Who really killed Goliath? Of course, this is the most stupid question possible. After all, this is one of the most advertised killings in the history of the world, its record read by millions of admiring people, glorifying in the victory of the brave and smart reddish boy over the Big Ugly Brute. Add the pious invocation of Jahweh throughout the battle, and one has the making of an inspiring heroic story, and that is precisely how it functions in the Old Testament. All the kids in Primary know exactly who killed Goliath, and can explain in detail how he did it, with his sling and a few pebbles.
Reading the story in I Samuel as a military history one can understand how David came to be a great army leader, for the chapter defines him as a smart soldier. Goliath is the quintessential massive warrior, “whose height was six cubits and a span” (1 Sam 17:4) (KJV); 6 cubits and a span would put him at 2.85 meter (yes, we all are metric by now). Well, most measures, figures and numbers in the Old Testament cannot be trusted, but Goliath surely was huge. The Dead Sea Scroll text, probably earlier than the Masoretic text, puts him at “4 cubit and a span,” just over 2 meter; more probable, yet still large at those times. So in the re-telling at the campfires he grew two cubits. And was he heavy. 1 Samuel 17 continues:
5 And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass.… 7 And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him. (KJV)
The man was a bloody tank (5000 shekel would be between 70 and 100 kilo). A spearhead of some 6 kilos, how far and accurate can one throw that? It is just for stabbing. Again, figures and numbers are usually inflated in the re-telling, but the man was a tank with a major flaw: no real gun. As the story goes, David refused the armor of Saul, just took his sling and a few pebbles, kept out the tank’s range and became an artillerist. Calling Goliath all the bad names in the book, he at least had his attention, so could aim at an unprotected forehead, and stunned him with a good shot. Then he cut of his head, using Goliath’s own sword; no use carrying a heavy weapon to the battlefield when one is a fleet footed artillerist. Good thinking, smart warrior, good start for David’s military career.
What then is wrong with the story? Why should CSI Jerusalem swing into action on this famous, but extremely cold case? There are some valid reasons. First, the story is almost straight out of Homer’s Ilias (Nestor’s exploit’s) and the armor described is more 6th century Greek than 10th century Palestinian. OK, the Bible was not written at the spot, as we know by now, but during and after the Babylonian exile, so that can be understood. But there is more.
The story itself is warbled. In 1 Samuel 17:55-58 Saul seems never to have met David, while in 16:14-24 David played the harp for the king to smooth his temper. A possibly earlier manuscript (Codex Vaticanus Graecus) seems to remedy this, leaving out the scene of David bringing food to his brothers; there David is already on the battlefield, as companion of king Saul. Again, if we leave things out of the Bible, the story may work.
However, there is still more, and here CSI Jerusalem be called into the case: there is another suspect! According to a material witness, 2 Samuel 21:19, another guy slew the giant:
“Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” (New Revised Standard Version)
The spear is clearly the identifying feature of the enemy, so someone else killed Goliath here.
However, in a later retelling the evidence becomes blurred again, 1 Chronicles 21:5:
“Again there was war with the Philistines; and Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” (NRSV)
Now Elhanan kills the brother of Goliath, with again the weaver’s beam as a marker.
Now, who really killed Goliath? Who killed his brother? And where does that brother suddenly comes from?
We have, then, three scenarios for CSI to investigate:
1. David killed Goliath (after weeding out the brotherly food aid).
2. Elhanan killed Goliath, (part of encounters with more weird giants).
3. Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath (I Chronicles, the one with the same spear).
The only option not mentioned is that David killed the brother of Goliath.
How to solve the quandary? Philip Roth, the Egyptologist, thinks that Elhanan is the original name of David, the latter being his throne name, but that is hard to maintain: there is no mention anywhere in the Bible of specific throne names, and the father’s name is different as well. So we do have two possible culprits. CSI Jerusalem would try to get to the hard evidence, the sword of Goliath; after all, it was preserved by David. In Samuel 21:10 and 22:10 we see David take Goliath’s sword from the shrine in Nob, because his own weapon is not available. He should have left it there, then CSI could have checked it for DNA …
In the Bible all three options coexist, but all three of them cannot be true at the same time: 1 and 3 may go together, but not with option 2. This, as we have seen time and again, is the mark of real Scripture: full of contradictions, unadressed and unsolved.
If David killed Goliath (nr.1), why attribute it elsewhere to someone else, who then would steal the king’s thunder. That is not very plausible, unless it would be part of a strategy to undermine David’s reputation in favor of Elhanan. But Elhanan is a historical non-person, while David is the king of kings in Israelite history.
