Who Killed Goliath? – Part 3

David Slaying Goliath
by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)
Wikimedia Commons

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.”

NOTE: For other studies on David and Goliath, read my post Studies on David and Goliath.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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22 Responses to Who Killed Goliath? – Part 3

  1. Do I understand you to be saying that goliath was a Philistine common noun roughly equivalent to Hebrew/Ugaritic repa’? I think I’d like a bit more evidence that this is the case, although I admit this is an interesting interpretation.

    Are you rejecting the theory that ‘alyat (Goliath) is cognate with the Lydian proper noun Alyattes? I would think it would be much simpler to suggest that there were two Philistine men who both had the given name Goliath.


    • Darrell,

      Thank you for your insightful comments. Let me answer your questions this way:

      1. I am skeptical about the Lydian connection for the name Goliath. When this view was proposed, the name Goliath was unknown outside the Bible.

      2. It would be much simpler to suggest that there were two Philistine men with the name Goliath. That would solve the apparent contradiction and would preserve the integrity of 2 Samuel. That was my view until recently.

      3. My view of the Ugaritic connection is based on an article by Conrad L’Heureux, “The Ugaritic and Biblical Rephaim,” published in the Harvard Theological Review 67 (1974), 265-274. On page 272, he wrote: “On the human level, the rp’m of the earth form an aristocratic warrior guild (p.272). On page 273 he wrote: “Since these rp’m consisted of kings and nobles who fought from horse-drawn chariots, it is only natural that they were remembered as being gigantic in stature” (p. 273).

      This is only an interpretation that was motivated by an archaeological discovery of the name Goliath in Gath, a Philistine city and the home of Goliath.

      Claude Mariottini


      • I can see where Ugaritic rp’m might refer to elite chariot soldiers (comparable to Hurrian maryannu). I’m still a little fuzzy on how it can be claimed the Philistine equivalent term was ‘alyat.


      • Darrel,

        I did not say that rp’m was equivalent to ‘alyat. What I said was that the Philistine warriors are called Rephaim. My proposal is that the name Goliath is not the name of an individual, but a class of Philistine warriors.

        Claude Mariottini


  2. James Pate says:

    Hi Dr. Mariottini. I’ve enjoyed this series! My question may be obvious, or answered in another post you wrote, or an article, so you can refer me to that if such is the case. My question is this: Why would the name “Goliath” appearing on a pot 100 years after the time of David show that Goliath is a common noun—like a navy seal? Perhaps other people had the name Goliath, or Goliath in I-II Samuel is an anachronism.


    • James,

      Thank you for your comment. My conclusion is based on the fact that if the name Goliath appeared 100 years after the events narrated in the book of Samuel, then this indicates that there was not only one Goliath. If you read 2 Samuel 21:15-22 you will discover that the Philistines warriors were called Rephaim, except Goliath. Goliath is called a descendants of the Rephaim in verse 22. Thus, my view is that Goliath’s name was a type of Philistines warrior, since his name appears three times: twice in the Bible and once in the remains of the city of Gath.

      Read my response to Darrel’s comment.

      I may be wrong and if I am, I will be glad to change my mind. This is what William F. Albright once said (I am paraphrasing him here): “This is what I believe today. I may change my mind when I have better evidence.”

      Claude Mariottini


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  4. Mariano says:

    I take the references to “the sons of the giant” to mean that the four mentioned in the text were sons of Goliath whom David slew, as they were the four who “were born to the giant in Gath.”

    Your translation appears to read it the plural that they were descended from the giant“s” in Gath. But what I can tell the word is the singular rapha in this case.

    Thus, I took the text to mean that:
    Abishai killed Ishbi-Benob.
    Sibbechai killed Saph.
    Elhanan killed Goliath.
    Jonathan killed the one with six fingers.

    From this, it seems that Goliath had four sons and one of them was named Goliath or, as we may term it, “Goliath, Jr.”

    It may be of interest to note that Chuck Missler noted that the reason that when David confronted Goliath “…he chose for himself five smooth stones…” (1st Samuel 17:40) is that Goliath’s four sons were hanging around and in case they joined the fight, David had the five stones one for Goliath and one for each son.


  5. Anthony Chia says:

    Hi Prof,

    My belief is pretty close to yours, except you are viewing it as a class of warriors of the Gitites, like you said, like the US “navy seals”, whereas, I think it was more of a clan or family name.
    I have previously done some study on the so-called giants of the Bible, and it was just possible that giants of several kinds were found still at a number of places after the Great Flood. Some were found among the Gitites, but NOT all Gitites were giants though, for nothing was said of the several hundreds of Gitites warriors who were loyal to David.

    Perhaps, you are right that the “brother of” was inserted in the Chronicle’s account, and that was most unfortunate, for I too, missed the so-called italic fonts (of KJV) as indicating it was inserted rather than was found in the Hebrew text. But like I have previously said in my comment against your 1st post, that “Goliath” being a clan or family name of some particular giants, implied that there were more than one such Goliaths.

