The Kohen Gadol has Horns: the Fates of the Giants in Dominions 3


This essay presents an analysis of the deeply layered mythological, apocryphal and midrashic references in a faction of pseudo-/crypto-Jewish Giants (Nephilim and Rephaim) in the PBEM strategy game Dominions 3.

Johan Karlsson and Kristoffer Osterman's Dominions 3: The Awakening (hereafter Dom 3) is an anomaly in 21st century gaming culture: it's a micromanagment-heavy, statistically detailed, turn-based fantasy strategy game with a detailed combat model but no player input during combat (one makes formations and issues orders beforehand, but that's it). It also has a bevy of well-researched mythological and historical factions, an over-arching historical progression through three “ages” but no plot, and no bloody elves.(1)

To be clear, no claim to mythological, let alone historical, accuracy is made. By way of making this point, Osterman offers this sardonic explanation of the ex-nihilo “Amber Clan Tritons” in the game's 294 page manual: “The Amber Clan Tritons mainly frolic, this has made them powerful. While frolicking, they listen to whale songs, this has made them magical. When they occasionally do not frolic they fashion items made out of the amber that is so prevalent in their special provinces, this has given them the name The Amber Clan Tritions.”(2) Some of the factions are based on fiction, and some have (Advanced) Dungeons and Dragons elements (Early Age R'lyeh, with its Lovecraftian monsters and AD&D Arboleths, is both), but most factions are grounded in a historical culture and its myths.

One recently-added faction is Hinnom/Ashdod/Gath (Early/Middle/Late Age). This faction of giants and humans is based on Jewish mythology – and Christian & Manichean mythology about the antediluvian (pre-flood) world. At first glance, this faction's presentation of psuedo-Judaic giants is disturbing: the Rephaim (giants) of Hinnom and Gath (but not middle-period Ashdod) practice Blood Sacrifice and Blood Magic (use of either in-game requires the player to first assign units to hunt for sacrificial victims). They also have horns. The most powerful priest of Hinnom is the Baal, and for Gath it is the Kohen Gadol.

“Kohen Gadol” is the Hebrew word for “High Priest,” a historical, rather than mythical, role of great importance: the Kohen Gadol was responsible for going into the Holy of Holies in the Temple once a year to perfom the most important rituals. In Dom 3, the “Kohen Gadol” unit is depicted as an old man (Giant) with a long white beard, dressed traditionally complete with Choshen, a ceremonial breastplate with twelve jewels on it, one for each tribe of Israel: “You shall make a breastplate of decision (or “judgment”), [...] Set in it mounted stones, in four rows of stones. [...] The stones shall correspond (in number) to the names of the sons of Israel: twelve, corresponding to their names. They shall be engraved like seals, each with its name, for the twelve tribes.”(3) This unit can perform Blood Sacrifices and Blood Magic. And he has goat's horns.

This monstrous figure bears unpleasant echoes of the Mediaeval European myth of the old Jew as diabolist. The word cabal for a sinister, secret group or cult comes from a corruption of “kaballah,” Jewish mysticism. Some versions of the Faust myth claim that an old Jew introduces Faust to or teaches Faust how to summon the demon Mephistopheles. In George Sand's (1st wave, suffragette) feminist Faust-inspired play The Seven Strings of the Lyre, Mephistopheles takes the form of an “old Jew,” to literally bedevil Helen, the heroine of this version of the story – she finds him to be “a disgusting old man!” and shortly thereafter he nearly drives her to suicide:“I will kill myself. It is necessary. This wicked Jew has shown me all my miseries.”(4) A more contemporary image, of the “running of the Jew” sequence from Baron Marshall Cohen's movie Borat, with its grotesque long-faced, bearded and horned masks, also comes to mind.

Perhaps the most uncomfortable association is of the Kohen Gadol with Blood Magic, evoking the old anti-Semitic “blood libel,” the claim that Jews kidnap and sacrifice gentile children. Second only in infamy to the Czarist propaganda piece “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the blood libel is still often reported as true in the Middle East, often in combination with the “Protocols.”(5)

It would be easy, at this point, to condemn Dom 3 and its creators. Easy, but premature. A more considered approach to the images and tropes in the game reveals it for a layered appropriation of Jewish, Christian and Manichean mythology, that accurately echoes historical texts ranging from the canonical books of Genesis and Ezekiel, to the Apocryphal Book of Enoch (1 Enoch), to texts only recently reconstituted from fragmentary manuscripts, such as the Book of Giants and the Sepher Ha-Razim. The resulting picture is consistent with Dom 3's dark and sometimes ruthless tone, but also offers interesting possibilities in terms of procedural narrative: again, there is no plot, but the pieces one is given to play with are so fraught with mythological, historical, and theological significance that the ethicoaesthetic dynamics of Hinnom, Ashdod and Gath beg further examination.

Before I go any further with this specific analysis, a more general consideration of Dom 3 is necessary for context.

Small Gods

In Domionions 3, you play as a “Pretender God.” Each game begins with the following message: “In the beginning there was Chaos. [...] The gods fought among themselves, bringing even greater ruin to those who would serve them. At last there was One, a Being of great power and enlightenment, [...] Now the Wheel has turned once more. The supreme God has suddenly disappeared. Prayers go unanswered and the smoke of offerings rises in vain to the heavens. [...] The Throne of the Heavens stands empty and only the strongest can rise to supremacy over all.”(6) If you've seen Highlander, you get the drift.

