The story of David and Goliath is one of the best known Bible stories and may be the ultimate story of the underdog conquering the bully. The story is well known, and is also highly debated. Several aspects of the story come under scholarly scrutiny. One of the greatest debates concerns the size of Goliath. Scholars dispute the notion of a real-life giant as depicted in the Bible. So, just how large was Goliath, and is it possible to place this segment of the story into historical perspective?
The Bible text records the height of Goliath at six cubits and a span. The exact measurement of a cubit is not known, but the generally accepted length is 18 inches. Using this standard the Bible tells us Goliath was approximately 9 feet 6 inches tall. Is it possible for a human to grow to this height?
This height is certainly not normal, but some claim it is not impossible. Doctor John Bimson believes Goliath may have suffered from a disease known as acromegaly. This disease causes people to grow to unusual heights. In the case of Robert Wadlon, a young man who suffered from acromegaly grew to an amazing height of 2.73 meters, or 8 feet 9 inches. This is very near the height given for Goliath and seems to lend credibility to the Bible story. This example may show a person can grow to an amazing height, but it fails to explain Goliath.
Acromegaly, when untreated, can cause unusual height, but it also cause a number of other conditions as well. A person suffering from this disease will be cumbersome, in a great deal of pain, and will often find even walking difficult. It can distort their voice, disfigure their face, and cause a wide assortment of physical ailments. The side effects of the disease are so severe the life expectancy of people with acromegaly, when left untreated, is very low. In the case of Robert Waldon he tragically died at the age of just 22. This is no way resembles the image of Goliath portrayed in the Bible.
Archeologist have discovered skeletons in the area where Goliath was believed to have lived which are well above normal human height. These findings confirm a race or village of unusually tall people lived in the area at the time the famous battle was said to have taken place. While much taller than normal, none come anywhere near the reported height of 9 feet 6 inches. Does this mean the Bible is wrong? Actually the answer is both yes, and no.
It must be said that Goliath may have been a total anomaly, a freak of nature which can only be proven if his actual skeleton were to be discovered. Aside from Goliath being a one of a kind, there is no evidence of any person ever coming close to this height and strength. In short, there is no historical or scientific evidence to support the biblical story of Goliath. One more question must be asked before saying this story defies reality. Did the Bible really say Goliath was over 9 feet tall? Well, that depends.
In the most common translations used today the Bible does tell us Goliath was 6 cubits and a span. When we go back to earlier translations of the Bible we find a slightly different version of the Goliath story. These translations tell us Goliath, rather than being 6 cubits and a span, was actually 4 cubits and a span. Using this translations Goliath’s height was closer to seven feet rather than nearly ten feet. This height matches the skeletal remains found in the village cemeteries near where Goliath was said to have lived.
Would a man seven feet tall be considered a giant? Certainly not a giant as in jack in the beanstalk, but when you consider the average man in those days stood approximately 5’ 6”, a seven foot man who had considerably bulk would have made a very imposing figure. He could easily be described as a giant of a man. When in full battle gear and carrying a sword, he most certainly would have appeared very intimidating to the average man.
The theory the current translation of the Bible concerning Goliath’s height is in error can be checked against the oldest known scriptures, the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls do contain the story of David and Goliath and in the Scrolls Goliath’s height is recorded as being 4 cubits and a span. It would seem somewhere, at some point, an error in translation was made. In all probability this was an honest error made during translation or copying. In respects to the story and the lesson it teaches, the difference in 4 and 6 cubits is incidental. The story remains remarkable that a shepherd boy armed with only a sling could defeat a warrior of Goliath’s immense size and experience.
Given all of the facts, the archeological evidence and proper research, it has been proven historically accurate that a man the size of Goliath did indeed exist during this time period. While an error was made in translation, the core truths of the Bible remain based in historical fact in regards to Goliath.