(Investigator 105, 2005 November)


The Bible setting for David versus Goliath is in the Valley of Elah, 30km west of Jerusalem, about 1,000 BC.

The Israelite and Philistine armies were camped on opposite hills. Twice daily Goliath descended into the valley and called for the war to be decided by a two-man fight, an Israelite champion versus Goliath.

And what a man he was:
And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. And he had greaves of bronze upon his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. And the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam, and his spear's head weighed 600 shekels of iron; and his shield bearer went before him. (I Samuel 17:4-7)
  The description of armour and weapons is culturally accurate and fits with the period. Goliath's spear "like a weaver's beam" may not refer to size. The weaver's beam is a block of wood that separates the threads when weaving and has loops of cord tied around it. Goliath's javelin had a leather cord wrapped around it with the end looped to Goliath's finger. This made the javelin an advanced weapon, which could be thrown much further than ordinary javelins.

David himself was no juvenile weakling. As a shepherd he had fought off bears and lions threatening his sheep! (1 Samuel 17:37)

The Philistines originated in the Aegean area. They invaded and settled coastal areas of Israel about 1200 BC. The Philistines and Israelites were enemies for centuries. The Samson and Delilah setting, is a century before David and Goliath. (Investigator 55)

Goliath's home, Gath – now Tell es-Safi – was one of the five main Philistine cities. Archaeologist Aren Maeir of Bar Ilan University commenced its excavation in 1996.

 Skeptics reject the Bible on David and Goliath because:


A cubit was about 17.5 inches or 44.45cm. We know this from the Siloam tunnel in Jerusalem which was 1,200 cubits long and can still be measured today as 533 metres.

A "span" was the distance between thumb and little finger of a man's outstretched hand, considered as half a cubit.

Goliath's height comes to 6.5 x 17.5 inches = 9 feet 6 inches or 2.89 metres.

Dr Vladimir Berginer, neurologist at Beersheba University believes Goliath suffered from acromegaly a condition caused by excessive secretion of the growth hormone.

The tallest known human was an American, Robert Wadlow (1918 - 1940). Wadlow had a tumour on the pituitary gland resulting in over secretion of growth hormone. He reached 2.7 metres (Guinness 2000) and died aged only 22.

If Goliath had acromegaly he might have looked impressive but was useless as a fighter. People with acromegaly are cumbersome, not particularly strong, and often have arthritis. Some require a wheelchair. They may also have "tunnel vision", a narrow field of sight, due to the tumour pressing on the optic nerve. Such people are hardly suitable for representative combat with the outcome of a war at stake!

Or were the Philistines conducting a bluff? No. The weight of Goliath's equipment suggests he was fit and strong and not a half-blind arthritic.

The New Bible Dictionary says, "The common shekel was often used to weigh metal objects" and shows a variation 11.08-12.25gm.

Using the average weight of a common shekel makes Goliath's coat of mail 11.38 x 5000 = 56.9 kilos.

The weight of Goliath's iron spear-head was 11.38 x 600 = 6.83 kilos.


A television documentary Footsteps of Goliath (in Australia shown on SBS, August 21, 2005) made the following archaeological claims:
The Bible speaks of a tribe called Rephaim noted for its big soldiers. Indeed, the word "giant" is translated from rephaim and it's sometimes ambiguous whether "rephaim" refers to the tribe or to size.

In Abraham's time the Rephaim lived east or north-east of the Dead Sea. (Genesis 14:5) By the time of Moses, four centuries later, most of them had been dispossessed by the Moabites who called them "Emim" meaning frightful ones. (Deuteronomy 2:10-11, 19-20)

Moses conquered "Og king of Bashan" described as the "remnant of the Rephaim". (Deuteronmy 3:6-11) Bashan was a large area east and south east of the Sea of Galilee. King Og, it's implied, was a huge man – his bed was 9 cubits long. (Deuteronomy 3:8-11) The phrase "remnant of the Rephaim" refers to a remnant north-east of the Dead Sea since other Repahaim lived west of the River Jordan (Joshua 17:14-18) and survived for centuries.

