In my previous post on this topic, “Who Killed Goliath,” I emphasized that the story of David killing Goliath is well known and it is a story told and retold countless of times by people who want to emphasize the heroic acts of David.
What is not well known by many of those people who love this story is that the Bible presents conflicting information on who killed Goliath. One passage in 1 Samuel 17:49-50 affirms that David killed Goliath:
“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).
Another passage, 2 Samuel 21:19, affirms that Elhanan killed Goliath:
“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).
In order to reconcile these two different views, four explanations have been proposed. In my previous post I discussed explanations one and two. 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. The second explanation for the discrepancy of who killed Goliath is that David and Elhanan were the same person.
In the present post I will discuss explanation three, the statement found in 1 Chronicles 20:5. In my third and last post on this topic, I will discuss the fourth explanation and then present a fifth possible explanation, one that has become my way of understanding this apparent conflict within the Biblical text.
The third explanation offered for interpreting the apparent contradictory information of who killed Goliath was offered by the writer of the book of Chronicles, whom I will call the Chronicler. The Chronicler wrote:
“Again there was war with the Philistines; and Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam” (1 Chronicles 20:5 NRSV).
As one reads what the Chronicler wrote, one must be aware that he was writing many years after the events and that one of the main concerns of his book was to portray David and his kingdom in a positive light. Thus, it is clear that the Chronicler is trying to give credit to David for killing Goliath. He said that Elhanan did not kill Goliath, only Goliath’s brother.
Most scholars agree that there is a textual problem in 1 Chronicles 20:5 (look at the Ketib on the margins of the BHS). In 2 Samuel 21:19, Elhanan is the son of a man from Bethlehem, a Bethlehemite. In Hebrew the word “Bethlehemite” is “Beth Lahmi.” According to 1 Chronicles 20:5, Lahmi is the name of the person Elhanan killed. Thus, if one attempts to correct the text, the text probably would read as follows: “Again there was war with the Philistines; and Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam” (1 Chronicles 20:5).
The textual corruption found in 1 Chronicles 20:5 or the proposed emendation will not affect the argument I make below. Let us consider three factors in the information provided in the three texts that tell the readers about Goliath’s death.
1. Let us suppose that the information provided in 1 Samuel 17:49-50 reflects events that happened to David before he became king. David became king around 1000 B.C. The records of David’s activities before and after he became king were written down by scribes who served in David’s court.
Some information about David’s activities probably were kept in The Books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah (1 Kings 14:29). Additional information about David and the events of his kingdom were preserved in The Chronicles of King David (1 Chronicles 27:24), in The Chronicles of Nathan the prophet (1 Chronicles 29:29), and in The Chronicles of Gad the seer (1 Chronicles 29:29).
2. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were probably composed during the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). The writer, whom I will call the Deuteronomistic writer, was probably a royal scribe who had access to the royal library in the palace. Thus, when he wrote his history, he probably consulted the sources mentioned above.
The nature of these sources is unknown and it is a matter of debate among scholars. Whether they were different sources or one and the same, is not important. What is important is that the Deuteronomistic writer probably had one or several of the royal records available to him as he wrote his history.
Thus, he probably had the information that David killed Goliath and that Elhanan killed Goliath and he allowed the information to remain as he found it. If the information in his record contradicted each other, why did the Deuteronomistic writer not change the record as the Chronicler did? Because he probably knew that the information was not contradictory, that is, he knew that David killed Goliath and that Elhanan killed Goliath (I will explain this in my next post).
3. Then enters the Chronicler. The Chronicler was probably a Levite or a Priest. He wrote his book in the end of the 5th century (circa 400 B.C.) or at the beginning of the 4th century (circa 390 B.C. or later). He lived in the post-exilic community, during the Persian Period. The Chronicler wrote his book 600 years after the event and about 200 years after the book of Samuel was written. Writing without the benefit of the royal tradition, he was unable to understand the conflicting information in the book of Samuel. Thus, he harmonized the text and said that Elhanan did not kill Goliath, but Goliath’s brother. This harmonization of 1 Samuel 17:49-50 and 2 Samuel 21:19 has no historical basis and it is not supported by the biblical narrative.
It is interesting that those people who defend Biblical inerrancy also defend the Chronicler’s correction of the text, unaware that the Chronicler’s correction undermines their view of the Bible. Gleason Archer, writing in the Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 179, said that the reading of 2 Samuel 21:19 is corrupt. He wrote that 2 Samuel 21:19 “is a perfectly traceable corruption of the original wording, which fortunately has been correctly preserved in 1 Chronicles 20:5.”
But here is a problem with this view: there is no evidence that the text in 2 Samuel 21:9 is corrupt. The corrupt text is 1 Chronicles 20:5 as can be seen by the Ketib and the Qere found in the Masoretic notes.
In addition, if 2 Samuel 21:19 is based on royal records and reflects a historical recollection of what took place during the reign of David, then the Chronicler is wrong. Either Elhanan killed Goliath or he killed the brother of Goliath. If the writer of Samuel is right, then the Chronicler is wrong. If the Chronicler is right, then the writer of Samuel is wrong. Both writers cannot be right at the same time.
The reading of the Chronicler is a harmonization of the text. Confronted with what he considered to be a contradiction or an error, the Chronicler corrected the text but in the process he created a problem by implying that the writer of Samuel was in error. There is not enough information in the book of Samuel to justify the Chronicler’s harmonization. The Chronicler’s attempt at solving the problem created more problems without solving the conflict posed by the text. Those who say that the Chronicler’s reading is correct and that the text of 2 Samuel is corrupt do so with an a priori view of the way the inconsistency should be resolved.
My last post will discuss the fourth explanation to solve the conflict posed by the statement in 2 Samuel 21:19 that Elhanan killed Goliath. In that post I will also propose a solution to the problem.
Part 3: Who Killed Goliath? – Part 3
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary