“This is a classic David versus Goliath story. I mean you’ve got your gigantic law firm stomping all over the little guy.”
– James Morgan McGill (Saul Goodman), Season 1, Episode 4 (“Hero”), Better Call Saul
“This is a classic David versus Goliath story. I mean you’ve got your gigantic law firm stomping all over the little guy.”
David Clines: “The Signiﬁcance of the ‘Sons of God’ Episode (Genesis 6:1-4) in the Context of the ‘Primeval History’ (Genesis 1–11)”
David Clines has made available a paper he wrote in 1972 on the unusual story found in Genesis 6:1-4 about “the sons of god(s)” who had sex with “the daughters of men” and sired Nephilim (the “heroes of old”, the “warriors of renown”).
The Signiﬁcance of the “Sons of God” Episode (Genesis 6:1-4) in the Context of the “Primeval History” (Genesis 1–11), originally published in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 13 (1979): 33-46.
Scholars have made a few different suggestions regarding the meaning of the phrase “sons of god(s)” (בני האלהים). Does it refer to demigods or angels? or to the Sethite line of human beings (in Genesis 5) in contrast to the Cainite line (of Genesis 4), or vice versa? or to human rulers or princes? In general, there is a debate as to whether “sons of god(s)” refers to divine or human entities.
Anticipating an issue which has come up in the current debate about monotheism and polytheism in ancient Israel and classical and later Greece and Rome, David Clines suggests that this split between human and divine options may not be so clear-cut, in particular with respect to rulers, and even more in particular to antediluvian rulers:
[T]he author of Gen. 6.1-4 in its present form did not work with a system of closed categories in which ‘sons of God’ must be either human or non-human. Are the בני האלהים here then both divine beings and antediluvian rulers?
Interpreted this way, the strange episode does not appear to be such an intrusion into the Primeval History (Genesis 1-11). Clines goes on to document other connections that he sees Gen 6:1-4 as sharing with the remainder of Genesis 1-11 and with the following Flood Narrative (Genesis 6:5-9:17).
New Orleans hip hop artist Mary Gold defines, or used to define, her “spirituality” in terms of being a Nephilim.
I’m a spiritual person, I don’t really believe in a structured religion. I don’t know. I’ve had so many weird experiences with spirituality and religion period. Like my life revolves around that. Being in North Carolina pretty much changed my whole life and the way I look at things. I remember meeting the weirdest people, I met this one guy who thought he was the Devil. We would get high in the bathroom and turn the showers on and once everyone left the bathroom, all of the fog would leave. Because you know you put on the shower and it would fog up the windows. We would talk about how he felt like he was going to destroy the world, and the fog would come back and fog up the windows and nothing would happen, like why stuff like that would happen?
I used to think that I was a Nephilim. I entice people, people would come to me if they were looking for something and I would help them find their way. Because a lot of my relationships and friendships ended when my friends found different paths, or found themselves, or went in different directions to become better people.
– Mary Gold
In Genesis 6:1-4, the Nephilim are all men, Gibborim (heroes) of antiquity, men of renown. Mary Gold, who is the first female signing to Curren$y’s Jet Life recordings, uses the term to describe her own dominant, superhuman personality.
Professor Aren Maeir (Bar Ilan University and director of the Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project) delivered a lecture on the Philistines called “Searching for Goliath” on January 18, 2015. He lectured from a lab at Tell es-Safi, via Skype, to students from Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Michigan).
H/t: Aren Maeir
Since the beginning of modern biblical studies, there have been various theories about how the Pentateuch came to be composed from earlier sources or layers of tradition. The method for reconstructing these earlier sources or layers is known as literary criticism. Literary criticism seeks explanations for the various signs of disunity in the text, such as contradictions, inconsistencies, two versions of various stories (e.g. the story of Abraham’s wife Sarah in Egypt), redundancies, and other such features which readers have noticed in the biblical text. Literary criticism’s explanation is that these problems are a result of the development of the text from earlier sources or traditions.
How did these developments take place? The current biblical text might have been added to by supplements over time, or by editors making minor adjustments here and there, or perhaps an author combined multiple sources at one point in time. For about 100 years, one theory dominated literary criticism of the Pentateuch, and that was the Documentary Hypothesis. Under the Documentary Hypothesis, it was posited that the Pentateuch was primarily a combination of “Priestly” and “pre-Priestly” written sources (or “documents”). The Priestly sources are denoted by the siglum “P”, and the pre-Priestly sources by a variety of terms, the Yahwist “J” (after the German “Jahwist”), Elohist “E”, and various pre-J sources. In addition, a deuteronomic author “D” was responsible, primarily, for the book of Deuteronomy. Proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis concluded that Priestly and pre-Priestly sources could be traced throughout the books of Genesis-Deuteronomy.