When the Philistines arrived, the western Rephaim became their allies.

In 1985 Jonathan Tubb, curator for Syria/Palestine in the British Museum, commenced the excavation of Tell es-Saidiyeh near the southern border of ancient Bashan. Among the finds were seven unusually tall skeletons from about 1200 BC, the tallest 1.95 metres.

The Bible also speaks of the "Anakim" who lived in Canaan. The Israelite spies described them as, "greater and taller than we". (Deuteronomy 1:28; Numbers 13:30-33)


Josephus was a Jewish historian of the late 1st century who wrote a history of the Jews. In his version of David and Goliath, Goliath is "four cubits and a span in tallness". (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 6, Chapter 9) That's two cubits shorter than in the Bible.

Until 1947 the oldest known biblical manuscripts were 10th century AD. Then the Dead Sea Scrolls were found which were 1,000 years older. The Scrolls are now available in English and include the story of David and Goliath. They record Goliath's height as 4 cubits and a span, agreeing with Josephus. In addition the Septuagint Version – the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew – also has 4 cubits!

It's probable, therefore, that an ancient scribal error increased Goliath's height two cubits and the error entered the manuscripts from which our modern Bibles are translated.

If so, then Goliath's height was 4.5 x 17.5 = 6 feet 7 inches, or 2 metres, and agrees with actual skeletons dug up by archaeologists.

This makes Goliath only slightly taller than King Saul of Israel:
…and when he [Saul] stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upwards. And Samuel said, "…There is none like him among all the people." (I Samuel 10:23-24; 9:2


The Bible mentions other tall fighters. In one case an Israelite, "slew an Egyptian, a man of great stature, five cubits [7feet, 3 inches] tall." (I Chronicles 11:23)

Samuel mentions four other Philistines besides Goliath who were "descended from the giants [Rephaim] in Gath." (II Samuel 21:15-22) The four were:
Skeptics see the third in the list, "Elhanan…slew Goliath the Gittite", as contradicting the story that David killed Goliath.

However, the story of David and Goliath occurred when David first met King Saul. The wars involving the four above giants occurred after King Saul died. (II Samuel 21:14ff)

Some of the details in II Samuel 21 are repeated in I Chronicles 20. And there it's clarified that: "Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam."

This gives us now at least two possible explanations:
Therefore, there were two Goliaths who were killed some years apart.


Three "giants" gained prominence in 18th-century Ireland.
O'Brien was also very strong: "He picked up pigs under each arm, threw a smith's hammer over a church steeple and dragged a hay-laden wagon out of a flooded ford." (Parade 1971)

The Guinness Book of Records, apparently not recognizing claims about O'Brien, says, "The world's tallest ‘true' (non-pathological) giant was Angus McCaskill, who stood 2.36 m (7ft 9 in)..." (p. 152)

McCaskill (1825-1863) was one of the strongest men ever. He lifted an anchor weighing over a ton to shoulder height, and could jog carrying a 300-pound barrel of pork under each arm.

Clearly, extreme height up to about 8 feet is compatible with extreme strength.


It's probable an ancient scribe made an error when transcribing the Book of Samuel and increased Goliath's height from 4½ to 6½ cubits.

Goliath, therefore, was 4½ cubits, or 2 metres, tall and physically powerful.

"Giant" in the Bible refers not to height alone, but also to being powerfully built. Saul, was close to Goliath's height but was not a "giant".


While on the topic let's clear up two so-called "contradictions".

In I Samuel 16:18-23 we read that Saul sent for David who became his musician and armour-bearer. In the next chapter where David kills Goliath Saul does not know David (17:55-58) and even asks, "Whose son are you, young man?"

