (God). The idea here is that these souls are in a state of healing or restoration.
  • רפה (Rapheh): This root means “weak” or “powerless,” reflecting the belief that souls in Sheol lack physical power and status, unlike their existence in the living world. In Sheol, traditional sources of power are irrelevant, rendering its inhabitants submissive to Elohim.

Loanword from Ancient Semitic Language

This hypothesis treats “Repha’im” as a term borrowed from another Semitic language:

  • Akadian Proposal: Some suggest a link to the Akkadian word “rabu” (meaning “prince”), but this view is less popular.
  • Ugaritic Connection: A more widely supported theory connects Hebrew “Repha’im” to the Ugaritic “rpum,” referring to semi-deified deceased ancestors. This is backed by references in Ugaritic texts like the Rephaim Text (KTU 1:20–22).

Despite these divergent interpretations, it’s important to note that modern translations clearly differentiate between the “Rephaites” as a tribe (e.g., in Genesis 14:5; 15:18–21; Deuteronomy 2:11–20) and “rephaim” as inhabitants of the underworld (e.g., in Isaiah 14:9–11; 26:13–15).

(The Emites used to live there—a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. Like the Anakites, they too were considered Rephaites, but the Moabites called them Emites.

Deuteronomy 2:10-11

However, the original Hebrew text uses the same word for both contexts.

The concept of “Rephaites” or “Repha’im” in the Hebrew Bible is multifaceted, encompassing both an ancient race of giants in Canaan and beings associated with the afterlife.

Ancient Race of Giants in Canaan

  • Biblical References: They are mentioned in various books, including Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Samuel, and Chronicles. These texts describe the Rephaites as a formidable race, often in the context of battles and conquests.
  • Notable Figures: King Og of Bashan, mentioned as one of the last Rephaim, was noted for his extraordinary size, with a bed over 13 feet (4 meters) long. Anak is another figure described as a Rephaite.
  • Different Names by Other Peoples: The Moabites referred to them as “Emim,” and the Ammonites as “Zamzummim.”

Residents of the Netherworld (Sheol)

  • Recent Scholarship: More recent interpretations consider the Repha’im as inhabitants of Sheol, depicted in various translations as shades, spirits, or the dead.
  • Etymological Considerations: The Hebrew root רפא (heal) leads to interpretations of these beings as deceased ancestors who could be invoked for blessings or healing.
  • Ancient Northwest Semitic Texts: These texts, including those from Ugarit, often reference similar beings in the context of funerary rituals and the cult of the dead.

Divine Status and Ritual Practices

  • The Rephaim were sometimes considered divine or semi-divine, involved in funerary liturgies where they were offered food and drink and asked for blessings.
  • The link with divinity is underscored in texts where they are referred to as “gods” and “divine ones.”

The Eradication Theory

  • A 2021 theory by J. Yogev suggests that the Rephaim were systematically removed from biblical texts, possibly due to the rise of monotheistic belief systems that sought to erase their memory.

Connection to Mythological Concepts

  • The verb stem “raphah,” meaning to sink or relax, has been linked to broader mythological themes, potentially connecting the Rephaim to concepts like Titans and poltergeists.

The diverse portrayal of the Rephaim in biblical and ancient texts highlights their significant and complex role in the mythology, history, and religious practices of the ancient Near East.

References in the Bible

Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites

Genesis 15:20

A year later King Chedorlaomer and his allies attacked and defeated the Rephaites in Ashteroth-Karnaim, the Zuzites in Ham, and the Emites in Shaveh-Kiriathaim.

Genesis 14:5

They are now dead, they live no more;
    their spirits do not rise.
You punished them and brought them to ruin;
    you wiped out all memory of them.

Isaiah 26:14

Is your love declared in the grave,
    your faithfulness in Destruction?

Psalm 88:11

But little do they know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are deep in the realm of the dead.

Proverbs 9:18

The realm of the dead below is all astir
    to meet you at your coming;
it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you—
    all those who were leaders in the world;
it makes them rise from their thrones—
    all those who were kings over the nations.

Isaiah 14:9
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