Were there really giants in Canaan? Was Goliath really a giant?
Good questions. What is a giant? Is it that fairy tale giant that lived at the top of a giant beanstalk that is twenty times bigger than normal people? Is it a man like Gulliver compared to the Lilliputians? How about the Gigantes, who were big enough to stack one mountain upon another? Let us not forget Paul Bunyan and Babe, his giant blue ox. As you can see, the word giant can conjure many different images to the mind. Therefore, we must begin by defining our terms.
- Webster 1828 Dictionary
- 1. A man of extraordinary bulk and stature.
- 2. A person of extraordinary strength or powers, bodily or intellectual.
- 1. (in folklore) a being with human form but superhuman size, strength, etc.
- 2. a person or thing of unusually great size, power, importance, etc.; major figure; legend: a giant in her field; an intellectual giant.
- Word Web:
- 1. Any creature of exceptional size
- 2. A person of exceptional importance and reputation
- 3. A very large person; impressive in size or qualities
Skipping the folklore and mythological giants and the adjectives, we find that a giant may be a person of extraordinary stature, or of unusually great size, or a very large person who is impressive in size. That sounds fairly human, does it not? So a giant could be a person who is somewhat larger than normal. A Giant need not be one of mythological proportions nor must he be the giant of Jack’s beanstalk or as large as Paul Bunyan. He simply needs to be a person of larger than normal size.
Guinness tells us that the world’s tallest person (in modern times) was Robert Wadlow, who was 8 feet 11½ inches tall and weighed in at 490 pounds at age 22. Does he qualify as a giant? Yes he does. He was about two and one half times larger than his father. He was known as the Alton Giant, the Giant of Illinois, and the Gentle Giant. Unfortunately his great size was the reason for his death. He had to wear leg braces and one of them rubbed him and got infected resulting in his death. Unfortunately all photos of Robert Wadlow are copyrighted and cannot be displayed here. A web search will bring up many pictures of this Gentle Giant.
Guinness also records the current tallest man in the world. He is a Turk named Sultan Kösen, who is 8 feet and ½ inch tall. He is also considered to be a giant.
Who can forget the Hollywood actor, Matthew McGrory. He was 7 feet 6 inches tall when he died in 2005. Though Hollywood sometimes made him look taller through camera magic, he was still a giant in his own right.
There have been a number of American basketball players well over seven feet tall. The point I am trying to make is that giants do exist even today in the twenty-first century. If they exist even today, then why should they not exist in the past?
Let us take a look at some giants in the Bible. Of course, everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. Goliath was certainly a giant. He was nine feet nine inches (6 cubits and a span) tall. That is taller than any of our modern day giants, but only and inch or so taller than Robert Wadlow. Therefore, it is still within the realm of possibilities.
Goliath was from the town of Gath. Other Biblical characters were from Gath as well, however, we do not see a whole tribe of giants in Gath. We do read of other giants from Gath, one of which was Lahmi, Goliath’s brother, Goliath’s sons, and several others (2 Samuel 21:18, 20, 22; 1 Chr 20:4, 5, 6, 8).
This indicates that Goliath and the other giants were what we would today call a freak, or an abnormally large individual. It takes little imagination to conceive that a man of larger than normal stature would naturally gravitate to the army in a militaristic society like that of the Philistines. His great size and strength would have been put to good use by Philistine generals. With the proper training he would indeed have been a champion of the Philistines.
We may also review some qualifying sources to help us to better understand Goliath’s height. The Septuagint (LXX) states, “ὕψος αὐτοῦ τεσσάρων πήχεων καὶ σπιθαμῆς” or, literally, “height his [was] four cubits and a span.” A cubit, it is supposed, is about 18 inches, while a span is about half of that or 9 inches. Thus, according to the LXX, written perhaps two centuries before Christ, Goliath was 81 inches, or 6 feet 9 inches tall. Since our understanding of a cubit and a span may be off as much as 10%, a reading of 6’6″ is not out of the question. This reading is supported by the Qumran (Dead Sea) Samuel Scroll (4QSam), which also says he was four cubits and a span tall. Since ancient authorities give us these details, we can readily state that a man that is 6’6″ or 6’9″ tall is a large man, but not a giant of mythical proportions. If the LXX is correct, Shaquille O’Neal, at 7’1½” is taller than Goliath was!