Over recent decades, however, the Documentary Hypothesis has been criticised on various grounds. For example, the traditions identified as Priestly in Genesis and parts of Exodus seem to have a different character from those identified as Priestly in Leviticus and again from those in Numbers. The so-called Priestly traditions in Numbers generally seem to be a later development, dependent on those in Genesis-Leviticus. Also, there does not seem to be any Priestly source that continues to the final chapters of Deuteronomy. And therefore, there are no longer good grounds for viewing the so-called Priestly source as a continuous source stretching throughout the Pentateuch. It has become very difficult to identify continuous written sources, or documents, behind the Pentateuch. Pentateuchal scholars have suggested, instead, that the process by which the Pentateuch was composed may have involved sources or traditions that did not span the whole Pentateuch. The process seems to have involved more fragmentary sources or traditions, and there is more importance given to the role of the author or authors (or “redactors”) who were responsible for bringing the five books of the Pentateuch together.
However, none of this undermines literary criticism’s identification of disunity in the text. Just because it has become difficult to show how the whole Pentateuch came together does not mean that literary criticism has nothing to contribute to individual passages within the Pentateuch. We need to distinguish the big project of Pentateuchal criticism, the macro-level in which the whole Pentateuch was composed, from the micro-level in which we can identify the joining of sources and traditions.
The classic example demonstrating how literary criticism works is the story of Noah’s Ark. Genesis 6-9 provides a reasonably clear example of the joining of two sources (identified as J and P under the Documentary Hypothesis). But I want to suggest that we should start somewhere else entirely: with the story of David and Goliath, outside the Pentateuch, in 1 Samuel 16-18!
The story of David and Goliath, in contrast with the story of Noah’s Ark, has survived in two quite different manuscript traditions, one much shorter than the other. The shorter manuscript tradition is represented by the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The LXX provides us with actual empirical evidence for one of the sources in the longer story of David and Goliath. The longer story is found in modern English versions of the Bible, and is based on the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). Therefore, by comparing the LXX and MT, we can see how the MT has combined two earlier sources. The MT has combined the LXX source and (at least) one other source.
What do we gain when we compare the two sources within the story of David and Goliath? There are many inconsistencies and contradictions in the longer story of David and Goliath (the one in your English version of the Bible). But all of these inconsistencies and contradictions are explained as the combination of the two earlier sources – one of which still exists in the LXX!
One of the best discussions of the two sources within the story of David and Goliath is by Emanuel Tov. Please have a read of his article, “The David and Goliath Saga: How a Biblical editor combined two versions”, first published in Bible Review 2:04, Winter 1986.
Once we see that the Bible combines earlier sources, we can make sense of the inconsistencies in the story of David and Goliath.
For example, the LXX has King Saul taking David into his service and making him his armour-bearer. Goliath – standing at an impressive 6′ 9″ – would challenge Israel in the hearing of Saul and David (1 Samuel 16.1 – 17.11). But the other source in the longer MT has David suddenly switch to being a young shepherd boy. David arrives at the battle scene only after Goliath’s challenge, and in order to bring his older brothers some food (1 Sam. 17.12-31).
In the LXX, David, as Saul’s armour bearer, recounts how he used to kill lions and bears with his bare hands, back in the days when he was a shepherd boy. David then volunteers to confront Goliath, and kill him with his slingshot (1 Sam. 17.32-49). But in the longer MT, David, is still a young shepherd boy. David defeats Goliath without any sword in his hand. In this MT, the dead Goliath grows to a superhuman 10-feet tall (1 Sam. 17.50; cf. MT 17.4)
In the LXX, David takes the giant’s sword in his hand and chops off Goliath’s head, taking the head to Jerusalem – ignoring any Jebusites currently in residency there (1 Sam. 17.51-54). In the additional sections in MT, Saul does not recognise the boy, because he hadn’t been in his service as his armour bearer. David returns from battle for a second time, this time as a shepherd boy. David has the head of Goliath in his hand, which for some reason is no longer in Jerusalem (maybe the Jebusites gave it back?) Saul asks “who the hell are you?”, as though he had never seen him before, and David introduces himself to Saul as though the man and boy had never met (1 Sam. 17.55-58).
The two different versions of the David and Goliath story provide empirical evidence of what literary criticism has argued about the development of the Pentateuch. 1 Samuel 16-18 is, then, a good place to start in explaining what Pentateuchal literary criticism seeks to achieve.
In modern times, various medical experts (and many people who are not medical experts) have attempted to diagnose the cause of Goliath’s gigantic height. One recurring suggestion is that poor old Goliath was suffering either from gigantism or acromegaly, caused by excessive growth hormones.
