Who Killed Goliath? Claude Mariottini!

No, Claude Mariottini didn’t in reality kill Goliath. But the Old Testament lecturer at Northern Baptist Seminary does reexamine the old dilemma in a series of three posts in June The question is raised by two inconsistent biblical claims:

    1. David killed Goliath (1 Samuel 17)
    2. Elhanan killed Goliath (2 Samuel 21.19)

Claude canvasses five explanations which seek to resolve the inconsistency:

1. Elhanan was the slayer, but David got the credit as commander

2. David and Elhanan were the same person, just with different names

3. David didn’t kill Goliath, but he killed the brother of Goliath (as 1 Chronicles 20:5 says)

4. Again, David killed the brother of Goliath, as per the King James Version’s attempt to harmonize the passage with 1 Chron. 20:5

5. (Claude’s own suggestion) ‘Goliath’ was not a personal name, but a term given to a type of warrior in ancient Philistia

Interestingly, Claude’s discussion assumes that the facts are more-or-less correct: that David was a young boy in 1 Samuel 17 but an older commander in 2 Samuel 19; that Elhanan really was commanded by David and so must be a different person. However, when stories about great heroes about the past are told and retold, they do tend to proliferate in many and various ways. This makes it unlikely that we can make the kind of historical assumptions Claude makes. The one thing that is fairly sure about these stories is that there must have been a long period, perhaps half a millennium or more, between their setting and the current shape of their composition. I wonder, then, if it is really possible to limit the explanations to just four or five, without significantly oversimplifying the complexity of transmission over this, or part of this, period?

I also wonder whether, at this stage, we have any legitimate or persuasive grounds on which to be able to choose between the options that Claude presents. And as for Claude’s favoured option, that ‘Goliath’ is a term for a type of warrior rather than a proper name, is this much more than pure speculation? Does the fact that the author of this story used a well-known Philistine name imply anything except the author’s ability to employ a name that sounded Philistine to his listeners and readers? Personal names and place-names tend to survive in myth and legend even when all other details change, as Wellhausen noted long ago in his Prolegomena. Claude’s theory seems to be inspired by L’Heureux’s 1974 theory that the Ugaritic Rephaim (rapi’uma) included an earthly counterpart – a rank of fearsome human warriors. But L’Heureux’s theory was based on the mistaken view that gods wouldn’t ride horses and chariots(!), concluding that descriptions of Rephaim riding horses and chariots must therefore be descriptions of humans. But this contention looks more than a bit hairy when you start to consider the chariot-riding Yahweh of Old Testament fame! Yet L’Heureux at least raised an argument for his view, however incorrect it was. However, what argument is there for treating “Goliath” – used as a personal name in 1 and 2 Samuel – in a titular way? “Rephaim” is, by stark contrast with “Goliath”, a description of a group (a people or elite rank) in biblical texts (and the “sons of Rapha” in 2 Sam 21 is not necessarily an exception). Claude provides no more reason to treat “Goliath” as a title than I could give for treating “Jonathan” in its biblical and archaeological instances as a title. Rather, his suggestions seems to be driven by a pressing need to provide a harmonization of the biblical texts in 1 Sam 17 and 2 Sam 21.

What’s more, he is wrong that the name “Goliath” was found at Gath. The names which were found (’lwt and wlt) may be similar in ending, but they are not “Goliath”. Claude’s entire basis for treating “Goliath” as a titular form for a warrior rests on his incorrect assumption that the term occurs in different contexts in 1-2 Samuel and in the incision of two names on a potsherd at Tel es-Safi. He writes: “According to the archaeologist who found the broken piece of pottery with the name ‘Goliath’, the name was used one hundred years after the time of David.”. But he is incorrect. The names at Tel es-Safi are not “Goliath”! They may be similar to the name Goliath in their endings, but they are not “Goliath”. Therefore, Claude’s hypothesis of a group of “Goliaths” is based on a faulty understanding of the find at Tel es-Safi. Again, his suggestions seems to be driven by a pressing need to harmonize the biblical texts in 1 Sam 17 and 2 Sam 21. [see now: The “not Goliath” Inscription from Tel es-Safi/Gath: Archaeology, Bible, Politics, and the Media]

And furthermore, doesn’t Claude’s preferred solution contradict the biblical text, which distinguishes between the description of Goliath as a ‘hero’ or ‘champion’ or ‘he the man’ (‘ish) and his ‘name’ (shem) of Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4)? Again, doesn’t it also contradict the biblical text in 2 Samuel 21, which narrates the killing of Goliath by Elhanan, where the three named Giants (‘sons of Rapha’) are each given personal names (e.g. Goliath the Gittite, Ishbi of Nob, Sibbecai the Hushathite) – which demonstrates once again that “Goliath” is an individual name, not a title?

More fundamentally, can we really decide whether either version of the killing of Goliath has any basis in reality? I very much doubt it. 1 Samuel 17 is a great story, but I don’t think we should be trying to “prove” any historical basis for it, a titanic task if ever there were one. All that Claude’s posts show is that conservative Christian interpreters will search for any solution to contradictions within the Bible. They are much less interested in the truth than in protecting the Bible as Truth. Let the story be, Claude – for by treating a story as though it must be history, you’re killing Goliath.

See:

1. Claude Mariottini, “Who Killed Goliath?”, Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament blog, 20 June 2011

2. Claude Mariottini, “Who Killed Goliath? – Part 2”, Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament blog, 22 June 2011

3. Claude Mariottini, “Who Killed Goliath? – Part 3”, Dr. Claude Mariottini – Professor of Old Testament blog, 27 June 2011

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7 thoughts on “Who Killed Goliath? Claude Mariottini!

      • What’s wrong with ’em? Well, where do I start? In the first place, what about the congenital defects which are universal to all humans? Previous species up the chain could do things which we have no physical ability to do: the congenital defect is thus species wide. That includes atheists.

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  1. Amen, Giant-slayer! You are a God-Warrior!! We all have to slay the spiritual giants in our lives, and atheists are DARK-SIDED!! They are NOT CHRISTIAN!!!

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  2. Early on in reading his blog, Dr Mariottini struck me as someone who is stuck in a it’s-in-the-Bible-so-it-has-to-be-shoehorned-in mindset. I worry about “professors” who try to take this collection of cultural works as a history puzzle that must be solved. It is a personal failing, but I have trouble taking any of their work seriously once these guys expose their inability to judge the Bible for anything other than what they require it to be.

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