Pretenders are customized by the player from options including the requisite Wizards and Dragons, but also a great many modeled on specific mythological and religious figures from Kali to Odin to Bacchus to John Milton's Sin (herself inspired by Scylla), who “seemed woman to the waist, and fair, / but ended foul in many a scaly fold / Voluminous and vast, a serpent arm'd / with mortal sting: about her middle round / A cry of Hell hounds never ceasing bark'd / With wide Cerberean mouths full loud, and rung / A hideous peal; yet, when they list, would creep, / If ought disturbed their noise, into her womb, / And kennel there, yet still bark'd and howl'd, / Within, unseen.”(7) There's even an stone Monolith suspiciously evocative of the one from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

As this suggests, Dom 3 is dark and well-researched, but it doesn't take itself too seriously. The Pretenders of this game will remind Terry Pratchet fans of his Small Gods, a story about Om, a god with only one believer left. The gods need belief – it is their food, and without it they will waste away: “Being a small god was bad [...] but how much worse to have been a god, and to now be no more than a smoky bundle of memories, blown back and forth across the sand made from the crumbled stones of your temples...”(8) In any given game, the players (Pretenders) will struggle to expand their physical kingdom by conquering provinces and their spiritual kingdom by conversion.

Death of the Pretender is merely inconvenient: the priests of that god can call him/her/it back with their prayers – what good is being a god if you're not immortal? But complete loss of either territory (provinces) or belief (the titular “dominion”) is the end. One acquires provinces by military conquest a la Risk (though with a vast set of options and complications). Belief is a less-familiar dynamic to gamers. Thankfully, given the right incentives (a new temple here, a little inquisition there, maybe a miracle every so often), people are very willing to believe.

Life Goes On...

This brings me to one of the most remarkable aspects of the world of Dom. For most of the people (serfs, villagers, etc.), life goes on. Strategy games tend either to leave the civilians out entirely, or else treat them as replaceable/disposable. Dom is similar to the Civilization games in how it handles populace, but it goes further. Population is the primary determinant of everything from tax revenue to resource production to whether a province produces enough food to feed your armies, but you don't get to shuttle around “units” of population from job to job or place to place. Nor do you have city building trees to climb. You can build a temple, a (magical) laboratory and an appropriate fortification in any given province, and that's it. If you want to decrease unrest, reduce the tax rate or assign units to patrol the countryside. If you want to increase faith (dominion), build a temple or assign a priest to preach the good word.

Because you can only do things to them, and neither simply ignore them nor tell them that they're moving to Barnard's Star tomorrow and giving up their work in the high tech sector to be farmers, populations behave in a more human and more civilian manner in Dom 3 than in most such games. Most people in any society are neither soldiers nor sages, but they do pay their taxes. Given that you play as a god and a warlord, and that the “average person” is implicitly a serf or a peasant, they're not going to give you much trouble. Despite being literally a “god” game, this is not a “god game.” You can set the tax rate so high that people begin to starve to death. You can't tell them all to go to war or even to move to the province with the iron mine. On the level of worldbuilding (rather than game mechanics), one starts to wonder why the mayor (player) of Sim City doesn't get impeached or arrested, and why technologically advanced, spacefaring and sometimes explicitly “democratic” nations don't just elect a less arbitrary and tyrranical “president” (again, player).

...Until It Doesn't

There is no graphic representation of the “common people” in Dom 3. They appear in text messages and as numbers associated with provinces. This makes it easy to have a certain distance that balances against their more-human behavior. A calculus of (fictional, electronic, abstract) human life is the result. Random events and hostile spells can drive away or kill 20% or more of a province's population in a single turn. That's at least hundreds and more likely thousands of “common people.” Patrolling a province to reduce unrest kills ten population per point of unrest reduced. Sometimes, you have to dan eal with unrest of over one hundred.

On a good turn, a blood hunt might turn up six to ten appropriate sacrifices (“blood slaves”). 6-10, when patrolling for brigands (and malcontents) might kill 100 in that same province that turn, and a tidal wave (which could be bad luck or bad magic) might kill 1000 or more. Unfortunately for Pretenders who use blood magic, every blood slave found produces at least one unrest, increasing the cost of blood magic at least tenfold. Even so, life goes on for the population as a whole.(9)

One can inflict substantial casualties on a province's population by use of spells that produce (un-)natural disasters. One can also order an army to pillage the province it is in, producing a little gold and a lot of dead peasants. This makes it possible to break the production capacity of an enemy-held or hotly contested province. It is very difficult, however, to entirely empty a province.

Inhuman Ends

The are exceptions. Three, to be precise, that completely break the general durability of populaces in Dom 3. All three will turn the Pretender's dominion into a dead zone, with zero population in every province. Only a few nations in the game are capable of such havoc: Late Era Ermor and Late Era R'lyeh do so by their nature, and Pangaea can choose to research and cast a very high-level spell that does so. I'm going to bracket out Pangaea, precisely because its devastating Carrion Woods spell is optional.

R'lyeh is one of a few nations based on fiction rather than myth, though H.P. Lovecraft's Cthullhu mythos has acquires the status of modern mythology in gaming and occult circles.(10) Lovecraft's stories are generally categorized as horror, and frequent themes include hideous, fishy, squiddy, and/or amorphous monsters, ancient “gods” and creatures entirely beyond human understanding, forbidden books and knowledge, and the idea that encounters with any of these things will drive anyone insane.

In Lovecraft's stories, the return of these inhuman gods and the triumph of inhuman forms of life is generally inevitable. Lovecraft's writing is often seen as xenophobic, anti-immigrant and even racist, but it is my contention, as I have argued elsewhere, that this masks an obsessive xenophilia that wants to embrace change and become the other but is thwarted by a paranoid fear of loosing oneself, and one's class privilege with it.

R'lyeh, especially Late Era R'lyeh, allows a Dom 3 player to indulge in his or her xenophilia. Belief in the Pretender of R'lyeh (“dominion”) empties provinces of inhabitants, and drives units and commanders insane (they may act randomly). This emptying out doesn't represent death – no unburied Corpses are produced,(11) but instead a change of consciousness occurs. In provinces controlled by R'lyeh where faith (dominion) is also strong, the decrease in population creates a proportional number of dreamers, madmen and cultists who will serve the Pretender (in aproximately a ten populatuion to one unit ratio). In provinces controlled by other players but under the sway of R'lyeh's dominion, the population just vanishes. After most of the humans are gone, Lovecraftian monsters start appearing without explanation.

