Who Killed Goliath?

Who killed Goliath?  The answer to this question is not difficult. It is not difficult because the answer is right there in the Bible. The answer is found in 2 Samuel 21:19:

“Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam” (2 Samuel 21:19 NRSV).

There you have it!  Elhanan killed Goliath. The Bible says so and that settles it.

But the answer to the question “who killed Goliath” is not as easy as it seems. Several years ago, a group of international Old Testament scholars met in Paris at a two-day conference to discuss this issue. The topic of the conference was “Who Killed Goliath.” Scholar after scholar presented papers on different aspects of this issue. After two days of discussion, those scholars concluded that it was impossible to decide who killed Goliath.

The reason for this lack of a definite answer is because there is another passage that says that someone else killed Goliath. That passage is found in 1 Samuel 17:49-50:

“David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand” (1 Samuel 17:49-50 NRSV).

So, according to the Bible, two people killed Goliath: Elhanan and David.  But how can this be?  The story of David killing Goliath is well known by most people, because it is the story of the weak overcoming the strong, the story of an underdog who gained a victory notwithstanding the  seemingly unsurmountable odds of success.

Most people who read the Bible are familiar with the story of David and Goliath, however, most of them have never noticed the glaring inconsistency present in the Biblical text.  The reason for the unfamiliarity with this Biblical inconsistency is that most people read the Bible superficially. In addition, most readers of the Bible have a preconceived idea of what the story says, since it is common knowledge that David killed Goliath.

Who was Elhanan?  The answer to this question is complicated because there are two Elhanans mentioned in the Bible.  The first person who bears this name is Elhanan, the son of Jaare-oregim, a man from Bethlehem.  This Elhanan was the one who according to 2 Samuel 21:19 killed Goliath. Many scholars believe that the name Jaare-oregim is corrupt and that it should be read Jair and that the word ’oregîm describes his trade, “weaver.”

The other Elhanan was the son of Dodo, a man from Bethlehem, a man listed among David’s thirty warriors (2 Samuel 23:24; 1 Chronicles 11:26).  Some scholars have identified the two Elhanans as the same individual and that Elhanan served among the “Thirty,” a group of elite warriors who served in David’s army as high-ranking officials. They were known for their acts of heroism in battle.

There are four different ways of interpreting the contradictory information of who killed Goliath.  These four theories are attempts at explaining the differences between 1 and 2 Samuel and the evidence concerning the death of Goliath.

The first explanation is that one of David’s warriors, Elhanan, killed Goliath and that David received the credit for what one of his warriors had done.  This is a possibility because generally, the commander of an army receives the credit for the victory soldiers achieve on the battlefield.  This can be seen in the case of Dwight Eisenhower who, as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, received the credit for the Allied victory on the coast of Normandy.

The same thing happened in the Bible.  For instance, 1 Chronicles 18:12 says that “Abishai son of Zeruiah killed eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.”  2 Samuel 23:18 says that Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, “was chief of the Thirty.”

This means that as the commander of David’s warriors, Abishai led the army against the Edomites and conquered them.  However, the Bible gives David the credit for defeating the Edomites. 2 Samuel 8:13 reads: “David won a name for himself. When he returned, he killed eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.” Thus, although it was Abishai who led the army and conquered the Edomites, it was David as king and the supreme commander of the army who received the credit for defeating the Edomites.

Although the explanation that it was Elhanan who killed Goliath and that it was David who received the credit is possible, there are two problems with this theory.  The first problem is that the dates of the two events are separated by many years. According to 1 Samuel 17:49-50, David killed Goliath in his youth, many years before he became the king of a united monarchy. According to 2 Samuel 21:19, Elhanan killed Goliath several years after David became the king of Judah and Israel.

The second problem with this view is that David’s fame as a warrior in Israel rested on his fighting against the Philistines.  Thus, the killing of Goliath increased David’s fame in Israel and became one of the key factors for his selection as king of Judah and Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-2).

The second explanation for the discrepancy of who killed Goliath, David or Elhanan, is based on the theory that David and Elhanan were the same person.  This view was advanced by John Bright in his book A History of Israel, 3rd Edition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1981), 191-92.

John Bright based his view on the fact that many kings in Judah had two names: their given name and their throne name.  One example of kings having a throne name is the case of Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah, who became the new king of Judah after the death of his father (2 Kings 23:30).  Jehoahaz was his throne name; Shallum was his given name (1 Chronicles 3:15; Jeremiah 22:11).  Another example was Eliakim.  When he became king of Judah he assumed the name of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 23:34).