The reverse scenario is much more plausible: Elhanan killed the giant enemy, and the mighty deed was later attributed to the hero-king and retrofitted into his life story. So from an anthropological standpoint option 2 is the most plausible one. For me, accustomed as I am to oral transmission of tales, the contradiction plus the very embellishments of the story – Goliath growing almost three feet, his overgrown armor, the details of the battle, and the invocations of piety – cry out the rewriting of oral history, the process we know so well from Africa. All heroic deeds are almost routinely attributed to the king, especially in his youth, with beautiful words of high wisdom and deep piety put in his mouth. That would also explain the narrative misfit where David suddenly seems to be a newcomer in Saul’s court.
So between 1 and 2 the choice is easy. Now option 3, the brother. We saw the brother mentioned in Chronicles, a much later retelling of Israelite history. The priest (probably one author) who wrote Chronicles probably noticed the contradiction, and may have tried to solve it by inserting a brother for Goliath. For him, writing, say, between 350–300 BC, David (and Goliath) had been dead for six centuries already, so why not? However, the epitheton ornans, the fixed descriptive detail identifying the protagonist, in true 6th century Greek fashion gives the game away: the spear “like a weaver’s beam” tells us it is the same person. The name Lahmi seems easily explained as a derivation of Bethlehem. The most plausible explanation for CSI Jerusalem, thus, is an editorial insertion: by the invention of Goliath’s brother the heroic story remained part of king David’s legacy. And David’s legitimate reign is one major focus of the author of Chronicles. Out of respect he edited lightly, leaving the city and the weaver’s beam intact.
One minor problem remains: one witnesses appearing before CSI has become confused. When this was discussed in my Sunday school class, the Americans present had no idea what the problem was: in their bible Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath. For 2 Samuel 21:19 in the King James Version runs differently from the newer translation:
19And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. (KJV; italics from the KJV source)
But the ‘brother’ is definitely not in the Hebrew text of 1 Samuel, not in the one the KJ translators used (the Textus Receptus) nor in any other. So the KJ translators must have spotted the contradiction, and viewing the ‘solution’ of Chronicles, decided that Goliath’s brother was missing from the original text and put him in, without his name. So this sentence they did not translate, they wrote a new version. That they overstepped their boundaries as translators in doing so is for another blog, but here CSI Jerusalem has sorted out the muddle: the ‘court interpreter’ gave a partisan translation, and David can be exonerated: he did not kill Goliath, Elhanan did.
So CSI acquitted David, but in this case the accused did not seek acquittal, but glory. And so did the authors of the biblical books, heaping glory upon their model king. Samuel and even stronger Chronicles, testify to the glory of David, over Saul, over his enemies and supremely over Goliath. The Goliath story has become the story of the king’s actual calling, the vindication of his earlier anointment, proof of the deep theological foundation of his dynasty. CSI Jerusalem shows us that we all are recruited for a huge, historical ‘David fan-club’.
Again, a critical reading of the scriptures gives a different slant to the OT stories. The guiding question behind my OT blogs is whether this detracts from their inspirational value. It does not, in fact. We see Israel’s hero-king slightly less heroic, being attributed undeserved glory. But that makes him part of normal history, as these attributions happen all the time, since heroes get all the glory, not just a part of it. It makes David as a hero more amenable, closer to us, and definitely more human. We do need heroes, all of us, but we want heroes within our reach. And David, who is already quite a human hero in Samuel, is rendered even more human by this unraveling of the Goliath tale. Much of the stories on David are written as pure laudations, and the further removed from his life the authors are, the more heroic David becomes. So CSI Jerusalem has put David with his feet on the ground again, where he should be. After all, as LDS we seldom realize how revolutionary the indictment is that the Restoration has given on David; when D&C 132 tells us that David will have a restricted glory after this life, that runs counter to most of Christendom, and surely to the eulogies of the biblical authors, in whose eyes David can do no wrong, at least always is fully forgiven. So CSI Jerusalem gives us a realistic hero, one we can relate to: someone who loves the Lord with all his might, a poet and musician, a warrior and king, but also a hero with major flaws, such as a clear weakness for women, a dysfunctional family and who did not all the great deeds ascribed to him. That is a David one could hold dear, human like us, fully dedicated to the Lord, but struggling, and no longer larger than life.
Without the story we would have missed out on a lot of great art, too. The top one is from Caravaggio, easily the most famous painting of David and Goliath. This depicts a strange, intimate relationship between the two, in the thoughtful, introvert gaze of David who almost absentmindedly dangles Goliath’s bleeding head. Caravaggio had almost an obsession with this theme, but this one is considered his masterpiece, with a hidden layer: the head is the painter’s, is in fact Caravaggio himself: We all aim to be a David, but may end up as Goliath instead.