February 27, 2024
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Ayin-Nun-Kuf: Giant and Necklace

A friend of mine contacted me with the following question. He was reading a verse in Nach (see below) and noticed that the root ענק there was translated as a “necklace” or “bead of a necklace.” We all know this root as it appears many times as a description of a race of giants. See, e.g., Deut. 2:10: “It was formerly inhabited by the Emim, a people great and numerous, ve-ram ka-Anakim (as tall as the Anakim).”

Could there be a connection between the “necklace” meanings and this race of giants? I looked at my etymology resources and quickly discovered a connection that had been suggested: In ancient times when people saw a tall person, they called him an “anak” because a tall person gives the impression of a long neck. Eventually this evolved into a word for “giant.”

Although the Tanach does not use ענק with the precise meaning of “neck” (only using it for “necklace” or “bead of a necklace,” see below), the Arabic cognate to the Hebrew ענק has the meaning “neck.” Thus this was perhaps the original meaning of the root in Hebrew.

Accordingly the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon (1906) adopted this “long neck” approach as the explanation for ענק as giant.

Among Jewish traditional sources, I saw the above approach adopted in S.D. Luzzatto (19th cent.) to Num. 13:22 and in Rav S.R. Hirsch (19th cent.) on Deut. 2:11. (There may be many more such sources. I did not do an exhaustive search.) This approach is also adopted in Mandelkern’s concordance (1896), p. 905, and in the lexicon of M.Z. Kaddari (2006). (Note that Rav Hirsch was able to intuit the connection between “necklace” and “giant” without knowing the Arabic cognate. Luzzatto and the above scholars did know it).

Of course, one does not have to adopt the “long neck” approach. For example, The Jewish Publication Society’s Deuteronomy commentary has: “The exact meaning of ‘Anakites’ is uncertain. Some take it as an epithet meaning ‘long-necked ones,’ based on Hebrew ‘anak,’ necklace, and its Arabic cognate meaning ‘neck.’ Others relate it to names of people or places in Canaan or across the Mediterranean containing the element ‘anak,’ or to Greek ‘anax,’ ‘nobleman.’”

(For many such speculative suggestions, see the Encyclopedia Mikrait entry. This entry does not mention our “long neck” suggestion. Nor does the Encyclopaedia Judaica entry, 1972, on “Anak, Anakim.”)

  1. Klein, in his etymological work (1987), mentions the “long neck” approach as one adopted by “some scholars.”

The Koehler-Baumgartner lexicon (1995) has: “etymology uncertain.” It then suggests: a) “the long-necked people,” and b) “the neck-chain people (from the rings worn by them or their animals).” (It is hard for me to take that last suggestion seriously!)

(I have pointed out in previous columns that the Hebrew “ayin” is a merger of two different earlier letters and that Arabic retains the two different ayins. Perhaps both meanings survive in Arabic but with two different “ayins,” suggesting no relation between the meanings? Rabbi Ezra Frazer did some checking for me and it seems that Arabic only has the “neck” meaning.)

The “long neck” suggestion has the ring of truth to me. Otherwise I would not be writing this column.

Here are the verses where our root means “necklace” or “bead of a necklace”:

Judges 8:26: “in addition to the ‘anakot’ (=necklaces, beads of necklaces) that were on the necks of their camels.”

Shir Ha-Shirim 4:9: “you have taken away my heart with [my mere looking at] one of your eyes [and] one ‘anak’ (=bead) of your necklace.”

Prov. 1:9: “ ‘va-anakim’ (=beads of necklaces) around your throat.”

Tehillim 73:6:“lachen anaketemo gaavah”=therefore ‘anaketemo’ (=an ornament around their neck) is pride.”

(The word in Tanach for the “neck” itself is צואר. According to many sources, it derives from a root ציר, with the meaning “turn.” The neck would be “that which turns.” We see the “turn” meaning of this root in only one place: Prov. 26:14, where the word צירה is used for the hinge of a door. See Brown-Driver-Briggs, p. 852, Mandelkern, pp. 994-95, and E. Klein, p. 542.)

Finally, although the Tanach does not use ענק for neck, the word for “choke” in Tanach is the similar sounding חנק. There are other examples in Tanach where ע and ח seem to substitute for one another. (E.g., one of the meanings of the root עמר in Tanach is “pile” and we have the root חמר with this meaning at Ex. 8:10).


The next topic in our discussion of the root ענק is the analysis of its use as a verb at Deut. 15:14. This verse is the only time this root is used as a verb. The context is a slave who is leaving after six years. The verse begins with the phrase “ha’aneik ta’anik.” (The doubling is the “emphatic” form). Here is a usual translation of the first part of the verse: “Furnish him liberally out of the flock, threshing floor, and winepress…” (“Liberally” is here because of the emphatic form.)

Do these first two words have anything to do with “neck” or “necklace”? We can suggest that the phrase probably originally meant “place a gift around someone’s neck” and then expanded to a more general “load with gifts.”

Interesting is the slightly different interpretation by Ibn Ezra here. He cites the verse at Prov. 1:9 and writes “aseh lo tiferet.” The note in the Torat Chayim suggests that he means: Give the slave the present with kavod and tiferet in the same manner as one would give someone a necklace on his neck.

Additional notes:

Radak, in his Sefer Ha-Shorashim, suggests a connection between the verb at Deut. 15:14 and the “necklace” meaning. But he does not mention the “long neck” approach. Earlier than Radak, Ibn Janach wrote his own Sefer Ha-Shorashim, in Arabic. He too connected the verb at Deut. 15:14 and the “necklace” meaning. But he did not mention the “long neck” approach even though he knew Arabic.

For some homiletical rabbinic understandings of ענק as the name for giants, see Gen. Rabbah 26:7.

Finally, interesting is Rashi at Num. 13:33 on ענק (citing Sotah 34b): “she-maanikim chamah be-komatan,” they wore the sun like a necklace with their height.

Mitchell First can be reached at [email protected]. He would like to thank Ben Zion Katz M.D. for getting me interested in this topic. He is the one mentioned in the first paragraph above. He is the author of A Journey through Torah: a Critique of the Documentary Hypothesis (Urim, 2012) and Student’s Companion to The Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides (Urim, 2021).

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