(Investigator 105, 2005
The Bible setting for David
versus Goliath is in the Valley of Elah,
30km west of Jerusalem, about 1,000 BC.
The Israelite and
Philistine armies were camped on opposite hills.
Twice daily Goliath descended into the valley and called for the war to
be decided by a two-man fight, an Israelite champion versus Goliath.
And what a man he was:
And there came
out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named
Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a
helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and
the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had
greaves of bronze upon his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between
his shoulders. And the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and
his spear's head weighed 600 shekels of iron; and his shield bearer
went before him. (I Samuel 17:4-7)
The description of armour
and weapons is culturally accurate and fits
with the period. Goliath's spear "like a weaver's beam" may not refer
to size. The weaver's beam is a block of wood that separates the
threads when weaving and has loops of cord tied around it. Goliath's
javelin had a leather cord wrapped around it with the end looped to
Goliath's finger. This made the javelin an advanced weapon, which could
be thrown much further than ordinary javelins.
David himself was no
juvenile weakling. As a shepherd he had fought off
bears and lions threatening his sheep! (1 Samuel 17:37)
The Philistines originated
in the Aegean area. They invaded and settled
coastal areas of Israel about 1200 BC. The Philistines and Israelites
were enemies for centuries. The Samson and Delilah setting, is a
century before David and Goliath. (Investigator 55)
Goliath's home, Gath – now
Tell es-Safi – was one of the five main
Philistine cities. Archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University
commenced its excavation in 1996.
Skeptics reject the
Bible on David and Goliath because:
- No humans grow "six
- Neither archaeology
nor independent historical
records verify Goliath's existence;
- There is another
Bible story where another
Israelite soldier, Elhanan, killed Goliath, apparently contradicting
that David killed Goliath.
A cubit was about 17.5
inches or 44.45cm. We know this from the Siloam
tunnel in Jerusalem which was 1,200 cubits long and can still be
measured today as 533 metres.
A "span" was the distance
between thumb and little finger of a man's
outstretched hand, considered as half a cubit.
Goliath's height comes to
6.5 x 17.5 inches = 9 feet 6 inches or 2.89
Dr Vladimir Berginer,
neurologist at Beersheba University believes
Goliath suffered from acromegaly a condition caused by excessive
secretion of the growth hormone.
The tallest known human was
an American, Robert Wadlow (1918 - 1940).
Wadlow had a tumour on the pituitary gland resulting in over secretion
of growth hormone. He reached 2.7 metres (Guinness 2000) and died aged
If Goliath had acromegaly
he might have looked impressive but was
useless as a fighter. People with acromegaly are cumbersome, not
particularly strong, and often have arthritis. Some require a
wheelchair. They may also have "tunnel vision", a narrow field of
sight, due to the tumour pressing on the optic nerve. Such people are
hardly suitable for representative combat with the outcome of a war at
Or were the Philistines
conducting a bluff? No. The weight of Goliath's
equipment suggests he was fit and strong and not a half-blind arthritic.
The New Bible Dictionary
says, "The common shekel was often used to
weigh metal objects" and shows a variation 11.08-12.25gm.
Using the average weight of
a common shekel makes Goliath's coat of
mail 11.38 x 5000 = 56.9 kilos.
The weight of Goliath's
iron spear-head was 11.38 x 600 = 6.83 kilos.
A television documentary Footsteps
of Goliath (in Australia shown on
SBS, August 21, 2005) made the following archaeological claims:
- In 1979 a 1st century
tomb discovered in Jericho
had an ossuary with the name "Goliath" inscribed. The skeletal remains
indicated a man 1.9metres tall (6 feet 3 inches). "Goliath" here was
not a personal name but a nickname.
excavation of Gath started in 1996.
Only a few skeletons of Philistines have been found, all
- In 1902 Irish
archaeologist Robert Macalister
(1850-1930) found several large skeletons almost 2 metres tall at
Gezer, 6km south of Gath and 30km west of Jerusalem. Gezer was near the
border with Israel but still in Philistine territory.
- A papyrus written by
Hori, an Egyptian scribe,
about 1200 BC warned travellers of giants who lived south of Megiddo.
- A seal impression
found at Megiddo has an engraving
of a very tall man having his head cut off with a sword.
- Inside the Abu Simbel
Temple of Ramesses II in
Egypt is a relief of an Egyptian soldier guarding prisoners in Syria,
one of whom is huge.
The Bible speaks of a tribe
called Rephaim noted for its big soldiers.
Indeed, the word "giant" is translated from rephaim and it's sometimes
ambiguous whether "rephaim" refers to the tribe or to size.
In Abraham's time the
Rephaim lived east or north-east of the Dead Sea.
