David, Goliath, and Elhanan, Too   Leave a comment

Above:  David With the Head of Goliath, by Nicolas Tournier

Image in the Public Domain





1 Samuel 17:1-18:5


I went out to meet the Philistine,

and he cursed me by his idols.

But I drew my own sword;

I beheaded him, and took away disgrace from the people of Israel.

–Psalm 151:6-7, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)


One can learn much by consulting an unabridged concordance of the Bible.

2 Samuel 21:18-22, set during the reign of King David, begins:

After this, fighting broke out again with the Philistines, at Gob; that was when Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Saph, a descendant of the Raphah.  Again there was fighting with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehmite killed Goliath the Gittite, whose spear had a shaft like a weaver’s bar.

–2 Samuel 21:18-19, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

1 Chronicles 20:15, also set during David’s reign, mentions Elhanan the Benjaminite, too.  The Chronicler altered 2 Samuel 21:19, though.

Again there was fighting with the Philistines, and Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite; his spear had a shaft like a weaver’s beam.

–1 Chronicles 20:5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

One Elhanan son of Dodo the Bethlehemite receives a brief mention in 2 Samuel 23:24 and 1 Chronicles 11:26.  Whether Elhanan son of Jair/Jaare-oregim was Elhanan son of Dodo is uncertain.  According to Hans Wilhelm Herzberg, I and II Samuel:  A Commentary (1964), the son of Jair/Jaare-oregim being the son of Dodo is “questionable.”

According to 1 Samuel 17:7, the shaft of Goliath’s spear

was like a weaver’s bar,

just like the spear shaft in 2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5.

If I were a Biblical literalist, the questions of who slew Goliath and who Elhanan killed would bother me.  I am not a Biblical literalist, though.  I agree with the scholarly opinion that Elhanan slew Goliath and that someone altered 1 Samuel 17 to relabel “the Philistine” occasionally as Goliath.  Besides, I know of the tendency to credit kings for the deeds of their warriors.  One may recall reading of Saul receiving credit in 1 Samuel 13:4 for what Jonathan had done in 13:3.

If I were a Biblical literalist, I would also seek to reconcile 1 Samuel 16:18-23 (in which Saul, having learned who Jesse and David were, took David into the royal court) with 1 Samuel 17, in which David had not yet entered royal service (verses 12-15) and Saul did not know who Jesse and David were (verses 55-58) until David told him in verse 58.  I would also try to reconcile 1 Samuel 16:18-23 with 1 Samuel 18:2, in which David entered royal service after slaying Goliath.

The Biblical stories one needs to read the most closely are the tales one thinks one knows.  One may not know those stories as well as one thinks.

“David and Goliath” has become shorthand for being an underdog.  That theme does exist in the story.  However, I choose to focus on another theme, that of the consequences of mocking God.  1 Samuel 17 drives home that the uncircumcised Philistines (verse 26) were mocking the “ranks of the living God.”  Some translations use “disgrace” instead of “mock.”  Everett Fox, in Volume II of The Schocken Bible, points to the Philistine champion falling face-down (verse 49) as if in a posture of worship after David found the Philistine warrior’s weak spot and killed him.  Fox also refers to another Biblical example of mocking God in the presence of Hebrew soldiers.  He mentions the Assyrian mocking of God in 2 Kings 18, during the reign of King Hezekiah.  One may remember that, in 2 Kings 19, an angel slew the Assyrian army.

Mocking God is a bad idea.  So is shutting down one’s critical faculties.  I refuse to check my brain at the threshold of a church building and at the cover of a Bible.  I also try not to mock God.

Anyway, for the rest of the story…

David went on to forge a friendship with crown prince Jonathan, win battles, and make a name for himself, according to 1 Samuel 18:1-5.  The author presented David as possessing excellent royal qualities.  David was becoming a political threat to King Saul, in that monarch’s unsettled mind.





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