Malcolm Gladwell, in David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (2013), traces this diagnosis of Goliath’s stature to a 1960 article in the Journal of the Indiana State Medical Association, “Hereditary Hyperparathyroidism” (53: 1313-1316). Since then there have been a number of supporters, including Gladwell himself, S.W. Lamberts (1992), Dag Moskopp (1996), M. Feinsod (1997), Vladimir Berginer (2000), Vladimir Berginer and Chaim Cohen (2006), and Stephen K. Mathew and Jeyaraj D. Pandian (2010).
For a number of reasons, such endeavours cannot rise above sheer speculation.
- First, the height of Goliath in the probably older LXX version is only 6 3/4 feet. Even given an average male Philistine height of just over five feet, Goliath’s height is hardly a sure sign of any medical abnormality.
- Second, the details of the story are dubious. Famously, in 2 Samuel 21, it is “Elhanan” who kills Goliath of Gath, not David. So when modern medical experts draw inferences from the details in the story about David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, the grounds for doing so are poor.
- Third, 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 medical diagnosis is, therefore, very misguided.
Such considerations have not put a stop to efforts to diagnose Goliath. The latest medical article on the subject is by Deirdre E Donnelly and Patrick J Morrison (“Hereditary Gigantism-the biblical giant Goliath and his brothers”, Ulster Medical Journal, May 2014; 83(2): 86–88).
Donnelly and Morrison take the Bible at face value, seemingly accepting that there was a “Flood” and that the Bible is a good witness to giants at the dawn of time:
Giants have been around since time began; they are first described in the Bible in the book of Genesis (6:1-4)…
Giants lived together as a number of separate races, before and after the Flood….
The giants from Gath were present after the Flood. One possible answer to the often raised question of why the Nephilim giants, present before the Flood were not eradicated by it, could be that new mutations in the AIP gene (or other genes) caused new families of giants to appear
Although it shouldn’t have to be said – the worldwide “Flood” is not an historical event! Donnelly and Morrison’s analysis of medical conditions developing in periods defined “before” and “after” the Flood is, well, silly.
Donnelly and Morrison proceed to connect the name of one group of giants mentioned in the Bible, the ענקים (Anakim) to the Hebrew term ענק (necklace). Which is fair enough. But from this they suggest that the term might possibly refer to the goitre. They then leap to the fabulous conclusion that Goliath’s condition was “hyperthyroidism, possibly due to underlying pituitary gland, or other endocrine, dysfunction”.
Not satisfied with these leaps of fancy, Donnelly and Morrison then reconstruct Goliath’s alleged family tree “from Samuel and Chronicles” (by which they must surely mean the giants mentioned in 2 Sam 21:15–22 and its parallel in 1 Chron 20:4–8). Some of these giants are said to have six fingers, a not uncommon symptom of gigantism. In their reconstructed family tree, Donnelly and Morrison indicate members affected by the hereditary autosomal dominant pituitary gene with black shading, and indicate the presence of hexadactyly (six-fingeredness) with the + symbol:
The big problem here is that 2 Sam 21:15–22 and 1 Chron 20:4–8 don’t actually mention any family relations. Donnelly and Morrison seem to have read the term “offsprings of the Raphah” (ילידי הרפה) in these passages a little too literally. The term refers generally to the giants of Gath as descendants of the Rephaim/Giants. How Donnelly and Morrison came up with Goliath’s three sons, is more puzzling, but it is not from reading anything in the Bible. In addition, their inclusion of Lahmi as brother of Goliath appears to be ignorant of the well-known interpretation of this phrase as a harmonization with 1 Samuel 17. Elhanan is made to kill Goliath’s brother, rather than Goliath himself, thereby removing the embarrassing contradiction with the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel 17 (in which David, rather than Elhanan, kills Goliath). Lahmi does not appear in the more original 2 Samuel 21. There is simply no “family tree” to be reconstructed here. So the authors’ conclusion about a “hereditary” condition is based on a fundamental misunderstanding.
Donnelly and Morrison go on to explain that Goliath was killed due to impaired vision, caused by his autosomal dominant pituitary gene. Here things descend into pure speculation:
Goliath was killed by David who threw a stone at his forehead (Samuel [sic] 17:49). This gives further evidence that he suffered from pituitary gland dysfunction; a pituitary tumour pressing on his optic chiasm, and consequent visual disturbance due to pressure on his optic nerve, would have made it difficult for him to see the stone in his lateral vision. Pituitary giants look impressive in terms of stature, but may not have speed and agility to match their perceived strength. David, having agility, particularly having declined the heavy set of armour that was offered to him, and being skilled at sling shots, may have found a way around the fearsome looking giant by firing a sling shot from the side of the battlefield….
