Ancient History, Chaos & Kings, History

Some Thoughts on GOLIAH OF GATH

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. 6 And he had bronze armor on his legs, and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron. And his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.   (1 Samuel 17:4-8, ESV)

Goliath of Gath – one of the most interesting characters in the Bible. I have heard teachers say that Goliath was as much as eleven feet tall. They have described him on a scale that is simply gargantuan.

But I have a problem with that method of interpretation. I think that in our attempts to be literal, we have become impractical. Let’s look at the description of Goliath and see if the text actually demands the interpretations often used.

Let’s Convert the Measurements

Let’s begin by converting these ancient measurements into modern scales, so we can speak frankly.

6 cubits, 1 span
93-126 in or 7.75-10.5 ft
Coat of Mail
5,000 shekels of bronze
125 lbs
Shaft of his spear
As a weaver’s beam
About 2-2.5 in diameter
600 shekels of iron
A little over 15 lbs

Now we can put these things in perspective. Let me deal briefly with his weaponry and then we can address his height.

The Armor

The only really recognizable piece of Goliath’s armor is his helmet of bronze. This term appears all over the Scriptures, and it seems to have been generally recognized and understood as a type of skullcap. It was not a full-face helmet, like that worn by the Greeks. Curiously, there is no indication that it was of anything but the usual construction and weight.

Goliath’s coat of armor is massive at 125 lbs. Interestingly, the Hebrew term for it is shiryown qasqesethiym or “armor of scales”. It is incorrect to translate the word as mail even though most English Bibles do. Mail is made of interlocked chains – a technique that was not used until the medieval period.

It might be some kind of scale armor, like that of a fish. It is certainly distinct from the shiryown that Saul offers to David (v 38) by its construction.

Like much in this passage, this term is isolated. We have no other texts to compare it to, so the actual meaning is basically lost. The best we have is guesses. We don’t even know if the scales were actually part of the construction or were simply painted on (something that might have been the practice).

Interestingly, all of Goliath’s armor is made of bronze. Only his spear (and apparently his sword) were made of iron. The skills for working iron had not been elevated to fine work yet. It could be made into long, striking implements like swords, spears and plows, but not into the smaller, more intricate elements required for helmets and breastplates.

Ironically, the one place Goliath did not have incredible armor on would have been his face. This is of course the place where David strikes. (By the way, one internet source notes the power of the sling: Projectiles can be slung over 1500 feet (450m) at speeds exceeding 250 miles per hour (400 kph) as well as noting that it could be used with tremendous accuracy.)

The Spear

An average war spear, particularly for someone fighting the style that Goliath advocates, would be about 8-9 feet tall with a shaft about 1.5″ in diameter. It would be tipped with a 10-12 lb head. Thus Goliath’s spear, while larger than the normal head, is not gargantuan in scale.

Was Goliath really ten feet tall?

Robert Wadlow, the tallest man recorded in the modern era, was 8 ft, 11.1 in, tall. While impressive, Wadlow could barely stand on his own. What’s more, his heart was strained to keep his blood circulating to his extremities.

André the Giant, a professional wrestler, was billed at 7 ft, 4 in, tall. Both he and Wadlow got their great height and massive size as a result of tumors on their pituitary glands which cause the glands to continue to produce human growth hormone long after it should. The condition is known as acromegaly.

People suffering from acromegaly can live relatively normal lives, but the type of hyperactive pituitary gland that would allow Goliath to grow to 9-10 feet tall would have also practically crippled him. He would have barely been able to stand, nonetheless heft 125 lbs of bronze armor.

That is not to say someone with acromegaly must be weak. Both Paul Wight (The Big Show) and Dalip Singh Rana (The Great Khali) have leveraged their size and strength as professional wrestlers. Rana in particular was a bodybuilder before becoming a wrestler and could benchpress 400 lbs easily.

But both Wight and Rana are 7 ft tall and have had corrective procedures to prevent their acromegaly from becoming worse. They have had their growth checked through medications and surgery. Again, it is hard to see someone suffering from acromegaly and growing to 9-10 ft having any sort of capacity for warfare.

These disorders are not the only reasons people become extremely tall. Manute Bol, who at 7 ft 7 in, is credited with being the tallest man to ever play professional sports, did not have acromegaly. He was simply genetically gifted. He claimed his parents were both very tall, and that his grandfather was 7 ft 10 in. But again, Manute Bol was impressive for his height, not his dexterity or strength. Bol was very slender, and certainly not a man who could carry 125 lbs of armor into battle.

