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Re-imagining David and Goliath—Slings of Outrageous Proportion

David and Goliath 7 In our last David and Goliath post, we considered the puzzle regarding David’s defeat of Goliath. The place where David struck Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:49 is the same Hebrew term for the greaves of bronze on Goliath’s legs in 1 Samuel 17:6.

We posed the question: Did David strike Goliath in the forehead or in the leg?

It does matter to some degree, as our lessons going forward will show, but for now, let’s unpack the evidence in pieces.

Today, I would like to consider the issue of our imaginings in regard to ancient slings.

Growing up, singing Sunday School songs and acting out the parts, I had a decided mental picture of this event. I envisioned David a Huckleberry Finn like character with a food-stuffed bandana on a stick slung over his shoulder, a frog in his hand, and a slingshot sticking out of his back pocket made from the forking piece of a branch. It had elastics and a swath of leather into which our hero could nestle those little stones. For David, it was the shot of a lifetime—A divinely superintended bullet to the brain, bringing down an unearthly monster of a man at the feet of a mere boy.

At the risk of being accused of trying to diminish the miracle of the moment, it is only fair that I tell you how off the mark that picture is. Slings were serious weapons of war in the Ancient Near East; slingers had, like the bowmen, their own regiments and battle plans.

Consider the inclusion of slingers in the list of soldiers in Judges 20:15-17  “And the people of Benjamin mustered out of their cities on that day 26,000 men who drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered 700 chosen men. Among all these were 700 chosen men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss. And the men of Israel, apart from Benjamin, mustered 400,000 men who drew the sword; all these were men of war.”

Consider the slingers in David’s troop in 1Chronicles 12:1-2  Now these are the men who came to David at Ziklag, while he could not move about freely because of Saul the son of Kish. And they were among the mighty men who helped him in war. They were bowmen and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right or the left hand; they were Benjaminites, Saul’s kinsmen.

David and Goliath 8The Sling stones found about sieges in Israel are not bullet like rocks,[1] they are, says archaeologist Bryant Wood, “…roughly round and slightly over two inches in diameter, from the size of a billiard ball to a tennis ball.”[2] They are reputed by one ancient historian to have weighed a mina (i.e. almost 12 ounces). A skilled slinger could hurl these stones at speeds of 150 mph.[3] I have personally witnessed a modern slinger shoot a tennis ball sized rock at 97mph (per the radar gun on site) with one quick twist of the wrist.

David and goliath 9So, in keeping with tradition, David strikes Goliath in the forehead with a tennis ball sized stone traveling upwards of 150 mph, hitting with such force that the stone “sank into his forehead,” and yet, not only does this man land prostrate on his face before David, as Dagon did before YHWH in 1 Samuel 5:3-4, (what one might “imagine” an unnatural result given the criteria… this is no mere disorienting thunk against a helmet. Most artists seem to struggle portraying the transition.)[4] but the stone also fails to kill him? Goliath is not dead when he hits the ground. The text doesn’t even try to pretend he is. In 1 Samuel 17:50, David, having no sword in his hand, “rushes” (haste seemed to matter) upon Goliath, alive on the ground, takes the man’s own sword from its sheath and kills him with it.

david and golilath 10Some have taken David’s ability to get Goliath’s sword from him as he lay there as a sign of some type of unconscious state, “proving” a head shot.

Others, however, see the event not from a modern medical coroners perspective, but from an Ancient Near Eastern perspective. They interpret the “not dead yet” status as evidenced by more than an imagined pulse in an otherwise immobile body. The “still living” status being demonstrated, in spite of a “stone sunk into his מֵצַח mātsach (greave/forehead) status. This does not prove a leg shot, but I hope it raises some genuine interest in the possibility.

Next time, we’ll discuss the habits of slingers.


[1] There are histories of various techniques used in different places as slingers, or peltasts, used a variety of styles of slings and different sized stones to greater or lesser effect, but they are always regarded as fierce warriors with deadly talents. See, “In Praise of Peltasts,” by by Daniel Russ on November 29, 2009. http://civilianmilitaryintelligencegroup.com/2050/a-stones-throw-away

[2] <http://biblestudysite.com/arch.htm>; so too the stones from Lachish. G.cal Franz, ”Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Bibli-Times,”<http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2011/11/14/Dead-Sea-Scrolls-Life-and-Faith-in-Biblical-Times.aspx>.

[3] Philip J. King, Lawraence E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, (Westminister John Knox Press,2001), p. 229.

[4] View enough David and Goliath art (and I have viewed a lot of it) and you will find that the artists themselves have a hard time picturing Goliath on his face after such a blow.

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