On the basis of kings having two names, John Bright (p. 192) wrote: “It is not impossible that Elhanan  . . .  and David were the same person, the latter name being perhaps an appellation or a throne name.”

Although this explanation is attractive, there are two problems with this view.  The first problem, as mentioned above, is that the date for the two events are separated by many years.  The second problem is that 1 Samuel 21:19 seems to indicate that Elhanan was a warrior in David’s army.  If this is true, then Elhanan and David were two different individuals.

In my next post I will discuss explanations three and four and present my conclusion on who killed Goliath.

Read: Who Killed Goliath? – Part 2

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

This entry was posted in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, David, Hebrew Bible and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Who Killed Goliath?

  1. Pingback: Who Killed Goliath? | Dr. Platypus

  2. Bradford says:

    Wow, you got my attention with this post. Looking forward to reading the rest!

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  3. Pingback: Who Killed Goliath? Claude Mariottini! | Remnant of Giants

  4. Minnie Doss says:

    Dr. Mariottini you always were very thorough in your research. I look forward to your conclusion on this topic.

    Like

  5. Anthony Chia says:

    Hi

    Your post startled me. I thought I went through both books of Samuel and some of the Old Testament stuff and did not come across this apparent dilemma, and so, I went through my own commentaries, and still it was simply this (and I accept them plainly):

    2 Samuel 21:19 (NIV84) – “Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim [c] the Bethlehemite killed Goliath [d] the Gittite ….” and the NIV footnote for [c] is this: “2 Samuel 21:19 Or son of Jair the weaver”; and for [d] is this: “2 Samuel 21:19 Hebrew and Septuagint; 1 Chron. 20:5 son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath”

    1 Chron. 20:5 read as follows: “In another battle with the Philistines, Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.”

    Unless, it is argued that the equating of Jaare-Oregim to Jair is NOT acceptable, it appears that Elhanan killed Lahmi, the brother of Goliath whom David killed. Goliath could be a family or clan name, such was NOT uncommon in those days. The key figure would then be called “The such and such”, and in this case, “The Goliath”; and David killed The Goliath. Elhanan killed “a Goliath”, and that Goliath was the brother (Lahmi) of The Goliath.

    With due respect, less fuss over this might be better.

    Separate, yet in a way connected to this, because some want to build their own stories based on a name, we also have the story and even book spun out of an OT name, “Obed Edom”, when it is doubtful if it was one same Obed Edom throughout all the events of the so-called “Secrets or pleasing ways of Obed Edom” Goliath and Obed Edom were both clan names (although Obed Edom was not just a Levite clan name but was also the name of a pagan, Gittite, who happened to be of the same people group as Goliath, the Philistine. Those interested to read about the possible mis-teaching of Obed-Edom, can hop over my article, “Secret of Obed Edom, faulty premise more likely” at: http://high-expressions.blogspot.com/2011/05/secret-of-obed-edom-faulty-premise-more.html. You will see a parallel there, in the last bit (2 Chr 25:23-24), where the length of time involved demanded that the CLAN Obed-Edom was being referred to, NOT the same Obed Edom who was first mentioned in David’s moving of the ark.

    Professor, hope you did not mind, I drew in the “parallel” story of Obed Edom to illustrate possible clan or family name could be involved here.

    Anthony Chia, high.expressions – http://high-expressions.blogspot.com/

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    • Anthony,

      Thank you for your comment. I will read your article on Obed-Edom and consider your conclusions. Let me say two things about your comment. First, I will deal with 1 Chronicles 20:5 in my next post on Goliath. I disagree with your interpretation of 1 Chronicle 20:5 and you will understand why after you read part 2 of my post. Second, there is a problem with the identification of Obed-Edom of 2 Samuel and the Obed-Edom of Chronicles. I do not have the time at the present to write a post dealing with the Obed-Edom problem. I may do so at a later time.

      Thank you for your comment. I hope you will be able to read my second post on Goliath.

      Claude Mariottini

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  6. Most intriguing! Looking forward to the rest.

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  7. Pingback: August 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival « Daniel O. McClellan

  8. Pingback: Who Killed Goliath? – Part 2 | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

  9. Pingback: Who Killed Goliath? – Part 3 | Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament

  10. Pingback: Atheist Biblical Criticism on Who Killed Goliath? | Remnant of Giants

  11. David Palizzolo says:

    You left this very important verse out. 1 Samuel 17:50-51 (NASB)
    51 Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it.

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    • David,

      This is what I teach my students. David killed Goliath with his sword. If I failed to include that important verse in the post, then your comment will help readers to see that it is an important verse.

      Claude Mariottini

      Like

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