Was Goliath a real person?

Many minimalists, who deny much of the history of the Bible, have claimed stories such as David and Goliath to be nothing but fanciful myths created at a much later date. The problem with their "myths" is that evidence keeps turning up that authenticates, through archaeology, aspects of these true historical events. Christians, of course, shouldn't be surprised by this as we know the Bible to be true, a complete and accurate revelation from God. If we can't trust God in the small details how could we trust God in the major aspects?


Most artist depictions of Goliath portray him quite dead, as does this famous Caravaggio entitled David and Goliath.


The Bible provides some specific details regarding the living Goliath...

1 Samuel 17:4-7 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver's rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. (NIV)

Notice that Goliath came from one of the major cities of the Philistines: Gath. Until this last century, evidence that the Philistines themselves existed was considered to be quite rare. That has all changed. Numerous excavations have found Philistine cities and settlements, as well as ancient written records which support the historicity of this biblically referenced people. The excavation at Tel es-Safi is none other than that of Philistine Gath. A surprising find of 2005, at this archaeological site, was an artifact having possible relevance concerning Goliath - something we will consider further on.


Tel es-Safi (prior to excavation)


"This is a groundbreaking find," he said of the rust-coloured ceramic found at Tel es-Safi. "Here we have very nice evidence the name Goliath appearing in the Bible in the context of the story of David and Goliath ... is not some later literary creation." (Maeir, Head of the archaeology department at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, November, 2005) [Artifact shown later].

Of course, with almost any evidence dug up, there are skeptics who would downplay and trivialize what was found. Long before there was physical evidence to consider, there were (and still are) many who minimized the actual Biblical accounts. At best they hold the accounts to be an amalgam of ancient legends, or perhaps contrived stories designed to bolster and foster later national unity. For example, believing that a number of stories were merged together, some claim that the Bible has mixed up who killed Goliath, citing additional passages in 1 Chronicles and 2 Samuel (parallels to each other) as their proof.

1 Chronicles 20:5-8a In another battle with the Philistines, Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver's rod. 6 In still another battle, which took place at Gath, there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot - twenty-four in all. He also was descended from Rapha. 7 When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of Shimea, David's brother, killed him. 8 These were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men. (NIV)

2 Samuel 21:15-22 Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. 16 And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels and who was armed with a new [sword], said he would kill David. 17 But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David's rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David's men swore to him, saying, "Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished." 18 In the course of time, there was another battle with the Philistines, at Gob. At that time Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Saph, one of the descendants of Rapha. 19 In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver's rod. 20 In still another battle, which took place at Gath, there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot - twenty-four in all. He also was descended from Rapha. 21 When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of Shimeah, David's brother, killed him. 22 These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men. (NIV)

The timeframe of these passages are in the years which followed David ascension to the throne, many years after his exploits with Goliath as a young man (read from the first of 1 Chronicles). There is no possibility that these two later passages are to be confused with David's original heroic act. Verse eight of 1 Chronicles and verse twenty-two of 2 Samuel even establishes what these later passages are professing to do. They were showing that the four remaining descendants of the Philistine Rapha from Gath were subsequently defeated in David's name, though not necessarily physically by David (as the original Goliath had been). More on where David's original battle took place is here. For the record, the Philistines and who killed them...


Big Philistines Killed

Killed by

#1. Goliath from Gath
(1 Samuel 17:4-7, 48-51 ... Nine feet tall. Spear like weaver's rod. 600 shekel spear head)

David (as a young man)

#2. Lahmi brother of Goliath the Gittite
(1 Chronicles 20:1 ... Spear like weaver's rod)
Goliath the Gittite
(2 Samuel 21:19 ... Spear like a weaver's rod)

Elhanan son of Jair


Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim
(Jair "the Weaver")

#3. "Huge man"
(1 Chronicles 20:6, 2 Samuel 21:20 ... six fingers and six toes)

Jonathan son of Shimea,
brother of David

#4. Ishbi-Benob
(2 Samuel 21:16-17 ... 300 shekel spear head)

Abishai son of Zeruiah

#5. Saph
(2 Samuel 21:18)