Since the goal of a game of Dom 3 is to spread one's influence over the entire map, and as this represents the ascension to godhood, the success of R'lyeh means a complete overturning of “human” ways of thinking and doing – “the end of the world as we know it,”(12) but not the end of the world. Xenophilia triumphs: the world shall be the domain of dreamers, the insane, tentacled monsters and things that look like six-foot sea cucumbers floating perpendicular to the ground.(13)

Late Nation Ermor is similar to R'lyeh, in that its dominion also depletes population. The principle differences are that the Pretender of Ermor's influence kills off population more quickly than R'lyeh's, and that it actually kills them. Ermor is an empire of the living dead, in the vein of George Romero's zombie movies, and especially Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness, with “intelligent” undead generals leading armies of mindless reanimated corpses into battle.(14) This is at least as profound a transformation as with R'lyeh, but with a certain irony: for the serfs and peasants represented by population, death is no longer the end of their labors, but the beginning of a grimmer and more absolute servitude from which even death is no longer a release.

Late Era R'lyeh and Ermor represent more than competing gods and nations, they represent exactly the kind of threat to civilians and to life (“as we know it”) that otherwise doesn't exist in Dom 3. This makes them, appropriately enough, horrifying to other players. Not only are their dominions destructive, but, even if you defeat them, you're left with blighted, useless provinces. Other human players are therefore likely to gang up on these nations. This is the context in which Gath, the Late Era nation of semi/psudo/crypto-Judaic Giants, and its blood sacrifices, exists. In Dom 3, no-one is objectively “good,” but, by comparison to R'lyeh and Ermor (and Pangaea), it is at least life-affirming.

Last of the Giants

Gath is a historical city of the Philistines, as is Ashdod, from which the Middle Era nation of Giants in Dom 3 takes its name. Gath is the Biblical home of Goliath: “his name was Goliath of Gath, and he was six cubits and a span tall.”(15) Shortly after he kills Goliath, it is in Gath that David and his army seek refuge from King Saul: “So David and the six hundred men with him went and crossed over to King Achish son of Maoch of Gaul.”(16) Gath is, therefore, home to both Goliath and David, if not simultaneously.

The same might be said of Gath in Dom 3, as most of its troops are modeled on the tribes of Israel, including Benjaminite Slingers who get a bonus to Pillage “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf [...] in the evening he divides the spoil,” well-equipped Asherite Soldiers “Asher's bread shall be rich, / And he shall yield royal dainties,” and Levite Zealots and Priests.(17) At the same time, it has Goliath-like giant soldiers and its most powerful leaders are Rephaim giants. Early Era Hinnom consists of giant Rephaim and demi-giant Avvites, and Middle Era Ashdod of different tribes of Rephaim with some human slaves, but Late Era Gath (subtitled “Last of the Giants”) suggests a “Post-late” Era in which the human tribes make their way alone, and the last Rephaim Kohen Gadol would be succeeded by a Levite High Priest.

Further anticipation of this coming change is furnished by the Abbas (Hebrew “Fathers”), recutitable heretics who reject human sacrifice and the superiority of giants to humans, as they “find the bloody cult of the Kohanim despicable and have sworn their life to aid the meek. They tend to the human population of Gath.”(18) Unprecedented in Hinnom or Ashdod (Early and Middle Era Giant nations), these patriarchal figures are Gittites (lesser giants) and so lack the horns of the Rephaim. The Abba's simple robe, unkempt white hair and beard, are congruent with (Western, Christian) traditional images of Abraham not sacrificing Issac, and thereby rejecting human sacrifice.(19)

Moreover, Abraham is often painted wearing blue and sometimes with a blue sash belt, as in József Molnár's “The Match of Abraham.” A blue sash belt is one of the standout details in the image of Dom 3's Abba, contrasting with the red sash belts of the Kohenim. As both blue and red are sacred colors in mediaeval and rennaisance Christian iconographic painting, the implications of this difference are limited. Nonetheless, we may hypothesize a Post-Late Gath in which an Abrahamic figure, a “father of a multitude of nations”(20) is produced when the fathers' (Abbas') heresy becomes law and human sacrifice is banned.

This kind of hope for the future is contrary to the general trajectory of nations in Dom 3. The aforementioned nation of Ermor starts off as a Romanesque nation recently converted to a monotheistic mystery cult that promises eternal life. The game describes it thus “Old syncretistic faiths and spirit worship were banned by a Prophet dressed in white shrouds.”(21) The similarity of this Prophet and his holy shroud to Lazarus and the Shroud of Turin, respectively, are further parallels between Ermor's “New Faith” (Early Era Ermor) and the Christianization of Rome. The takes a dark turn in the Middle Era, where “In one cataclysmic event, Death was let loose,” and by the Late Era, as mentioned above, Ermor is a nation of the living dead.

The Book of Giants

What, then of the Giants? The processual narratives players create with Hinnom and Ashdod are their stories, and even Gath is unplayable if one eschews them. So far, we have redeemed “Israel” at their expense. It would be a mistake to dismiss the Rephaim and the lesser Giants as boogeymen, but explaining their place in Dom 3 requires a digression into apocryphal texts: the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) and the Manichean and Jewish Books of Giants.

Mention of Giants in Genesis is brief and equivocal. Genesis 6:2&4 states that “the divine beings (or 'sons of God') ”saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them. [...] It was then, and later too, that the Nephilim appeared on earth – when the divine beings cohabitated with the daughters of men, who bore them offspring. They were the heroes of old, the men of renown.” This passage has historically been interpreted as the mating of angels and humans, producing giant offspring, partially because elsewhere the word “Nephilim” is associated with great strength and size.

