“A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him.”
— Samuel 17
For those not up on their biblical measurements, “six cubits and a span” is 9 feet 9 inches or 2.97 meters (some say this is was a transcription error because other texts list Goliath’s height as four cubits and a span – a still giant 6 feet 9 inches or 2.06 meters). For those not up on their biblical geography, Gath or Gat was a Philistine city-state mentioned often in the Hebrew bible and thought to be buried under the archaeological mound (tell) known as Tell es-Safi, a former Palestinian village located inside Tel Zafit National Park 35 kilometers (22 mi) northwest of Hebron. For those not up on their biblical history, you should still be familiar with the story of young David slaying the giant Goliath. An archeological team has recently discovered an ancient settlement under the remains of Gath with structures so large that they may be the reason behind the legendary giant stature of Goliath.
“The discovery suggests that Gath was at the peak of its power much earlier than previously thought, putting its heyday around the time when the city features heavily in the biblical narrative as a fierce rival of the early Israelites as well as the hometown of Goliath and other outsized biblical warriors.”
Bar-Ilan University professor and head of the Gath Archeological Project Aren Maeir tells Haaretz that recent digs just a meter below Gath have uncovered the older settlement that matches the time period of the biblical Gath. The differences between the older Gath and what was built over it are obvious.
“Over the summer’s digging campaign, which ended last week, archaeologists decided to investigate the foundations of large terraces located in Gath’s lower city, which was only inhabited during the Iron Age. The dig revealed that those terraces were resting on massive fortifications and larger buildings made of huge stone boulders and fired bricks – a method that makes them stronger than traditional sun-dried mud bricks. In some areas these walls are four meters thick or more, and the pottery associated with them dates to the early Iron Age, to the 11th century B.C.E. or possibly earlier. No comparably colossal structures are known in the rest of the Levant from this period – or even from the later incarnation of Philistine Gath.”
Gath has been destroyed and rebuilt a number of times, so the discovery of an older version is not much of a surprise. However, the size of the structures is a big one, and it may be why the Philistines were believed to have giant warriors.
“When people see remains of very impressive architecture and say, ‘Wow, how could someone have built that?’ one of the explanations they sometimes offer is ‘This must have been done by giants of the past’.”
Before you wonder how an experienced archeologist like Maeir could have missed doing the obvious, he says:
“There are no skeletons of people who are taller than NBA centers.”
It’s just a theory, but it’s the best we have in lieu of the actual skeleton of Goliath or the rest of his team. Maeir plans to continue digging in hopes of determining why there was such a difference in architectures between the two Gaths. He’s obviously excited about what he might find:
“But one thing is certain, we are slowly awakening a sleeping giant.”
I like this guy’s sense of humor.