Is there an alternative explanation? Yes, actually there is. Goliath most likely was a large man, probably well in excess of seven feet tall. It is not hard to imagine him being built like Dalip Singh Rana. Below is a picture of Rana from when he was a bodybuilder in India. It’s not hard to figure out which one he is (all the men are standing by the way).

Goliath did not have to stand at 6 cubits, 1 span in order to be measured at that size. The description of Goliath, when read in Hebrew, is an awkward one. I’ll transcribe it here:

waytz’ iysh-habenayim mi-mahhanoth pelistiym GAL-YATH shamwo mi-gath gabhwo shesh ‘amoth wa-zareth

וַיֵּצֵא אִישׁ־הַבֵּנַיִם מִ‍מַּחֲנוֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּים גָּלְיָת שְׁמוֹ מִ‍גַּת גָּבְהוֹ שֵׁשׁ אַמּוֹת וָזָרֶת

The term iysh-habenayim, translated as “champion”, is literally formed from iysh or “man” and the dual form of beyn, which means “the two between”. Like so many other terms associated with the Philistines, this word appears only here. It is as if the writer of 1 Samuel had to invent a term for what Goliath was doing.

Likewise, the description of his height, gabhwo shesh ‘amoth wa-zareth, is an interesting phrase. Gabh means “height” and the -wo at the end is usually translated “whose” or “his” although it is simply a fixative and not a pronoun. It identifies the connection to Goliath, but it does not imply that this is his physical height.

In fact, in light of the rest of the description, it might be better to interpret the passage in terms of his impressiveness in terms of his fully armored state.

Allow me to put it another way. When you looked at Goliath, sheathed in armor and grieves, you saw everything including his spear. This means the height description might not just be his physical person but also his spear’s height as well.

He was, after all, not just a man (ish). He was the man who stands between the two (iysh-habenayim) and that title seems to have come with the armor and the weaponry.

Why couldn’t the height descriptor be of Goliath in all his regalia, thus including his spear? When the Hebrews wished to describe someone’s physical height, they had perfectly capable descriptors as when they described Saul as head and shoulders above all other men.  Being a champion meant that Goliath was probably bigger and stronger than Saul, otherwise Saul would not have hesitated to fight him.

Goliath was a giant, no doubt about it, but in my opinion, he was probably around 7 feet tall, not 10. People disagree, and that’s ok.

What’s Wrong with the Picture at the Beginning of this Post?

A lot.

Goliath’s spear is too short and the head is wrong. He is carrying an oblong shield, which doesn’t really make any sense. A shield was a deflection weapon and was generally round or square. He’s not wearing a javelin, but he is wearing some kind of metal kilt.

Also, David’s sling is far too short. Also, David was the youngest son of a great man in Bethlehem. He would not have put on his classy bearskin skirt for a battle. I’d even buy that he was wearing an Egyptian kilt, but the Tarzan chic  was definitely not his chosen attire. I’d say they got his build right but I would make him taller.

25 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on GOLIAH OF GATH”

  1. Hey, thanks for the thoughtful overview and analysis of Goliath’s size and that of his armament using the Hebrew text and translations of the weights and measures. I will stick with Goliath being about 9’3″ as the clearest interpretation of the most reliable manuscript but the main point is that he was a really big and impressive dude.

  2. I’m not sure what you mean by “clearest interpretation of the most reliable manuscript” since there are no textual variants in this text that I know of. As for clarity of interpretation, we must always be cautious that our literalism is attached to the original languages and not to our English readings.

    All things considered, however, I agree in essence. He was a really big, scary dude.

  3. The spear head weight is massive. The spear heads of that time weighed around 1.1 pounds. No normal sized man used a 10-15 pound spear head. Try to lift and trust that much weight on a 8-15 foot long pole you couldn’t do it. Goliath was a Nephilim a hybrid of human and celestial or fallen angels. So you can’t compare him to pituitary gland giants of today.

    1. NEPHILIM is a plural. You cannot have “a nephilim”.

      Also, NPL simply means “amazing” or “unique”. It is related to PLA in Akkadian.

      But grammar and language aside, saying Goliath was one of the Nephilim requires an extrabiblical assertion. According to Genesis, the Nephilim were wiped out in Noah’s flood.

