Who killed Goliath? (Part 2)
I've received some constructive criticism that I should be clearer on this blog about what I am trying to do. For the time being I'll restrict myself to explaining what I'm trying to set out in this Goliath mini-series of posts (for the first post see here). But I think later on I might devote a whole post to the purpose of this blog as I see it at the moment.
Different traditions about Goliath
Most readers of the bible miss that there are a number of divergent stories about Goliath. All these stories have links to each other, but I find it fascinating to consider how each one came into existence, how they came to be included in the bible and what connections they have with each other. To summarize so far:
1) David killed Goliath (1Samuel 17).
2) Elhanan killed Goliath (2Samuel 21).
3) Elhanan killed Lahmi, Goliath's brother (1Chronicles 20).
The fact that these 3 stories are intimately linked is evident, amongst other things, from the fact that they all share verbatim a short phrase about the victim:
וְעֵץ חֲנִיתוֹ כִּמְנוֹר אֹרְגִים
The shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam
Thus there must be some common history to the transmission of these stories. Indeed I've already pointed out that the Chronicler's version is an attempt to harmonize the 2 accounts in the books of Samuel.
Those who read the Old Greek (OG) translation of the Hebrew bible usually have something else to contend with; I've called this the "third-and-a-half version", because it is really a variant of the 1Samuel 17 story. But it's quite dissimilar to the Hebrew text, and so there also arises the question of why it is so dissimilar, and what does this dissimilarity mean for the evolution of the 3½ stories.
And that's what this mini series is about. I'm not really trying to prove anything, just explore some of the variations in the the story of Goliath's death.
The Old Greek (aka the Septuagint - but I'm trying to avoid that term)
The first thing to point out is the Old Greek agrees that the victim's spear had a "shaft like a weaver's beam" in all three full versions of the story. This snippet is translated slightly differently each time, but the differences in translation are small, and thus the vorlage of the OG must have contained these words.
καὶ ὁ κοντὸς τοῦ δόρατος αὐτοῦ ὡσεὶ μέσακλον ὑφαινόντων (1Sam 17:7)
καὶ τὸ ξύλον τοῦ δόρατος αὐτοῦ ὡς ἀντίον ὑφαινόντων (2Sam 21:19)
καὶ ξύλον δόρατος αὐτοῦ ὡς ἀντίον ὑφαινόντων (1Chr 20:5)
So far so good! So what are the differences in the 1Sam 17 OG version from the Hebrew version that we now have?
Well overall the OG version is much shorter than the Hebrew version although, set against this, there are some small details that are only found in the OG version. It's the shortness of the OG version that I want to look at first, and this shortness is the overriding characteristic of the OG in this passage. In fact the shortness is a characteristic that is found in the proceeding and succeeding chapters as well i.e. all of 1Sam 16 - 18 is shorter in the Greek than in the Hebrew. Reading the OG of these chapters really does give quite a different flavour to the whole story.
I'll give a small example of the shortness of the OG text, but first a vocabulary question:
What does "to smite" mean?
"Smite" is not a word we use often these days. Those brought up on old English translations of the bible, like the KJV, will undoubtedly have heard it many times, and perhaps they know exactly what it means, but equally perhaps they think they know what it means. So here's a little test:
If Amos, say, smote Benjamin, say, is Benjamin now:
a) dead, or
b) grievously wounded?
Well the answer is that it varies according to the context. The KJV translators (and presumably those before them on whom they relied, but I haven't checked) tended to translate the verb נָכָה as "smite". And נָכָה varies in the Hebrew text as to just how "done in" the smitten individual is. Such texts can be quite ambiguous; I don't know if the English verb "smite" was ambiguous before it was used in bible translations in this way, but it has to be now.
That said, here's another question:
In what specific verse in 1Sam 17 does Goliath actually die?
Before you read on here on this blog, go back to the text and answer for yourself the question above.
Okay, for those reading in Hebrew we have an instance of נָכָה. Here's verse 49:
וַיִּשְׁלַח דָּוִד אֶת־יָדוֹ אֶל־הַכֶּלִי וַיִּקַּח מִשָּׁם אֶבֶן וַיְקַלַּע וַיַּךְ אֶת־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי אֶל־מִצְחוֹ וַתִּטְבַּע הָאֶבֶן בְּמִצְחוֹ וַיִּפֹּל עַל־פָּנָיו אָרְצָה׃
So, not wishing to sound cruel, is Goliath dead yet? Hmm... will he was smitten with the stone deep into his forehead and he has fallen on his face to the ground. Remember, "to smite" is ambiguous, but that's not all there is here. One could argue that he was seriously wounded, yet still alive; however in the Hebrew, verse 50 makes it clear he was dead:
וַיֶּחֱזַק דָּוִד מִן־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי בַּקֶּלַע וּבָאֶבֶן וַיַּךְ אֶת־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי וַיְמִיתֵהוּ וְחֶרֶב אֵין בְּיַד־דָּוִד׃David was stronger than the Philistine with the sling and with the stone, and he smote the Philistine and killed him, yet there was no sword in his hand.
Quite clearly he's dead. But there are a couple of curious things here:
i) the OG doesn't have verse 50 in most of the manuscripts, and
ii) he dies again in verse 51.
Here's the first part of verse 51:
וַיָּרָץ דָּוִד וַיַּעֲמֹד אֶל־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי וַיִּקַּח אֶת־חַרְבּוֹ וַיִּשְׁלְפָהּ מִתַּעְרָהּ וַיְמֹתְתֵהוּ וַיִּכְרָת־בָּהּ אֶת־רֹאשׁוֹ
And David ran and stood near the Philistine and took his sword; he drew it from its sheath and killed him, and cut off with it [the sword] his head.
Well that's odd isn't it!? Yet it's not odd in the OG. If you look at the sequence of action, the Hebrew doesn't make much sense:
1) David kills Goliath (verse 49),
2) David had certainly killed Goliath and there wasn't even a sword in his hand (verse 50),
3) David kills Goliath again, this time with a sword (verse 51).
But the sequence in the OG makes much more sense:
1) David grievously wounds Goliath with sling and stone (verse 49),
2) David kills an already grievously wounded Goliath with a sword (verse 51).
Because the OG doesn't have verse 50, the sequence here actually makes much more sense than the Hebrew.
Attention to detail
I mentioned above that although the OG text is much shorter in these chapters than the Hebrew text, occasionally the OG does give a detail which is missing from the Hebrew. One such instance occurs here. In verse 49, when David's stone strikes Goliath on the forehead the OG describes it thus:
...καὶ διέδυ ὁ λίθος διὰ τῆς περικεφαλαίας εἰς τὸ μέτωπον αὐτοῦ...
...and the stone slipped through the helmet to his forehead...
The Hebrew text has the forehead but nothing about the helmet here. The Greek text has remembered that Goliath wore a helmet (it's back in verse 5) and has dealt with the fact.
So all in all we have a very coherent Greek text and a rather less than coherent Hebrew text here. When situations like this arise I always like to ask myself which version is likely to be earlier and which later? Is one text directly dependent on the other? Has one text sought to "correct" the other. Has there been a degree of independence in the evolution of the two texts?
I hope to do some more posts looking at this issue. There are an awful lot of different readings between the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Goliath story. In the meantime you might like to check out a 2012 thesis at Durham University by Benjamin J.M. Johnson entitled "A Reading of the David and Goliath Narrative in Greek and Hebrew". It's available online here and whilst I wouldn't agree with everything he says, it is certainly quite thorough.