Who killed Goliath, David or Elhanan?

Posted on Nov.09, 2008. Filed in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel. Average rating: 3.0 / 10 (Rate It).

The story of David slaying Goliath is a Sunday school favourite. There are, however, two conflicting claims concerning who killed Goliath.

1 Samuel describes the event, concluding:

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)]

According to 2 Samuel, however, it wasn’t David that killed Goliath but Elhanan:

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)]

So who killed Goliah, David or Elhanan?

Interestingly, in the account in 1 Chronicles of how David and his servants killed the descendants of the giants in Gath, Elhanan is said to have slain Goliath’s brother rather than Goliath himself:

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)]

But for the detail of who Elhanan killed, this verse roughly follows 2 Samuel 21:19 (given above). Could it be that the author of 1 Chronicles, using 2 Samuel as a source, spotted the error and attempted to correct it?

Note that some Bible translations (most notably the KJV), inspired by 1 Chronicles, speculatively insert “the brother of” into 2 Samuel 21:19 so that it reads “… Elhanan son of Jaareoregim, the Bethlehemite, killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite…”. This removes the contradiction, but only at the cost of rewriting the Bible in our own words.

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

    1 Chronicles 20:5 needs to be mentioned as well:

    Again there was war with the Philistines; and Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite.

    I think it’s not unlikely that the verse in 2 Samuel has just been corrupted over time.

  2. 2

    Thanks for the suggestion; I’ve edited the post to include the verse from 1 Chronicles.

  3. 3

    I think it most likely that a discrepancy in 2 Samuel was doctored by the Chronicler.

    Note that both accounts say all the listed warriors were born to the giant in Gath (2 Sam. 21:22, 1 Chr. 20:8). If “Lahmi” was Goliath’s brother and they were all born to the giant, that means they were all the brothers of Goliath. To write about four brothers of Goliath but refer to only one of them as such would make no sense. Thus, 2 Sam. 21:19 makes sense only if it refers not to a brother of Goliath but rather to Goliath himself, which means it is saying that Elhanan is the one who slew him.

    This would also explain why the Chronicler omits the specific number of those born to the giant in verse 8. He was adding to that number with his invention of “Lahmi”.

  4. 4

    I’m not quite following your reasoning on the number of Giants. Samuel says there are four, but the Chronicler does not give a count. That much is clear. If you look at the list of giants in Samuel you get this:

    1. Ishbi-benob, killed by Abishai
    2. Saph, who fell to Sibbecai
    3. Elananan’s victim.
    4. The 24 digited giant slain by Jonathan

    If you look at Chronicles, Ishbi-benob is not mentioned. and Saph is called Sippai. So in this passage, the Chronicler mentions three giants where Samuel mentions 4. I don’t see how the Chronicler is adding to Samuel’s account. Instead, he seems to be leaving one out.

    Or is it you contention that he left Ishbi-benob out because he added Lahmi. If so, how is his omission of the count relevant?

    Now, on the “brother of” issue, you seem to be arguing thus:

    1. In Samuel, four giants are mentioned who are “born to the giant in Gath”, i.e. they have a single common parent.
    2. Since the giants have a common parent, they must be brothers.
    3. If one of these giants is Lahmi, the brother of Goliath, then the other giants must also be brothers of Goliath.
    4. It sounds odd for only Lahmi to be called out as a brother of Goliath and not the others.
    5. So the chronicler must have added the “brother of” bit to ‘fix’ the account (rather than “Lahmi, brother of” being corrupted to “Bethlehemite” by some combination of manuscript damage and copyist errors along the way).

    There are two problems with this argument.

    First, even if the text forces us to accept that the giants had a single common parent, Lahmi might be the only full legitimate brother of Goliath killed by David and his men. The others might be half-brothers and even bastards.

    Second, the phrase “born to the giant” could have been translated “descended from giants”. There is no definite article in the original. The word Rapha (giant) appears in exactly the same form in both passages. Various translators translate the two passages variously and inconsistently as singular and as plural. This undercuts the idea that the text requires that the giants have a common parent.

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