(Genesis 14:5) By the time of Moses, four centuries later, most of them
had been dispossessed by the Moabites who called them "Emim" meaning
frightful ones. (Deuteronomy 2:10-11, 19-20)
Moses conquered "Og king of
Bashan" described as the "remnant of the
Rephaim". (Deuteronmy 3:6-11) Bashan was a large area east and south
east of the Sea of Galilee. King Og, it's implied, was a huge man – his
bed was 9 cubits long. (Deuteronomy 3:8-11) The phrase "remnant of the
Rephaim" refers to a remnant north-east of the Dead Sea since other
Repahaim lived west of the River Jordan (Joshua 17:14-18) and survived
When the Philistines
arrived, the western Rephaim became their allies.
In 1985 Jonathan Tubb,
curator for Syria/Palestine in the British
Museum, commenced the excavation of Tell es-Saidiyeh near the southern
border of ancient Bashan. Among the finds were seven unusually tall
skeletons from about 1200 BC, the tallest 1.95 metres.
The Bible also speaks of
the "Anakim" who lived in Canaan. The
Israelite spies described them as, "greater and taller than we".
(Deuteronomy 1:28; Numbers 13:30-33)
Josephus was a Jewish
historian of the late 1st century who wrote a
history of the Jews. In his version of David and Goliath, Goliath is
"four cubits and a span in tallness". (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 6,
Chapter 9) That's two cubits shorter than in the Bible.
Until 1947 the oldest known
biblical manuscripts were 10th century AD.
Then the Dead Sea Scrolls were found which were 1,000 years older. The
Scrolls are now available in English and include the story of David and
Goliath. They record Goliath's height as 4 cubits and a span, agreeing
with Josephus. In addition the Septuagint Version – the ancient Greek
translation of the Hebrew – also has 4 cubits!
It's probable, therefore,
that an ancient scribal error increased
Goliath's height two cubits and the error entered the manuscripts from
which our modern Bibles are translated.
If so, then Goliath's
height was 4.5 x 17.5 = 6 feet 7 inches, or 2
metres, and agrees with actual skeletons dug up by archaeologists.
This makes Goliath only
slightly taller than King Saul of Israel:
…and when he
[Saul] stood among the people, he was taller than any of
the people from his shoulders upwards. And Samuel said, "…There is none
like him among all the people." (I Samuel 10:23-24; 9:2
OTHER BIBLE GIANTS
The Bible mentions other
tall fighters. In one case an Israelite, "slew
an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits [7feet, 3 inches]
tall." (I Chronicles 11:23)
Samuel mentions four other
Philistines besides Goliath who were "descended from the giants
[Rephaim] in Gath." (II Samuel 21:15-22) The
spear weighed three hundred
shekels of bronze…" (21:16)
- "Saph, who was one of
the descendants of the
- "Elhanan…slew Goliath
the Gittite, the shaft of
whose spear was like a weaver's beam." (21:19)
- A man "of great
stature, who had six fingers on
each hand, and six toes on each foot…" (21:21)
Skeptics see the third in
the list, "Elhanan…slew Goliath the Gittite",
as contradicting the story that David killed Goliath.
However, the story of David
and Goliath occurred when David first met
King Saul. The wars involving the four above giants occurred after King
Saul died. (II Samuel 21:14ff)
Some of the details in II
Samuel 21 are repeated in I Chronicles 20.
And there it's clarified that: "Elhanan the son of Jair slew
Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite,
the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam."
This gives us now at least
two possible explanations:
- The name "Goliath"
applied to the whole family so
that each family member was "Goliath";
- After David killed
Goliath, the brother took on, or
was given, Goliath's name.
Therefore, there were two
Goliaths who were killed some years apart.
Three "giants" gained
prominence in 18th-century Ireland.
MacGrath (1736-1760) of Tipperary,
8 feet tall;
- Charles Byrne
(1761-1783) of Cork, 8½ feet;
- Patrick O'Brien
(1761-1806) of Kinsale, 8½
O'Brien was also very
strong: "He picked up pigs under each arm, threw
a smith's hammer over a church steeple and dragged a hay-laden wagon
out of a flooded ford." (Parade 1971)
The Guinness Book of
Records, apparently not recognizing claims about
O'Brien, says, "The world's tallest ‘true' (non-pathological) giant was
Angus McCaskill, who stood 2.36 m (7ft 9 in)..." (p. 152)
McCaskill (1825-1863) was
one of the strongest men ever. He lifted an
anchor weighing over a ton to shoulder height, and could jog carrying a
300-pound barrel of pork under each arm.
