How Big Is a Giant?
Who could ever forget the thrilling story of a youth named David who defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath? Touching the hearts of all “underdogs,” this story has become the battle cry for thousands who have found themselves up against a “giant.” But, due to Goliath’s status as a giant, some might view the tale of his defeat as a fable or myth. After all, don’t giants live at the top of huge beanstalks or under bridges waiting to grind bones into bread or gobble up passers-by? Surely, no reasonable adult is expected to believe that there is (or ever was) such a thing as a real giant.
The word “giant” conjures up all kinds of mental images. Probably the most common images are those of a huge, beastly fellow who stands at least 30 feet tall and makes monstrous imprints with his feet—imprints so impressive that they could be used as watering ponds for cattle. However, the biblical description of Goliath does not quite fit that mold. The text of 1 Samuel 17:4 states that Goliath’s height was “six cubits and a span.” Several suggestions as to the length of a cubit have been offered by Bible scholars. The most commonly accepted is the idea that a cubit was the measurement from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow, or about 18-21 inches. A span was the distance between the tip of the pinky finger and the thumb, about half a cubit, which equals about 9 inches (Elwell, 1988, p. 2136). Given these dimensions, Goliath was about 9 feet 9 inches tall. The text goes on to say that he had a coat of armor that weighed 5,000 shekels (1 Samuel 17:5). Referring again to Elwell’s Encyclopedia of the Bible, that armor would have weighed about 125 pounds. Also, the tip of his spear, which weighed 600 shekels, would have been about 15 pounds. The picture, then, that we are given is of a man about 9½ feet tall, who wore armor that weighed more that most fifth graders, and who carried a spear that had a tip which weighed as much as a trophy-sized large-mouth bass. This man was huge, but he was a far cry from the 30-feet-tall mythical characters we often envision.
In fact, documentation for other men reaching close to Goliath’s stature can be found in ancient writings, as well as modern records. The ancient historian, Herodotus, wrote about a man named Artachaees, who “was the biggest man in Persia—about 8 ft 2 ins. high—and had the loudest voice in the world” (1996, p. 408). Furthermore, most wrestling fans will recall the huge stature of “Andre the Giant,” who weighed in at about 500 pounds and reached a height of 7 feet 4 inches tall. The Guinness World Record group has something to say about large stature as well. Simply go to their Web site at www.guinnessworldrecords.com, type in the word “tallest,” do a little scrolling, and you will see all kinds of stature marvels. Take, for instance, one of the tallest NBA players in history, Gheorghe Muresan, who stands 7 feet 7 inches and can virtually dunk a basketball without jumping. Or consider the tallest man documented in modern times, Robert Pershing Wadlow, “for whom there is irrefutable evidence,” states the Guinness writer. On June 27, 1940, he was measured to be 2.72 meters or 8 feet 11.1 inches. Go to www.nightscribe.com/Sports_Recreation/tallest_folks.htm and see even more giants who hover around the 8 feet mark.
Granted, we have little documentation, besides Goliath, for any nine-footers, but Robert Wadlow surely opens the door of plausibility for the Philistine. In fact, after looking at just a few of the world’s tallest people, there is no legitimate reason to discount the Bible’s description of its most famous giant. When all the evidence is in, the story of David and Goliath remains a true victory for the “underdog”—one that cannot be relegated to the status of myth or legend. The story also reminds us that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Elwell, Walter A., ed. (1988), Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Herodotus (1996), The Histories, transl. Aubrey De Sẻlincourt (New York: Penguin Books).
“Tallest Famous Folks” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.nightscribe.com/Sports_Recreation/tallest_folks.htm.
“Guinness World Records” (no date), [On-line], URL: http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com.