The Bible tells us Goliath (Heb. גָּלְיָת) was a Philistine warrior from the city of Gath (I Sam. 17:23) who advanced from the ranks of the Philistines when they faced the Israelites in battle in the Valley of Elah (I Sam. 17). Because of Goliath’s great size, he is described as a rafah (Raphah; II Sam. 21:19–20; I Chron. 20:8), the Rephaim being among the ancient people of Canaan who were regarded as giants (Deut. 2:11).
The story combines the elements of fairy tales in which an underdog wins a surprise victory against a daunting foe, with the theological message that victory or defeat depends not on might or power but on divine will (Rofé). Goliath was equipped with heavy armor and weapons – a bronze helmet, a coat of mail, bronze greaves, a bronze javelin slung between his shoulders, and a heavy spear with a head of iron. This fighting equipment does not correspond with what was typically carried by warriors from the countries of the Aegean Sea, the region from which the Philistines came. It is rather an eclectic description meant to emphasize Goliath’s stature as a warrior (Galling). Goliath’s defiant call for the battle to be decided by the outcome of a duel with a warrior from the enemy’s camp (I Sam. 17:8–10) is quite rare.
The most famous parallel to the battle of the champions in I Samuel 17 is found in the third book of the Iliad, in which Paris fights Menelaus. The appearance of Goliath, and his boastful words struck terror into the poorly armed Israelite warriors. In contrast to his armed and experienced opponent, David is armed only with courage, faith, and agility. But young David manages to kill Goliath with a slingstone aimed at the Philistine’s forehead (ibid. 17:50).
David’s victory caused the rout of the Philistine army (17:51–53). Goliath’s head was brought to Jerusalem (17:54), an obvious anachronism given that Jerusalem was still a non-Israelite city. Goliath’s sword was hung up and kept in the temple at Nob (21:10; 22:10). Ahimelech the priest later returned the sword to David when he arrived at Nob in his flight from King Saul (21:10). In II Samuel 21:19 it is stated that Elhanan the Beth-Lehemite, one of David’s captains, slew Goliath. This contradiction was noticed by the author of Chronicles, who attempted to resolve it by representing Elhanan as having killed “Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite” (I Chron. 20:5).
Some scholars hold that Elhanan was David’s original name, which was later changed to David. It is more likely, though, that in the course of time Elhanan’s exploit was transferred to the more famous David. There are significant differences between the Hebrew version and the Septuagint. In addition, whereas the Goliath narrative depicts David as unskilled in battle (I Sam. 17:39) and unknown to the king (I Sam. 17:55–58), the previous chapter had already placed him in Saul’s court (I Sam. 16:21–3) as the king’s armor bearer. A weak attempt at harmonization was made in I Samuel 17:15. Although the tale of David and Goliath is one of the best-known Bible stories, various linguistic, stylistic, and theological elements point to a post-exilic date for this tradition about David (Rofé).
[Bustanay Oded /
S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]
In the Aggadah
Goliath was related to his vanquisher David, being descended from Orpah, Ruth’s sister-in-law (Sot. 42b). Orpah was a woman of low character and morals, but as a reward for the 40 steps which she took in following Naomi before leaving for Moab, Goliath was permitted to flaunt his strength for 40 days before his downfall (Ruth R. 2:20). Goliath appeared “morning and evening,” when the Shema was to be recited, to make Israel omit this affirmation of faith (Sot. 42b). The name Goliath is interpreted allegorically as a reflection of effrontery (gillui panim) in profaning the name of God. He is described as “ish ha-beinayim” (“champion”) because he was built like a binyan (“building”; ibid.). “When David looked at Goliath and saw that he was a mighty man armed with all kinds of weapons, he said, ‘Who can prevail against such as he?’ But when David saw him reviling and blaspheming, he said: ‘Now I shall prevail against him, for there is no fear of God in him’“ (Mid. Ps., 36:2). David cast upon him the evil eye and he was struck with leprosy which rooted him to the ground (Lev. R. 21:2). When he fell, an angel pressed his face into the ground, choking the mouth which had blasphemed God (ibid. 10:7).
In connection with the war of Saul , who is known as Tālūt in the Koran, Muhammad relates that a number of the people of Israel doubted whether they could overcome Jālūt (Goliath) and his army. Allah however granted them courage and strength, and Daʾūd killed Goliath (Sura 2:250–2). The details of the duel between David and Goliath are retold in the post-Koranic literature as they are stated in the Bible. Muslim legend relates that Jālūt was one of the kings of Canaan; this is linked to the legend that he came from the Amalekites-Berbers. Goliath is briefly mentioned in the Qaṣīda, which is attributed to al-Samawʾal ibn ʿAdiyā: “and on the misfortune of ʿIfrīs when he rebelled against God and on Goliath when his fate caught up with him.” According to J.W. (H.Z.) Hirschberg, the name ʿIfrīs is similar in form to Idrīs-Iblīs (Satan), which is a strange change of the Philistine name. However, it is possible that this is an allusion to the aggadah tracing Goliath’s descent from Orpah (see above). According to Horowitz (see bibliography), the name Jālūt was influenced by the word galut, which Muhammad often heard in Medina. There is a spring in the Jezreel Valley (Israel) which is known to the Arabs as ʿAyn Jālūt (today En-Harod; cf. Judg. 7:1).
[Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg]
Y. Yadin, The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands, 2 (1963), 265ff.; idem, in: Eretz Israel, 4 (1956), 68ff.; Sukenik (Yadin), in: JPOS, 21 (1948), 114–6; de Vaux, in: Biblica, 40 (1959), 495–508 (Fr.); de Boer, in: OTS, 1 (1942), 78–104. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, index. IN ISLAM: J.W. Hirschberg, Der Dīwān des As-Samauʾal ibnʿAduja … (1931), 2, 61; EIS3, 2 (1965), 406 S.V. Djālūt, incl. bibl.; J. Horovitz, Koranische Untersuchungen (1926), 106. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: K. Galling, in: VTSup, 15 (1966), 150–69; A. Rofé, in: J. Neusner et al. (eds.), Judaic Perspectives on Ancient Israel (1987), 117–51; C. Ehrlich, in: ABD, 2:1073–74; S. Bar-Efrat, I Samuel (1996), 219–36.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.