Who did Elhanan kill, Lahmi or Goliath?

Posted on Feb.18, 2009. Filed in 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles. Average rating: 3.3 / 10 (Rate It).

The Philistines were regular enemies of the Israelites. In fact, they had so many battles with each other that it seems to have become difficult to keep track of who killed who. We see this in the confusion concerning which Philistine the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam was killed by Elhanan.

In 2 Samuel, we read that Elhanan killed Goliath:

Then there was another battle with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan son of Jaareoregim, the Bethlehemite, killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. [2 Samuel 21:19 (NRSV)]

In 1 Chronicles, however, Elhanan is said to have killed Lahmi, Goliath’s brother.

Again there was war with the Philistines; and Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. [1 Chronicles 20:5 (NRSV)]

The description of Elhanan’s victim, “the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam”, suggests that both verses have the same event in mind; they just disagree about who it was that Elhanan killed.

What seems most likely is that the author of 1 Chronicles, who used 2 Samuel as a source, noticed a contradiction between 2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Samuel 17:50:

So David prevailed over the Philistine [Goliath] with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him… [1 Samuel 17:50a (NRSV)]

Perhaps the author of 1 Chronicles, realising that if David killed Goliath then Elhanan must have killed someone else, attempted to remove the discrepancy by saying that Elhanan killed Lahmi instead.

Whatever the cause of the discrepancy, the question remains: Who did Elhanan kill, Goliath or Lahmi?

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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  1. 1

    There’s some interesting connection between the word Bethlehemite and the word Lahmi, such that in the ancient Hebrew one looks very much like the other…

    This might partly explain how the text got changed by accident.

  2. 2

    Notice first that Goliath is described in both cases as having a spear whose shaft is like a weaver’s beam. These same words are used to describe Goliath in the well-known David v. Goliath story.

    So the Goliath referenced here is the same Goliath that David killed.

    Elhanan and David are not the same person. And the battle in which this killing takes place is not the same battle as the one where Goliath was killed. So the victim of Elhanan’s spear is not Goliath, but Lahmi, the brother of Goliath.

    This is probably a copyist error. This claim raises two issues. First, how does Lahmi get confused with Behlehemite? Second, how does the “brother of” phrase get lost?

    Amtiskaw is right about a similarity between Lahmi and Bethlehemite. The first means “my bread” the second means “house of bread”.

    There is also a close proximity between the term “ath” which occurs in both accounts and the term “ach” which means “brother” and occurs only in the Chronicles account.

    Let us put these threads together. Treating “Jair” and “Jaareoregim” as the same, in Samuel you have (roughly) “Elahanan son of Jair [beth-elchmi ath] Goliath.” In Chronicles you have “Elahanan son of Jair [ath-lchmi ach] Goliath.” It is perhaps a little bit of a streatch, but I can see how a copyist could flub this.

    Now consider that “ath” and “ach” look very similar in Hebrew, the copyist might have even thought that he was _fixing_ the passage by making sense of an apparently doubled “ath.”*


    *-The term “ath” and “ach” are not quite as close in Paleo-Hebrew. So for this last part of my argument to work, you’d have to assume a later copyist made the error, and it then propagated to the only copies that have come down to us. We’re not talking about a lot of manuscripts with the OT though.

  3. 3

    One additional argument for a copyist’s error. Both passages seem to be describing the way that David’s family and servants killed the the family of Goliath. Both passages have summaries that suggest that (2 Samuel 21:22 and 1 Chronicles 20:8). It would be odd for the original author to describe Elhanan as killing Goliath himself in the middle of that.

    This argument isn’t decisive because the authors in both cases simply say “sons (or descendents) of giants”. Goliath (and his brother Lahmi) would both be decendenst or sons of giants.

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