David’s view of David and Goliath’s View of David and Goliath

Goliath had as much chance against David…as an Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an [opponent] armed with a .45 automatic pistol” argues historian Robert Dohrenwend, quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Using scholars like Dohrenwend, Gladwell concludes that Goliath was the real underdog against David.

I’m about halfway through Gladwell’s latest book and I’m loving it just as I’ve enjoyed two of his other books, The Tipping Point and Outliers, but I have a few problems with his interpretation of David’s epic battle against the Philistine giant (1 Sam. 17).

I’ll call the giant Goliath as Gladwell does, but to be clear the narrative refers to him as “Goliath” only twice in the chapter (17:4, 23), and uses the term “the Philistine” over ten times as often (e.g., 17:10, 11, 16, 23, 26(2)…) probably because of its derogatory connotations. While you may not frequently insult your friends anymore by calling them “You Philistine” (we do in our family) the term still has negative connotations today.

(To read Gladwell’s own narrative of how he rediscovered his Christian faith while writing D & Gclick here for the article in Relevant Magazine.)

A few weeks ago, I was in Bellingham, WA taping courses on the books of 1, 2 Samuel and 1, 2 Kings for Logos Bible Software. Since I was thinking a lot about David’s story for this Samuel course I had decided to focus on Gladwell’s new book for my morning cycle on an exercise bike. Despite my positive inclination toward all works Gladwellian, I found myself arguing with the author in my head as I pedaled.

Everything else I’ve read from Gladwell previously was about subjects I didn’t know much about, but I’m a  bit more familiar with the Old Testament, the book of Samuel and particularly, the narrative of my namesake.

Gladwell does good research (using, among other resources, Baruch Halpern’s book, David’s Secret Demons), but concludes that Goliath was a clumsy, half-blind oaf. Goliath’s armor made him immobile and his pituitary gland disorder (acromegaly) impaired his vision so severely that “the world around him is a blur” (p. 14). Goliath was a cross between Andre the Giant (The Princess Bride) and Mr Magoo.

david-and-goliath-1544Gladwell’s arguments are well-argued, but ultimately not persuasive. He focuses on a few obscure secondary aspects of the text and hinges his entire argument around them, ignoring the main thrust of the text. For example, Goliath says, “You come at me with sticks” but David just had one stick, therefore Goliath couldn’t see well.

Why would the Philistines pick a “hero” like the one Gladwell describes to represent them in battle? Even junior high school basketball coaches know that big guys are not necessarily good basketball players. For Goliath to defeat the hundreds or perhaps the thousands of people necessary to be chosen as a national champion he couldn’t have been an “Andre Magoo”, but needed to be more of a “Spartacus Maximus“.

The entire nation of Israel was afraid of Goliath.  Saul himself was not only tall, but also quite a warrior (the women later sang of Saul killing thousands: 1 Sam. 18:7; 21:11; 29:5). Warriors are not generally afraid of half-blind oafs.

The way Gladwell and Dohrenwend spoke about the supposed accuracy of ancient slingers (people who used sling-shots), it is surprising that US soldiers are not still using sling-shots to take down the Taliban in Afghanistan. I just don’t buy it.

I realize in the world of publishing, Gladwell is a “giant,” while Lamb is more of a “David”. Think of this post as a smooth stone aimed, not at Gladwell the person, but at his interpretation of one of the best-loved stories in the Bible. While I love to see new things from the text, sometimes the traditional understanding is the right one.

David, the underdog, defeated Goliath the champion with the help of his God.

“I will strike you down and cut off your head”: Biblical trash talking

“I will strike you down and cut off your head.”  These words are uttered by the boy David to the giant Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:46.  It’s hard to imagine the same person writing many of our favorite psalms (“The LORD is my shepherd as I decapitate foreign monsters…).  From Sunday school we’re all familiar of David’s highly accurate shot to the giant’s noggin, but the graphic ending of the story is often left out (I’m sure teen boys would love it).  David followed through on his prophetic trash talking as Caravaggio’s painting (1610) so vividly illustrates (1 Sam. 17:51).

I gave a paper on trash talking during the summer of 2008 in Oxford at the Society for Old Testament Study (SOTS).  (Although many Brits weren’t familiar with trash talking, there is a similar phenomenon in cricket called sledging.)  While David’s insult may seem shocking, he was simply responding to the taunts of the Philistine who called out to David as he approached, “I am a dog that you come at me with sticks” (1 Sam. 17:43).

As I researched the paper, I was surprised at how many places taunting appears in the Old Testament.  So, there’s a book idea–A Theology of Trash Talking.  I’ll be blogging through a few more examples of biblical trash talking, but I’d love to hear your examples, because I’m sure there are a few I haven’t noticed yet.  Where do we find trash talking in Scripture?