Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Re-measuring Goliath?

ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE AND STATURE: Biblical Goliath may not have been a giant (Owen Jarus, Live Science). This is a fun story, which Mr. Jarus explains in a clear and simple manner. A few points of interest.

The archaeologists have measured ruins in biblical Gath and revised estimates of biblical measures. A "span" is about 22 centimeters, which is about what I would have expected. But a "cubit" is now 54 centimeters, which is larger than once thought. My RSV Oxford Annotated Bible gives a span as 8.745 inches (22.2 cm) and a cubit as 17.49 inches (44.4 cm).

The new measurements in turn have an effect on the reputed size of the giant Goliath. The Hebrew of the Masoretic Text gives him a height of six cubits and a span (1 Samuel 17:4). The Greek of the Septuagint says four cubits and a span. Everybody takes the Greek reading as the more original. Giants did not lose stature in the telling.

By the previous measure, four cubits and a span would be just under 79 inches – 6'7" or about 200 cm. This is very tall indeed, even for today, but maybe just believable. But with the new measurement four cubits and a span is 238 cm or just under 94 inches (7'10"), which is considerably harder to believe.

Six cubits and a span by the new measure (346 cm or 11'4") would be much taller than any human being on record.

But wait, we're not done. It turns out that the thickness of the city wall of Gath in Goliath's time was – you guessed it – four cubits and a span. Does that mean that Goliath's reputation made him as tall as the city wall was wide? And maybe he was actually not quite so huge?

Maybe. Such things happen. It's a notable coincidence anyway.

All this, of course, depends on the accuracy of the various new measurements. They should be published soon.

UPDATE: Reader Andy Harrington reminds me that 4QSamuela and Josephus (J.A. 6.171) also read "four cubits and a span." I know that some manuscripts of the Septuagint read "five" or "six" for the cubits. That doesn't matter for my comments above.

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