The well-known Philistine champion who was slain by David in single combat (I Sam 17). Following a showdown between the Philistines and the Israelites (led by Saul) in the valley of the Elah, a single combatant, Goliath, came out from the Philistine camp and taunted the Israelites. Owing to his awesome size and formidable armor and weaponry, the Israelites were afraid to face him. Only the young David, arriving on the scene by chance, was undeterred. He bravely volunteered to fight the giant, facing him armed only with his slingshot. While being taunted by Goliath, David unleashed his slingshot, instantly killing his adversary. Following his death, the Philistine camp collapsed and the Israelites won the day.
Goliath is described as being a “Gethite”, i.e. originating from Gath of the Philistines” (apparently Tell es-Safi). He is described as being “six cubits and span” (I Sam 17:4) roughly equaling nine feet and nine inches/260 cms.!! His equipment was also very impressive, including (I Sam 17:5-7) a helmet, scale armor, a shield, greaves, a sword/scimitar, and a unique javelin (“menor oregim”). It has been suggested that both his name and his equipment indicate a non-Levantine origin, whether Aegean, Luwian or other (the most accepted etymology being Alyattes). The new inscription form Tell es-Safi/Gath has two names with very similar structure: Alwt and Wlt…. It would appear that names quite similar to Goliath were used throughout the Iron Age in Philistia.
Recently, Israel Finkelstein has argued that both the historical context of the relevant biblical narrative, as well as the description of Goliath’s panoply, indicates that the story should be dated to a later stage of the Iron Age, to the 7th century BCE. He suggests that in fact it mirrors the appearance of Greek mercenaries in the Levant during this period. Although Finkelstein has argued his case commendably, it still appears that an early dating of major components of this narrative can be sustained. With the recent discovery of the inscription from Tell es-Safi/Gath dating to the 10th-9th centuries BCE (approximately a century after the time of David), mentioning names quite similar to Goliath, suggests that in fact, the biblical narrative can easily be related to a historical reality of the earlier parts of the Iron Age.
Significantly, additional versions of similar stories are recounted in the Bible. In II Sam 12:19 a certain Elhanan is credited with killing Goliath, while in the late harmonizing tradition of I Chron. 20:5 the same Elhanan is credited as having killed Goliath’s brother. In addition, other giants of Gethite origin are reported (e.g. I Chron. 20:6-8).
In summary, this fascinating figure but hints to a rich tradition regarding the early Israelite-Philistine confrontations. The fact that this central figure (and other related ones) are said to originate from Gath is indicative of this city’s prominent role during the early stages of Israelite history.
Ehrlich, C.S. 1992. “Goliath”. In Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. II, New York: Doubleday: 1073-1074.
Finkelstein, I. 2003. “The Philistines in the Bible: A late-monarchic perspective”. JSOT 27/2: 131-167.
Galling, K. 1966. “Goliath und seine Rustung”, VT Supp 15:150-169.
Hoffner, H.A., Jr. 1968. “A Hittite analogue to the David and Goliath contest of champions?”, CBQ 30:220-225.
Yadin, Y. 1955. “Goliath’s javelin and the menor `orgim”, PEQ 87:58-69.
Biblical References to Goliath
1 Sam 17:4 And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span.
1 Sam 17:23 And as he talked with them, behold, there came up the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, out of the armies of the Philistines, and spake according to the same words: and David heard them.
1 Sam 21:9 And the priest said, The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom thou slewest in the valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod: if thou wilt take that, take it: for there is no other save that here. And David said, There is none like that; give it me.
1 Sam 22:10 And he inquired of the LORD for him, and gave him victuals, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.
2 Sam 21:19 And 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.
1 Chr 20:5 And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver’s beam.