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Goliath the Philistine makes an appearance in the Bible’s Book of Samuel when an army of Philistines confronts King Saul and the Israelites in the Valley of Elah. Scripture describes Goliath as the Philistines’ greatest champion, towering over his enemies at “six cubits and a span”. As the story goes, Goliath with his armour and spear challenged to one-on-one combat the young shepherd David who was armed with nothing more than a staff and sling.
And yet, with one well-aimed swing of his sling, the Bible says David knocked out the Philistine giant and cleaved his head off as a sign of victory over Israel’s enemies.
Because of the seemingly insurmountable odds, the phrase David and Goliath has entered the modern lexicon to denote seemingly uneven contests.
But a Professor of Archaeology at Brigham Young University in the UK has proposed in a new paper this depiction of events may have been widely off the mark.
Professor Jeffrey Chadwick said at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) last month: “We’re not trying to make a statement on the veracity of the story.
“The issue is the metric. Where does it come from, where might it have been obtained?”
The Bible describes Goliath’s height at six cubits and a span, while other texts place him at four cubits and span.
According to Professor Chadwick, the first measurement suggests Goliath was more than 11ft (3.3m) tall.
And the latter would mean Goliath stood at about 7.8ft (2.38m) tall.
For comparison, the tallest person to have ever lived, Robert Wadlow, stood in at an impressive 8.11ft (2.7m).
But there is some academic debate over these ancient measurements – how much exactly was a cubit?
The cubit was a popular measurement in the ancient world and it most likely varied from place to place.
The cubit is typically considered to measure 18 inches (45.7cm) or the length of the arm from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger.
But some ancient cultures measured the cubit at 21 inches (531mm) and the Roman cubit or cubitum was about 17.5 inches (44.4cm).
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Professor Chadwick has been studying archaeological sites across Israel to narrow down the elusive cubit in this part of the world.
He determined the cubit in ancient Israel most likely described 21.2 inches (54cm) and a span measured 8.6 inches (22cm).
The expert’s work has taken him to the ancient city of Gath, where the Bible says Goliath grew up.
During an excavation, the researcher and his team uncovered a 10th century BC wall measuring exactly 7.5ft (2.38m) at the foundation – four cubits and a span.
So what does all of this mean for the Biblical giant’s height?
According to the researcher, the Bible’s authors may “have been metaphorically describing the champion as being comparable to the size and strength of the Philistine capital city’s wall – a metric that would have been preserved over many centuries and would have known from those familiar with Gath.”
Alternative theories have also been put forward to explain why Goliath may have been a giant.
Professor Tom Meyer of Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in California, US, told Express.co.uk Goliath may have suffered from a medical anomaly known as polydactylism that gave him larger-than-average features.
He said: “Believe it or not this abnormality wasn’t uncommon in the world of the Bible as there is ample archaeological evidence to demonstrate polydactylism in numerous ancient near eastern cultures.”
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