Goliath of Gath part 1
by John Thomas Lowe
bDavid and Goliath
Goliath is a character in the biblical Book of Samuel, described as a Philistine giant defeated by the young David in single combat. The story signified Saul's unfitness to rule since Saul himself should have fought for Israel. Scholars today believe that the initially listed killer of Goliath was Elhanan, son of Jair and that the authors of the aDeuteronomic history changed the original text to credit the victory to the more famous character David.
a Deuteronomic history - of or relating to the book of Deuteronomy, its style, or its contents.
b The phrase "David and Goliath" has taken on a more popular meaning denoting an underdog situation, a contest wherein a smaller, weaker opponent faces a much bigger, stronger adversary.
• 1. Biblical account
o 1.1 The Goliath narrative in 1 Samuel 17
o 1.2 Composition of the Book of Samuel
o 1.3 Structure of the Goliath narrative
• 2. Textual considerations
o 2.1 Goliath's height
o 2.2 Goliath and Saul
o 2.3 Elhanan and Goliath
o 2.4 Goliath and the Greeks
o 2.5 Goliath's name
• 3. Later traditions
o 3.1 Jewish
o 3.2 Islam
• 4. How is Goliath characterized in this episode?
• 5. What happens to the head of Goliath
• 6. Men in the Old Testament
1. Biblical account
1.1 The Goliath narrative in 1 Samuel 17
Goliath challenges the Israelites to choose a fighter to face him one on one, with the losing nation to become slaves of the other. Even for an experienced fighter, this represents a daunting task, and David has first to convince Saul that he is equal to the task. Testifying about his prowess against lions and bears, David's speech is impressive, and Saul agrees to allow him to enter the ring. Even more impressive are David's words to Goliath, asserting that the battle belongs to God and intends to use the giant's sword to decapitate him (1Sam 17:45-47). It should be noted that David rejects the offer of Saul's armor, but he does have a slingshot in his hand, a weapon customarily identified with Benjamin, Saul's tribe (see Judg 20:15-16). In the other hand, David also takes a shepherd's staff, an implement that in 1Sam 17:43 provides Goliath with a canine insult: "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" However, David is merely using the staff as a distraction, and evidently, Goliath takes the bait and does not see the well-aimed rock that hits his forehead, causing him to fall face-first to the ground.
Like an athlete who guarantees victory before the game, true to his word, David cuts off the head of the Philistine with the giant's sword. However, Goliath's head is subject to an exciting postmortem journey, for according to 1Sam 17:54, David carries the head to Jerusalem. At this point in the larger story, Jerusalem is a non-Israelite city, and even though it is in the heart of the promised land, no Israelite has conquered it. In 2Sam 5, David will successfully invade it, rename it "the city of David," and transform it into the national capital. Thus the head of Goliath in 1Sam 17 acts as a kind of security deposit, anticipating David's more significant achievement and installation as the king of all Israel.
Some of the most popular and enduring stories involve an underdog who overcomes tremendous obstacles and secures victory against the odds. Arguably the most famous of such stories is the unlikely triumph of David—the young Israelite shepherd—against the battle-hardened Philistine war machine, the nine-foot-nine Goliath of Gath. Even though many people have heard about "David versus Goliath" in the media, the actual details of the story in 1Sam 17 are less widely known. According to the biblical story, the Philistines and Israelites were locked in a heated struggle over a limited amount of land. The Philistines enjoyed a technological advantage (see 1Sam 13:16-22) and usually held the upper hand, but in this case, the tables were turned.
Saul and the Israelites are facing the Philistines in the Valley of Elah. Twice a day for 40 days, morning and evening, Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, comes out between the lines and challenges the Israelites to send out a champion of their own to decide the outcome in single combat but Saul is afraid. David accepts the challenge. Saul reluctantly agrees and offers his armor which David declines, taking only his staff, sling, and five stones from a brook.
David and Goliath confront each other, Goliath with his armor and javelin, David with his staff and sling. "The Philistine cursed David by his gods." However, David replies: "This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel and that all this assembly may know that God saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is God's, and he will give you into our hand."
