David and Goliath: The Very Scary Giant

Sunny Griffin (text) and Donna Lee Hill (illustrations),
David and The Very Scary Giant.
Ashland, OH: Landoll, 1994.

Some children’s books are quite oblique when it comes to explaining what happens to Goliath at the end of the story of David and Goliath. After a very slow build-up, with lots of background about David as a young boy and how he looked after his sheep – David and The Very Scary Giant suddenly gets to the climax:

The text explains that David’s stone killed Goliath. That is, however, the last page. There’s no actual depiction of David killing Goliath, just the expectation in Goliath’s eyes. And there is definitely no head-chopping.

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David and Goliath: Toddlers Bible Library

My favourite David and Goliath children’s books are the ones aimed at very young readers. To be clear, they are my favourite. I wouldn’t let them near actual children.

Take this one, a short board book, in the series “The Toddlers Bible Library”: V. Gilbert Beers (text), David Fights a Giant. The Toddlers Bible Library (Wheaton: Paradise Press, 1993).

I dunno – something about that series title (The Toddlers Bible Library) might have perhaps provided a hint that the David & Goliath story wasn’t really suitable.

Yet the authors attempt to make it suitable for toddlers by making it obscure how exactly David killed Goliath. The two characters never appear in the same shot, but only on successive pages. So your toddler doesn’t get to see this whole scene, which I’ve spliced together for older readers (R18):

And then you get a shot of Goliath lying down. One is not quite sure why he is lying down. To sanitise it for toddlers, the authors have had to make the plot undecipherable. But they do make the reason clear for why David defeated the giant: because he asked God for help, whereas Goliath did not. (No mention that it was ‘help’ … to kill someone.)

This is either a very confusing story for toddlers, or – if their parents explain what’s happening – a very unsuitable story for toddlers. All this explains a lot about how Christians turn out, though.

The Discovery of the Skull of Goliath: Scenes from Don Verdean

DON VERDEAN: Okay, right now we’re standing in the very creek bed
where David collected his five stones. That means the Philistine army
would have camped over here and the Israelites would have camped over there… Military protocol of the day would put David and Goliath somewhere right here in the middle.

don-verdean-boaz-carol

CAROL: What is this place?

DON VERDEAN: This is the ancient village of Gath. Goliath’s birthplace. We all need to keep our eyes peeled for any natural landmarks… a… a monument of sorts.

CAROL: What about that monolith right there?

DON VERDEAN: What monolith?

CAROL: Right there.

DON VERDEAN: That’s not a bad idea.

CAROL: Well, to me, this monolith represents the physical strength of Goliath.
So, it only makes sense that they would’ve used something like this as a grave marker.

DON VERDEAN: Dang, you’re a natural…
Everyone be careful. Most Philistine graves in this region are quite shallow. That being said, let’s dig fast. Don’t want any looky-loos showin’ up.

( CLANGS )

BOAZ YOHALEM: Don. I hit something.

DON VERDEAN: Okay. Ho, ho, ho… everyone stop….  Carol, can you hand me
that brush from my kit?

CAROL: I can see a chunk of bone.

DON VERDEAN: Let’s not get carried away.

CAROL: Ooh! Is that the dome of a skull?!

DON VERDEAN: Phew. Certainly appears that way.

CAROL: Wow.

DON: Carol, would you do the honors?

CAROL: No, I’m afraid I’ll break it. You do it. All right, next time. Get that bag ready. Oh, my God. I don’t believe it. That’s… the skull of Goliath.

TOURIST: Hey! Hey! T-these guys just found the skull of Goliath!

don-verdean-goliaths-skull

DON VERDEAN: Earlier this month on a routine dig in Israel,
Miss Jensen, Mr. Yohalem and myself unearthed the remains of a very large human skull containing a river stone embedded in the frontonasal suture.
This discovery was made in Gath, the ancient birthplace of Goliath …

BOAZ YOHALEM: Tell them how we were chased by three al-Qaeda
guys on “motorcycles” …

DON VERDEAN: Uh… well, yes, as you already know word of our discovery spread quickly and not 10 minutes after we were on the road with the skull,
we were followed by three masked men on motorcycles… I immediately took evasive action and I knocked all three of them off the road…

What al-Qaeda would want with the skull of a Philistine, I have no idea.

BOAZ YOHALEM: They’re possibly cloning an army of giant al-Qaeda guys.

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.

The Slacktivist on the Different versions of David & Goliath

Fred Clark (The Slacktivist)
Fred Clark (The Slacktivist)

The Slacktivist (Fred Clark) continues to examine Goliath.

In his latest post, Fred examines the various versions of the David and Goliath story – not only its various modern film versions, children’s books, Sunday School lessons, etc, but also the different versions which exist within the Bible.

Have a read of his post here.

Also have a look at some earlier posts on this topic on Remnant of Giants.

