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Explore the historical accuracy of the David and Goliath account in the Bible. From Goliath’s unusual height to the verifiable geography of the Valley of Elah, we delve into archaeological and textual evidence that supports the veracity of this famous story. But first, let’s look at the historicity of King David.
The Historicity of King David: Archaeological and Historical Evidences
The historicity of King David has long been a subject of academic scrutiny, with skeptics questioning the extent of his empire and even the very existence of the monarch. However, in recent years, archaeological discoveries and textual analysis of ancient inscriptions have increasingly supported the historical credibility of King David as described in the Scriptures.
The Tel Dan Stele
One of the most groundbreaking pieces of evidence is the discovery of the Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed monument found in the northern Israeli site of Tel Dan. This Aramaic inscription from the 9th century B.C.E. explicitly mentions the “House of David.” The stele commemorates the victory of an Aramean king over the Israelites, providing independent evidence for the existence of a Davidic dynasty. Prior to this discovery, there were no extra-biblical references to David, leading some to claim he was a mythological figure. The Tel Dan Stele changed that perception dramatically.
The Moabite Stone
Another inscription that indirectly supports David’s existence is the Moabite Stone, also known as the Mesha Stele. Although the text does not mention David by name, it speaks of an Israelite oppression over Moab that aligns well with Scriptural accounts of David’s conquests (2 Samuel 8:2, 11-12).
Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa
A site of particular interest is Khirbet Qeiyafa, located near the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath. The fortified city has been dated to the late 11th to early 10th centuries B.C.E., which aligns with the biblical timeline for David’s reign. Among the findings are a city gate and a governmental building, suggesting centralized rule and military strategy—both characteristics attributed to David’s leadership.
The inscriptions found at Khirbet Qeiyafa also indicate a society with religious practices that are markedly monotheistic and aniconic (without graven images), which aligns with the Israelite identity described in the Bible during David’s time.
Carbon Dating and Stratigraphy
Archaeological dating techniques, such as carbon-14 dating and stratigraphy, have also been instrumental in establishing the timelines for these findings. For instance, the pottery shards found at Khirbet Qeiyafa were subjected to carbon-14 dating, and the results were consistent with the biblical timeline.
City of David Excavations
In Jerusalem, the City of David excavations have unearthed structures and artifacts that support the biblical narrative. Finds include a large stone structure identified as a palace or fortress, which could very well have belonged to David. The discovery of the Siloam Pool and the tunnel constructed to channel water into the city also corroborate Scriptural accounts of infrastructure development during David’s reign.
Records in Other Ancient Cultures
While direct references are scant, it’s worth noting that ancient Near Eastern texts often speak of kingdoms and rulers that correspond well with biblical descriptions. Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian records detail diplomatic or military interactions with Israel, which, when analyzed, are consistent with the time and geopolitical setting of David’s rule.
Comparative Literary Analysis
When weighing the historicity of King David, it’s important to recognize that ancient history often relies on texts that are far less substantiated than the Scriptures. The Historical-Grammatical method of interpretation allows us to consider the text of the Old Testament as a reliable historical source, especially when supported by external evidences like inscriptions and archaeological finds.
In light of these multiple lines of evidence, the existence and reign of King David are increasingly seen as historically plausible and archaeologically supported. These findings not only serve to validate the Scriptural account but also provide a fuller understanding of the cultural and historical context in which David lived. While skeptics may continue to question, the weight of evidence makes it reasonable to affirm the historicity of King David.
David Versus Goliath—Fact or Fiction?
The story of David and Goliath is one of the most iconic narratives in the Bible, but its historical accuracy has often been called into question. If you have doubts about the veracity of this account, consider the answers to the following questions:
1 | Is a Height of Nine and a Half Feet Scientifically Plausible?
The Bible states that Goliath’s “height was six cubits and a span” (1 Samuel 17:4). Using the ancient cubit length of 17.5 inches and a span of 8.75 inches, this equates to around nine feet six inches. Critics argue that such a height is implausible. However, modern records document individuals reaching heights just shy of nine feet. The tallest recorded person in contemporary times stood at over 8 feet 11 inches. Add to this that Goliath was a Rephaite, a people group known for their exceptional height. A 13th-century B.C.E. Egyptian document even states that certain warriors in Canaan exceeded eight feet. Therefore, Goliath’s height, while extraordinary, isn’t outside the realm of possibility.