The “divine beings” or “sons of god” it mentions have also been interpreted as noblemen, and their children as larger than life in deeds (“the heroes of old”) and not physical size. This interpretation may be sensible, but its plausibility requires what Charles Fort calls a “damnation” of contrary evidence. In this case, the evidence is in extended versions of this story that can be found in the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch) and the Book of Giants (or “Book of the Nephilim”). There are also 2nd and 3rd books of Enoch, of more recent provenance, but they are not relevant here.

The Qumran fragments, better known as the Dead Sea scrolls establish the historical importance of 1 Enoch: “The caves at Qumran have produced twenty manuscripts of Enoch – as many as the book of Genesis”(22). The Qumran community existed from some point in the middle 2nd century BCE until about 70 CE, so the scrolls are at least that old.(23) The oldest functionally complete version of the Book of Enoch is the Ethiopian text, from somewhere in the 4th-6th century CE.(24) No complete text of the Book of Giants exists, but both the Manichean fragments and those from the Dead Sea Scrolls seem to be an expansion of the the first part of the Book of Enoch, the Book of the Watchers. J.T. Milik, who first translated the Enochic Dead Sea Scroll fragments, argues that the Qumran Book of Giants was the original beginning of the Book of Enoch, and was later censored.

The origin of the Nephilim in 1 Enoch starts nearly identical to that in Genesis, but soon diverges by naming “the angels, the sons of heaven [...] Semyaza, who was their leader, Urakiba, Ramiel, Kokabiel, Tamiel, Ramiel, Daniel, Ezeqiel, Baraqiel, Asael, Aramos, Batriel, Ananel, Zaqiel, Samsiel, Saratel..., Turiel, Yomiel, Araziel. These are the leaders of the two hundred angels, and of all the others with them.”(25) This listing of angels will later be repeated in a litany of skills taught by these rebel angels, and is similar to the listing of angels for magical purposes in the Sepher Ha-Razim.

These angels, called Watchers, or Grigori, after the Greek word for watcher (ἐγρήγοροι or Egregori) “took wives for themselves, and everyone for himself one each. And they began to go in to them and were promiscuous with them. And they taught them charms and spells, and showed to them the cutting of roots and trees. And they became pregnant and bore large giants, and their height (was) three thousand cubits [a cubit is the distance between elbow and thumb – about ½ m or 1½ ft]. These devoured all the toil of men, until men were unable to sustain them. And the giants turned against them in order to devour men. [...] and they devoured one another's flesh and drank the blood from it.”(26)

This may (or may not) be the end of the Nephilim, but not of the Watchers' sin: “Azazel taught men to make swords, and daggers, and shields and breastplates. And he showed them the things after these, and the art of making them: bracelets, and ornaments, and the art of making up the eyes and of beautifying the eyelids, and the most precious and choice stones, and all (kinds of) coloured dyes. And the world was changed.”(27) Other angels proceed to give their Promethean gifts, including magic, astrology, and herbology.

Initially it seems that it is the Nephilim's hunger that drives them to destroy one another, but part of the judgment against the Watchers is that their sons will destroy each other. “And the Lord said to Gabriel [...] send them [the Nephilim] out, and send them against one another, and let them destroy themselves in battle.”(28) This, like the two creation stories in Genesis, creates parallel and incommensurable events: in this case, of the descruction of the Nephilim. Either their hunger compelled them to it, or they were set up by Gabriel. The Book of Giants offers a third explanation: that the giants fought the (unfallen) angels and lost. “with the strength of my powerful arm and with the power of my might / ... (a)ll flesh, and I did battle with them, but I (am) not / able to prevail for us(?), for my adversaries / sit (in heaven), and they dwelt with the holy ones, and no / ... (the)y are stronger than I.”(29) This creates an image of the Nephilim that is more tragic and human than that of the cannibalistic monsters who ultimately devoured each other.

The Watchers are punishment more harshly than their children, and their punishment is cruelly ironic: “When all their sons kill each other, and when they see the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them them for seventy generations under the hills of the earth until the day of their judgment and their consummation.”(30) They were tasked to watch and not interfere, and because they became involved, they are forced to watch one last event, the slaughter of their children before being deprived of their function (watching) by being buried alive. The importance of being denied the ability to watch is emphasized in the fate of Azazel, who is singled out for especially harsh treatment: “And further the Lord said to Raphael: 'Bind Azazel by his hands and his feet, and throw him into the darkness. And split open the desert which is in Dudael, and throw him there. And throw on him jagged and sharp stones, and cover him with darkness; and let him stay there for ever, and cover his face, that he may not see light.”(31) Azazel is covered twice, once with darkness and once explicitly to deny him sight.

Azazel's fate sets the stage for the “scapegoat” rite of Leviticus 16, in which two goats are prepared “one marked for the Lord, and the other marked for Azazel.”(32) The Lord's goat is sacrificed, along with a bull, and the temple is ritually clensed, after which “the live goat shall be brought forward. Aaron shall lay both hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat;” after this, Aaron is to “send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.”(33) In the notoriously error-ridden Tyndale Bible and the King James version, “Azazel” is mistranslated as “(e)scape.”

All of these concepts are reflected in Dom 3's Giants, especially Early Era Hinnom. Hinnom, Ashdod and Gath have access to a unique Pretender: “The Son of the Fallen is the last of the Nephilim, ancient giants of godlike power. When the other Nephilim lost purpose, he began to hunt them down and devoured them all.”(34) This is a logical transformation of the story of the Nephillim devouring each other – someone has to be the last once left standing. The image of the Son of the Fallen evokes carnality and appetite. He is depicted wearing only a cape, and his stance is wide, leaving his genitals and pubic hair in full view. He is shown leaning forward, emphasizing the large pair of golden bull's horns that crown his head. There are other, mostly female, nudes in Dom 3, but none are as anatomically explicit.

