AskDefine | Define Goliath

Dictionary Definition



1 (Old Testament) a giant Philistine warrior who was slain by David with a slingshot
2 someone or something that is abnormally large and powerful [syn: giant, behemoth, monster, colossus]

User Contributed Dictionary


Proper noun

  1. In the Bible, a giant famous for his battle with David.
  2. In the context of "metaphorical": Any large person or thing.
    That Goliath is so big and strong, the little man will never stand a chance against him if he on his wrong side.

Extensive Definition

Goliath (גָּלְיָת, Standard Hebrew Golyat, Tiberian Hebrew , Arabic: جالوت Jalut (Muslim term), جليات Julyat (Christian term)), known also as Goliath of Gath (one of five city states of the Philistines), is a Philistine warrior, famous for his battle with the young David, the future king of Israel, described in the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament (and, more briefly, in the Quran).

Summary: 1 Samuel 17

This is the account of the battle between David and Goliath given in 1 Samuel, chapter 17:
Saul and the Israelites are facing the Philistines at Socoh in Judah. Twice a day for forty days Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, comes out between the lines and challenges the Israelites to send out a champion of their own to decide the outcome of the battle in single combat, but Saul and all the Israelites are afraid. David is present, bringing food for his older brothers. He is told that Saul has promised to reward any man who will defeat the Philistine champion, and declares he is not afraid. Saul reluctantly agrees and offers his armour, which David declines in favour of his sling and five stones which he takes from the brook.
David and Goliath confront each other, Goliath with his armour and shield-bearer, David with his staff and sling. "And the Philistine cursed David by his gods", but David replies: "This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that Yahweh saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is Yahweh's, and he will give you into our hand."
David then strikes Goliath with a stone from his sling, and the Philistine falls on his face to the ground. David seizes the sword of the giant and kills him, and cuts off his head. The Philistines flee and are pursued by the Israelites "as far as Gath and the gates of Ekron". David puts the armour of Goliath in his own tent, and takes the head to Jerusalem. Saul sends Abner to inquire whose son this is who has routed the Philistines and killed their champion; Abner brings David before Saul, who asks him whose son he is, "And David answered, 'I am the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite'."

Textual considerations

Goliath's height

There are significant differences between the Masoretic (Hebrew), Septuagint (Greek), and Dead Sea Scrolls versions of 1 Samuel 17. One of the most interesting of these relates to Goliath's height: 4QSam(a), the Dead Sea Scrolls text of Samuel, gives the height of Goliath as "four cubits and a span," (approximately 198 cm or about six feet six inches), and this is what the 4th century AD Septuagint manuscripts and the 1st century AD historian Josephus also record. Later Septuagint manuscripts and the oldest Masoretic texts (Aleppo Codex, 10th century AD) read "six cubits and a span," which would make him about 290 cm or nine feet six inches tall.

David's age

Early Septuagint manuscripts such as the 4th century AD Codex Vaticanus do not contain the verses describing David coming each day with food for his brothers, nor 1 Samuel 17:55-58 in which Saul seems unaware of David's identity, referring to him as "this youth" and asking Abner to find out the name of his father. The narrative therefore reads that Goliath is challenging the Israelites to combat, the Israelites are afraid, and David, already with Saul, accepts the challenge. The shorter Septuagint version removes a number of ambiguities which have puzzled commentators: it removes 1 Samuel 17:55-58 in which Saul seems not to know David, despite having taken him as one of his shield-bearers and harpist; it removes 1 Samuel 17:50, the presence of which makes it seem as if David kills Goliath twice, once with his sling and then again with a sword; and it gives David a clear reason, as Saul's personal shield-bearer, for accepting Goliath's challenge. Scholars drawing on studies of oral transmission and folklore have concluded that the non-Septuagint material "is a folktale grafted onto the initial text of ... 1 Samuel.".

Elhanan and Goliath

2 Samuel 21:19 tells how "Goliath the Gittite" was killed by "Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite." The resulting ambiguity - what was the relationship of this Goliath to the Goliath killed by David in 1 Samuel 17? - has given rise to a great deal of commentary. 1 Chronicles 20, written in the 4th century BC, resolved the problem by saying that Elhanan "slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath," apparently constructing the name Lahmi from the last portion of the word "Bethlehemite" ("beit-ha'lahmi"). The King James Bible translators adopted this into their translation of 2 Samuel 21:18-19, although the Hebrew text makes no mention of the word "brother". 2 Samuel 21 appears to be an extremely corrupt passage: "Jaare-oregim," the name of Elhanan's father, means a nonsensical "forest of weaver's beams", and seems to have been copied from Goliath's weaponry (Goliath has a spear "with a shaft like a weaver's beam"). Dr. Baruch Halpern believes that David's opponent probably had no name originally, being referred to simply as "the Philistine" (the name Goliath is applied to him only twice in 1 Samuel 17): "Most likely, storytellers displaced the deed from the otherwise obscure Elhanan onto the more famous character, David."