      1. I guess you don’t know your scripture Genesis 6:4 clearly says that the hybrids occured before the flood and after the flood. There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. By the way what is singular for nephilim. “im” is plural but in today’s English hybrids are called nephilim the English language is rather good making up new words as you know.

      2. There is a very wide diversity of opinions on the reference to nephilim in Genesis 6:4, and trying to avoid being dogmatic about things that are not absolute is a good policy. (It is also not a very courteous practice to begin your comments with a condescending remark like “I guess you don’t know your scripture [sic]…”)

        The plural of נפילימ (nafilēym) is נפיל (NAFEL). Just so you know, the Hebrew term has nothing to do with stature, since it derives from נפל (NAFAL), which is the verb that means “to fall.” I would venture that the reference in Genesis 6:4 is connected with the use of the verb נפל (NAFAL) as it appears in the story of Cain in Genesis 4:5-6, “Cain was very angry, and his face fell [NAFAL]. The LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen [NAFAL]? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door."

        The reason the word is translated as giant in many English translations is that it was translated as γίγανετες in the Septuagint, and the Latin Vulgate transliterated it as gigantes.

      3. Goliath was a Nephalim (plural) (from Nephaal -fallen ones) thus the Hebrew connotation of Goliath being “..who stands in between..” he was a hybrid from the fallen angels so half man and half angelic would be a plausible argument. The Book of Enoch has much to say about these hybrids. They were wiped out in the flood, agreed, however there is only logical option to this fact : their return of the Nephilim via the genetics of one of Noah’s sons wives. Check out Rob Skiba and his very plausible explanation of the bloodline of Ham and his wife as a possible return of the mixed seed. Interesting indeed. Happy exploring.

  4. Thank you for quick reply. I am sorry about saying you don’t know scripture that wasn’t very nice. However the word nafal could refer to the fallen angles that cohabited with women to produce the giants. 2 Peter 2:4 Jude 6. The giants would be the offspring of the unnatural union, which the new testament seems to confirm in the verses mentioned. However how do you explain the term “and after that” in Genesis 6:4 הַנְּפִלִים הָיוּ בָאָרֶץ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וְגַם אַֽחֲרֵי־כֵן אֲשֶׁר יָבֹאוּ בְּנֵי הָֽאֱלֹהִים אֶל־בְּנֹות הָֽאָדָם וְיָלְדוּ לָהֶם הֵמָּה הַגִּבֹּרִים אֲשֶׁר מֵעֹולָם אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּֽׁם׃ פ. It would appear that whatever happened before the flood occurred again after the flood. Genesis 6:9 also seems to support my view of genetic tampering. These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.
    When it says Noah was perfect in his generations it seems that his DNA was uncorrupted by the fallen angels.

    1. My opinion? I think you are reading an awful lot of tenuous interpretation into an obscure text. I would repeat my caution about being dogmatic about something that is not absolute.

  5. Deuteronomy 3:11 would seem to throw a little light on the subject! It indicates a rather tall, heavy man
    with an iron bedstead that was 9 cubits long (approx. 12 feet) and 4 cubits wide (approx. 6 feet). My guess is that he was over 5′-6″ tall. Og ‘remained’ of the Rapha (giants). Try as you might, the word of Yahweh has the correct response!
    I pray that you will come to a saving faith in Yahshua for only then can you see His word!
    Peace to all!


  6. You are completely wrong concerning the spearhead. You say the average spearhead was 10-12 lb. The typical spear head found is 1.5 pounds the largest spearhead found in the period is 26″ long and weighs 4.5 pounds Goliaths spear head would be 36″ long and weigh 15-23 pounds bases on the shekel of iron weight. Here is link to largest spearhead found

    The force required to lift this spear is over 100 pounds with arm positioned 3 feet from the edge. Goliath had super strength unequaled by the greatest athlete on the planet. He did not suffer from a pituitary gland problem he had a DNA problem has explained in Genesis 6.

    1. To be honest, I don’t remember where I got the figure for the average spearhead so I’ll give you that one; but I do not think it is fair to the text to equate Genesis 6 with Goliath. Personally, I reject the view that Genesis 6 is talking about the interbreeding of angels and humans. That is a very gnostic idea that has crept into Christianity.

      1. Thank you for the quick reply. However I have to disagree with you about the hybrid view or the sethite view. In my opinion the Bible is very clear concerning what the sons of god are. They are angels it is confirmed any many passages including 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6. I have yet to hear a reason to reject the angel/human hybrid view in support of the sethite view but I am always trying to learn the truth.