In game terms, the Son of the Fallen consumes fifty times as much food as an elephant, and is naturally skilled at Blood Magic. The Son of the Fallen, if made the Pretender of Hinnom (Early Era nation of Giants) can perform a sacred ritual to free one of the Grigori. Doing so requires a lot of research, high skill in Blood Magic, and the largest sacrifice of Blood Slaves in the game. This rite, called “Release Lord of Civilization” requires the sacrifice of 177 slaves. By the calculus we provided before, capturing 177 Blood Slaves will produce so much unrest that keeping the civilian population in control (though military patrols) will result in the deaths of two thousand or more civilians. Despite the high cost of “Release Lord of Civilization, the spell describes the Watchers in positive, Promethean terms: “The Grigori, or Watchers, were angelic beings who taught the forbidden lore of civilization, warcraft and magic to the Avvim.”(35) The Avvim, a Canaanite tribe mentioned in the Torah, have no Biblical connection to the Grigori or Nephilim, but in Dom 3, the “human” women the Grigori married are Avvim, and the children of the Nephilim and the Avvim are the Rephaim. In the Torah, the words “Rephaim” and “Nephilim” are not directly connected, though both aretranslated as “giants.”

Cult of Ba'al

It is hard to read the nation that can summon the Grigori, Hinnom, as in any way virtuous: the name itself is the Hebrew form of “Gehenna” and it's home province contains the infamous city of Gomorrah. This leitmotif of Biblical horror carries through to the Melqart, a horned Rephaim warrior and skilled Blood mage with an appetite that almost rivals the Son of the Fallen's hunger. Melqarts “have gruesome appetites and many of them feast on their smaller kin.”(36) This is more than flavor text: each Melqart requires 20 times as much food as an elephant, and, if supplies run short, they making up the difference by eating people (population). There is also the magician-priest, the Ba'al, similar in appearance to Gath's Kohen Gadol, but his robes are of red, black and gold. In Hebrew, baal is an honorific similar to lord, and it is often used in the Tanakh to designate a foreign god. One such deity, Ba'al Zebub, lends his name to the Christian demon Beelzebub. Moreover, the word “Ba'al” has a particular resonance in the backhistory of the Dom games.

Karlsson and Osterman have released Conquest of Elysium 2, their first game together, as freeware to promote Dom 3. Among the playable characters (each the leader of a faction) are two opposed religious leaders: the Cardinal of El and the High Priestess of Baal. The Cardinal's faction has a neomediaeval Catholic feel, complete with an unpredictable inquisition, and Baal, described in the game's manual as “the hungry god” demands human sacrifices.(37) Unlike it's darker descendant, Dom 3, in Conquest of Elysium 2, only factions practice human sacrifice: that of the High Priestess of Baal, and that of the Demonologist. Conquest of Elysium 2 is also more “High Fantasy” in style, with Tolkeinesque Elves, Dwarves and Orcs as playable factions. Despite this, the use of “El” as the name of the psuedo-Catholic faction's god is significant, as that is a Hebrew title meaning “Lord” and one of the names of god (ex. “el shaddi,” usually translated as “the Lord your God”).

Ba'al (or “Baal”) is, as mentioned above, properly a prefix, and is still used in Hebrew to indicate that someone is the lord or master of something, for example, founder of Hasidic Judaism Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer, known by the honorific Baal Shem Tov (“good master of the name”). The golden calf of Exodus 32 might be an icon of a Ba'al also known as Hadad, a storm god sometimes depicted as a bull.(38) The golden calf has become part of the Christian syncretic demon “Baal.” Thus, the golden bull's horns of Dom 3's Nephilim Pretender as connect him with the golden calf and Ba'al/Hadad as well as Christian demonology. Furthermore, Ba'al has been associated with human sacrifice in Karlsson and Osterman's games since Conquest of Elysium 2, so connecting Ba'al with the maneating Nephilim is a logical step.

The Melqart in Dom 3 is named after the patron deity of Tyre, also known as Ba'al Sur, and is more likely to be the Ba'al of 1 Kings than is Hadad.(39) Like the magician-priest Ba'al, this bloodthirsty warrior giant is named after a rival god to that of the Jewish people. In this context, the disappearance of the Ba'al and Melquart after the Early Age, and simultaneous with them any possibility of freeing the Grigori, can be read as moral progress.

Chariot of Fire

Middle Era Ashdod does not practice Blood Magic or Blood Sacrifice. More than that, it has access to new spells that summon angels, culminating in the Merkavah, or Chariot of the Lord, which appears in Ezekiel 1, and also in the H'aggada about Enoch. 1 Enoch and the H'aggada expand upon Genesis 5:24 “Enoch walked with God; and then he was no more, for God took him.” In these texts Enoch practically commuted to heaven and back, at least once by Merkavah “Enoch was carried into the heavens in a fiery chariot drawn by fiery chargers.”(40) In 1st Enoch as well as in the H'aggadah, the approach to the throne of god is described in a panoply of fire, ice, and lightning that culminates in “And I looked and I saw in it a high throne, and its appearance (was) like ice and its surrounds like the shining sun and the sound of Cherubim. And from underneath the high throne there flowed out rivers of burning fire.”(41) A more “chariotlike” description is given in Ezekiel: “I could see that there were four wheels beside the cherubs, one beside each of the cherubs [...] and when they moved, each could move in the direction of any of its four quarters [...] Their entire bodies – backs, hands and wings – and the wheels, the wheels of the four of them, were covered all over with eyes. It was these wheels that I heard called 'the wheelwork.' Each one had four faces: One was a cherub's face, the second a human face, the third a lion's face, and the fourth an eagle's face.”(42)

The Merkavah in Dom 3 is described in similar terms: “In a blaze of otherworldly splendor, four wheels covered by four wings move the Merkavah in four directions. Above the four wheels, at the center of the solar glory is a living being with four faces, four wings, four colors and four lives. Above the living being is a sapphire dome of stellar might, beyond which the unbearable might of the Celestial Thrones is visible.”(43) The in-game effect of this is to give the player the powerful Tetramorph (“four forms”), also called the Chayot (“chariot”) and four Ophanim (“wheels”).

