Tuesday 16 April 2013

Who Killed Goliath? (Part 4)

It's about time I got back to the theme I promised to continue. This is part 4, and if you haven't read them yet, first you really need to read parts one to three which you can find here:

A Résumé of the Argument So Far.
The Hebrew text of the bible has 3 stories of how Goliath met his end (1Sam 17; 2Sam 21:19; 1Chr 20:5), although the 3rd one whilst clearly linked to the first two, now has Goliath's brother Lahmi - a "literary" creation out of the consonants for Bethlehem - that dies.
The briefest and simplest story is the one in 2 Sam 21:19 where Elhanan kills Goliath. The most detailed version is the 1Sam 17 story, which itself has two different versions, the Hebrew version found in the Masoretic text, and the Greek version found in the Old Greek texts. The Greek form of the 1Sam 17 story is significantly shorter than the Hebrew, and it seems rather more coherent as well, although from time to time it contains a small detail not found in the Hebrew version.

Making Sense of the Data - 1Chronicles 20:5
The easiest part to explain in the evolution of the 3½ versions (as I have called them) of the Goliath story is how the 1Chr 20:5 account was written. Chronicles is a comparatively late work which is well known for having used the books of Samuel and Kings, amongst others, as its sources. Its knowledge of the 2 stories of Goliath's death in Samuel is therefore unquestionable.
Indeed the consonantal text of 1Chr 20 5 is almost identical with that of 2Sam 21:19, showing only minor changes. Remember that prior to the Masoretes the text only contained the consonants, not the vowel points. Here are the two consonantal texts, colour-coded as follows:
Black - these consonants are identical in the other text.
Blue - these consonants have an equivalent in the other text, but they have been altered or repeated.
Red - these consonants have no equivalent in the other text.

2Sam ותהי־עוד המלחמה בגוב עם־פלשׁתים ויך אלחנן בן־יערי ארגים בית הלחמי את גלית הגתי ועץ חניתו כמנור ארגים׃
ותהי־עוד מלחמה את־פלשׁתים ויך אלחנן בן־יעיר את־לחמי אחי גלית הגתי ועץ חניתו כמנור ארגים׃
2Samuel- And there was again the war in Gob with the Philistines, and Elhanan son of Jaare Oregim [a weaver] a Bethlehemite smote Goliath the Gittite and the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam.
1Chronicles- And there was again war with the Philistines and Elhanan son of Jair smote Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, and the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam.
You can see the enormous overlap of the two texts. The red consonants consist of only one significant piece of information - Gob (the location of the battle). The only remaining red consonant is the definite article.
The blue consonants consist of:
A different preposition used for "with"
The spelling of the name Jair/Jaare.
Dittography of Oregim/weaver.
Conversion of "Bethlehemite" to direct definite object marker + Lahmi.
Conversion of definite direct object marker to "brother of".
Everything else is identical between the two verses. Thus it is easy to spot dependency of one on the other.

Other Aspects of of the Book of Chronicles
There are a few more qualities of the book of Chronicles that come into play here. Firstly we should recognise the unwavering support for King David in the book of Chronicles. Compare this with Deuteronomistic History (DH - a term denoting the "historical" overall narrative of the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings) which gives quite a 3 dimensional picture of David - a sort of "warts and all" approach. In contrast, Chronicles gives a thoroughgoing positive appraisal of David omitting, for example, most of his rise to power (where he only gradually gained ascendency over Saul), his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. Thus, the elimination from Chronicles of the competing story, of someone other than David killing Goliath, fits well with the chronicler's aims.
Secondly, the chronicler tends to "iron out" difficulties he finds in his sources. For example, both 1Chr 16:39 and 2Chr 1:3 have the tent of Yahweh at Gibeon for Solomon's encounter with god, thus eliminating the implicit meeting of god at a forbidden "high place" in 1Kings 3.
I'm going to give below a second example of this "ironing-out of difficulties" approach of the chronicler, as is shows up an issue that you might easily miss if you don't read Hebrew and only read the bible in translation.

An Excursus. Chronicles' Harmonisation - What does בָּשַׁל mean?
Those readers who do know classical Hebrew probably remember learning this word with the gloss of "to boil", and it is most often used for boiling meat. Although this is by far its most common meaning, top marks if you have also remembered there are two instances (or 3 if you include 1QPsalmsa) where it refers to "ripening" of fruit or the harvest. As a verb it occurs 28 times in the Masoretic Text (MT) and a further 2 occasions in the form of the associated adjective בָּשֵׁל - "boiled".

It's the verb used in the often quoted commandment (Exo 23:19; 34:26; Deu 14:21):

 לֹא־תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ
Do not boil a kid in the milk of its mother.

which is even today used to justify the kosher practice of never eating dairy products with meat (a little stretch of the command!).
When it comes to the passover meal, the verb features again, this time in 2 different passages which have a tension between them. Here's Exodus 12:8-9:

8 וְאָכְלוּ אֶת־הַבָּשָׂר בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה צְלִי־אֵשׁ וּמַצּוֹת עַל־מְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ 
9 אַל־תֹּאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ נָא וּבָשֵׁל מְבֻשָּׁל בַּמָּיִם כִּי אִם־צְלִי־אֵשׁ רֹאשׁוֹ עַל־כְּרָעָיו וְעַל־קִרְבּוֹ
8 And they will eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire, and they will eat unleavened bread with bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, rather roasted in fire its head upon its legs upon its entrails.

