Import jQuery

They Might Not Be Giants

I've been studying an English translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls for sometime.

It's amazing to read the Dead Sea scrolls and see how well modern Jewish and Christian bibles, based on the more recent Masoretic and Septuagint texts, have held up over time.

A good deal of differences lie in different wordings, longer texts repeated elsewhere, or name confusions by translators.

There are a few bigger differences: the Dead Sea Scrolls Bible contains several psalms we are missing from modern Scriptures, for example.

Additionally, there are some books missing from our modern bibles: the Epistle of Jeremiah, Enoch, Jubilees, among others.

But only last night did I find an interesting, rather significant difference. In the original texts, it appears that the Philistine warrior Goliath was not 9ft tall, as most modern Bibles have it. Instead, the original texts have Goliath at 4 cubits -- about 6ft tall. This coincides with early Septuagint manuscripts as well as the historian Josephus' writings. Later Septuagint manuscripts put him at 5 cubits, and finally the Masoretic text, upon which our modern translations are based, put him at 6 cubits, or about 9ft tall. This difference is likely due to exaggerations by the translators.

The whole David vs. Goliath story, which has become a cliché to mean "underdog vs. superpower", has been thoroughly ingrained in Western culture, even getting recent attention from modern Christian music artists such as Casting Crowns. All this due to translator exaggeration!

Thus, this deeply ingrained story has lost some of it's meaning; while David was still an underdog with his slinger fighting against a well-armored, experienced Philistine warrior, it is not a story of child versus giant.


  1. Judah, Interesting. My Septuagint has four. You know what is funny, there is a GWORD version of the Bible and it has him at 10 feet.

    This is what is in the Septuagint:
    5064.tessares, tes´-sar-es, or neuter
    tessara, tes´-sar-ah; a plural number; four: — four.


  2. Interesting; your Septuagint is probably based on older, more accurate manuscripts then.

    Interesting stuff.

  3. Well, somebody's numbers are certainly wrong. Too bad oldest doesn't mean best.

    I'm putting big money on the fact that he was much larger than normal due to the following statements from I Samuel 17:

    "..he was clothed with scale-armor which weighed five thousand shekels of bronze." (That's about 125 pounds from what I've found. The point of his spear also weight about 15 pounds.)

    "When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid."

    "When all the men of Israel saw the man, they fled from him and were greatly afraid."

    Also, 1 Samuel 21:9 has a comment from a grown-up David about Goliath's sword:

    "Then the priest said, 'The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you would take it for yourself, take it. For there is no other except it here.' And David said, 'There is none like it; give it to me.'"

    It all adds up to something, and a larger than normal man is the most straightforward explanation. (Besides, the differences in this one text have been taken into account by much textual criticism already.)

    John Fisher

  4. John,

    I remain convinced the Dead Sea Scrolls are more accurate: not only are they 1000 years older than our Masoretic texts. The Masoretic text has been translated many times over, to the point some translators exaggerated these things.

    What's more, "4 cubits tall" bit is backed up by both the Jewish historian Josephus as well as the oldest Septuagints we have access to.

  5. I'd also add that it is apparent Goliath was a powerful, experienced, well-armored warrior: the Philistines celebrated him, the Israelites feared him, and Scripture describes him carrying some very heavy armor.

    All these things are true. He just wasn't a 9ft tall giant as some Bible translations have it.

    As Rick noted, not all Bibles have this. Some Septuagint-based translations put him at the correct 4 cubits.

  6. You have hinted at the larger loss. Most people today do not understand the difference between a seasoned warrior and a new man on the field. Also 6ft would have been pretty tall in Israel at the time. At least a head taller than everyone around him, therefore a giant.

    Pat O

  7. That's true, 6f tall would be a rather large person for that time, most likely.

    Still, not a "giant" as portrayed in today's stories, I'd say.

    Interesting stuff, anyways.


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