There's controversy within Christian communities as to how tall Goliath was according to the Bible. Different manuscripts give different measurements. This is one of the problems with the modern day book many Christians call the Bible; they can find a new manuscript tomorrow which will result in a revision of their Bible. They are constantly finding new manuscripts, hence why the number of Biblical manuscripts in their possession is constantly increasing.
How Tall Was Goliath?
In the Hebrew text that most of our English Bibles are based on, the height of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:4 is “six cubits and a span.” In the ancient world, a cubit was about eighteen inches, and a span was about nine inches. Thus Goliath would have been about nine feet, nine inches tall. This is the way he has usually been portrayed in Christian tradition.
Surprisingly, in a scroll of Samuel found with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the height of Goliath is given as “four cubits and a span,” or only about six feet, nine inches. Likewise, the Septuagint, the early translation of the Old Testament into Greek and the Bible of the early church, also lists the height of Goliath as “four cubits and a span.”
The oldest Hebrew manuscript that has “six cubits and a span” dates to AD 935. No Hebrew manuscripts earlier than this list Goliath’s height at “six cubits and a span.” The Samuel scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls, however (reading “four cubits and a span”), dates to about 50 BC, nearly one thousand years earlier. Likewise, we have Greek manuscripts of the Septuagint reading “four cubits and a span” that date to the fourth and fifth centuries AD.
Scholars are not quite sure what to make of this. In recent years, more and more scholars are acknowledging that the earlier manuscripts might contain a reading that is more likely to be original; thus perhaps Goliath was only six feet, nine inches.
Nothing else in the text requires Goliath to be nine feet, nine inches. He is never actually called a giant in the Bible. His armor (described in 17:5-7) is not something that a big, strong, six-foot-nine man could not carry, and besides being taller does not imply being stronger.
This discussion is not a challenge to the accuracy or inerrancy of the Bible. It is just an attempt to get at what the original reading was.
How would the shorter height of Goliath affect our understanding of the story? It is important to note that in the ancient world, people in general were quite a bit shorter than they are now. At this time in Palestine (about 1000 BC) the average height of men was only about five feet, two inches. So Goliath at six feet, nine inches was still an unusually large man. But remember that King Saul was a head taller than anyone in Israel (9:2). So Saul is probably six-foot-five or so, not much shorter than Goliath. Saul also has armor. So Saul is the likely candidate who should go forward and fight against Goliath. Note when Saul counsels David in 17:33, Saul does not seem concerned with Goliath’s size, but rather with Goliath’s years of training and experience.
Of course this is just a possibility. Scholars remain divided over what to do with the two heights of Goliath in the ancient manuscripts. Most English Bible translations still follow the traditional reading and list Goliath as nine feet, nine inches or as “six cubits and a span,” but this might change in the future.[The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook] Sourced from:
Finding Bible manuscripts in rubbish heaps:
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