2 | Was David an Actual Historical Figure?
Previously, many scholars dismissed King David as a mythological figure. However, archaeological findings have shifted this view. An inscription referring to the “house of David” corroborates his existence. Moreover, Jesus Christ referred to David as a genuine historical individual (Matthew 12:3; 22:43-45). Additionally, the New Testament provides two extensive genealogies tracing Jesus’ lineage back to David (Matthew 1:6-16; Luke 3:23-31). Thus, it’s reasonable to conclude that David was a real person.
3 | Is the Geographical Setting of the Story Verifiable?
The Bible specifies that the battle took place in the Valley of Elah, situated between the towns of Socoh and Azekah. Are these authentic geographical locations? A contemporary visitor to this region described standing on a hill overlooking the Valley of Elah. They were shown the ruins of Socoh to the left and Azekah to the right—exactly where the Bible places them. This visitor recounted, “We may be standing where the Israelites camped.” They even crossed a mostly dry streambed filled with stones, reminiscent of where David might have collected the stones used against Goliath.
The geographical details in the Bible are impressively accurate, supporting the account’s authenticity.
Doubting the veracity of the David and Goliath account seems unfounded when considering these factors. The story features real people, plausible physiological features, and authentic geographical settings. Above all, the account is a part of God’s inspired Word, emanating from a source that “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2; 2 Timothy 3:16).
Note on Heights for Context
- Average soldier: 5 ft 8 in
- Goliath: 9 ft 6 in
Resolving the Elhanan Enigma: A Close Examination of 2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5
The supposed contradiction between 2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5 has been the subject of much discussion among Bible scholars. Both passages describe a person named Elhanan who struck down a significant Philistine warrior, but the specific details vary between the two accounts.
The Variance in Names: Jaare-oregim vs. Jair
The name “Jaare-oregim” appears only in the 2 Samuel account, while 1 Chronicles mentions “Jair.” Given the Hebrew manuscripts’ intricacies, it is not unreasonable to think that a scribal error may have contributed to this discrepancy. In Hebrew, the names “Jaare” and “Jair” are quite similar. The term “oregim,” which means “weavers” or “loom workers,” appears to describe the spear’s shaft in both accounts. This term could have been copied inadvertently from another line, possibly leading to the term “Jaare-oregim.”
Lahmi vs. Goliath
The difference in the names of the Philistine warriors—Lahmi in 1 Chronicles and Goliath in 2 Samuel—is also noteworthy. A possibility here is that a scribal error led to “Lahmi” (ʼeth-lach·miʹ) being misread as “Bethlehemite” (behth hal·lach·miʹ) in the 2 Samuel account.
However, an alternative explanation considers the possibility of two distinct Philistine warriors. The term “Goliath” could have been a title or designation for a champion in the Philistine army, similar to how “Pharaoh” was a title for Egyptian rulers. Therefore, David could have slain one Goliath, while Elhanan struck down another individual, possibly his brother, known as Lahmi. This approach doesn’t necessarily contradict the Hebrew text but rather provides a way to harmonize the accounts.
Given the conservative, historical-grammatical method of interpretation, it is essential to focus on the text as it stands and consider its original language, culture, and context. While scribal errors might account for some differences, it’s also possible that the ancient audience understood these titles and descriptions differently than we do.
Thus, the discrepancies between the accounts could be attributed to either a scribal error or the existence of two distinct Philistine warriors. In either case, these accounts do not necessarily contradict each other but may provide complementary details about Israel’s military history against the Philistines.
Taking Another Look
The biblical narrative presents an intriguing discrepancy between two verses that recount a similar event. In 2 Samuel 21:19, the text claims, “Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” The counterpart in 1 Chronicles 20:5 reads, “Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath of Gath, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” This divergence has spurred diverse interpretations and theories.
Some have sought to resolve the issue by suggesting that Elhanan is simply another name for David. This view is supported by the Targum. Others, such as the Soncino Books of the Bible, argue that the term “Goliath” may be a title—akin to “Pharaoh” or “Sultan”—rather than a personal name. This perspective allows for the possibility of multiple individuals bearing the title of “Goliath.”
