The Height Of Goliath: A Response To Clyde Billington -- By: J. Daniel Hays

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 50:3 (Sep 2007)
Article: The Height Of Goliath: A Response To Clyde Billington
Author: J. Daniel Hays

The Height Of Goliath: A Response To Clyde Billington

J. Daniel Hays

J. Daniel Hays is professor of biblical studies at Ouachita Baptist University, 410 Ouachita St., Arkadelphia, AR 71998.

I. Introduction

Clyde Billington has suggested an interesting proposal regarding the textual variant problem in 1 Sam 17:4 concerning the height of Goliath. My response is limited to six central aspects: the difficulty of defining a cubit with certainty; the implausibility of the scribal change; the unexplained dss evidence; Saul’s fear and the narrative context; Goliath’s armor and weapons; and the relevance of the data regarding giants.

II. The Difficulty Of Defining A Cubit With Certainty

In Bill Cosby’s famous dialogue between God and Noah, God declares to Noah that he is going to destroy the world. Noah answers, “Right!” God then tells Noah to build an ark 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. Noah answers, “Right! What’s a cubit?” Much of Billington’s discussion revolves around trying to answer that question. First of all, Billington states that I “assumed” that the ancient cubit was 18 inches and that I had been misled into this conclusion by “many modern reference works.” Actually, I stated that the cubit was “approximately” 18 inches, acknowledging that defining the precise modern equivalent of the biblical cubit with certainty is difficult because of the lack of standardization in the ancient world. I confess to following the “many modern reference” works, for most of the serious discussions regarding the length of the cubit underscore that 18 inches is our best approximate average, but that the precise length represented by the term “cubit” throughout the ancient world varied.1 Furthermore, I am a bit puzzled by Billington’s discussion. He cites the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (1976) several times to support his view (he cites the author as Tenney; however, my former professor F. B. Huey actually wrote the article; Tenney is the editor). In this article, regarding the cubit, F. B. Huey comes to nearly the same conclusion that I did, stating, “The length usually varies from seventeen to eighteen inches.”2

Central to Billington’s thesis is the argument that Jewish scribes in Egypt translating the Septuagint changed Goliath’s height from four cubits and a span to six cubits and a span because they were converting the biblical common cubit to the Egyptian royal cubit. However, there does not appear t...

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