Tuesday 26 February 2013

Who Killed Goliath? (Part 3)

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up - I've been ill.

In my last post I gave an example of the difference between the Old Greek (OG) text of 1Samuel 17 and the Masoretic Text (MT). I pointed out that overall the OG is considerably shorter than the MT although, conversely, there are a few details that the OG has that are missing in the MT.

The example I gave (1Sam 17:49-51) is only a small example of the shortness of the OG text. So before moving on to examining some possible models for explaining how these differences arose, I'd like to look at one further example which is a much more major absence from the OG text.

Earlier on in 1Samuel 17 an entire section is absent from the OG, that is verses 12-31. In the MT this passage serves to:
  1. Introduce David again (cf. 1Sam 16:1-13) and some of his brothers,
  2. Situate David in Bethlehem and yet explain how David was in Bethlehem whereas he had been with Saul at the end of chapter 16 (1Sam 17:15),
  3. Provide an explanation of how David came to be at the battlefield, rendered necessary by placing him in Bethlehem,
  4. Explain how he heard the taunts of Goliath,
  5. Outline the reward of the hand in marriage of a daughter of Saul to the one who kills Goliath,
  6. Relate a small argument between Eliab and David, and
  7. Describe how David came to volunteer to enter the duel.

Okay so there's a lot there, and we've not yet looked at how the OG works without these elements (I'll address that below). Some of the elements here work well independently of the rest of the story.

For example, the small dispute between Eliab and David is only really referenced in this passage. Eliab's only other mention in Samuel is back in chapter 16, when he was the first son of Jesse to be presented to Samuel. So the dispute story here is nicely self-contained.

But not all the elements above are so neat. We're going to meet a considerable development of the offer of the hand in marriage of a daughter of Saul later on in the book, something which contains its ongoing confusions (just which daughter?).

However some of the elements listed above have to deal with tensions created within these verses themselves. Take the introduction of David; no-one who reads the work from start to finish can fail to be intrigued that David gets this second introduction. Let's have a look at the first verse (1Sam 17:12):

וְדָוִד בֶּן־אִישׁ אֶפְרָתִי הַזֶּה מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה וּשְׁמוֹ יִשַׁי וְלוֹ שְׁמֹנָה בָנִים וְהָאִישׁ בִּימֵי שָׁאוּל זָקֵן בָּא בַאֲנָשִׁים׃

And David was the son of that Ephrathite man from Bethlehem of Judah, his name was Jesse, and to him were eight sons; and the man, in the days of Saul, had come to be old amongst men.

There's a little problem at the end of this verse, and most translations modify the last word following the Lucianic recension, the Vorlage of which presumably read בַשָּׁנִים (or rather the same word without the vowel-pointing). This would make the ending "... had come to be old in years.".

As you read this verse there are some things which seem very familiar, even formulaic - well perhaps almost but not quite. Other things are a little odd about this verse. Starting with the oddities, who is the subject? David is right there as the first word (again in vss 14 and 15 - some significant prominence!), and yet the subject swiftly changes to Jesse. The subject stays with Jesse through vs 13 as other sons are (re-)introduced.

Verse 12 feels very reminiscent of the standard formula for introducing someone in the Hebrew bible. Let's take Judges 17:1 as a good example, but there are lots of others (Judg 13:2; 19:1; 1Sam 1:1; 9:1 etc.):

וַיְהִי־אִישׁ מֵהַר־אֶפְרָיִם וּשְׁמוֹ מִיכָיְהוּ׃
There was a man from the mountain of Ephraim, his name was Micah.

How close is our 1Sam re-introduction to this standard formula? It has often been pointed out that one would only need to replace וְדָוִד בֶּן by וַיְהִי and delete the word הַזֶּה and you'd get the standard formula, which would read:

וַיְהִי־אִישׁ אֶפְרָתִי מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה וּשְׁמוֹ יִשַׁי וְלוֹ שְׁמֹנָה בָנִים וְהָאִישׁ בִּימֵי שָׁאוּל זָקֵן בָּא בַאֲנָשִׁים׃
There was an Ephrathite man from Bethlehem of Judah, his name was Jesse...

This also has the advantage of eliminating the multiple subjects problem. David would now be introduced in verse 14.

So what are we saying here? Well there are two introductions to David, the first in 1Sam 16:1-13 and the second here in 1Sam 17:12-15. In particular, 1Sam 17:12 seems a very formulaic introduction with just the amendment of a couple of words. The fact that the OG doesn't have this second introduction (amongst other things) serves to enhance its coherence.

If you add it to this mix other elements from the list of elements to 1Sam17:12-31 I started with above, such as getting David to be back with Saul when he was already with him according to chapter 16, it looks like this passage has a history independent from the main 1Sam 17 text, or at least we may have independent strands that have been woven together.

