Friday, April 11, 2008

Who killed Goliath?

The editors of The New Oxford Annotated Bible Third Edition (p312-313) in discussing the historicity of the Historical books of the Old Testament note that we can still somewhat know the basic sense of the historical periods that they cover but that each text needs to be weighed individually in terms of its date of composition and its likely goals. In this they accept the veracity of the "dry notice in 1 Kings 14:25-26" noting it may come from an archival source. However, in contrast, they assert:
there are good reasons to be suspicious of the historicity of the long, detailed, and embellished story of David slaying Goliath in 1 Samuel 17; this story uses late biblical Hebrew language, comes from a different source that the surrounding material in Samuel, and i structured like a fairy tale, in that the poor, short, unexpected hero gets to marry the tall king's daughter by killing the giant who had vilified God. Additionally, 2 Samuel 21:19 reads, "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." It is much more likely that a short tradition in which Goliath is killed by a relatively unknown figure (Elhanan) would be the source for the long elaborate tale attributing the same event to the well known David, rather than vice versa. Thus, the modern historian must subject each text in these Historical books to the type of internal analysis used on nonbiblical historical texts when external information bearing on the text is lacking.
So the question in my mind becomes "who then, killed Goliath?" If not David, why attribute the event to him instead of Elhanan? Does the writer use the event to thrust David into the limelight as God's chosen King?

How do you feel about the possibility that David may have not actually killed Goliath, that the whole story is in fact embellished and fictional?

What say you?



At 8:36 PM, Blogger Nathan Stitt said...

My faith doesn't rest on whether or not David was the one who killed Goliath. However unless there is a compelling reason to believe otherwise I don't see a point in leaving the traditional view behind. This reminds me of Rob Bell's illustration at the beginning of Velvet Elvis about bricks and springs.

At 11:40 PM, Blogger Rhea said...

If you're going to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, don't you then have to believe that David killed Goliath? To me, the Bible plainly teaches that...the only way to believe otherwise is to believe that the Bible IS NOT the Word of God, no?

At 8:03 AM, Blogger Brian said...

True rhea - however, I think what is happening is that some folks are trying to reconcile seemingly contradictory passages (as noted in the post) and one means to do that is to assume shorter accounts were used to inspire the larger ones. Unless the writer of Samuel got things mixed up - it is the Word of God but humans still wrote it.

I do not know too much about this passage and will have to do some more reading to see how other scholars handle it. Thanks for the note.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Nathan Stitt said...

Unfortunately the note in your study bible raises questions without answering them. I grabbed my commentary on 2 Sam. and it had this to say about this verse:

According to 1 Chr 20:5, Elhanan, son of Jair killed Lahmi, brother of Goliath the Gittite, while in 1 Sam 17 it was David who slew Goliath the Gittite. It is often thought that the Chronicler has attempted a harmonization between 1 Sam 17 and 2 Sam 21:19, by creating a brother to Goliath.

The problem as to who killed Goliath is sometimes resolved by identifying David with Elhanan (so already in Jewish tradition). Thus Honeyman has argued that "David" was the king's throne name while "Elhanan" was his personal name. He also suggests the emendation of "Jaare" into "Jesse."

Hertzberg is of the opinion that the name "Goliath" may have come to designate a type; this is somewhat reminiscent of Kirkpatrick's view that there may have been two giants who were called by the same name "Goliath."

Occasionally it has been argued that Elhanan's victory over Goliath has been simply transferred to David to magnify the king's achievements.

So there are several ways to approach this text. It is important to realize that this is an ancient document using ancient writing techniques by an author whose culture was completely different from our own. Regardless of what the truth is, sometimes we simply don't know exactly what the text originally meant and must make due with conjecture.

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Thanks, Nathan, I don't have a commentary on 2 Samuel (though I could have looked it up on the net if I wanted) - I did look at the footnotes for 2 Sam 21:19 and they maintain it is an earlier tradition than the Davidic account - your commentary note is much more helpful - which one is it?

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Rhea said...

Could it also not simply be that there were two guys named Goliath? Perhaps "Goliath" was simply the "Mark" of the Philistines??

At 11:29 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Its entirely possible there were two Goliaths, either brothers or Father and son

one source i have suggests the passages seem to come from the same source and that the differences may have been from miscopying a few consonants.

So I guess the world is alright after all, whew!

At 5:38 PM, Blogger Nathan Stitt said...

That was the WBC by Anderson.


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