    We could count there were 3 separate events: David’s killing of one Goliath (1 Samuel 17:49-50), Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim, killing another Goliath (2 Samuel 21:19), and lastly, Elhanan son of Jair, killed another Goliath, with specific name of Lahmi (1 Ch 20:5).

    Normally, such family name or clan, as I understand them to be, there was a “head” and he started the line (or name), but it was possible that the Goliath that David killed was The Goliath headman. The timing could suggest that, since when David killed The Goliath, he (David) was still a young boy who did NOT have any warriors with him, unlike his brothers who were already serving at the battleground; the other accounts appeared to have occurred subsequent to David’s killing. Of course, it was also possible that because of the fame of David, well, “The David”, the Goliath that he killed was being labeled as “The Goliath”. In any case, there were 2 or 3 Goliaths killed depending on whether we treat Jaare-oregim and Jair were the same person or NOT (in other words, Elhanan of 2 Sam 21:19 and Elhanan of 1 Ch 20:5 were the same person or NOT).

    It is too long a shot to claim that Elhanan and David was the same man. The suggestion that David was without sword, and it was another who killed the Goliath and David just assumed the credit, it was NOT admissible, for it was CLEARLY stated in 1 Sam 17:51 that David killed the giant with the giant’s sword – “David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.”

    As I have hinted in my comment against your 1st post, all of these should NOT distract us from the story of David’s slain of a giant with a sling and a stone. In Biblical interpretation, the part of the Word that clearly has no ambiguity, we accept without questioning, and if we have to, we will drop ambiguous parts, favoring the one without ambiguity. David’s story was “big deal” compared with the others (while Goliaths were killed, also), was NOT without reasons or merits: David was still a shepherd boy, courageous for a boy, he stood for God, he chose to arm appropriately, yes, he was without sword or armor, he used only a sling and smooth pebbles.

    Anthony Chia, high.expressions


    • Anthony,

      Thank you for your comment. It is possible that there were a family of Goliaths. The archaeological discovery I mentioned in my post seems to indicate that Goliath was a name used by other people. It may also be a technical name for a group of soldiers. We need more information to make a final decision. My belief is that 2 Samuel is right but that 1 Chronicles is an attempt at harmonization.

      Thank you for your thoughtful views of this issue.

      Claude Mariottini


  6. This is most intriguing Doctor, I have a question or two though, all regarding the chronicler:

    1) Wouldn’t the chronicler know that ‘Goliath’ was a name of a group of warriors? Or is there a chance that he didn’t know this. If he knew this I think he would have refrained from tempering with the original text.

    2) Where does this issue leave us on biblical inerrancy? Was/wasn’t the chroniclers alteration also ‘God breathed’? Aren’t we treading on dangerous ground charging the chronicler with changing the original text? If any of my questions prove that I have missed something in your discussion of this issue, I do apologize. I’ll admit I’m in a little over my head here!

    Thank you for this series of posts!


    • Mwindula,

      Thank you for your comment. You raise good issues on this topic. Here is what I think:

      1. It is doubtful that the Chronicler knew much about Goliath. He was writing 600 years after the event. He was also using sources available to him. He was not a witness of what happened. He was trying to make sense of what happened.

      2. It is the Chronicler that raises the problem of inerrancy. If the Chronicler is right, then the writer of 2 Samuel is wrong. If the writer of 2 Samuel is right, then the Chronicler is wrong. I believe the information in 2 Samuel is correct.

      Even if the Chronicler tried to harmonize the text, this fact does not take away from the inspiration of the Bible.

      Claude Mariottini


  7. Michael B. says:

    “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.””

    The literary genre of the writing on the shard is important.

    “On page 273 he wrote: “Since these rp’m consisted of kings and nobles who fought from horse-drawn chariots, it is only natural that they were remembered as being gigantic in stature” (p. 273).”

    That is simply implausible – as though the charioteers fought by the Assyrians must therefore be giants. That strikes me as far from a natural interpretation. Were the maryannu thought of as giants ?

    To connect the dead rp’m with giantry seems to be excellent sense – the physically huge, and the numinous, & the dead, are very close ideas. Cf also the gibbor-passages. Ancient peoples seem at times to be remembered as gigantic – might that be at work here ? The Philistine (?) bodyguard of the kings of Judah – cf. the Varangian Guard at Byzantium – seem OTOH to be of normal stature. Maybe there was a giant-killing legend floating around, that was attached to different great names at different times.


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  12. John Kesler says:

    Dr. Mariottini,
    Does the fact that “Goliath” appears only twice in 1 Samuel 17 (vv. 4, 23), while the generic “the/this Philistine” occurs well over 20 times, perhaps suggest that this pericope was originally about an unnamed Philistine–later named “Goliath” after the less-known Elhanan killed a Philistine by that name? Supporting this position is that 17:23 is a repetitive resumption. Compare:

    4 And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath…
    23 As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name…


    • John,

      The texts about Goliath are very difficult to interpret. Since you have read my three posts on David and Goliath, you already know what the problems are. I believe Part 3 provides my views on the issue. I believe that the name Goliath was used to describe the professional soldiers in the Philistine army. Otherwise, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles provide a paradox that cannot be solved.

      Claude Mariottini


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