Last time, I discussed a well known story from the Christian New Testament. This time, I’d like to kick it old school.
First of all, I can’t believe I even have to make this argument. This story should be discounted on its own merits alone. It is as silly, and obviously made up, as any other classic hero-as-a-child story. Does no one read Joseph Campbell? Anyway, here we go.
Today, I want to discuss the man who, according to the bible, killed Goliath. His name was Elhanan. But what about David and Goliath? Elhanan and Goliath doesn’t have the same ring to it! Spoiler alert: the bible contradicts itself many times and this is one of them. This is another of those items it’s just easier to never cover on Sunday mornings. We probably all know the story of young David, only 12 years old when he used a sling and stone to kill the well-armored giant, Goliath of Gath.
Elhanan, on the other hand, was a member of King David’s elite fighting force called, “The Thirty”. The story of Elhanan killing Goliath is part of a set of four short stories about members of The Thirty killing giants. A story about killing Goliath certainly fits that motif, so it makes sense in that context.
I don’t want to make all the necessary arguments to hammer the David version of the story’s inauthenticity home because it would take forever, so here are the highlights and I can give you a reference if you want to dig deeper:
- The Hebrew Bible attributes Goliath’s killing to Elhanan in 2 Samuel 21:19. If you read that verse today, it will probably say he killed the brother of Goliath (unless you have a good translation like NRSV). That is because scribes intentionally changed the passage. It can be assumed this was changed to avoid conflict with the beloved story of David. A well-known warrior already seems more believable than a 12-year-old boy, but I’ll continue.
- In the David version, Saul asks Abner “Whose son is this youth?” after Goliath is dead. Abner replies, “As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell.” That’s funny because by this time David was already a favorite of the Royal Court. Saul would surely have known David.
- In the David version, David supposedly brought Goliath’s head to Jerusalem after slaying him, but Jerusalem was under control of the Jebusites. It didn’t come under Israelite control until after David was king.
- The David version usually just speaks of “the Philistine” when referencing the man who was killed. Goliath’s name is randomly placed here and there and seems likely to have been a later addition.
Whew! That’s a lot of bible study. I hope you didn’t get bored. I promise it will be short, sweet, and powerful next time. Check out 101 Myths of the Bible by Gary Greenburg if you want to read more.
- Let him who is without sin fudge the first story.
- The Bible is Unique (Part 1 of 2)
- The Bible is Unique (Part 2 of 2)