The Tetramorph is an important mystical figure, sometimes called the Tetrazoa (“four animals”) that is associated with the Tetragrammaton, the four-character/syllable unpronounceable name of god. The Tetrazoa appears throughout Jewish and Christian mysticism, including as the four holy animals of Revelations 4:7“And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.”(44) The Dom 3 interpretation is neither four-sided and four-faced nor four separate creatures, but of four eye-covered winged wheels (Ophanim), and a single Tetramorph that is humanoid in shape, but has four forms, one human-headed, and one each with the head of an eagle, lion, and ox. The game explains it thus: “The divine might of the Chayot is so vast that it cannot be contained in a singular physical body and only one form of the Tetramorph is manifest at any time.”(45) This may be a random result of an appropriate list, as names usually are in Dom 3 but the only Tetramorph I have successfully called was named “Ezekiel.”

This has powerful symbolic significance: in 1 Enoch, the Grigori ask Enoch to carry their petition for mercy to god, because they cannot enter his presence, whereas the Merkavah is associated strongly with the presence of god, and one has to be worthy to see it and live – in the H'aggada about Enoch, after he was carried up in the chariot, “They found snow and great hailstones upon the spot whence Enoch had risen, and, when they searched beneath, they discovered the bodies of all who had remained behind with Enoch.”(46) The inhabitants of Hinnom, who are still tied to and revere the Grigori (see earlier analysis of “Release Lord of Civilization”), cannot call the Merkavah.

Ashdod is different. In Ashdod the Ba'al and the Melquart, along with their cannibalistic appetites, have been replaced by the Talmai Elder and the Adon, Rephaites inspired by the Nephillim of Numbers 13: “They went up into the Negenb and came to Hebron, where lived Ahiman, Shesai, and Talmai, the Anakites. [...] All the people that we saw in it are men of great size; we saw the Nephilim there – the Anakites are part of the Nephilim – and we looked like grasshoppers to oursleves, and so we must have looked to them.”(47) “Adon,” like “Ba'al,” means “Lord” in Hebrew and can be the title of a god, but unlike “Ba'al” it is not reserved for foreign gods - in the form “Adonai,” it is a speakable substitute for the Tetragrammaton (and other taboo names of god).

In Ashdod, the giants who were denied a chance to repent in 1 Enoch and The Book of Giants can be “redeemed” and made right with the heavens. After extensive preparation, including disciplined frugality by the player, as the spell requires 222 astral pearls, the Merkavah will descend and (literally) bless the giants of Ashdod. This all despite the fact that they have not given up the teachings of the Grigori “The Anakim adorn themselves [with] jewelry and practice the cosmetic arts of the Watchers.”(48) This reinforces the Promethean aspect of the Watchers, as they were punished for giving their gifts to mortals, but the giants of Ashdod (and Gath) are not punished for using the Watchers' gifts. Simultaneously, this remaining link to the Grigori produces an ambivalence about the virtue of the Anakim, suggesting that their messianic redemption is a possibility, but not an inevitability.

The Lost Tribe

Ashdod combines a number of different cannonical and apocryphal Biblical themes: the Anakites, a Cannanite people descended from Nephilim who somehow survived the destruction of the Giants, only to be (eventually) supplanted by the Israelites; the aforementioned messianic theme; and, because the Anakites have human slaves, the captivity in Egypt. Given that Late Era Gath will be nearly overrun by human tribes named after the twelve tribes of Israel, the human slaves of Middle Era Ashdod are logically their ancestors. Gath, where human sacrifice has reappeared, seems to follow from an Ashdod that either failed to redeem itself, or suffered a second fall from grace before the Late Era. We can infer that Gath is not as depraved as Hinnom from its inability to summon the Grigori, as well as from the fact that, like Ashdod, it can call the Merkavah.

In the Post-Late Era Gath I posited earlier, the Abrahamic Giants of Gath, the Abbas, have put an end to human sacrifice. Whether a repentace comes in the Middle, Late, or hypothetical “Post-Late” Eras, these gentled Giants then slot into place as the “lost tribe” of Israel. Joann Sfar posits just such a lost tribe of Giant Jews in the 2nd volume of his series The Rabbi's Cat. In it, the titular cat accompanies the titular Rabbi, an Algerian Sepharidic Jew, his Muslim cousin, a blonde, blue-eyed Russian Ashkenazi Jewish artist, and his black ex-slave African bride, on a quest to find a hidden city, home to the lost tribe. After a great many confrontations with prejudice, including the patronizing attitude of a young Belgian (a Tintin parody) and a lascivious older European artist who tries to convince the Ashkenazi painter that giving black people monkey-like features is anatomically correct, to which the painter replies, in the French his wife has been teaching him, “In country of me, they make same drawing on Jews.”(49) This prepares us for the ambivalent encounter with the Lost Tribe of African Jews that concludes the book.

In the end, it is only the cat, the artist and his wife (all of whom are unnamed) who find the city, and it is populated with giants, dark-skinned Jewish giants dripping with golden jewelry. They are “Blacks whom nobody ever enslaved. Jews who never left the land of their ancestors. Happy, balanced people who radiate self-confidence.”(50) Unfortunately, these happy, balanced people are unable to perceive these smaller, less happy people as their kin, and take offense when tells them that he is Jewish, like them. The cat, who understands the giants' speech, translates their answer as “He says there's no such thing as a white Jew. He says they are the real Jews. He says you've offended them and we have to leave.” in an ironic echo of the Rabbi's words of much earlier “nobody's ever seen such a thing as black Jews [...] look: blacks, they have slavery; Jews, they have pogroms. It's a lot to bear. Now imagine a people that has both at the same time. It just can't be.”(51) The Lost Tribe of black, giant Jews is a fantasy of absolute freedom from those oppressions, which is the real reason the artist and his wife can't stay there: they are living contradictions to the fantasy these giants represent. Dom 3's Rephaim are deathly-pale skinned, rather than black, but a player can enact half this fantasy, processually creating the story of a proud, unoppressed Jewish people.