Goliath himself had a shield bearer precede him, possibly to indicate to Goliath the direction of the approaching foe.
Donnelly and Morrison then cite the other medical experts who have speculated on Goliath’s condition, as “fact”:
The fact that Goliath may have had a pituitary tumour was recognised by Vladimir Berginer in a paper in 2000.
For the reasons provided above, the conclusions of those who have attempted to diagnose Goliath are far from “fact”. The modern diagnosis of Goliath is an entirely misguided enterprise from the get go. It is made more absurd in this case by the misinterpretation of biblical passages as involving a “family tree” where there is none in fact. In their acknowledgements, the authors thank “the theological reviewer who carefully checked our statements on the Biblical giants for accuracy and who provided very helpful comments including original Hebrew text”. Donnelly and Morrison would have received better advice if they had been told to stick to the diagnosis of living patients and leave biblical characters alone.
In two articles, one co-authored with Esther Eschel, Aren Maeir suggests that he may have found a further example of the term or proper name רפא (rapha’) on a ninth-century BCE jar found at Tell es-Safi/(“Gath”). That means that the jar was inscribed during Philistine rule, before the later Judean rule of the city.
The term רפא (rapha’) is sometimes apparently just a proper name (“Raphah”; e.g. 1 Chronicles 8:2). Yet it is also used to describe various giants, including the Goliath of Gath who opposed David’s elite soldiers (2 Samuel 21:18-22). The plural of the term is the more familiar רפאים (Rephaim), which the Bible uses to describe various ancient heroes and kings, as well as (in Deuteronomy) entire races of giants.
Here is a picture of the jar, along with a larger view of the fragments on which the inscription was found:
There is a big problem with reading these Phoenician letters, however, as Aren Maeir and Esther Eschel discuss in the articles. The first letter (reading right-to-left) is only partial, and does not clearly look like any particular ninth-century r. It could be a d or an ayin. But it is very hard to tell. The second letter is probably a p, but a g is not ruled out by the authors. The final letter (on the left) is also unclear, and while plausibly an aleph, it could be a l.
With this level of uncertainty, Maeir and Eschel conclude,
we tentatively prefer the first suggested reading of רפא … but one should not rule out the other possible readings
Maeir also suggests that the Tell es-Safi inscription might be compared with stamped-handle inscriptions from no earlier than eight century BCE, which had previously been uncovered at Tell es-Safi, and which also probably evidence the name רפא. If so, “the רפא family might be seen as an important family/clan on a local scale over several generations”. Possibly. But as there is a fundamental uncertainty in reading the letters of the inscription, further conclusions are likewise uncertain. Still, it is an interesting possibility.
The studies also consider the meaning of the רפא root as “healer”, but dismiss it due to the lack of a definite article (and the lack of sufficient space for one in the gap in the jar to the right of the inscription). But another possibility is that it is related instead to Akk. rabā’um (‘to be large, great’), and its derivative rabium (< rabūm; ‘leader, chief, prince’). Notably, the well-known personal name Hammurabi is alternatively spelled Hammurapi at Ugarit. The derivation is suggested or supported by Joseph Aistleitner, Georg Sauer, George E. Mendenhall, Samuel E. Loewenstamm, and (with more extensive reasoning) Michael L. Brown. The term is sometimes paired with “king” (mlk), as on Samaria Ostracon 24. If so, and if the letters should be read this way, the jar may have belonged to a prince or nobleman, rather than to a family with the name רפא.
Maeir, Aren M. ‘The Rephaim in Iron Age Philistia: Evidence of a Multi-Generational Family?’ Pages 289–97 in ‘Vom Leben umfangen': Ägypten, das Alte Testament und das Gespräch der Religionen. Gedenkschrift für Manfred Görg, eds. S. J. Wimmer and G. Gafus (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2014).
Maeir, Aren M., and Esther Eshel. ‘Four Short Alphabetic Inscriptions from Iron Age IIA Tell es-Safi/Gath and Their Contribution for Understanding the Process of the Development of Literacy in Iron Age Philistia.’ In ‘See, I Will Bring a Scroll Recounting What Befell Me’ (Ps 40:8): Epigraphy and Daily Life—From the Bible to the Talmud Dedicated to the Memory of Professor Hanan Eshel, edited by Esther Eshel and Yigal Levin. JAJSup. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, forthcoming.
Maeir, Aren M. ‘The New Seal from Jerusalem: The Gath Connection.’ The Tell es-Safi/Gath Excavations Official (and Unofficial) weblog. 2 March 2008.