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).
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).
These two passages have generated much interest because the second passage puts in doubt the traditional view that it was David who killed Goliath. Over the years, scholars and translators have proposed four different explanations to solve the problem. Most of them try to defend the traditional view that David killed Goliath.
In my first post, “Who Killed Goliath,” I discussed explanations one and two. The first explanation is that one of David’s warriors killed Goliath and that David received the credit for it. The second explanation is that David and Elhanan were the same person.
In my second post, “Who Killed Goliath – Part 2,” I discussed the text in 1 Chronicles 20:5 in which the Chronicler said that Elhanan did not kill Goliath, but the brother of Goliath. In that post I tried to show that 1 Chronicles 20:5 is a harmonization of the two texts designed to solve the problem and give David the credit for killing Goliath.
In my third and last post, I will discuss the fourth attempt at solving the problem. Then, I will propose a fifth explanation that I believe solves the problem, preserves the integrity of 2 Samuel 21:19, and is based on archaeological evidence.
The fourth attempt at explaining who killed Goliath is the correction of the text made by the translators of the King James Bible. This is how the translators of the King James Bible translated 2 Samuel 21:19:
“And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.”
In this translation, the words the brother of are in italics to indicate that the words are not in the Hebrew text and that the translators inserted these words in order to clarify the meaning of the text.
It is important to emphasize this fact: the words the brother of are not in the Hebrew text. The words were added by the translator of the King James Bible. However, in doing so, they did not clarify the text. Rather, they changed the text and gave an interpretation to the text that changes completely what the text says.
Since the translators of the King James Bible could not explain the discrepancy between 1 Samuel 17:49-50 and 2 Samuel 21:19, the translators took what the text said in 1 Chronicles 20:5 and inserted its reading into 2 Samuel 21:19.
There is no textual tradition for the reading of the King James Bible. The insertion of the words the brother of is intrusive and it provides a false reading to the text, a reading that tells the reader that this is the correct meaning of the text when in reality, this reading is a manufactured reading. It is also misleading because it takes away the integrity of the text of 2 Samuel 21:19.
In order to preserve the original tradition of the story, that David killed Goliath, several translations follow the reading proposed by the King James Bible, among them The NET Bible, The New King James Version, the New Living Bible, and Today’s New International Version (TNIV).
The NIV 1984 does not follow the reading of the King James Bible. However, the NIV 2011 chose to follow the TNIV and adopted the reading of the King James Bible. This revision of the text in the NIV 2011 compromises the integrity of this revision because it shows the ideological bias of the translators.
So, if the four explanations discussed above do not solve the discrepancy between 1 Samuel 17:49-50 and 2 Samuel 21:19, what then is the solution to the problem? Below I will propose another explanation, but before I do so, let me explain the person of the giant Goliath.
2 Samuel 21:18-22 mentions several individuals who were “the sons of the giant” (2 Samuel 21:18 KJV), or as the NRSV puts it, these men were the “descendants of the giants.”
The belief that these men were giants is based on the statement that these men were men “of great stature” (2 Samuel 21:20). Although these men were of great stature, I believe the translation “giants” is unfortunate.
The Hebrew word translated “giants” is רְפָאִים (repā’îm), Rephaim.
The identity of the Rephaim is problematic. In general, the word is understood as the weakened shades of dead people who are in Sheol, “the spirits of the departed” (Isaiah 14:9 NIV). Although the Old Testament identifies the Rephaim with the dead, in the Ugaritic texts, the Rephaim are identified with mighty warriors. Thus, the word repā’îm could be translated “giant” as well as “mighty warrior.”
The text of 2 Samuel 21:15-22 is very interesting. 2 Samuel 21:15 reads: “The Philistines went to war again with Israel, and David went down together with his servants. They fought against the Philistines, and David grew weary.” It is clear that David and his soldiers were fighting against the Philistines, not David alone. And this is what happened:
Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the Rephaim, tried to kill David, but Abishai, the son of Zeruiah helped David. He attacked the Philistine and killed him (2 Samuel 21:16-17).
Sibbecai, the Hushathite, killed Saph, who was another descendant of the Rephaim.
Elhanan, the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite.
Then there was a man of great size, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number. This man was also a descendant of the Rephaim. Jonathan, the son of David’s brother Shimei, killed him.
Then the text concludes: “These four were descended from the giants in Gath; they fell by the hands of David and his servants” (2 Samuel 21:16-22).
These Philistine soldiers who fought against David’s soldiers had one thing in common: they were all Rephaim, that is, “mighty warriors” or “giants” if we adopt the popular translation. And it is here where the answer to who killed Goliath can be found.
In a previous post, “David and Goliath,” I wrote:
Aren Maeir, head of the archaeology department at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv is director of the dig of the mound widely believed to be the site of the ancient city of Gath, which, according to the Bible, was the place where Goliath lived.
During the excavation at the site, Maeir found a shard (a broken piece of pottery) containing an inscription in early Semitic style spelling with the name of Goliath. According to Maeir, this is “the first archaeological evidence suggesting the biblical story of David slaying the Philistine giant actually took place.”
In another post, “The NIV and the TNIV: Two Bibles with Contradictory Views,” I wrote:
In light of the recent discovery of the name “Goliath” in the remains of the site of the biblical city of Gath, the translation of the TNIV may be suspicious (if you want to read my article on David and Goliath, click here). According to the archaeologist who found the broken piece of pottery with the name “Goliath,” the name was used one hundred years after the time of David. So, it is possible that the name “Goliath” was used to designate a special type of soldier, like “marines” or “navy seals.” If it is proved to be true that Goliath was the name of a champion warrior in the army of the Philistines, then David killed one Goliath and Elhanan killed another Goliath.
If this view, that Goliath was a name given to the mighty warriors of the Philistines, is correct then the integrity of 2 Samuel 21:19 is preserved and the statement that Elhanan killed Goliath can be easily explained.
In the end, archaeology may provide the answer to who killed Goliath. As I wrote above, “If it is proved to be true that Goliath was the name of a champion warrior in the army of the Philistines, then David killed one Goliath and Elhanan killed another Goliath.”
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Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary