Did you know that the heights of Kim Kardashian (5′ 1″) and fiance Kris Humphries (6′ 9″) perhaps exactly match the average heights of an ancient Philistine woman and Goliath?
1 Samuel 17 sets the story of David and Goliath sometime in what we now call the late Iron Age I or early Iron Age II (around 1000 BC), and describes Goliath’s hometown as the city of Gath, identified by some archaeologists with the site of Tel es-Safi.1 Goliath is 4-and-a-half cubits (6′ 8″) in some versions of the text (although he grows to a towering 6-and-a-half cubits (9′ 7″) in other versions). In addition, a notice in Joshua 11.22 states that, after the Israelite conquest of the land, the Anakim (described as Giants in Numbers 13) “remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod”. So in some biblical texts, Gath is remembered as a city in which Giants dwelt!
But how tall was Goliath in relation to the regular Philistine inhabitants of Gath?
A study published this month in Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina Vereins examines the skeletal remains of at least 77 Philistines who were buried in the same period to which Goliath is assigned in 1 Samuel 17: the late Iron Age I or early Iron Age II, that is, 1200-800 BC.2 The human remains were very poorly preserved, had been tampered with by modern grave-robbers, and comprise only fragments of bones, with very few intact specimens. But the authors were able to estimate the stature of four Philistines from four surviving metacarpal bones (the bones at the base of your fingers), according to equations worked out by JH Musgrave and NK Harneja (1978).
According to the 2011 article on Tel es-Safi:
The values obtained [for adult female stature, applying the Musgrave-Harneja calculation] ranged from 151.8 to 159.3 cm and averaged 155.3 cm. This estimate is similar to that of a Philistine woman recovered at Ashkelon, 154 +/-3.5 cm (p. 40).
So, this is how tall Goliath was, compared to your average female inhabitant of Gath:
Given that the cubit was not an exact measure, and might vary by an inch or two either way, these heights of your average Philistine woman and Goliath may very well be the same as the respective heights of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries:
(1) The identification of Tel es-Safi with Gath cannot be easily reconciled with the biblical stories, which appear to place Gath in two separate places, one in the north in the vicinity of Tel es-Safi (west of Jerusalem), and one somewhere to the south of Judah in the Negev desert. But some of those biblical stories may well have had the site of Tel es-Safi in mind, an important site which was continuously occupied by humans from the Chalcolithic Age (4500-3500 BC) until 1948 when ethnically cleansed of its predominantly Arabic population by the Israeli Defence Forces.
(2) Faerman, M., Boaretto, E., Uziel, J., Maeir, A. M., and Smith, P, “’… In Their Lives, and in Their Death …’: A Preliminary Study of an Iron Age Burial Cave at Tell es-Safi, Israel,” Zeitschrift des deutschen Palästina Vereins 127(1) (2011): 29–48.