Sibbecai the Hushathite

Numbers 2-5 were all killed far after the event with David and Goliath. Number 2 is one that is cited as a contradiction, as 2 Samuel (in many translations) calls him Goliath, rather than Lahmi brother of Goliath. Translations such as King James have added in the obviously missing "brother of". It is apparent that 2 Samuel 21:19 is one of the rare scribal errors brought to us from antiquity, but God had the account recorded twice in Scriptures so that we could still clearly see what was intended! How can we be sure that it is a scribal error introduced through copying? Consider the name of the one who killed him. Jair becomes Jaare-Oregim in the passage in question. The Jaare and Jair are variations of the same name (common in many ancient names). The addition of an extra word in association with his name points to what happened during the scribal transcription. Oregim means "weaver" - a word copied from the next line in the Hebrew text, a word that was associated with the spear of the deceased. Having dropped a word, "brother of" and added a word "weaver" the word count for the line would still work, thus making it harder for the error to be caught. Even if he had been a fifth person called Goliath (that would numerically contradict 2 Samuel 21:22) - highly unlikely but not impossible that descendants of the same individual could have identical names - this Goliath, by the established timeframe, could not be the same one killed years earlier by David. As for similarities between instruments carried and physical characteristics of these descendents of Rapha, it is highly credible, even assumed, that they would have many, all being close relatives in a common army.

The descendants of Rapha, though part of the Philistine army, were not truly Philistines - in other words, descendants of the sea peoples that settled in this coastal area. Rather they were remnants of the native Anakites who had lived in the land before Israel returned from Egypt. The Philistine people seemed to have been quite willing to accept them into their alliance, especially in support of their military ambitions. The Anakites were well known as being a tall race of strong warriors. They were under God's judgment and were to have been destroyed by Israel, yet after the conquests of Joshua pockets still remained.

Deuteronmy 9:2-3 The people are strong and tall - Anakites! You know about them and have heard it said: "Who can stand up against the Anakites ?" 3 But be assured today that the Lord your God is the one who goes across ahead of you like a devouring fire. He will destroy them; he will subdue them before you. And you will drive them out and annihilate them quickly, as the Lord has promised you. (NIV)

Joshua 11:22 No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive. (NIV)

Notice that one of the final locations where the Anakites were still found in Israeli territory was Gath, home of Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4).

Physical evidence from archaeology, as to the personal existence of Goliath, is understandably scarce. Goliath as one of the Anakites, and a descendant of Rapha, though formidable, was merely one of a number of impressive warriors from his era. His demise at the hands of an unknown, David, in such an ignoble way guaranteed that his own people would not memorialize him. Victors, in this case Israel, are the ones who normally commemorate the battles won.

While the discovery is not definitive evidence of Goliath's existence, it does support the Bible's depiction of life at the time the battle was supposed to have occurred, said Dr. Aren Maeir, a professor at Bar-Ilan University and director of the excavation.

"What this means is that at the time there were people there named Goliath," he said. "It shows us that David and Goliath's story reflects the cultural reality of the time." In the story, David slew Goliath with a slingshot.

Some scholars assert the story of David slaying the giant Goliath is a myth written down hundreds of years later. Maeir said finding the scraps lends historical credence to the biblical story.

The shard dates back to around 950 BC, within 70 years of when biblical chronology asserts David squared off against Goliath, making it the oldest Philistine inscription ever found, the archaeologists said. (Canadian Press, November 10, 2005)

The evidence that Goliath was not a story invented many years later - as some Bible skeptics have long claimed - comes from an inscribed fragment of pottery. The name on it appears to be none other than Goliath. In fact there is no way to know that it is the Goliath of Scriptures, but it comes from the right geographic location and from the right timeframe of archaeology! What it does make clear is that Philistines in that area and era used the name Goliath. This testifies to the Bible recording faithful a name from this ancient time. Biblical details are always significant and accurate.


A shard of pottery unearthed in a decade-old dig in southern Israel carries an early Semitic inscription, a Philistine rendering of the name of the biblical giant, Goliath, is seen in this handout picture released by Bar Ilan University November 8, 2005.