Clearly, extreme height up
to about 8 feet is compatible with extreme
It's probable an ancient
scribe made an error when transcribing the
Book of Samuel and increased Goliath's height from 4½ to
Goliath, therefore, was
4½ cubits, or 2 metres, tall and
"Giant" in the Bible refers
not to height alone, but also to being
powerfully built. Saul, was close to Goliath's height but was not a
While on the topic let's
clear up two so-called "contradictions".
In I Samuel 16:18-23 we
read that Saul sent for David who became his
musician and armour-bearer. In the next chapter where David kills
Goliath Saul does not know David (17:55-58) and even asks, "Whose son
are you, young man?"
This is not a contradiction
but is the common literary device of
summing up a lengthy period of time briefly before giving details about
an important event within that period. Chapter 16 tells that Saul sent
for David and that David entered his service. Chapter 17 then gives
more details about the day the two men met, the day David killed
If we want it
chronologically then Chapter 17 fits into 16:21 – "And
David came to Saul [here add Chapter 17] and entered his service".
The second "contradiction"
is that David brought Goliath's head to
Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17:54) though Jerusalem still belonged to the
Jebusites at the time.
The answer is that the
writer kept information about Goliath in close
proximity. To report about Goliath's head chronologically would have
meant mentioning that point as an isolated, out of context, statement
many chapters later.
In 1998 archaeology showed
that Goliath's home city, Gath, experienced
a "fiery destruction". Findings included remains of collapsed houses
and hundreds of pottery vessels. The probable siege trench, discovered
by aerial photography, was dated in 2001 to the Iron Age. It's 3km
long, 8 metres wide and 5 metres deep.
This fits with the Bible,
which says that Syrians took Gath in the time
of King Jehoash of Judah (II Kings 12:17-18) who ruled around 850 BC.
The Philistines vanished
from history after the 6th century BC
fulfilling the prophecy:
"The day is coming to destroy all the Philistines." (Jeremiah 47:4)
Abegg, M G; Flint P W;
Ulrich; E C 2002 The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible,
Douglas, J D 1982 New Bible
Dictionary, Second Edition, Inter-Varsity
Footsteps of Goliath [TV
program] 2004, Tom Hoste (producer) and Mike
Warmels (writer & director)
Guinness World Records
2000, Millennium Edition, p. 152
Parade 1971 Rival Giants of
Ireland, October, pp 26-27
Septuagint Greek &
English Old Testament n.d., Samuel Bagster &
Sons, Great Britain, p. 379
Vermes, G 2004 The Complete
Dead Sea Scrolls In English, Revised
GOLIATH'S NAME FOUND
(Investigator 106, 2006
Israeli archaeologists have
found evidence for Goliath's existence on a
small ceramic shard on which names similar to his appear.
The brown fragment,
probably part of a bowl, was found 2-metres below
ground at a decade-old dig in Tell es-Safi in southern Israel.
Called in the Bible "Gath
of the Philistines", Tell es-Safi is one of
the largest tells (mounds covering ancient ruins) in Israel.
The Old Testament (I Samuel
17) describes a heavily-armed Philistine
giant named Goliath, about 1000 BC, who challenged the Israelite army
to send a man to fight him. David, a shepherd who later became Israel's
king, accepted and killed the giant with a sling and stone.
Skeptics and liberal
theologians reject the story as myth invented to
glorify David's dynasty. They commonly cite the 19th-century
"documentary hypothesis" according to which much of the Old Testament
was fabricated by Jewish writers in the 6th or 5th century BC and is
The Tell es-Safi
inscription, dated to about 900 BC, is the oldest
Philistine inscription yet found in Israel. It's written in archaic
"Proto-Canaanite" letters and contains two non-Semitic names "Alwt" and
"Wlt" which are either Philistine renderings of "Goliath" or very
Dr. Aren Maeir, the
excavation director and head of the archaeology
department of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said: "It can be
suggested that in 10th - 9th century Philistine Gath, names quite
similar, and possibly identical, to Goliath were in use."
The inscription may not
refer to the biblical giant since it's dated
about 100 years after he lived and because other Philistine men may
have been named "Goliath". But it shows that non-Semitic names similar
to "Goliath" were in use at the time the Bible says Goliath existed.
Lawrence Mykytiuk, a Purdue
University Bible Scholar, said: "This
inscription supports the Bible, not with a direct identification of
Goliath, but in its historical and linguistic background." (Lorenzi, R
2005, Discovery News)
This adds to the evidence
given in Investigator 105 that Goliath was a
real person and not a literary myth fabricated 500 years later.
At least 62 people named in
the Old Testament and over 300 geographical
locations have independent archaeological verification. (Investigator
50 & 61)