Today I’m featuring a guest post from my good friend David Harrison. David is currently finishing up undergraduate studies at Southeastern Bible College (my alma mater) where he is majoring in Bible and Theology and minoring in Apologetics. David plans to be involved in God’s glorious work of missions after he finishes his degree by serving the persecuted Church (learn more here) or reaching unreached or unengaged people groups. I know David as a dear brother and close friend (learn more here). He passionately loves the Gospel, cares deeply for his brothers and sisters, and is one who displays the humility of Jesus in ways where others so easily fall short (I bet he’ll hate I said this…). David constantly speaks and shows the Word to his community of faith around him. I cannot recall too many conversations where we failed to discuss something bible-related. His friendship has always refreshed me and encouraged me on in deeper commitment to Christ. In this post, David argues that we should rethink how tall Goliath actually is. Maybe he is not so tall after all. Enjoy!
The story of David and Goliath is a familiar story to the regular churchgoer. This remarkable story is taught in Sunday school, vacation bible school, and as a bed time story. Over the years, this story has become so familiar that much of it goes unchallenged. How tall was Goliath really? What evidence supports the traditional view of his height? Such questions are unfamiliar with today’s readers but are important questions for Old Testament scholars when dealing with manuscript variations. Traditionally, Goliath is said to have been around ten feet tall, but evidence seems to say otherwise. While Goliath is not a threat to the Israelites anymore, his height is still debated in modern scholarship. However, upon further investigation, Goliath does not seem to be a “huge giant” after all, and therefore, his height should be reconsidered.
Most translations give Goliath a height of “six cubits and a span.” In ancient times, a cubit was the length of a man’s forearm from the elbow to the tip of his middle finger and was usually about eighteen inches. In addition, a span was the distance measured by the stretch of the hand from fingertip to fingertip, usually nine inches. Therefore, based on these estimations, Goliath would have been over nine feet tall. However, some texts assign a much smaller height to Goliath. As a matter of fact, the best and earliest manuscripts, both Hebrew and Greek,attribute Goliath to be “four cubits and a span.” This would roughly be around seven feet. It is true that some early Greek manuscripts give Goliath a height of “six cubits and a span”, but the textual evidence still favors the shorter height, because both the earliest Hebrew and Greek manuscripts contain the shorter rendering of Goliath’s height. Why then do most English Bibles favor a ten- foot- tall Goliath? Most English Bibles are based on the Masoretic Text, and the earliest Masoretic Text manuscript evidence for first Samuel is the Aleppo Codex, produced in 935 A.D. Likewise, the Leningrad Codex, the major Hebrew text on which most English Old Testament versions are based, was completed in 1010 A.D. Both of these Hebrew manuscripts give Goliath a height of “six cubits and a span”. However, the Masoretic Text is not the earliest manuscript available.The oldest Hebrew manuscript that supports a shorter Goliath is the Dead Sea scrolls, which dates to around 50 B.C. The Dead Sea scrolls record Goliath being “four cubits and a span.” Based on the Hebrew manuscript evidence, no ten foot tall Goliath existed until the Aleppo Codex in 935 A.D, which came almost a thousand years after the Dead Sea scrolls. Furthermore, the oldest Greek manuscript agrees with the Dead Sea scrolls. The LXX, completed no later than mid-2nd century B.C., describes Goliath as “four cubits and a span.” More manuscripts support this, but it suffices to say that both of the earliest Greek and earliest Hebrew manuscripts support a shorter Goliath. The NET translation follows the earlier manuscripts instead of the Masoretic text: “Then a champion came out from the camp of the Philistines. His name was Goliath; he was from Gath. He was close to seven feet tall.” (1 Samuel 17:4, NET).
Next, it is interesting to notice the comment Saul makes concerning Goliath. When Saul counsels David, Saul is not troubled by Goliaths’ height but by his years of experience in battle (1 Sam. 17:33, ESV). This occasion could indirectly hint to Goliath’s height. In ancient times, the king was the one who lead the army into battle, but Saul failed to do this. Also, the author of first Samuel makes the comment that he was taller than his own people (1 Sam. 9:2). Therefore, Saul himself was probably over 6 feet and not much shorter than Goliath. He was the likely candidate who should have fought Goliath, not David.However, Saul lets a little shepherd boy, who wouldn’t be much taller than 5 feet, take his place in this fight, but ironically, David will later take his place on the throne. It is likely that Saul would have commented on Goliath’s height, if it was indeed extraordinary, but Saul makes no mention of it when describing Goliath. Therefore, it is possible that this is an indirect statement that hints to a shorter Goliath.
Some have objected that a seven-foot-tall warrior would not be able to carry the weapons Goliath carried. Is this objection credible? A couple of answers can be given for this objection. First, being taller does not necessarily imply being stronger. Second, Goliath’s armor could have been carried. In today’s measurement, 6000 shekels is the equivalent of about 125 pounds. Carrying 125 pounds of armor would not be a problem for a seven-foot-man who has been a warrior since his youth. In fact, because of Goliath’s war experience and training, the reader would expect this well-built war machine to carry 125 pounds of armor fairly easily.
Scholars remain unsure over what to do with the two heights of Goliath in the ancient manuscripts. Most English Bible translations still follow the traditional reading and list Goliath as nine feet, nine inches or as “six cubits and a span.” However, after considering Goliath’s height, the evidence is on the side of the shorter Goliath rather than a 10 foot tall giant. In conclusion, the textual evidence is clearly on the side of the shorter Goliath; the text itself gives indirect hints to a shorter height, and after scrutiny the objections for a tall Goliath fall apart.
 NET, LXX , Josephus,4 Q 51 ( dead sea scroll manuscript of 1 Sam. 17)
LXX ,4QSama,Josephus. Lucian recension, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus
 Archaeological findings show that the average Israelite was only about five feet, two inches.