Friday 8 February 2013


Until I happened across Deane Galbraith's excellent Remnant of Giants blog  I was only vaguely aware of the recurrent theme of giants in the Hebrew bible. Galbraith has shown for some considerable time now that this theme really is quite pervasive, and his blog is fascinating and well worth visiting if you haven't stumbled on it yourself.

Goliath is only one incarnation of such giants, perhaps the most famous one thanks to its reception in western art, literature and language; the term "a David and Goliath contest" is now standard fare for describing an unbalanced match.

The story we all know and love is contained in 1Samuel 17, but one of the intriguing things about this story is really there are 3½ versions in the Hebrew bible (I'll explain the half later).

Who killed Goliath?

This sounds like one of those TV panel show questions (in the UK it would be on QI with Stephen Fry) where there's a "bleedin' obvious" answer, so it's got to be wrong! Well not quite. David does indeed kill Goliath in 1Sam 17 and all the elements are there with which one is so familiar. Take this snippet about Goliath:

וְעֵץ חֲנִיתוֹ כִּמְנוֹר אֹרְגִים

Well there's some difficult vocab there. I'd translate it as:

The shaft [lit. tree] of his spear was like a weaver's beam.

A large individual indeed, and this is only one of the element of the story that points to his size. But wait a second. We have another story later on in the books of Samuel. At 2Sam 21:19 we read:

 וַתְּהִי־עוֹד הַמִּלְחָמָה בְּגוֹב עִם־פְּלִשְׁתִּים וַיַּךְ אֶלְחָנָן בֶּן־יַעְרֵי אֹרְגִים בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי אֵת גָּלְיָת הַגִּתִּי וְעֵץ חֲנִיתוֹ כִּמְנוֹר אֹרְגִים׃

[my bold - as if I needed to say!]

And there was again war in Gob with [the] Philistines, and Elhanan, son of Jaere [Oregim/the weaver] of Bethlehem smote Goliath the Gathite and the shaft [lit. tree] of his spear was like a weaver's beam.

The important point is that although this version is much shorter, and the identity of the slayer has changed, it's clearly, at its base, the same story. The victim (if I can call Goliath a "victim") is identified as the same individual: from Gath (cf 1Sam 17:4) and with the same mighty spear; a hero smote him, just in this case it's someone called Elhanan rather than David. As a side note, you can see that the word אֹרְגִים has been repeated in the verse, probably through dittography.

Thus we have two slightly contradictory versions of the same event. The fact that they are contradictory has evidently been spotted by the Chronicler(s), because in 1Chr 20:5 we read:

וַתְּהִי־עוֹד מִלְחָמָה אֶת־פְּלִשְׁתִּים וַיַּךְ אֶלְחָנָן בֶּן־יָעוּר [יָעִיר] אֶת־לַחְמִי אֲחִי גָּלְיָת הַגִּתִּי וְעֵץ חֲנִיתוֹ כִּמְנוֹר אֹרְגִים׃

[my bold, again]

And there was again war with the Philistines, and Elhanan son of Jaur [Jair] smote Lahmi brother of Goliath the Gittite and the shaft [lit. tree] of his spear was like a weaver's beam.

This is a nice little harmonization of the two accounts in the books of Samuel. If you look at the Hebrew texts you can see it even constructs the name Lahmi from the consonantal text of Bethlehem in the 2Sam 21:19 text.

I've taken this text as the third of the 3½ versions mentioned above even though here Goliath doesn't die, rather his brother does. Presumably the Chronicler(s) was/were happy to leave David with the credit of killing Goliath himself, although that particular episode is not mentioned here.

Explaining how these 3 texts have come about and how they have influenced each other has been subject to much study and a degree of disagreement. I have my own views (some of which I have reflected above without discussion), but I would really like to do a post about the half version, and how it fits in.

So where is this half version? Well in some manuscripts of the Old Greek translation (I'm trying to adopt OG nomenclature rather than LXX - it's a bit hard to break a habit) the well-known story of 1Sam 17 is a little different, and significantly shorter than the familiar well-elaborated Hebrew story. What does it look like and why, are important questions. That's what I'll take a look at in my next post.


  1. "The victim (if I can call Goliath a "victim") is identified as the same individual: from Gath"

    You are mistaken, the stories are not the same. In the second, David is leading his own men and the Goliath is a Gittite and it is made clear in verse 22 of 2 Samuel 21 that the four men were NOT the same man. You will also notice that in 1 Chron. 20:5 that it was the BROTHER of the GITTITE that was killed NOT Goliath, the passage is very clear about this.

    The size of the staff is only important to the size of the person and is not saying it is the same story told 3 times.

    Oh and please stop rendering YOUR version of the Bible. It is not a correct translation and has no bearing on the story

    1. You are mistaken:
      1) As HALOT points out "גִּתִּי: gentilic of גַּת B1; הַגִּתִּי from Gath". These are one and the same Goliath.
      2) 1Chr 20:5 does indeed refer to the brother of Goliath, as I had already pointed out, leaving David to kill Goliath himself. This is its harmonization of the two contradictory stories in the books of Samuel, which it achieves by a slight adjustment of the consonantal text, as I also pointed out. To elaborate further, the very word for brother אֲחִי (it's in the construct form) is a neat adjustment of the definite direct object marker אֵת.
      3) The fact that the verbatim expression about the size of the staff is used in these 3 cases, and only in these three cases, betrays that there is a literary connection. I fail to see how anyone can think otherwise. In some contexts in the modern world the authors would have to answer for plagiarism for such a practice!
      4) If you think I have mistranslated anything, then please be precise and I'll be happy to look into it and respond. I will certainly not refrain from translating the bible, and I consider it rude of you to suggest I do.

      In a future post I intend to examine models of how the various authors used and adapted their sources. Perhaps this might help you become informed about the debate here, although being familiar with your posts on other sites I don't store up too much hope. Perhaps you can surprise me.