David and Goliath – 1985 B.C. & Battle By Champions

When You took the kingship from Saul I bet he was sorry.  You should have done that when Obama was president.  

Anyway, David’s just a kid, and You’re going to make him king?

The Battle of Thermopylae 480 B.C.
“A fox has a lot of tricks; but the hedgehog has the best one.”

{ πόλλ οιδ αλώπηξ, αλλ εχινος εν μέγα }

Archilochus 650 B.C.

46 nations, under thirty Persian generals, were assembled for the invasion of Greece, five of whom where sons of the royal house.

On the arrival of Xerxes at Thermopylae, he found that the place was defended by a body of three hundred Spartans and about seven thousand hoplites from other states, commanded by the Spartan King Leonidas.

David and Goliath

The Philistines that belonged to Judah gathered in Shochoch to battle,  and Saul and his men gathered in the valley of Elah.  The Philistines stood on a mountain on one side and Israel on the other side, a valley was in between them.

“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span (a little more than 9 feet). 

And he had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels (approximately 114 pounds) of brass. 

And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. 

And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron (approximately 14 pounds): and one bearing a shield went before him.

And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array?  Am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul?  Choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. 

Archilochus c. 680 – 645 B.C. was a Greek lyric poet from the island of Paros in the Archaic period.

He is celebrated for his versatile and innovative use of poetic meters and as the earliest known Greek author to compose almost entirely on the theme of his own emotions and experiences.

Alexandrian scholars included him in their canonic list of iambic poets, along with Semonides and Hipponax, yet ancient commentators also numbered him with Tyrtaeus and Callinus as the possible inventor of the elegy.

However modern critics often characterize him simply as a lyric poet.

Although his work now only survives in fragments, he was revered by the ancient Greeks as one of their most brilliant authors, able to be mentioned in the same breath as Homer and Hesiod, yet he was also censured by them as the archetypal poet of blame—his invectives were even said to have driven his former fiancee and her father to suicide.

He presented himself as a man of few illusions either in war or in love, such as in the following elegy, where discretion is seen to be the better part of valor:

Ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἥν παρὰ θάμνῳ

ἔντος ἀμώμητον κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων·

αὐτὸν δ’ ἔκ μ’ ἐσάωσα· τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη;

Ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.

One of the Saiôn in Thrace now delights in the shield I discarded

Unwillingly near a bush, for it was perfectly good,

But at least I got myself safely out.

Why should I care for that shield?

Let it go. Some other time I’ll find another no worse.

Archilochus was much imitated even up to Roman times and three other distinguished poets later claimed to have thrown away their shields—Alcaeus, Anacreon and Horace.

If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.  And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together” (1 Sam 17:4-10).

Saul and his men were dismayed and greatly frightened.   The battle began because there was no one to fight against Goliath on his own.

David’s older brothers were down with the troops and Jesse, their dad, told David to bring them some corn, ten loaves of bread, and cheeses.  While David was talking to his brothers Goliath came out and said what he had said before, and David heard him, and all the Israel’s fled in fear.

Xerxes I
Persian king who led the failed invasion of Greece in 480 B.C.

Our knowledge of Xerxes comes mainly from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, whose viewpoint is hostile; he portrays the king as sometimes reflective and aesthetic-minded, but also intoxicated by power and capable of great lust, cruelty, anger, and cowardice.

“Xerxes” is the Greek form of the name, which in Persian sounded like Khshah-yar-shan and meant “king of kings.”

In the biblical book of Esther, Xerxes is called King Ahasuerus and is pictured favorably.

As son and heir of the brilliant king Darius I, Xerxes was about 32 years old when he came to the throne in late 486 B.C.

Soon he turned his attention westward, to resume his father’s conflict with the mainland Greeks.

Various Persian inscriptions of Xerxes’ reign make it clear that he was a pious worshiper of Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian supreme god, and he may have thought he was on a divine mission to conquer Greece.

