It is a historical riddle from the Bible – how tall was Goliath, the giant man defeated by David? Different sources mention two distinct heights of Goliath – he was either 7 feet, or 9 feet 9 inches tall. But which one is closer to the truth?
The biblical story about the fight between David and Goliath is well-known in popular culture. Lots of people know the story of a little David who defeated the mighty Goliath. But was Goliath a giant as he often imagined?
How did this discrepancy in measurements arise?
Two different translations of the Bible into English provide two different versions about the measurements of this historical person. The Christian Standard Bible (CSB) renders the height of Goliath as “nine feet, nine inches tall”:
Then a champion named Goliath, from Gath, came out from the Philistine camp. He was nine feet, nine inches tall.
Meanwhile, in the New English Translation (NET), the same phrase is translated as “close to seven feet tall”:
Then a champion came out from the camp of the Philistines. His name was Goliath; he was from Gath. He was close to seven feet tall.
The problem comes from different sources of the book of Samuel that were used as a basis for the English translation of the Bible.
Some manuscripts, such as the Masoretic Text, state the Goliath’s height was “six cubits and a span”, which corresponds to approximately 3 metres. However, other manuscripts, like a Hebrew scroll from the Dead Sea Scroll collection, give the height as “four cubits and a span” (approximately 2 meters).
For your reference, a single cubit corresponds approximately to the length of a forearm, from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger. According to modern estimates, this is ancient cubit Unit of measurement should be taken equal to 18 inches (457 mm).
In this case, translators have to compare the reliability of the sources. In fact, the corresponding Dead Sea Scroll is fragmentary, and a major part of the text is only a reconstruction. Moreover, some researchers state that this manuscript is more like a commentary than a strict preservation of the biblical text.
Is there an alternative way to estimate the size of Goliath?
To test an alternative way of estimating these measurements of the biblical person, we can take into account other details of Goliath’s description.
For example, it is stated that Goliath wore a coat of mail that weighed 5,000 shekels of bronze (126 LBS, or 57 kg). Also, it is said that the head of his spear weighed 600 shekels of iron. That means that his spear weighed at least 16 LBS (or 7.25 kg).
Therefore, according to this scenario, it is more probable that Goliath was a 9-foot giant rather than an ordinary man. It is highly doubtful if any human of a regular size would be capable of comfortably wearing 126-pound body armor.
And how well does this theory fare from the biological perspective?
The tallest person in history was Robert Pershing Wadlow, born on February, 1918. His maximum height reached 8 feet 11.1 inches (2.72 meters). There could have been even taller humans in the past, but Robert Wadlow is the tallest of those whose height had been measured by medical professionals.
His growth continued right until his death. This abnormal process was conditioned by the hypertrophy of his pituitary gland, producing extremely high levels of human growth hormone. There’s a possibility that the same condition was experienced by biblical Goliath. But, of course, now no one can verify whether it was really the case.