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Here's an interesting follow-up to yesterday's post about giants.
In Sacred Monsters, I noted that the Talmud's statements about Moshe Rabeinu being ten cubits high occur in an Aggadic context, and could reasonably be interpreted either literally or allegorically (and there is a dispute amongst the Rishonim/ Acharonim regarding this). On the other hand, the Talmud's description of the Levites being ten cubits tall occurs in a halachic context - the Gemara derives halachos regarding carrying on Shabbos from it. Perhaps one could claim that the Talmud is speaking about metaphysical ideals, as per the view of the Maharal regarding Moses’ height, but this seems overly contrived. The Talmud does seem to be speaking literally.
But Moshav Zekeinim raises a question. If Aharon was the same height as the Mishkan, how could he walk around inside it with the mitznefes on his head? And a reader yesterday raised another question: Why were there three steps leading up to the menorah, as recorded in the Gemara (Menachos 29a) and Sifri (Beha'alosecha 8:3)?
One answer given is that Aharon was, very conveniently, much shorter than his brother and the rest of the Levites. It is also suggested that the steps leading up to the menorah were for future generations of kohanim, who were of ordinary height, rather than for Aharon himself. See this sefer for a collection of sources discussing further ramifications of this issue, such as the question of how Aharon could have held up Moshe's arms.
So there were definitely many who took this description literally. In my book, I wrote that one would be hard pressed to find any contemporary illustration of Moses and Pharaoh, or of the Levites with the Tabernacle, that depict them as being fifteen feet tall, the same height as the Mishkan itself. But yesterday, someone pointed out an illustration that does indeed depict them this way, in the Feldheim Mishnayos illustrated by Yoni Gerstein, and a reader was kind enough to send it in. Here it is:
All that can be said in order to reconcile the Gemara with the rationalist approach (such as that of Rambam, who "shrinks" even Og to six cubits on the grounds that it is impossible for a person to be taller than that), is that the Talmud's source for deducing the height of the Levites is related to how they carried the altar, assuming it to likewise be ten cubits tall. However, this is a matter of dispute; according to Rabbi Yehudah’s view that the Altar was only three cubits tall, there is no argument that the Levites were ten cubits tall. One could probably also argue that the description of the steps to the menorah likely indicates a presumption, at least according to the author of that statement, that all the kohanim were of ordinary height.
I just have one observation left. It is remarkable that the people who believe that ordinary humans can give birth to people fifteen feet all, with all the vast physiological modifications to the skeleton, muscles and circulatory system that are necessary (since a human cannot just be "scaled up"), are usually the same people who claim evolution to be scientifically impossible.