According to Dr. William D. Barrick, “It is true that a Dead Sea Scroll document (4QSam-b) has 4 cubits and a span (approx. equivalent to 6.5 feet) for Goliath’s height, while 1 Samuel 17:4 reads 6 cubits and a span (approx. equivalent to 9.5 feet).”
But, he goes on to write, “The reduction of Goliath’s height in 4QSam-b, when carefully examined, appears to be a deliberate alteration, not the reflection of an original reading nor even a scribal slip of the pen. When one takes into account the description of Goliath’s weapons, the biblical text’s reading makes more sense. In 1 Samuel 17:5 the weight of his bronze armor made of chainlink mail was 5000 shekels (approx. equivalent to 126 pounds). In verse 7 the shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam and the blade alone was made of 600 shekels of iron (approx. equivalent to 15 pounds)1.”
If Goliath was four cubits and a span, which is 81 inches or about 6.5 feet, he would have stood approximately the same height as King Saul, who was taller than the other Israelis “from his shoulders upward” (1 Sam 9:2 & 10:23). Eighty-one inches is still a large man but the king was about the same size. If that were the case, why were the soldiers of Israel so afraid a of man that their king could defeat? The facts of the case, taken from several other Biblical sources, indicate that Goliath’s height was indeed six cubits and a span.
The other giants in the Bible were from the tribes of the Nephilim, Rephaim (also called Zamzummim), Anakim, Emim. The Bible tells us about the Rephaites or Zamzumminites: “That also was accounted a land of giants: giants dwelt therein in old time; and the Ammonites call them Zamzummims; A people great, and many, and tall, as the Anakims; but the LORD destroyed them before them; and they [the Ammonites] succeeded them, and dwelt in their stead:“(Deut 2:20 & 21)
Here we see that the Rephaites were exceptionally tall people. They were tall like the Anakim. Anak and his family were descendants of the Nephillim, called giants in the KJV (Numbers 13:33), a group of people who were tall and strong and considered “mighty men of old, men of renown,” in Genesis 6:4. There are several different views among Biblical scholars and commentators about how the Nephillim came into being, but those are for another study. We are interested in the biblical use of the term giant.
The Bible tells us of Og, the last Rephaite who lived in Bashan. The passage describes his bed, which was thirteen feet long and six feet wide. It is no stretch to assume that an eight foot tall man would use a bed thirteen feet long. We have had a nine foot tall man among us in America in the 1930s and 1940s. His bed would have been quite long. A thirteen foot bed would have been a good fit for him.
Skeptics maintain that there is no archaeological proof2 of Giants in the Bible and therefore, “since the Bible is full of myths and has been rewritten so many times it is not reliable, giants simply did not exist in Biblical times.” I really believe those folks have been led to believe that the giants of the Bible were like the giants of mythology-huge folks taller that buildings and able to do monumental and inhuman feats. Well that is simply not so. Either that or they deliberately berate the veracity of the Bible because of personal beliefs.
Let us not associate all sorts of far-fetched ideas with the Bible. If we take a grounded, down to earth approach to the Bible we will see it in a new light. There is nothing implausible about the giants of the Bible. We have extraordinarily large people among us today and though we recognize them as quite big, we find nothing out of this world or supernatural about them; they are just big people. It is the same with the Bible; these were extra large people and that put fear into normal sized people, especially when the big person was a trained military fighter like Goliath.
Do you know Jesus Christ as your Savior? He is going to return to the world soon. Are you ready? When He does if you do not know Him as your Savior, you will join all those who do not know Him in “Outer Darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Mat 22:13-14).
© Copyright 2020, Mark S. Oaks
- Goliath’s Height, William D.S Barrick, Th.D., The Master’s Seminary, drbarrick.org/files/studynotes/Other/Goliaths_Height.pdf ↩
- Gath has been excavated and revealed to be an exceptionally large iron age city of the Philistines. The archaeologists digging there found many large building stones much larger than those used in other building projects from the 11th Century BC. These stones would have taken very large and strong men to move. See the video by Sergio and Rhoda in Israel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2k0AQJZCIc (note, hyperlinks often change over time). ↩