Mythic St. Christopher “the Christ Bearer” is another such apparition. John Mitchell, in his speculative art history The Earth Spirit, says of St. Christopher that “in his person the old giants of the earth returned to infiltrate the Church.”(52) Though accounts of St. Christopher are highly inconsistent, he is often described as a Giant, said to have been a cannibal and a man of war before his conversion, depicted with a dog's head (mainly in Greek Orthodox and Coptic North African images), and said to have served as a living ferry, wading a raging river while transporting travelers on his back, including an impossibly heavy child who turned out to be an apparition of the Christ-child, who was in turn bearing the world on his back. The conflation of Giants and gods here is amazing: like the Nephilim he was ravenous and cannibalistic (prior to his conversion), like Atlas he bears the world on his shoulders (albeit, through an intermediary), and he shares traits with gods of the dead, including the Egyptian dog-headed Anubis and the Greek Charon, the ferryman, who themselves were conflated after the Roman conquest of Egypt, in accordance with the Roman practice of assimilation of local gods to their pantheon, an assimilation preserved in Christianized Rome through the cult of the Saints.

St. Christopher is a “survival” of the giants, but also an incident of the good giant as the exception that proves the evil of giants in general. Thankfully, this is not the only way to read the giants of Dom 3. With typical disregard for comfortable interpretations, William Blake writes of the Antediluvian giants thus: “The Giants who formed this world into its sensual existence and now seem to live in it in chains are in truth. the causes of its life & the sources of all activity, but the chains are the cunning of weak and tame minds, which have the power to resist energy. [...] Thus one portion of being, is the Prolific, the other, the Devouring; to the devourer it seems as if the producer were in his chains, but it is not so [...] Messiah or Satan or Tempter was formerly thought to be one of the Antediluvians, who are our Energies.”(53) If we consider the Grigori, Nephilim and other Antediluvian giants in this context, their legendary appetites become projection: we live off of the giants of the earth, and so must see them as dangerously consuming and in need of containment. We send out a scapegoat bearing our sins for Azazel to consume, because we devour his excess carnality and must do so to live.

For Blake, “Messiah, or Satan, or Tempter” are not identical, but they can be indistinguishable, as in gnostic theology where which is generally perceived as “god” is really the imprisoned and imprisoning demiurge and the divine is external and elusive. The difference is that, in gnosticism, the true divine but can be directly experienced and known, whereas in Blake, there is no absolute knowability and no consistent alternative to the “demiurge” - absolutely constancy is imprisoning, the more absolutely constant the more absolutely imprisoning. Thus he writes not of the good of the Prolific or the evil of the Devouring, but of the necessity of both: “whoever seeks to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence. Religion is an endeavor to reconcile the two.”(54) Blake is not rejecting faith, belief, or tradition: it is more useful and accurate to see this as a rejection of the bounding and defining of the Prolific by dogmatism. Such binding denies the Prolific its essential character – excess.

Gameplay as Intervention

It is excess and inconsitency that ultimately defines the giants of Dom 3: however deep the references run and whatever their implications are, the act of gameplay unsettles them. The very premise of the game – that the god over all has gone awol, and that one of the Pretenders will rise to the empty throne – demands that any post-game narrative be incommensurable not only with any other, but with the “general” history of the “world” as given by in-game description. That narrative is possible only if no game is played and the balance of power between the different factions in the game remains in rough balance.

Even if one imagines the narrative of Dom as constant struggle between deities with clear losers, but never a categorical winner (more like Small Gods), gameplay is still an intervention that creates a narrative of a people and their struggles.

More precisely, it is the player's imaginative investment in the game that creates this narrative: the game engine churns out randomized results, but the player's relative inability to see the game in strictly symbolic, abstract terms, and his or her identification with a people who aren't “really” there (of course, no-one is “really there” in a novel or even on a movie screen) creates a narrative out of the player's gameplay decisions.

So, the Kohen Gadol has horns. But there's nothing simple about that inconography, nor need there be anything simple about what a player makes of it. That's not to say that games can't be inherently offensive, nor that basically inoffensive games can't be played in an offensive way. But Karlsson and Osterman have produced something rare in Dom 3: a gameworld rich in reference and interpretability, but without plot, except as the player narrates through the process of play.

(1) There are a great number of faerie creatures, including the Sidhe, but no Tolkeinesque, Elfquest-esque, or generic High Fantasy elves. There are also no Dwarves in the High Fantasy tradition – though factions based on the Nordic Aesir and Giants have Dwarven smiths, after the strange, inhuman Dwarves who made the Ring of Das Niebelung – a principal source for Tolkein's “one Ring.”

(2) Dom 3: The Awakening manual, p. 4. Except for a few brief passages like that above, the manual is by Bruce Geryk

(3) Exodus 28:15a, 17a & 21 – cited from The New JPS Translation of the Tanakh. All further citations from the Tanakh) are also from the New JPS, unless otherwise noted.

(4) George Sand, qtd. from A Woman's Version of the Faust Legend: The Seven Strings of the Lyre by George Sand, trans. George Kennedy, pp. 58-59, 65

(5) For example, Mustafa Tlass' 1986 The Matzoh of Zion

(6) Dom 3, message displayed at game start.

(7) Paradise Lost, Book 2, lines 650-659.

(8) Small Gods p.247 (HarperTorch, New York, 2003)

(9) High unrest (for any reason) increases greatly the chances of people abandoning the province (effect the same as population death of same amount). Also, Pretenders who have blood slaves sometimes get a random event in which a hero kills your guards and frees many of your slaves.

(10) For examples of Lovecraft in contemporary occultism, see The Necronomicon by Simon, which claims to be the authentic text of the book of the same title, and Phil Hine's Pseudonomicon, which approaches Lovecraft's mythos as fiction that nonetheless has occult signigficance. For examples of Lovecraft in gaming, see Chaosium's Call of Cthullhu RPG books, the videogame of the same title, and innumerable others, from Eternal Darkness to the Penumbra series to indie game Night of the Cephalopods. Night of the Cephalopods shares with Dom 3 a kind of “procedural” narrative, where gameplay creates a narrative structure, as opposed to unlocking prescripted “episodes” in a pre-plotted story.

