Errancy.com

Did David kill Goliath with a sling or a sword?

Posted on Mar.12, 2009. Filed in 1 Samuel. Average rating: 4.4 / 10 (Rate It).

We are all familiar with the biblical account of David killing Goliath: David, the plucky underdog, went up against the enemy that no one else dared to face, Goliath, and prevailed. The Bible, however, is inconsistent concerning what weapon David used to kill Goliath.

In the version of the story with which we are most familiar, David kills Goliath with a sling:

So David prevailed over the Philistine [Goliath] with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. [1 Samuel 17:50 (NRSV)]

This account not only gives us the weapon that David did use, “a sling and a stone”, but also gives us a weapon that David didn’t use,¬†explicitly stating that David wasn’t carrying a sword when he killed Goliath.

The very next verse, however, tells us that David killed Goliath with a sword:

Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it. [1 Samuel 17:51 (NRSV)]

David can’t have killed Goliath twice, so which of these accounts is correct? Did David kill Goliath with a sling or a sword?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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Comments

  1. 1
    WisdomLover

    The English punctuation may be the issue here. Eliminating some of the decorations from the original, we have four main ideas expressed in independent clauses:

    1. With a sling and stone David prevailed over Goliath.

    2. David struck down and killed Goliath.

    3. David had no sword.

    4. David took Goliath’s sword and killed him with it.

    The NRSV compounds 1-3 and makes 4 a separate sentence. This makes it look like David killed Goliath with nothing but a sling (because he had no sword you see).

    The ESV renders this in a more neutral way (though they still compound items 1 and 2):

    So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it.

    None of this punctuation is in the original. It might have read like this:

    So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone. And he struck the Philistine and killed him: there was no sword in the hand of David, but then David ran and stood over the Philistine and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him and cut off his head with it.

  2. 2
    Errancy

    You’ve done a much better job with this than I thought was possible.

    The key question is this: When was there no sword in David’s hand?

    We could read “there was no sword in David’s hand” as going with the words immediately before in verse 50, in which case there was no sword in David’s hand when he struck down and killed Goliath. In that case, David struck down and killed Goliath without a sword, and so the subsequent statement that he killed Goliath with a sword introduces a contradiction.

    Alternatively, we could read “there was no sword in David’s hand” as going with the words after in verse 51, in which case there was no sword in David’s hand before he ran and stood over the Philistine. In that case, we can read “there was no sword in David’s hand, then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him” as an explanation of (rather than an action subsequent to) the killing in verse 50. On this reading, “striking down the Philistine and killing him” means “striking down the Philistine [with a sling and a stone] and killing him [with a sword]”, and there’s no contradiction.

    It would be odd for an author to contradict himself in so few words, so absent any grammatical reason for insisting on the former reading I think I’d better give 1 Samuel the benefit of the doubt here.

  3. 3
    Amtiskaw

    “It would be odd for an author to contradict himself in so few words”

    The Oxford Bible Commentary is of the opinion that two different accounts have been merged (which would also explain this.

  4. 4
    Errancy

    I’m of that opinion too, but even editors tend to clean up obvious contradictions as they edit.

  5. 5
    WisdomLover

    I think it is very unlikely that two accounts have been merged. But even if they had, the merging of the accounts did not just passively happen. Some real person had to take it upon himself to merge the texts. That putative editor would not have let a contradiction stand within a single story any more than an original author would have. So the multiple sources hypothesis really can do no work here.

    Now, if you look at an interlinear, you’ll see that the entire passage reads in and almost machine-gun style: “and he did A, and he did B, and he did C, and….” In this rat-a-tat-tat, the original contained no verse breaks, no paragraph breaks, no punctuation, no spaces between words, not even any vowels. But there were occasional shifts in the forms of the verbs. If you follow the form shifts to make breaks, you get something like this for 48-51:

    And it came to pass that the Philistine arose
     and he was going
     and he was drawing near to meet David
    And David was making great haste
     and he was running to the ranks to meet the Philistine
     and he was putting his hand in his pouch
     and he was taking out a stone
    And he was mightily hurling it
    And thus he was causing the Philistine to be smitten on the forehead
     and the stone was sinking into his forehead
     and he was falling on his face to the earth
     and David was prevailing over the Philistine with a sling and stone
    And thus he was causing the Philistine to be smitten
    And thus he was causing him to die
    And in David’s hand was no sword
     and he was running
     and he was standing over the Philistine
     and he was taking his sword
     and he was drawing her from her scabbard
    And he was slaughtering him
     and he was cutting off his head with her
     and the Philistines were seeing that their champion had died
     and they were fleeing

    The indented lines represent the places where the text uses a simple imperfect. The non-indented lines are places where some other verb form is used. Now, it seems to me that the indented sections tend to explain or amplify the non-indented lines that precede them. If I am right about this, then all the killing happens after David has prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone (and it all happens with Goliath’s sword).

  6. 6
    MJG196

    I think you guys are making this way too complicated! If you read the Hebrew, the sword was “possessed” by the Philistine. In addition, (again reading in Hebrew), David TOOK the sword (v’-yikach, “and took”) and then pulled (v’-yishlaph, “and pulled” or “and drew”) it from the sheath. If David had already possessed the sword, he would not need to “take” it.

    So, grammar and logic dictate the sword was unquestionably Goliath’s.

  7. 7
    WisdomLover

    MJG-

    The issue is not who the sword originally belonged to. You are right of course, the sword was Goliath’s. The question is whether David killed Goliath with that sword or with his own sling and stone.

    In English, at least in the NRSV, it appears that the text says that David killed Goliath with the sling and then went and killed him again with the giant’s own sword. This, of course, would be impossible and, thus, cause a problem for the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.

    What I was arguing for in my earlier remarks (which, I grant, probably are too complicated) is that it comes down to a matter of English punctuation. The NRSV, in particular, punctuates the verse so that it appears to be making the impossible claim mentioned in the prior paragraph. But an alternative punctuation tends to go against the idea that David killed Goliath twice (once with a sling and once with a sword). Instead, it supports the idea that David knocked Goliath down and rendered him insensible with the sling, but then killed him (only once) with the giant’s own sword.

    I was also arguing that the verb shifts in the Hebrew seem to favor the alternative way of punctuating the English translation.

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