When it comes to characters as central to the biblical narrative as King David is, you will find no end of academic publications asking questions about the most minute details of his so-called historical setting. Oddly enough, something of an academic cottage industry has developed merely in respect of the biblical description of Goliath’s gigantic armour – as described in 1 Samuel 17.5-7.
The latest contribution to this specialized area of academic misadventure is Jeffrey R. Zorn’s ‘Reconsidering Goliath: An Iron Age I Philistine Chariot Warrior’ (Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 360 (Nov 2010): 1-22).
Zorn’s conclusion is that Goliath was an elite warrior, recruited from the maryannu chariot warrior class:
Do Goliath’s helmet, greaves, scale armor, spear, scimitar, sword, and shield-bearer occur in other contexts, some of them in the late Iron Age? Yes. However, each piece of equipment carried by Goliath, his shield-bearer, and his enigmatic designation as “the man-of-the-between-the-two,” have parallels among chariot warriors of the end of the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age in the Aegean-Levantine world, and this seems more than fortuitous. In other words, while the story of David and Goliath may have been edited late, the description of Goliath himself preserves very well indeed a memory of a chariot-borne warrior of a bygone era.
In fact, according to Zorn, the Bible’s preservation of the memory of the armour which was worn by chariot warriors is really quite remarkable, even unique:
The text of 1 Sam 17:4-7 gives a detailed account of the arms and armor of the Philistine champion who battled David in the Elah Valley, a description unmatched for detail in any other biblical text.
(p. 1; emphasis added)
So just what is this unmatched detail that allows us to confidently identify Goliath as a chariot warrior drawn from the maryannu, even in the absence of any mention of a chariot in the narrative of Goliath’s encounter with David? The following is the entirety of the “description unmatched for detail in any other biblical text”:
He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him.
(1 Samuel 17.5-7)
Yes, that’s it. That is the full detail of a biblical text which has launched a hundred commentaries and articles: a listing of three pieces of armour, two weapons, and a shield:
|Armour||Worn||Material||Weight / size|
|Coat of mail||On the body||Bronze||5000 shekels (56.7 kg)|
|Greaves||On the legs||Bronze|
|Javelin||Slung between shoulders||Bronze|
|Spear||Held?||?||Shaft like a weaver’s beam|
|Iron||600 shekels (6.8 kg)|
|Shield||Carried by shield-bearer||?|
Not only that, but the inclusion of some of these details, especially that of the spear, is clearly included so as to emphasise that this is a Giant of some 9 3/4 feet (6 1/2 cubits) in height. Stories about Giants are not usually understood to be really all that interested in “preserving” historic memory – and much less interested than members of the aforementioned cottage industry.
Isn’t it all a bit like trying to identify the precise variety of Jack’s magic beans (are they broad beans? runner beans?), while ignoring the inconvenient fact that the beans only ever feature in a folk story about a Giant?