Note the tautological adjective-verb/participle clause וּבָשֵׁל מְבֻשָּׁל - difficult to capture in English; perhaps like an infinitive absolute, "certainly not boiled!"; I've only been able to find Lev 26:10 with a similar structure (ישׁן repeated in adjectival and verbal/participle form) - if you can find any more, please let me know. Anyway, the message is clear - you must certainly not boil this meat!
So that makes Deu 16:7 rather difficult when it too describes how to cook the Passover sacrifice:
 וּבִשַּׁלְתָּ וְאָכַלְתָּ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ
And you shall boil [it] and eat [it] in the place which Yahweh your god will choose.
Many translations of the bible into English get over this discrepancy by translating the verb "cook" here instead of "boil"; but if you can read Hebrew you can see it's the same verb in both cases. Even the Tanakh of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) does this kind of harmonisation, and marvelously it's own commentary corrects it thus:
Cook: more accurately, “boil,” like other standard sacrifices (Exod. 29:1; Lev. 6:21; 8:31; Num. 6:19; 1 Sam. 2:13, 15; Zech. 14:21). This prescription is at odds with the earlier stipulation that the paschal offering be “roasted by fire,” not “boiled in water” (Exod. 12:8–9; Hebrew). The Passover is now being treated as a standard sacrifice.
I've cut short the quotation from the commentary as it goes on to "steal my thunder" (see below).
The chronicler has also spotted the contradiction in the two earlier texts, and he didn't have the option open to him of mistranslation to resolve the difficulty; so instead he went about it it in a different way here in 2Chronicles 35:13 where Josiah celebrates the Passover in regal fashion:

 וַיְבַשְּׁלוּ הַפֶּסַח בָּאֵשׁ כַּמִּשְׁפָּט וְהַקֳּדָשִׁים בִּשְּׁלוּ בַּסִּירוֹת וּבַדְּוָדִים וּבַצֵּלָחוֹת וַיָּרִיצוּ לְכָל־בְּנֵי הָעָם

They boiled the Passover sacrifice in the fire according to the ordinance, and they boiled the holy food in the pots, the pans and the dishes, and hurried it to all the sons of the people.
Here we have two instances of בָּשַׁל "boiled". The one I've highlighted in red no longer makes sense because the chronicler has added "in the fire" two words later; it's clearly an attempt to make בָּשַׁל mean "roasted" - you can't "boil in the fire". All translations of the bible will thus use "roasted", "cooked" or something similar here, because that's clearly the sense the chronicler intended; he has just changed the meaning of the word "boil" in order to iron out the contradiction between the Exodus and Deuteronomy stipulations - a harmonisation worthy of any modern-day fundamentalist!
I can now finish the quote I gave from the JPS commentary above:
These two mutually inconsistent laws are harmonized at 2 Chron. 35:13, where the Hebrew paradoxically reads: “They boiled the Passover offering by fire, according to the law.”

Summary of Characteristics of the Book of Chronicles
So thus we see some characteristics of the book of Chronicles:
Use of and reliance on earlier sources
Promotion of positive view of King David
Resolution of difficulties in earlier texts

Chronicles' account of David and Goliath (Elhanan and Lahmi)
All of these go to explain how the story of Elhanan killing Goliath's brother Lahmi in 1Chr 20:5 arose:

1. The chronicler was aware of the two different stories in 1Sam 17 and 2Sam 21:19.
2. He wanted to protect the story of his hero, David, killing Goliath.
3. He found a way of mildly adjusting the Hebrew text of 2Sam 21:19 thus creating a brother of Goliath, Lahmi, for Elhanan to kill.
4. A resolution of the contradictions between 2 earlier texts is achieved!

Thus the account in Chronicles is a late harmonisation. It is entirely dependent on the two earlier accounts, and adds little that is useful in determining how earlier accounts arose. All we can say from Chronicles is that the 2Sam 21:19 account must have existed already pretty much verbatim with what we have there now by the time the chronicler adapted it. Also, there must have been, by this time, a story of David killing Goliath, probably a form of the story in 1Sam 17; but in what was the earliest form of this story?

Tune in to the next episode of "Who Killed Goliath?"...


  1. Thank you very much for this. It is very helpful to see these highlights from a person who reads Hebrew. With only a very minimal understanding of Greek (and ability to utilize resources), I have seen similar translation issues in the New Testament, but am totally unfamiliar with the Tanakh. Your ability to demonstrate this informatively is illuminating.

    I am bemused by how often inter-doctrinal arguments arise in Christianity over one word (or worse—the Strong’s definition of the word) when translations demonstrate the bias of the translators attempting to harmonize perceived discrepancies.

  2. DagoodS, Many thanks for your kind words.

  3. Thanks VRS. I can t wait for part 5