Goliath and the Philistines

Tell es-Safi, the biblical Gath and traditional home of Goliath, has been the subject of extensive excavations by Israel's Bar-Ilan University. The archaeologists have established that this was one of the largest of the Philistine cities until destroyed in the 9th century BC, an event from which it never recovered. An important find relating to Goliath is the discovery of a potsherd, reliably dated to the 10th to mid 9th centuries BC, inscribed with the two names "alwt" and "wlt". While the names are not directly connected with the biblical Goliath, they are etymologically related, and demonstrate that the name fits with the context of late-10th/early-9th century BC Philistine culture. The name "Goliath" itself is non-Semitic and has been linked with the Lydian name "Alyattes", which also fits the Philistine context of the biblical Goliath story.

Goliath and the Greeks

In 2004 Azzan Yadin suggested that the armour described in 1 Samuel 17 is typical of Greek armour of the 6th century BC rather than of Philistine armour of the 10th century, and that narrative formulae such as the settlement of battle by single combat between champions is characteristic of the Homeric epics (the Iliad) but not of the ancient Near East. Yadin also suggested that the designation of Goliath as a איש הביניים, “man of the in-between” (a longstanding difficulty in translating 1 Samuel 17) appears to be a borrowing from Greek "man of the metaikhmion (μεταίχμιον)."
Martin Litchfield West has pointed out that a story very similar to that of David and Goliath appears in the Iliad, where the young Nestor fights and conquers the giant Ereuthalion. Each giant wields a distinctive weapon - an iron club in Ereuthalion's case, a massive bronze spear in Goliath's; each giant, clad in armour, comes out of the enemy's massed array to challenge all the warriors in the opposing army; in each case the seasoned warriors are afraid, and the challenge is taken up by a stripling, the youngest in his family (Nestor is the twelfth son of Neleus, David the eighth son of Jesse). In each case an older and more experienced father figure (Nestor's own father, David's patron Saul) tells the boy that he is too young and inexperienced, but in each case the gods (or in David's case, God) comes to the young hero's aid and the giant is left sprawling on the ground. Nestor, fighting on foot, then takes the chariot of his enemy, while David, on foot, takes the sword of Goliath. The enemy army then flees, the victors pursue and slaughter them and return with their booty, and the boy-hero is acclaimed by the people.

Later traditions


The authors of the Babylonian Talmud gave Goliath a pedigree suited to his character as the adversary of David: Sotah 42b tells that he was a son of Orpah, the sister-in-law of Ruth, David's own grandmother. The Ruth Rabbah, a haggadic and homiletic interpretation of the Book of Ruth, makes the blood-relationship even closer, considering Orpah and Ruth to have been full sisters. Orpah was said to have made a pretense of accompanying Ruth but after forty paces left her. Thereafter she led a dissolute life, and what happened later is described in the Jerusalem Talmud: Goliath was born by polyspermy, and had about one hundred fathers.
The Talmud stresses Goliath's ungodliness: his taunts before the Israelites included the boast that it was he who had captured the Ark of the Covenant and brought it to the temple of Dagon; and his challenges to combat were made at morning and evening in order to disturb the Israelites in their prayers. His armour weighed 60 tons, according to rabbi Hanina; 120, according to rabbi Abba bar Kahana; and his sword, which became the sword of David, had marvellous powers. On his death it was found that his heart carried the image of Dagon, who thereby also came to a shameful downfall.
In Pseudo-Philo, believed to have been composed between 135 BC and 70 AD, David picks up seven stones and writes on them the names of his fathers, his own name, and the name of God, one name per stone; then, speaking to Goliath, he says: "Hear this word before you die: were not the two woman from whom you and I were born, sisters? and your mother was Orpah and my mother Ruth..." After David strikes Goliath with the stone he runs to Goliath before he dies and Goliath says, "Hurry and kill me and rejoice," and David replies, "Before you die, open your eyes and see your slayer;" Goliath sees an angel and tells David that it is not he who has killed him but the angel. Pseudo-Philo then goes on to say that the angel of the Lord changes David's appearance so that no one recognizes him, and thus Saul asks who he is.