This is further borne out when one looks at how the text works in the OG, or how it would work in the MT without the verses 17:12-31. If you remember from chapter 16, David has become Saul's "music-therapist" (a bit of a tongue-in-cheek term I know, but an easy way to remember that David was always present for Saul when needed). In chapter 17 Saul leads the Israelites to meet in battle the Philistines who have encroached its borders. If it weren't for verses 12-31 it would be reasonable to assume David was still with them (for verses 12-31 David has unexpectedly returned to Bethlehem - verse 15 is a harmonizing verse which tries to explain this). In the confrontation, Goliath issues taunts against the Israelites. In verse 11 we get the reaction of the Israelites and Saul:

וַיִּשְׁמַע שָׁאוּל וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת־דִּבְרֵי הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי הָאֵלֶּה וַיֵּחַתּוּ וַיִּרְאוּ מְאֹד׃
Saul and all of Israel heard these words of the Philistine; they were dismayed and were very afraid.

In the OG the next verse gives David's response to this fear. Here it is from the MT (17:32):

וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל־שָׁאוּל אַל־יִפֹּל לֵב־אָדָם עָלָיו עַבְדְּךָ יֵלֵךְ וְנִלְחַם עִם־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי הַזֶּה׃
And David said to Saul, "Do not let the heart of a man fall upon him; your servant will go and will fight with this Philistine."

In the OG of this verse, instead of "a man" we read τοῦ κυρίου μου presumably meaning Saul. Both versions of this verse follow nicely on from verse 11 with David telling Saul that he (or no man) need fear - David will deal with the situation. So the OG makes very good sense without the intervening verses in the MT.

What are we to make of all this? Well the OG is very much shorter than the MT. Yet it is a remarkably coherent text which, indeed, does not contain a good many of the difficulties that are found in the MT (and more examples of such difficulties could be given). It sometimes gives a few details missing from the MT. Nevertheless, some of the details given only in the MT seem to foreshadow later themes (e.g. the promise of the hand in marriage of a daughter of Saul).

We seem to have two forms of the story with significant differences from each other, both of which have been cherished enough to have been preserved and passed down to us. The obvious question is, which form of the story is earlier? Indeed, what can we say about the evolution of this story?

For my next post on this theme I want to have a look at some of the models that have been proposed to address these questions. I'm going to see if I can get this blogger software to allow me to do some diagrams, so this may take some time.

In the meantime, I'm tempted to alternate some of my Goliath posts with other material, particularly something about the New Testament, as I want to establish this blog as addressing a wide range of biblical literature. Also, I haven't really finished on the Goodacre - Stavrakopoulou issue. For those that are here simply for Goliath, have no fear - I will continue with this theme; there really is much, much more to say.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Some issues for this blog

I thought I'd wrap up a few issues here about this ABC blog.

Fonts and layout
I'm still very much struggling with the limitations of the blog software. I've noticed myself how different browsers on different platforms present things differently. Also, my layouts look different in my word-processor before copying them across to the blog software, and I lose various features or things become rather disrupted.

Coping with Hebrew and getting it to line up in any pretty and consistent way is extraordinarily difficult. I've abandoned cantillation/accents as many browsers just can't cope - even when it appears correctly on my Mac, I can't get it to appear correctly on my work PC.

So I'm afraid you'll have to bear with me as I get used to the software and do what I can.

I'd like to be able to do tables and insert pictures, but this is going to have to wait until I have at least mastered the basics.

I need to do some work here, clearly. It's already a rather esoteric subject that I have chosen to blog about, and my marketing of the site is pretty non-existent for the moment. I'll see what I can do to get more people visiting. I've already contacted the Biblioblogs site, but had no reply so far - I'll chase.

Purpose of blog
I probably need to expand on what I say in the "About me" section.

I see this blog primarily as exploring issues of biblical criticism. Although ABC "wears its atheism on its sleeve", it's not here simply to say theists are wrong. Indeed, I will often quote supportively theists who are biblical critics. Theists can and do get biblical criticism right; sometimes some of them get it wrong, and sometimes that is linked to their confessional bias. Atheists who practice biblical criticism are not free from error either. Much of what I write echoes results from theist biblical critics who have been able to work beyond their confessional biases.

I would like the blog to include discussion of biblical critical ideas - and I need to improve its audience considerably to achieve this.

I am very likely to be critical of those who impose inerrancy ideas on the bible, as this is a very destructive human doctrine. So there won't be any sympathy for those who visit this site and propose such fundamentalism.

I may, from time to time, step outside the strict field of biblical criticism to comment on some related area. But I hope to keep such extra-ABC comments to a minimum and focus on biblical critical issues.

I have turned moderation of comments off for the moment - not that I have a big audience to be worried about! But given the experience of other bloggers in this field, I'll need to keep this under review should commenting become an issue. Perhaps I'll need a commenting policy one day; for the moment I'll just say "keep it polite and respectful to others".

It may be that my ideas for the blog will evolve over time, but that's it for now.

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.

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.