The (tall) Goliath Family of First-Century Jericho

In “Revising the Hebrew Dictionary (DCH). 2. The Goliath Family” (October 2015), David J.A. Clines has some interesting things to say about a first-century inscription from Jericho.

The Goliath Family Tomb, Jericho
The Goliath Family Tomb, Jericho

Clines refers to an excavation carried out in the late 1970s, in which the bones of various members of the Goliath (גלית/ΓΟΛΙΆΘ) family were found in a first-century monumental tomb in the Jewish necropolis at Jericho. As Clines summarises, “the bones of family members were contained in 22 ossuaries (and elsewhere in the tomb) and there are some 32 inscriptions on 14 of the ossuaries.” The original report on the excavation of the family tomb is found in director Rachel Hachlili’s report, “The Goliath Family in Jericho: Funerary Inscriptions from a First-Century A.D. Jewish Monumental Tomb”, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 235 (1 July 1979): 31-66.

Goliath Family Tomb inscription 9 ("Yehoezer son of Yehoezer Goliath") in Greek and Hebrew
Goliath Family Tomb inscription 9 (“Yehoezer son of Yehoezer Goliath”) in Greek and Hebrew

Why did a Jewish family take the name Goliath, the name of the famous Philistine foe? Hachlili’s suggestion was that it was a nickname, due to the great height of some of the family members. For example, the “Yehoezer Goliath” of inscription 9’s “Yehoezer son of Yehoezer Goliath” (right) – if he may be identified with Yehoezer bar Eleazar of inscription 12 – was 188.5cm (6 feet 2 inches) tall. Given the average height of Jewish males at this time of 5 feet 4 inches, Yehoezer bar Eleazar would have easily been nicknamed “Goliath” (who in the Greek Septuagint was 6 feet 9 inches).

Clines calls the explanation “intriguing rather than definitive”. Indeed.

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