After four years’ preparation, including the spanning of the Hellespont with elaborate twin bridges of boats, Xerxes led a mighty host—perhaps 200,000 troops and 600 warships—to Europe.

Descending through Thrace and Macedon, he subdued northern and central Greece, but his navy was first eroded due to storms and a sea battle, and then destroyed when Xerxes over confidently decided to attack the Greek fleet inside Salamis channel.

After the Salamis defeat in late summer 480 B.C., Xerxes hurried back to Asia with most of his force, leaving behind a Persian army, which the Greeks smashed at Plataea the following summer.

Little is known of Xerxes’ life afterward.

He apparently devoted himself to construction of royal buildings at Persepolis, the empire’s summer capital, and was assassinated in a palace intrigue around 465 B.C.

He was succeeded by his son Artaxerxes I.

To the Greeks, Xerxes supplied the prime living example of the sin of Hubris—insane pride that leads to divinely prompted self-destruction.

The abiding picture of him in Western tradition (whether true or false) is a vainglorious emperor who, after a Hellespont storm had wrecked his boat-bridges, ordered his men to punish the channel by lashing its waters with whips.

“And the men of Israel said, Have ye seen this man that is come up?  Surely to defy Israel is he come up: and it shall be, that the man who killeth him, the king will enrich him with great riches, and will give him his daughter, and make his father’s house free in Israel. 

And David spake to the men that stood by him, saying, What shall be done to the man that killeth this Philistine, and taketh away the reproach from Israel?  For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?

And the people answered him after this manner, saying, So shall it be done to the man that killeth him. 

And Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men; and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither?  And with whom hast thou left those few sheep in the wilderness?  I know thy pride, and the naughtiness of thine heart; for thou art come down that thou mightest see the battle. 

And David said, What have I now done? Is there not a cause? 

And he turned from him toward another, and spake after the same manner: and the people answered him again after the former manner (1 Sam 17:25-30).

And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine. 

And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth. 

And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock:

And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him.

Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God. 

David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.  And Saul said unto David, Go, and the LORD be with thee.

And Saul armed David with his armor, and he put a helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail.  

And David girded his sword upon his armor, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it.  And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them.  And David put them off him.

And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.

And the Philistine came on and drew near unto David; and the man that bare the shield went before him. 

And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.

And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves?  And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.  And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.

Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. 

This day will the LORD deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee; and I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Sam 17:32-46).

“And it came to pass, when the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. 

David and Goliath, a color lithograph by Osmar Schindler (c. 1888).

Goliath or Goliath of Gath (one of five city states of the Philistines) is a giant Philistine warrior defeated by the young David, the future king of Israel, in the Bible’s Books of Samuel (1 Saml 17).

The original purpose of the story was to show David’s identity as the true king of Israel.

Post-Classical Jewish traditions stressed Goliath’s status as the representative of paganism, in contrast to David, the champion of the God of Israel.

Christian tradition gave him a distinctively Christian perspective, seeing in David’s battle with Goliath the victory of God’s King over the enemies of God’s helpless people as a prefiguring of Jesus’ victory over sin on the Cross and the Church’s victory over Satan.

And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David. 

Therefore David ran, and stood upon the Philistine, and took his sword, and drew it out of the sheath thereof, and slew him, and cut off his head therewith. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled. 

And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou come to the valley, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron” (1 Sam 17:48-52).

David and Goliath, and Philistine Armor
David and Goliath is one of the better known Bible stories.

Anyone who doubts the authenticity of the story should take a little time to look at the evidence.

As is usually the case, the latest archaeological discoveries add even more weight to the authenticity of the biblical account.

To some, the idea of one champion fighting on behalf of an entire army is fanciful, whereas this was the common practice of the Philistines in deciding the outcome of a battle.

To the Philistines, a battle of champions represented the will of the gods!

If their champion won, then the gods were on their side and they could expect victory over their enemy.

The ‘Battle of Champions’ was characteristic of Aegean peoples and this form of battle was known almost exclusively from the Greek Epic tradition. This form of battle however was unheard of among the Israelites which might explain their difficulty in selecting a champion of their own.

