About this blog

This Blog is named after an ancient gnoseological riddle which hints hidden, disseminated, omnipresent wisdom.
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."


David the Hellene

David and Goliath is a beautifully crafted story. The bucolic pastoral innocence of David is alluringly contrasted with his vulgar mercenary opponent.  And more is there than meets the ear of the modern reader or listener. This story has the Hellenistic heroic legend written all over it.

            Beside the idyllic pastoral setting the antiquity is further alluded by what is called the single combat. Such single combat especially when presented as a ritualized substitute for a battle has many classical echoes and was to indicate the antiquity of the story. David’s glorious spolia opima - a stripping and repossessing of the armor of the defeated enemy - was a well recognized trope and the highest rank of military achievement worthy of the dynastic founder. Similar legends circulated for instance about Romulus and other heroes of antiquity. 

            Talking about Goliath’s armor, it is a clear example of a biblical anachronism. Goliath’s armor simply does not fit what is known about the late bronze age Philistines (no matter how many times the word bronze is repeated) but it closely resembles the armor of a Hellenic hoplite.

            And from the textual perspective, there is a substantial difference between the Hebrew and Greek versions. In most of the cases it is Greek Septuagint which contains textual expansions. In this case it is the other way round. The Hebrew text is half a chapter longer thus further pointing to relatively late textual developments.

            These are all signs of the Hellenistic composition of this legend. And at its center is another strong argument which might elude many modern readers. It is the very choice of David’s weapon, his sling. Modern readers can be easily lured into perceiving it, just as it is skillfully and seductively presented, as a bucolic pastoral reference. But that was certainly not the case at the time of composition.

            A sling was a regular military weapon and units of slingers were well established parts of ancient armies. There are numerous references to the military use of slingers from the time of Homer onward (Ajax, the son of Oileus). Xenophone in his Anabasis writes extensively about the deployment of the Persian as well as Greek slingers. Furthermore, the archeological finds of sling projectiles, stone, clay, and especially lead, from all around the Mediterranean Basin, further confirm the well-established and long lasting use of this serious weapon.

            Without a doubt there was a difference between a hoplite warrior and a skirmisher (light infantry) slinger. Hoplites were wealthy aristocratic citizens while slingers were often recruited from among the specific groups of peasants, for instance Hellenistic slingers were from Rhodos, while later in the Punic period the Balearic slingers gained reputation (mortally wounding Consul Paulus at the battle of Cannae). This difference of rank between Goliath and David, a hoplite warrior and a slinger skirmisher made the tale immediately understood and appreciated all around the Hellenistic world.

            David and Goliath is a well known biblical legend, but its military Hellenistic background is something not many might know about the Bible.


A lead sling projectile from the collection of the British Museum.
The Greek text cast on it reads ΔΕΞΑΙ - "Here you go!" or "Catch this!"


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Occasionally there are questions about the academic sources of claims made in these blogs. I decided to list some of the sources.
Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman: David and Solomon, New York 2006
John Van Seters: The Biblical Saga of King David, Winona Lake, 2009
Philippe Wajdenbaum: Argonauts of the Desert, Routledge 2011


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