The early Christian church, seeking "types" (fore-runners, prefigurations) for its own beliefs and history throughout the Jewish scriptures, found a rich lode of metaphores in the stories of David: David's marriage of Bathsheba was seen as a model of the church's wooing of the community of believers away from the discredited Jewish faith, his speech to followers during the flight from Absalom was a prefiguring of Jesus's farewell speech to his disciples, and the battle with Goliath symbolised the church's eternal but victorious battle with Satan.

Goliath in Films

The Italians used Goliath as an action superhero in a series of Biblical adventure films (peplums) in the early 1960s. He was possessed of amazing strength, and the films were similar in theme to their Hercules and Maciste movies. After the classic Hercules (1957) became a blockbuster sensation in the film industry, a 1959 Steve Reeves film, Terror of the Barbarians, was retitled Goliath and the Barbarians in 1960 in the USA. The film was so successful at the box office it inspired Italian filmmakers to do a series of four films featuring a beefcake hero named Goliath. (The 1960 Italian film David and Goliath, starring Orson Welles, was not part of this series, as it was a straightforward adaptation of the original Biblical story). The titles in the Italian "Goliath" peplum series were as follows:
  • Goliath Against the Giants (1960) starring Brad Harris as Goliath.
  • Goliath and the Rebel Slave (aka The Tyrant of Lydia vs. The Son of Hercules, 1963) starring Gordon Scott as Goliath (Note: this film was sold directly to American TV in a syndication package known as Sons of Hercules, in this case referring to Goliath as a Son of Hercules, simply for marketing reasons).
  • Goliath and the Masked Rider (aka Hercules and the Masked Rider, 1964) starring Alan Steel as Goliath. (This film was marketed on USA television as a Hercules movie)
  • Goliath at the Conquest of Baghdad (aka Goliath at the Conquest of Damascus, 1964) starring Peter Lupus as Goliath.
The name Goliath was also used in the film titles of a few other Italian movies that were retitled for distribution in the USA in an attempt to cash in on the Goliath craze, but these films were not originally Goliath movies in Italy. Both Goliath and the Vampires (1961) and Goliath and the Sins of Babylon (1963) featured the famed superhero Maciste in the original Italian versions, but American distributors didn't feel the name Maciste would have any meaning to American audiences. Goliath and the Dragon (1960) was originally an Italian Hercules movie called The Revenge of Hercules, and it is a mystery to this day why U.S. distributors didn't market the film under that title, since Hercules films always tended to do much better at the box office than Goliath movies.
The 1986 film Hoosiers involves a final scene which a small-town high school basketball team takes on a big-city team for the Indiana state championship. In the final moments before the small-town team from "Hickory" takes the court, the passage describing how, "David took a stone from the bag and slung it... knocking the Philistine to the ground" is read to inspire the team.
Italian veteran actor Giorgio Francesco Palombi portrayed this nine feet giant in Turner Network Television's 1997 telefilm.
In 2004, Lightstone Studios released a direct-to-dvd movie musical titled "One Smooth Stone," which was later changed to "David and Goliath." It is part of the Liken the Scriptures (Now just "Liken") series of movie musicals on DVD based on scripture stories.

See also


Goliath in Arabic: جالوت
Goliath in Catalan: Goliat
Goliath in German: Goliath (Bibel)
Goliath in Spanish: Goliat
Goliath in Persian: جالوت
Goliath in French: Goliath (Bible)
Goliath in Italian: Golia
Goliath in Hebrew: דוד וגלית
Goliath in Dutch: Goliath (Bijbel)
Goliath in Japanese: ゴリアテ
Goliath in Polish: Goliat
Goliath in Portuguese: Golias
Goliath in Russian: Голиаф
Goliath in Finnish: Goljat
Goliath in Swedish: Goljat
Goliath in Urdu: جالوت
Goliath in Yiddish: גלית
Goliath in Chinese: 歌利亚

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Antaeus, Atlas, Briareus, Brobdingnagian, Charles Atlas, Cyclops, Gargantua, Hercules, Orion, Polyphemus, Samson, Superman, Tarzan, Titan, bully, bullyboy, colossus, giant, gorilla, muscle man, powerhouse, stalwart, strong man, strong-arm man, the mighty, the strong, tough, tough guy, tower of strength
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