  7. To answer any questions concerning the Sons of God there is a point of inquiry that must be addressed. First, who were these “sons ofGOD” or בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים bǝnê hā’ĕlōhîm[iv] according to just the Hebrew Bible?
    The answer to this point of inquiry is rather straightforward. In 6:2, one sees הָאָדָם hā’āḏām used to indicate humanity – the same group from 6:1 that had daughters born to them. There is a clear terminological contrast between the sons of GOD and the daughters of humanity (= הָאָדָם hā’āḏām). So whoever these sons of GOD were, it is obvious that they did not issue from הָאָדָםhā’āḏām and therefore were biologically separate.
    In identifying the sons of GOD, it is necessary to survey all occurrences of the genitival construction בְּנֵי הָאֱלֹהִים bǝnê hā’ĕlōhîm. And this construction is found in only one other book of the Hebrew Bible – Job 1:6 & Job 38:7. In both cases a proper translation renders the meaning “Sons of God or angels. In the case of Genesis 6 it is speaking of fallen angels.
    As to who the Nephilim were, I will use a non-biblical source from a man who would have a better understand of ancient Hebrew and their beliefs than either you or I have – Josephus the Jewish historian from the 1st century (who also mentioned Jesus). He wrote the following:
    For many angels of GOD accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Greeks call giants. But Noah was very uneasy at what they did; and, being displeased at their conduct, persuaded them to change their dispositions and their acts for the better; but seeing they did not yield to him, but were slaves to their wicked pleasures, he was afraid they would kill him, together with his wife and children, and those they had married; so he departed out of that land. (Ant. 1:73-74)

  8. Would 2 Sam 21:18-22 indicate that Goliath’s height was genetic rather than tumor caused ? …seems to be family traits.

    1. Genetics is a relatively recent discipline and knowledge of the effect of things like tumors is likewise relatively new. I doubt that the author of the 2 Samuel portion was thinking in these terms. Goliath was simply a large human being. That was all the author knew; and it would be speculation beyond the text for us to add to it.

      1. Like I said before its not conjuncture when his height is given 9’3″ and his massive strength by adding up the armor weight 235 pounds and the weight of spearhead 15 pounds on a 15 foot spear making the weight at the end of the spear equal to over 100 pounds. This equates to superhuman strength unequaled to anyone human on the planet.

      2. First of all, the measurements you offer are very precise – far more precise than that contained in the text. As I am sure you are aware, the actual measurement of a cubit (אמה) is rather imprecise. You are relying on the conjectured dimension of 18″ but the reality is that we do not know the standard cubit. Even the word “cubit” itself is a Latin term used to translate a Hebrew concept that may or may not conform to the ancient cognates often used.

        I hope you know that the 18″ cubit is drawn from the Latin standard, which was actually 17.5,” a variant from the Greek πῆχυς, which measured 18.2.” There was also a smaller measurement, πυγμή, which was 13.6″. These are quite different from both Egyptian and Sumerian standards, both of which were greater than 20″ but also were not referred to by a cognate of אמה.

        Second, Hebrew is an abstract, poetic language. This is especially true in the case of measurements. A large number of the textual issues with the Hebrew text, as opposed to the later Greek and Samaritan, is that numbers had a certain fluidity. The fact that the text uses גבה (height) rather than describing his מדה (stature) indicates that we need to look at Goliath’s total height, armed with helmet and spear. If this is the case, then the measurement of 6 אמהוֹת and one זרת may pertain to that rather than his body height.

        Therefore, I do not think it is outside the realm of possibility that Goliath was an unnaturally large man, but not to such a degree that we must conjecture a supernatural origin. Further, since the author of the Samuel chronicles had no problem whatsoever offering relationships to groups with possible supernatural origins (such as the Anakim), I am unwilling to compound unverifiable interpretation of the text with further conjecture.

  9. That passage talks about Goliath’s 4 brothers and they all were giants, Pituitary gland problems do no happen to siblings they are isolated. This is another confirmation that Goliath and his brothers and the other giants post flood were hybrids not fully human. Gen 6:4,

    1. The hybrid theory is conjecture beyond the text. If the author of 2 Samuel believed he was some kind of angel-human hybrid, the author was perfectly capable of mentioning it. He did not, so we do a disservice to the text to conjecture something like this.

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