David hurls a stone from his sling and hits Goliath in the center of his forehead, and Goliath falls on his face to the ground; David cuts off his head. The Philistines flee and are pursued by the Israelites "as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron." David puts the armor of Goliath in his tent and takes the head to Jerusalem, and Saul sends Abner to bring the boy to him. The king asks whose son he is, and David answers, "I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.
1.2 Composition of the Book of Samuel
The Books of Samuel, together with the books of Joshua, Judges, and Kings, make up a unified history of Israel which biblical scholars call the aDeuteronomistic History. The first edition of the history was probably written at the court of Judah's King Josiah (late 7th century BCE) and a revised second edition during the exile (6th century BCE), with further revisions in the post-exilic period. This can be seen in contradictions within the Goliath story, such as between 1 Samuel 17:54, which says that David took Goliath's head to Jerusalem. However, according to 2 Samuel 5, Jerusalem was still a Jebusite stronghold and was not captured until David became king.
1.3 Structure of the Goliath narrative
The Goliath story is made up of a base narrative with numerous additions probably after the exile:
• The Israelites and Philistines face each other; Goliath makes his challenge to single combat;
• David volunteers to fight Goliath;
• David selects five smooth stones from a creek-bed to be used in his sling;
• David defeats Goliath. The Philistines flee the battlefield.
• David is sent by his father to bring food to his brothers, hears the challenge, and expresses his desire to accept;
• Details of the account of the battle;
• Saul asks who David is, and he is introduced to the king through Abner.
David hoists the severed head of Goliath
2. Textual considerations
2.1 Goliath's height
The oldest manuscripts, namely the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Samuel from the late 1st century BCE, the 1st-century CE historian Josephus, and the significant Septuagint manuscripts, all give it as "four cubits and a span" (6 feet 9 inches or 2.06 meters). In contrast, the cMasoretic text has "six cubits and a span" (9 feet 9 inches or 2.97 meters). Many scholars had suggested that the smaller number grew in the course of transmission (only a few have suggested the reverse, that an original more significant number was reduced), possibly when a scribe's eye was drawn to the number six in line 17:7.
cThe Masoretic Text: Hebrew and Aramaic text of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) in Rabbinic Judaism.
2.2 Goliath and Saul
The underlying purpose of the story of Goliath is to show that Saul is not fit to be king (and that David is). Saul was chosen to lead the Israelites against their enemies, but when faced with Goliath, he refuses to do so; Saul is a head taller than anyone else in all Israel (1 Samuel 9:2), which implies he was over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall and the apparent challenger for Goliath. Yet, David is the one who eventually defeated him. Also, Saul's armor and weaponry are no worse than Goliath's (and David refuses Saul's armor in any case). "David declares that when a lion or bear came and attacked his father's sheep, he battled against it and killed it, but Saul has been cowering in fear instead of rising and attacking the threat to his sheep (i.e., Israel)."
2.3 Elhanan and Goliath
2 Samuel 21:19 tells how Goliath the Gittite was killed by "Elhanan, the son of Jacare-oregim, the Bethlehemite." Scholars believe that the original killer of Goliath was Elhanan and that the authors of the Deuteronomic history changed the text to credit the victory to the more famous character David. The fourth-century BC 1 Chronicle 20:5 explains the second Goliath by saying that Elhanan "slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath," constructing the name Lahmi from the last portion of the word "Bethlehemite" ("beit-ha'lahmi"). The King James Bible adopted this into 2 Samuel 21:18–19, but the Hebrew text at Goliath's name does not mention the word "brother."
"Most scholars dismiss the parallel in 1 Chronicles 20:5 as an obvious harmonization". "Halpern represents perhaps a majority of current scholars."
2.4 Goliath and the Greeks
The armor described in 1 Samuel 17 appears typical of Greek armor of the sixth century BCE rather than of Philistine armor of the tenth century; narrative formulae such as the settlement of battle by single combat between champions have been thought characteristic of the Homeric epics (the Iliad) rather than of the ancient Near East. The designation of Goliath as a איש הביניים, "man of the in-between" (a longstanding difficulty in translating 1 Samuel 17) appears to be a borrowing from Greek "man of the metaikhmion (μεταίχμιον)," i.e., the space between two opposite army camps where champion combat would take place.