On the different versions within the Bible:

Illustrating The Benefits of Pentateuchal Literary Criticism: The David and Goliath Story

Scott Derrickson’s Goliath: Respecting the Original

A Beginner’s Guide to Biblical Scholarship – by Jennifer Bird

On modern versions:

A David and Goliath Musical for Children on DVD

The David and Goliath Segment of The History Channel’s The Bible

Q Magazine’s comics reviewer Colin Smith reviews Tom Gauld’s Goliath

Bollywood does David and Goliath

When Goliath was in Ireland: “Dáithí agus Goliath”

David and Goliath as lovers in Caravaggio, Paul Cadmus, Charlie White, Matthew Stone, and David Dalla Venezia

Black Goliath – Bigger than The Brown Hornet

A Beginner’s Guide to Biblical Scholarship – by Jennifer Bird

permission-grantedJennifer Bird has written a very readable book which introduces the academic study of the Bible. It is called Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands (Westminster John Knox, 2015).

The book is aimed at people who might never have encountered biblical scholarship, but who are curious to learn something about it. And the style of writing very much has this audience in mind. Its range of topics is drawn from throughout the Christian Bible, such as the Creation stories, the various things which the Bible has to say about sex, the spectre of violence within the Bible, the virgin birth, the historical Jesus, and Paul. The topics are introduced and presented in a way that is non-confrontational, yet which does not shy away from the critical issues which scholars raise about them.

Bird’s aim is to get confessional readers of the Bible to read it with different questions in mind. This might even, she suggests, enhance their reading.

One of the examples she discusses is the narrative of David and Goliath, in 1 Samuel 17. Bird notes that there are two other narratives in the Bible which suggest, contrary to 1 Samuel 17, that somebody other than David was responsible for killing Goliath. David was later given credit for killing Goliath, explains Bird, in an attempt to bolster his reputation. Understanding what the story in 1 Samuel 17 is trying to accomplish should, she contends, deepen our appreciation of the Bible.

bird-goliath

Should the fact that Goliath appears to be killed by other people, in other versions of the story, rock one’s faith? No, says Bird:

On the contrary, it can enrich one’s faith to read passages in the Bible in a way that respects the purposes for which they were written.

Check it out: Permission Granted website.

Malcolm Gladwell’s TED Talk on David and Goliath

gladwell-ted

Malcolm Gladwell delivered a TED Talk in 2013 on the subject of the biblical narrative of David versus Goliath (1 Samuel 17): “The unheard story of David and Goliath”. This is also the subject of a chapter in his 2013 book, Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.

After providing a vivid description of the David and Goliath story, Malcolm Gladwell states:

“Everything I thought I knew about that story turned out to be wrong.”

What in particular does Gladwell claim to discover about the David and Goliath story?

1. David wasn’t the underdog. Given the accuracy and power of the slingshot, David’s weaponry was far superior to the heavily armed and armoured Goliath. As Gladwell says, Goliath – weighed down by his armour – was a “sitting duck”.

2. Goliath had a disability. Gladwell takes note of (a) Goliath’s need for an attendant to guide him out to the battleground; (b) Goliath’s slowness; (c) Goliath’s comment that David came to him with sticks, plural (when David only held the one ‘stick’, his slingshot); and (d) his gigantic stature. Gladwell argues that all are these factors are explained if Goliath had acromegaly, a type of giantism that is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland, and which sometimes impairs vision.

Now Gladwell is plausibly right about the first point. A skilled wielder of the slingshot would, contrary to appearances, have had the advantage over an armoured man carrying sword and javelin.

But acromegaly? Gladwell does mention that this has been a ‘speculation’ by various writers. But how much of a speculation? In fact, the factors he lists do not provide a very good case at all. It was quite normal for a heroic warrior to have an attendant – as shield-bearer. Further, the story’s description of Goliath’s slowness is part of an extended contrast in the narrative between David and Goliath, involving David’s lack of armour, youth, and faith versus the giant’s heavy armour, experience, and impiety. The story makes a similar contrast when it describes David’s “sticks” in contradistinction to Goliath’s more conventional metal weapons.

Lastly, the diagnosis of acromegaly is little more than wild guessing.

1. At 6 3/4-feet tall, Goliath was only about 1 1/2 feet taller than your average Philistine man of the time. While Goliath would certainly have been one of the tallest Philistines, it is not at all clear that his stature would have involved any medical abnormality;

2. The details of the story are historically dubious. For example, in 2 Samuel 21, it is “Elhanan” who kills Goliath of Gath, not David. The story may not originally have even been about David. So when modern analysts attempt to draw inferences from the story as though it were realistic history, they do so on very shaky grounds;

3. The story in 1 Samuel 17 emphasizes theological reasons for David’s victory (David has faith in his god Yahweh, while Goliath mocks this god). To treat such a story as good data for a modern medical diagnosis is, therefore, very misguided.

So while the narrative in 1 Samuel 17 might suggest that David was a cunning chap when he brought a slingshot into a one-on-one fight, there are no good grounds to conclude that the narrative presents Goliath as anything but a mighty foe.

See also: Diagnosing Goliath: Gigantism, Acromegaly, Pituitary Tumours, etc