Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Where Did Goliath’s Head Go?

Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath.  Many are probably not aware, however, of what happened next.  That was the subject of James Hoffmeier’s recent lecture at the Bible and Archaeology Fest.  “Exploring David’s Strange Antics after Defeating Goliath” looked specifically at 1 Samuel 17:53-54.

1 Samuel 17:53-54 (ESV) “And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. 54 And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.”

If these verses are not baffling, remember that David had not yet conquered Jerusalem (he would do that after he became king, in 2 Samuel 5).  The other difficulty here is the phrase, “he put his armor in his tent.”  Presumably the “he” is David, “his armor” refers to Goliath’s gear, but whose tent is involved?  Some think it is the tent of David (see the translation of the NIV), others think it is the home of David (“tent” being used elsewhere of one’s home), and an intriguing suggestion is that it is the tent of Yahweh (but that requires changing the text). 

Hoffmeier’s lecture gave a tour of tents in the Ancient Near East, including those of Ramses II and Sennacherib.  Kings Thutmose III and Sargon II are recorded as having plundered the tent of their enemies.  Hoffmeier suggested that this statement indicates that David took Goliath’s tent and weapons back to Bethlehem.

As for Goliath’s head, did David store it in his refrigerator for a few years until he conquered Jerusalem?  Probably not.  While some scholars view this statement as an anachronistic error, Hoffmeier has identified a number of ancient scenes where conquerors carried off the heads of the defeated, tying them to their chariots or garden trees.  Heads were often displayed as warnings to potential enemies.  Perhaps, then, David had it in his mind to conquer the Jebusite stronghold already as a youth, and he took Goliath’s head to serve notice to Jerusalem that they were next.

Ashurbanipal after capture of Babylon, tb112004733dddAssyrian relief depicting Ashurbanipal’s army after capture of Babylon, c. 650 BC.  Relief now in British Museum.  Notice the pile of heads in the upper center.  This same king put a hook in Manasseh’s nose and hauled him off to Babylon (2 Chr 33).

I found Hoffmeier’s lecture enjoyable and his ideas provocative.  This is a difficult problem, and I find his solution preferable to the alternatives.  My comments here are an unofficial record (I may have made a mistake in my note-taking), but you can read some of his findings in his article, “The Aftermath of David’s Triumph over Goliath,” in Archaeology in the Biblical World, Spring 1991, pp. 18-23.

Hoffmeier is, of course, best known for his work in Egypt, and he has written a couple of excellent books on the subject of historical and archaeological evidence for the Israelites in Egypt:

One on his works on my shelf that I have not yet had time to read is The Archaeology of the Bible, published in 2008.

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8 Comments:

  • Interesting post. Thanks.

    By Blogger Charles, at Tue Dec 01, 05:11:00 PM  

  • My reading is that he took the spoils of Goliath to the temporary "Jerusalem" of that time: Nov, which is on Mt. Scopus, overlooking the Temple Mount. The head- to the city, and the armor- to the Mishkan.
    That is where David later receives Goliath's sword from Achimelech ("behind the ephod").
    Menachem Brody

    By Blogger Homesteader, at Tue Dec 01, 09:58:00 PM  

  • I know its a long shot, but do you know of any chance that the audio of this lecture will become available?

    By Blogger Justin, at Fri Dec 04, 07:33:00 PM  

  • Justin - I don't know if a recording was made, and if it was, if it will be made available. Audio would only tell half of the story, as he had some good photographs.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Fri Dec 04, 07:44:00 PM  

  • I believe that David saw in his triumph over Goliath, the death-blow that God's son would deal to the sin-power. The real struggle is against the sin within (Romans 8:3; Mark 7:21-23). Jesus triumphed in his personal warfare with sin and achieved perfect obedience (Hebrews 5:7-9).
    Is there not an etymological link between the words Goliath and Golgotha, known as "the place of the skull"?
    Beulah Edwards

    By Blogger Don and Beulah, at Tue Dec 08, 02:30:00 PM  

  • I've heard it referenced to that David later named the city where he beat Goliath "Baul Prism" (not sure on the spelling) do you have any insight or help on this? Thank you very much for your help.
    -Josh

    By OpenID Cloud, at Fri Apr 30, 11:37:00 AM  

  • Josh - David defeated the Philistines at Baal Perazim (2 Sam 5:20). There's no connection to his defeat of Goliath that I am aware of.

    By Blogger Todd Bolen, at Fri Apr 30, 05:14:00 PM  

  • גל גת. גלית
    Goliath. Gol -gath

    Goliath or properly known as goliath of gath as I have written above in Hebrew was beheaded and his head is placed at the place outside of Jerusalem named after him "golgatha"

    By Blogger Quincey Prickett, at Fri Apr 18, 09:23:00 PM  

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