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Goliath on His Face

Posted Friday, March 30, 2007 by Charlie Trimm
Categories: Old Testament  
Someone asked me recently about Goliath falling forward. If he just got hit in the head with a slingstone (which would have been going very quickly and was the size of a grapefruit) why did he fall forward and not backward? Well, I had never thought of this before so I looked at the text a little bit. The Hebrew says that he fell on his face. Well, the first thing I thought of was that people fall on their face to worship. And then as I thought a little more, I recalled the statue of Dagon falling down before the ark of the covenant. I checked the Hebrew wording, and it is almost exactly the same: both fall on their face to the ground. What is the point? Both are showing by their body action who God chose. YHWH is more powerful than the god of the Philistines. YHWH's champion is more powerful than the champion of the Philistines. The people of YHWH can be confident as they face other countries that YHWH is more powerful than any other contender, no matter how strong they appear. And this superiority even Dagon and Goliath recognize by falling on their face before YHWH and his man (anointed one in later terminology).

Friday, March 30, 2007 12:01 PM

Josh wrote: the head or the knee...

I agree with you on the implications of Goliath's falling onto his face in terms of what that implies to the reader and the connection to Dagon.  Falling onto the face is also complete capitulation and defeat.  In terms of the mechanics and physics involved, there is an alternative view which understands David to have targeted and hit Goliath in one of his greaves (shin armor) instead of the forehead.  The evidence cited is negative (existing depictions of Philistine military headgear from Pritchard's ANEP, Egyptian tombs and other sources show helmets which cover the forehead and down to the bridge of the nose) and positive (an alternative pointing of the term rendered 'forehead' gives a term meaning 'shins' or 'greaves' which would account for some plural endings and confusion over what to call unknown foreign arms and armor).  A stone hitting the top joint of a greave where the knee is and sinking in would end any mobility and would result in a top-heavy armored warrior without a leg to stand on plunging headlong to the ground.  All the particulars are in a Vetus Testamentum note (V. 28 # 3, July 1978, pp. 349-351) but I think I have seen it pop up elsewhere too.  Accordingly, Goliath dies when his head is chopped off by David (I always wondered why it said David killed him by cutting off his head if he had already been killed by the stone to the head).

I don't know if this is the way to go, repointing is not necessarily my cup of tea but it is better than subbing a new word entirely and apparently there is support from some ancient versions.  The point of the story remains the same either way, and Goliath's position re: Yahweh and David has the same implication, so I guess it is an interesting option to consider.



Friday, March 30, 2007 1:36 PM

Brian wrote: And vain speculation goes down too...


That could also put an end to all of the speculation about gigantism being a malady that also resulted in Goliath's forehead being weakened, thus allowing for the stone to actually sink in to his forehead.

Friday, March 30, 2007 4:29 PM

Josh wrote: 


 I had not previously heard that one - I like it!

Thursday, November 05, 2009 1:25 PM

dtl8 wrote: Vetus Testamentum note (V. 28 # 3, July 1978, pp. 349-351) Does any have that excerpt from the Vetus Testamentum note referenced above: Vetus Testamentum note (V. 28 # 3, July 1978, pp. 349-351) I'm having trouble finding it online, and it doesn't appear that the Google monster has had a chance to ingest it yet. If you have it, you can send it directly to dtl8 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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