Goliath of Gath

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Men in the Old Testament

  • Gath was one of the five cities of Philistia.
  • Most scholars think it was located on the site known as Tell es-Safi.
  • It was in northern Philistia, by the Elah valley, near Ashdod and six miles south of Ekron.
  • It was along one of the main trade routes (the Via Maris) leading to the hill country in Judah.
  • It is located on a mound on a crescent-shaped hill.
  • The area is very fertile with an ample water supply.
  • It was continuously inhabited from 1300 BCE on.
  • It was one of the largest Philistine cities in its day.
  • Gath was destroyed in the 8-9th century BCE and never regained its stature.
  • It has been the site of extensive excavations by Israel’s Bar-Ilan University.
  • Many artifacts have been found there, dating back to the time of King David.
  • Scholars found a small ceramic shard at the site of Tell es-Safi.
  • On the shard are two names that are very much like the name Goliath.
  • The names are Alwt and Wlt. These are non-Semitic names etymologically linked to the name Goliath.
  • This doesn’t mean, of course, that it points to the person of Goliath, only that the name existed during the time of David.
  • Excavations are ongoing.
  • There are distinct differences between the Hebrew (Masoretic), the Septuagint (Greek), and the Dead Sea Scrolls regarding the height of Goliath.
  • The Hebrew texts say he was “six cubits and a span” or roughly 9 feet 6 inches tall.
  • Greek translations prior to the fourth century CE and the Dead Sea Scrolls claim he was “four cubits and a span” or roughly 6 feet 6 inches.
  • Josephus (a first-century historian) also claims he was “four cubits and a span.”
  • Later Greek translations agree with the Hebrew account.
  • A cubit is the length of the arm from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow, averaging 18-21 inches. It was also referred to as 6 palms or 2 spans.
  • Goliath is mentioned by name only twice. In other texts, he is simply referred to as “the Philistine.”
  • Later on, there is another story of Goliath the Gittite, who was killed by Elhanan, the son of a Benjaminite.
  • Some scholars think these men were brothers.
  • Others think Elhanan actually killed Goliath. The name was later applied to an incident involving David.
  • That would mean that David’s opponent was without a name.
  • According to the Davidic legend, the Israelites and the Philistines were facing each other in Judah in the valley of Elah.
  • Twice a day for forty days, Goliath came out between the lines to taunt the Israelites.
  • Because he stood halfway between the armies, he became known as “the man of the midst.”
  • Because ancient cultures believed their gods accompanied them into battle, it was believed that the nation with the strongest god would prevail. · Each day, then, Goliath would come out and taunt the Israelites and their God.
  • This would humiliate the Israelites to no end, but they were also fearful and no one dared to accept his challenge.
  • According to legend, he was covered with armor from his head to his toes.
  • The blade of his sword alone weighed more than twenty pounds.
  • He challenged them to send out one soldier to fight him, winner takes all. · After forty days of this taunting, Saul and his men were in deep despair.
  • Saul offered his daughter in marriage and a lifetime tax exemption for anyone who would volunteer to fight Goliath.
  • When David heard the taunts, he volunteered to fight Goliath without armor.
  • He gathered five smooth stones and approached his enemy.
  • Upon seeing the young boy, Goliath roared out, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?”
  • He swore by his gods and bellowed, “Come here and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air!”
  • He promised his gods to offer David as a sacrifice to them.
  • David slung one of his stones, hitting Goliath in the forehead.
  • Goliath fell on his face whereupon David beheaded him with Goliath’s own sword.
  • Needless to say, the Philistine army was stunned by this sudden turn of events.
  • When Saul’s troops came to life and began to cheer, the Philistines ran for their lives.
  • They knew their gods had been defeated by the Israelite God.
  • Saul’s army chased them for twenty-five miles, killing thirty thousand of them.
  • More than twice that many were counted among the wounded.
  • David took Goliath’s armor to his tent and carried the head to Jerusalem where he was hailed as a hero.
  • Some scholars think the description of Goliath’s armor resembles that worn by Greek warriors during the 6th century.
  • The story also resembles one told in the Iliad about a youth who fights and prevails over a giant.
  • In both instances, the enemy army flees after the battle.
  • In some Babylonian writings, Goliath was claimed to be the son of Orpah, the sister-in-law of Ruth.
  • Since David was a direct descendant of Ruth, they would have been cousins by marriage.
  • Jewish legend also has it that Goliath was responsible for killing the priests at Aphek and capturing the Ark of the Covenant.
  • He took the Ark and placed it before the Philistine god, Dagon.
  • The next morning Dagon was found face down.
  • The Philistines propped him back up only to find him face down the second day – with his head and his hands detached.
  • The Ark was then sent to various towns, but in each city all the people came down with physical problems.
  • Eventually, the Philistines sent the ark back to Israel.
  • The Philistines had several gods, including Dagon, Baal, and Beelzebub.
  • Jewish legend also concluded that Goliath chose to taunt the Israelites morning and evening because that would be most disruptive, interfering with their times for prayer.
  • When he died, Goliath’s sword was passed on to David and it was found to have marvelous powers.
  • Rumor has it that his heart bore the image of Dagon upon it, so his death was also a defeat for Dagon.
  • In one of the intertestamental books (Pseudo-Philo), David supposedly wrote the name of his fathers and the name of God on the stones.
  • According to this legend, Goliath was killed by an angel.
  • Immediately, David’s appearance was so radically changed that even Saul had to inquire who he was.
  • The David-Goliath story has captured imaginations through the eons.
  • It has become as a metaphor for those who are weak, but righteous, inspiring them to triumph over seemingly unbeatable opponents.


deSilva, David. Introducing the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002.

Harrington, Daniel. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1999.

Meeks, Wayne, ed. The Harper Collins Study Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers. 1993.

Metzer, Bruce, Ed. The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press. 1965.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson, eds. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. 2002.

Bible Characters