This is not a contradiction but is the common literary device of summing up a lengthy period of time briefly before giving details about an important event within that period. Chapter 16 tells that Saul sent for David and that David entered his service. Chapter 17 then gives more details about the day the two men met, the day David killed Goliath.

If we want it chronologically then Chapter 17 fits into 16:21 – "And David came to Saul [here add Chapter 17] and entered his service".

The second "contradiction" is that David brought Goliath's head to Jerusalem (1 Samuel 17:54) though Jerusalem still belonged to the Jebusites at the time.

The answer is that the writer kept information about Goliath in close proximity. To report about Goliath's head chronologically would have meant mentioning that point as an isolated, out of context, statement many chapters later.


In 1998 archaeology showed that Goliath's home city, Gath, experienced a "fiery destruction". Findings included remains of collapsed houses and hundreds of pottery vessels. The probable siege trench, discovered by aerial photography, was dated in 2001 to the Iron Age. It's 3km long, 8 metres wide and 5 metres deep.

This fits with the Bible, which says that Syrians took Gath in the time of King Jehoash of Judah (II Kings 12:17-18) who ruled around 850 BC.

The Philistines vanished from history after the 6th century BC fulfilling the prophecy: "The day is coming to destroy all the Philistines." (Jeremiah 47:4)


Abegg, M G; Flint P W; Ulrich; E C 2002 The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, HarperCollins
Douglas, J D 1982 New Bible Dictionary, Second Edition, Inter-Varsity
Footsteps of Goliath [TV program] 2004, Tom Hoste (producer) and Mike Warmels (writer & director)
Guinness World Records 2000, Millennium Edition, p. 152
Parade 1971 Rival Giants of Ireland, October, pp 26-27
Septuagint Greek & English Old Testament n.d., Samuel Bagster & Sons, Great Britain, p. 379
Vermes, G 2004 The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English, Revised



(Investigator 106, 2006 January)

Israeli archaeologists have found evidence for Goliath's existence on a small ceramic shard on which names similar to his appear.

The brown fragment, probably part of a bowl, was found 2-metres below ground at a decade-old dig in Tell es-Safi in southern Israel.

Called in the Bible "Gath of the Philistines", Tell es-Safi is one of the largest tells (mounds covering ancient ruins) in Israel.

The Old Testament (I Samuel 17) describes a heavily-armed Philistine giant named Goliath, about 1000 BC, who challenged the Israelite army to send a man to fight him. David, a shepherd who later became Israel's king, accepted and killed the giant with a sling and stone.

Skeptics and liberal theologians reject the story as myth invented to glorify David's dynasty. They commonly cite the 19th-century "documentary hypothesis" according to which much of the Old Testament was fabricated by Jewish writers in the 6th or 5th century BC and is therefore erroneous.

The Tell es-Safi inscription, dated to about 900 BC, is the oldest Philistine inscription yet found in Israel. It's written in archaic "Proto-Canaanite" letters and contains two non-Semitic names "Alwt" and "Wlt" which are either Philistine renderings of "Goliath" or very similar.

Dr. Aren Maeir, the excavation director and head of the archaeology department of Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said: "It can be suggested that in 10th - 9th century Philistine Gath, names quite similar, and possibly identical, to Goliath were in use."

The inscription may not refer to the biblical giant since it's dated about 100 years after he lived and because other Philistine men may have been named "Goliath". But it shows that non-Semitic names similar to "Goliath" were in use at the time the Bible says Goliath existed.

Lawrence Mykytiuk, a Purdue University Bible Scholar, said: "This inscription supports the Bible, not with a direct identification of Goliath, but in its historical and linguistic background." (Lorenzi, R 2005, Discovery News)

This adds to the evidence given in Investigator 105 that Goliath was a real person and not a literary myth fabricated 500 years later.

At least 62 people named in the Old Testament and over 300 geographical locations have independent archaeological verification. (Investigator 50 & 61)