(11) Dom 3 keeps track of the number of unburied recently-dead in each province (“Corpses”), because some spells make use these corpses (mainly by reanimating them as “Soulless” zombies). Corpses are the results of natural and magical disasters, pillaging and other effects that kill civilians too quickly for prompt burial.

(12) R.E.M., “The End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” Document, emphasis mine

(13) The best short description I've been able to come up with for Lovecraft's ultimately-sympathetic Elder Things (from In the Mountains of Madness), and one of R'lyeh's monstrous inhabitants in Dom 3.

(14) Admittedly, the legions of the dead in Army of Darkness aren't so much mindless as really stupid, in a Three Stooges-esque vein.

(15) 1 Samuel 17:4b

(16) 1 Samuel 27:2

(17) Genesis 49:27 & 20

(18) Dom 3, Abba unit description; in Dom 3, “heretics” are commanders who preach an alternative to the dominant religion and therefore reduce the populace's faith in the player's Pretender (reduce dominion).

(19) Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Issac is, for my purpose here, entirely secondary to the resulting prohibition against human sacrifice.

(20) Genesis 17:5 “And you shall no longer be called Abram, but your name shall be called Abraham, for I make you the father of a multitude of nations.”

(21) Dom 3, Ermor (Early Era) description

(22) The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, p. 481, ed. Martin Abeg Jr., Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich. Despite the prevalence of 1 Enoch fragments, they do not include it in their Bible “Because the text is available elsewhere, and because of the admittedly speculative nature of including it even in a Dead Sea Scrolls Bible” (also p. 481).

(23) Abeg, Flint and Ulrich give “about 150 BCE to 68 CE” (p. xv) as the lifespan of the Jewish community at Qumran.

(24) According to Michael Knibb's The Ethiopic Book of Enoch: A New Edition in the Light of the Dead Sea Fragments, vol. 2, p. 22

(25) I Enoch 6:2 & 7b-8; this, and all other quotations from 1 Enoch are from Knibb's translation, except as noted otherwise.

(26) I Enoch 7:1-4&5b

(27) I Enoch 8:1

(28) I Enoch 10:9

(29) The Book of the Giants, qtd. from John Reeves' Jewish Lore in Manichean Cosmogony: Studies in the Book of Giants Traditions p. 65

(30) I Enoch 10:12

(31) I Enoch 10:4-5

(32) Leviticus 16:8b

(33) Leviticus 16:21-a, 16:10b

(34) Dom 3, “Son of the Fallen” description

(35) Dom 3, “Release Lord of Civilization” description

(36) Dom 3, Melquart description

(37) Conquest of Elysium 2 manual (digital file), par. 50

(38) Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East (electronic pre-pub.), “Baal” p. 3

(39) Iconography of Deities and Demons in the Ancient Near East (electronic pre-pub.), “Melqart” p. 1

(40) Legends of the Jews (H'aggada), ed. and trans. Louis Ginsberg, elecronic version, Ch. 3, par. 52

(41) 1 Enoch 14: 18-19a, for a fuller account see 1 Enoch 14:9-23

(42) Ezekiel 10:9a, 11a, 12-13

(43) Dom 3, “Call Merkavah” description. This is one of a very few instances where the graphical economy of the game is regrettable: after all of the work that goes into researching and casting this spell, the summoning itself is marked only with a text message, like any other ritual spell.

(44) American Standard Version Bible

(45) Dom 3 “Chayot” description

(46) Legends of the Jews (H'aggada), ed. and trans. Louis Ginsberg, elecronic version, Ch. 3, par. 52

(47) Numbers 13:22a, 32-33

(48) Dom 3 “Adon” description

(49) The Rabbi's Cat 2, p. 122. This form of racist caricature has also been applied to, among other groups, Indians and Pakistanis (thus the slur “macaca,” after the Macaque monkey), and the Irish (through the 19th century). It is also the origin of the persistent terms “highbrow” and “lowbrow” to describe more and less intelligent and sophisticated people and culture.

(50) The Rabbi's Cat 2, p. 126

(51) The Rabbi's Cat 2, p. 128 and p. 84

(52) The Earth Spirit p. 56

(53) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plates 16-17. All citations of Blake's work are from the Thames & Hudson William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books

(54) The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 17

Tof, thanks for this essay.

Tof, thanks for this essay. The percolations of mythical figures through contemporary entertainment forms is interesting territory. I have a hunch that most of these sorts of speculative, syncretic mythological systems show their underlying assumptions both in the figure of the deus absconditus (or the sci-fi version 'progenitor race') and the 'believer beware' notion that the gods somehow feed on quantifiable levels of human faith like a bunch of divine hedge fund traders. These tropes appear also in the Shin megami tensei games, which is the only series that strikes me as comparable in its sophisticated taking up of mythical themes.

In effectively 'unstopping' the imagined Great Chain of Being at top through an absent head honcho and at the bottom through a flattening of qualitative into quantitative differences, a space for play is opened up. But at the same time this flattening risks eliding important differences - such as that between historical institutional office in a living monotheistic tradition and images drawn from pre-modern social organisations. The single economy implies a superior optic from which the parallax views of various histories and cultures can be plundered at will. And, in thus disavowing the specificity and structuring role of institutional forms, implies a political voluntarism not at all surprising in gamers. Blake, for his part, developed his thought on excess and energy considerably in the period after the Marriage (not least in response to the failure of the Revolution), in order to try to understand why people might desire their own oppression.

Walter Benjamin noted that the decline of traditional narrative in the face of information (and incidentally, the novel form itself) made it possible to discern a new beauty in what was disappearing - as your post demonstrates, the ways that games take up mythic themes is a key test case for evaluating if this is still the case half a century on.

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