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David and Goliath (again)

A Cheater?

Posted Thursday, January 10, 2008 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament1 SamuelMilitary Issues  
While watching Dave and the Giant Pickle the other day with my daughter, a question occured to me. Did David cheat? I at least know that David was not the major under-dog that we learn in Sunday School. Slingers were an important part of armies in the ANE and were deadly accurate. And they did not throw pebbles around, but good-sized rocks that weighed quite a lot. A hit from one of these 100 mile an hour stones the size of a grapefruit would incapacitate most enemies. But did David cheat? He was going out to a duel, which seems to have somewhat stylized rules. The other duels we see in Scripture contain only hand to hand warfare, such as the tales of David's mighty  men or the 24 man fight at the pool of Gibeon. But David does not do that: he instead goes with the distance weapon, ala Indiana Jones, who when faced with yet another whip wielding enemy decided enough is enough and just shoots him with his gun. One mitigating factor is that the Philistines do not call for a re-do, but one suspects that they would have been a little scared to see which other rules the Israelites were going to break. Anyone have any thoughts?

Friday, January 18, 2008 11:40 AM

Eric wrote: 

Just my thoughts here. 

I'm not really sure which rules he might have broken.  The rules of the time were essentially, last man standing wins, no tag teaming.  Weapons were clearly fair game, including distance weapons (Goliath carried a spear).  The Philistines were not known to abide by any rules of warfare or fighting, they weren't a paticularly honor based warrior culture, hence the common reference to vulgar, uncivilized behaviour that is still used today. 

David's approach to this combat was not non-sensical, but strategically sound, in spite of common Sunday School descriptions that pit the giant against the little man.  David was a formidable opponent as we see in the future.  He specifically took advantage of two weaknesses that Goliath had, speed and arrogance.  People often want to make a miracle out of this event, but I'm not sure that is the intent or what happenned.   

The remarkable thing is not that they fail to call for a redo, but that they are terrified by the display they witness, because David's attack should not have worked.

Thursday, January 31, 2008 5:37 PM

Charlie wrote:  That is a good point about a spear, but it still could fit in my idea. A spear could be a distance weapon, but it was also a close range weapon. Spears were used when the two sides came together, since a spear could reach further than a sword, giving better protection. Plus, a spear has great force, making a line of charging spearmen one of the most fear-inducing sights in the ancient world. Then when the two lines meet, the spears are no longer useful, so swords are used. All that to say, even though Goliath had a spear, it does not necessarily mean that he was intending to use it as a distance weapon. Further, a sling has a far greater range than a spear, so even if it was thrown David would be well out of spear range.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008 1:06 AM

Adam wrote:     I'm afraid I have to side with Eric on this one (much though it pains me). It is true that spears were infantry weapons, but in addition to his famous hanith, Goliath also had a chidon that would have been used for a ranged attack, and a big shield to protect himself from similar ranged attacks. As for ancient warfare in general, in the most famous duel in ancient literature, Achilles and Hector chuck all sorts of spears at each other in their first encounter (not to mention the countless hapless Trojans that get smote by the fearsome Pelian ash) and the final battle is concluded without them ever fighting hand to hand (though Hector tries his best). Also, in the Stories of Sinuhe, Sinuhe describes his fight with a Syrian, and his preperations include stringing his bow and practicing archery. In the battle itself, he dodges his opponent's javelins and arrows and then when he his charged, shoots the Syrian in the neck and finishes him off with his own axe. All of this is to say that it seems that in the ANE, even in personal combat, ranged weapons would not only be accepted but expected. And finally, to the most important point of all, I believe Indiana Jones is faced with a sword wielding enemy (a really big sword) when he shoots him and I'm sure he would have dealt with the situation in a more sporting manner had he not been so pressed for time.

Thursday, February 14, 2008 9:59 AM

Charlie wrote:  All right, I stand corrected. This is what blogs are for: to get other people to do the work that you should have done in the first place. Thanks for your comments. I never would have thought about going to Sinuhe, but that is indeed important material. I guess David didn't cheat. But I will still continue to say that a sling has a much greater range than a spear. And I heard that Indiana shot the guy in the movie because Harrison Ford was sick that day when they were shooting the scene.

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