Mr. Know-It-All on the Height of Goliath

The 12 June 2013 edition of the syndicated column by Gary Clothier, “Ask Mr. Know-It-All”, included the following question and answer:

gary-clothierQuestion: How tall was Goliath, the giant that David slew with a sling shot? — B.K., Portland, Maine

Answer: The Philistine giant was big. According to the Bible (I Samuel 17:4), he was six cubits and a span. A cubit is determined by the distance from the elbow to the end of the middle finger, which would be anywhere between 17 to 22 inches. The distance of a span is the length between the thumb and the little finger when extended, or about 9 inches. So Goliath stood anywhere from 9 feet, 3 inches to 11 feet, 9 inches. Some modern interpretations suggest Goliath was just more than 6 feet, which was still considered “giant” in those days.

Gary Clothier is basically right in providing the equivalent of “six cubits and a span” in feet and inches. Yet the usual estimate of an ordinary cubit (not a royal cubit, which was larger) is on the lower end of the range he gives above.

However, it is misleading to suggest that it is only “some modern interpretations” which make Goliath a little more than six feet tall, in comparison to “the Bible” which measures Goliath as 9 to 11 feet tall. In fact, the Septuagint version of the Bible  – which likely reflects an older version in 1 Samuel 17 – puts Goliath’s height at just over 6 feet. It is the later Masoretic Text of 1 Samuel 17 which exaggerates Goliath’s height to over 9-feet tall. This is not a matter of modern interpretation versus the Bible. This is a matter of an earlier ‘Bible’ versus a later ‘Bible’.

See:
How tall were the biblical giants? Comparative height chart

A discussion of the Septuagint and Masoretic Text versions of 1 Samuel 17

The height of your average Philistine compared to Goliath

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