Manuscript Discrepancies: Jaare-oregim and Jair, Bethlehemite and Lahmi
The most prevalent view attributes the difference to a copyist’s error. The Hebrew term in 2 Samuel 21:19 is “Jaare-oregim,” while in 1 Chronicles 20:5, it’s “Jair.” Additionally, “Bethlehemite” is present only in the Samuel account, whereas “Lahmi” appears exclusively in Chronicles.
Harmonizing the Texts: A Case for Copyist Error
Upon a meticulous examination of the Hebrew terms, a compelling argument can be made that the term “Lahmi” was likely misconstrued as “Bethlehemite” by a scribe. This theory posits that the original text in 2 Samuel probably read “struck down Lahmi,” just as it does in 1 Chronicles 20:5. This clarification would bring coherency between the two accounts, allowing for the interpretation that Elhanan actually defeated Lahmi, who was Goliath’s brother.
Alternative Possibility: Multiple Goliaths
Again, it should also be considered that there might have been more than one Goliath, a suggestion that provides another plausible explanation for the textual discrepancy.
Conclusion: Affirming the Text’s Historical Veracity
In summary, whether we attribute the discrepancy to a scribe’s error or entertain the possibility of multiple Goliaths, we find that the texts can be harmonized without compromising their historical accuracy. Thus, the account of David and Goliath—as well as Elhanan and Lahmi or Goliath—stands as a credible historical narrative.
Apologist Dr. Norman L. Geisler
2 SAMUEL 21:19 -This verse says “Elhanan … killed Goliath” but 1 Samuel 17 declares that David did.
PROBLEM: First Samuel 17 records the dramatic story of how David the son of Jesse killed the giant Goliath. However, 2 Samuel 21:19 says clearly: “Elhanan … killed Goliath the Gittite.” But both texts cannot be right.
SOLUTION: The 2 Samuel text is probably a scribal error in copying the manuscript and should read “Elhanan … slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite.” This conclusion is supported by a parallel report of the story in 1 Chronicles 20:5 which has the missing highlighted phrase “Lahmi the brother of,” thus showing it was the brother of Goliath that Elhanan killed and not Goliath, whom David slew just as 1 Samuel 17 reports. – Thomas Howe; Norman L. Geisler. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties, Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation.
Old Testament Bible Scholar Dr. Glean L. Archer
Who killed Goliath—David or Elhanan?
1 Samuel 17:50 states that David cut off Goliath’s head with the giant’s own sword, after he had first felled him with a sling and a stone. Because of this amazing victory over the Philistine, David became the foremost battle-champion among the Israelite troops, even though he was still a mere teenager. But 2 Samuel 21:19 in the Hebrew Masoretic text states that “Elhanan the son of Yaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.” As this verse stands in the Masoretic text, it certainly contradicts 1 Samuel 17. But fortunately we have a parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:5, which words the episode this way: “And Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite.” It is quite apparent that this was the true reading, not only for the Chronicles passage but also for 2 Samuel 21:19.
The earlier manuscript from which the copyist was reading must have been blurred or damaged at this particular verse, and hence he made two or three mistakes. What apparently happened was the following:
- The sign of the direct object, which in Chronicles comes just before “Lahmi,” was ʾ-t; the copyist mistook it for b-ṯ or b-y-ṯ (“Beth”) and thus got Bét hal-Laḥmí (“the Bethlehemite”) out of it.
- He misread the word for “brother” (ʾ-ḥ) as the sign of the direct object (ʾ-ṯ) right before g-l-y-ṯ- (“Goliath”). Thus he made “Goliath” the object of “killed” (wayyak), instead of the “brother” of Goliath (as the Chron. passage does).
- The copyist misplaced the word for “weavers” (ʾ-r-g-ym) so as to put it right after “Elhanan” as his patronymic (ben Y-ʿ-r-yʾ-r–g-ym, or ben yaʿarēy ʾōre-gím—“the son of the forests of weavers”—a most unlikely name for anyone’s father!). In Chronicles the ʾōregím (“weavers”) comes right after menór (“a beam of”)—thus making perfectly good sense.
In other words, the 2 Samuel 21 passage is a perfectly traceable corruption of the original wording, which fortunately has been correctly preserved in 1 Chronicles 20:5. – Gleason L. Archer, New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan’s Understand the Bible Reference Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 178–179.