The fact that this battle, in the minds of the Philistines, was a battle of the immortals would explain why the Philistines fled following Goliath’s defeat!

Goliath was indeed a formidable and intimidating champion chosen no doubt for his size, (nine foot and three inches), which some attribute to the possibility that he was a descendant of the Anakim.

When Joshua expelled the giant Anakim people from the land of Canaan a few found refuge in the city of Gath where Goliath originated from.

Some also try to discredit this biblical account by saying that, according to the Egyptian reliefs in the tomb of Ramesses III, the Philistines wore no coats of mail or greaves and so the biblical narrative is incorrect!

They forget that these ancient carvings are depicting the ‘captured’ Philistine army which had been deprived of all weaponry and armor as was the practice inflicted on a defeated enemy.

The Israelites not only took Goliath’s weapons and armor, they weighed them too!

“And David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armor in his tent. 

And when Saul saw David go forth against the Philistine, he said unto Abner, the captain of the host, Abner, whose son is this youth? And Abner said, As thy soul liveth, O king, I cannot tell. 

And the king said, Enquire thou whose son the stripling is. 

And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand. 

And Saul said to him, Whose son art thou, thou young man? And David answered, I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite” (1 Sam 17:54-58).

Does that story sound a bit farfetched?  I would say so, in regards to man, but with God anyone can do anything.  God is the creator of all things and He can make anything happen (Lk 18:27).

Battle by Champions

The story of David and Goliath stands within the tradition of “Bat­tle by Champions” in the an­cient Near East.

Such battles differed from duels in that they had ramifications for entire armies or nations.

The strongest member, or cham­pion, of each party fought a similar representative of the opponent to the death, and the victory of one man vindi­cated the entire host.

Battle of Champions – 546 B.C.
The Battle of Champions was a battle between Sparta and Argos who fought for control of the Thyrean plains.

The Argives comprehensive defeat of the Spartans at the Battle of Hysiae 669 B.C. have given the Argives the upper hand in the area, but Sparta it seems had recovered enough in the interim to again challenge Argos for Peloponnesian supremacy.

Previously, many small skirmishes and such took place, but both nemeses’ now agreed to conclude hostilities once and for all in a battle.

The Spartans and the Argives decided that instead of another major war taking place it should be decided by just 300 champion hoplites from each side and thus spare the others.

This would be known as “The Battle of Champions”.

With everything to loose, the battle would have been hard and fierce.

The killing was on an unprecedented scale, each side would not allow any survivors for any reason.

The injured or incapacitated hoplite did not mean he would be left for medical attention, wholesale butchery was the call of the day.

The fighting was so very fierce that neither force could outdo the other, until it ended with two exhausted Argives left standing.

They surveyed the area to make sure there were no more survivors and left to return to Argos to inform them of their victory.

Similar battles are found in the Egyp­tian History of Sinuhe, in the encounter of Marduk and Tia- mat in the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish and in the con­flict of Paris and Menelausin Homer’s Iliad, 3.340-82.

Sec­ond Samuel 2:12-16 also contains an account of a representative battle waged by 12 selected warriors.

Such”single combat”was practiced based upon the belief that the gods of each army actually fought or decided the battle.

Therefore, only one “champion” was needed from each side. This concept is clear in 1 Sam 17:43-45, as both David and the Philistine call upon their respective gods.

David’s victory over the Philistine giant indeed proves that, against either pagan armies or false gods, “the battle is the Lord’s” (v. 47).

Unlike those who trusted in the stature, strength and skill of their best warriors, Israel sent an untrained, ill-equipped boy into battle as its only willing champion.

David himself, however, trusted in God’s might rather than his own.

For other war-related issues, see:

Horses and Chariots in Ancient Warfare,

Technological Supremacy of the Philistines’ Iron Weapons,

Herem, Holy War,

Siege Warfare,

Songs of Warriors and

Warfare in the Ancient World.