Reconsidering The Height Of Goliath -- By: J. Daniel Hays

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 48:4 (Dec 2005)
Article: Reconsidering The Height Of Goliath
Author: J. Daniel Hays


Reconsidering The Height Of Goliath

J. Daniel Hays

J. Daniel Hays is professor of Old Testament at Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR 71998–0001.

I. Introduction

The story of David and Goliath is one of the best-known and best-loved stories in the entire OT. Goliath is nearly ten feet tall, and yet the young David bravely fights the giant and slays him with a single well-aimed stone from his sling. This version of the story is firmly embedded in our tradition, not only through the account of it in our English Bibles, but also through children's books, children's Sunday School lessons, art, and song. Indeed, David's heroic battle against the giant has become a classic paradigm within Western culture of the underdog's upset victory. It probably appears foolish to tamper with such a famous, firmly entrenched, and beloved story, but as I hope to demonstrate, the text-critical evidence, both external and internal, compels us to reconsider the height of Goliath, and suggests to us that we should probably cut the giant down at the knees, reducing him from 9'9" to 6'9".

II. Overview

Here is a summary of the case. The Masoretic Text (mt), that is, the "received" Hebrew text upon which most of our English OT translations are based, states in 1 Sam 17:4 that the height of Goliath is "six cubits and a span." A cubit is approximately 18 inches, and a span is about 9 inches. Thus, in the mt Goliath is 9'9" tall. Most of our English translations follow this reading.1

On the other hand, in the major Septuagint (lxx) manuscripts Goliath's height is given as "four cubits and a span," which puts him at the much

shorter height of 6'9". For much of the modern era, the lxx manuscripts were viewed as secondary witnesses to the OT text when compared to the mt. However, the discovery of the dss changed that situation, because in several cases the older Hebrew texts found at Qumran supported the readings of the lxx over against the mt. Today the field of OT textual criticism is still struggling to interact with and to incorporate correctly the new textual data from these scrolls from the Judean Desert. Regarding 1-2 Samuel and the height of Goliath, the find at Qumran was quite significant. Although several small fragments of 1-2 Samuel were found, only one large substantial manuscript of 1-2 Samuel was discovered, referred to as 4QSama. Although some portions of the scroll are damaged, 1 Sam 17:3–6 is clear, and in this manuscript, by f...

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