Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Goliath Controversy

So there is a controversy concerning Goliath?  Who knew?  And no, this is not about the famous double engine Harley drag bike of the same name...
Some time ago I took the liberty of leaving a comment on Cross Examined, a Christian apologetic blog that I sometimes peruse during lunch.  This site seems to attract an abnormally persistent brand of alleged atheists who seem to have far more spare time than I can dream of, and they use that time to attack everything posted there. 

In the course of a little back and forth in the comments section, I pointed out to a fellow commenter named David that he was named after a man who is known as “a man after God’s own heart.” That seemed to set David (who, for clarity, I will refer to as Dave for the remainder of this post) off into a tirade.  Anyone who has spent time listening to debates between Christians and the “apostles of atheism” (as I like to call them) will be familiar with the common plan of attack: a verbal barrage of every Old Testament action which violates their personal morality.  This form of attack can best be translated as: “God is just a figment of your imagination and I HATE him!”   In fact, this scatter gun approach to argumentation is one that serves them well, both in formal debate settings and comment sections, in that it becomes impossible to answer every charge in the time available (even the self-employed need to limit their lunch break). 

However, Dave ended one of his tirades with this:
“… One additional bit of data Lee, the story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17) was not in the original text. It’s just one more piece of propaganda in favor of David and his line. It is demonstrably a later interpolation in the text and contradicts 2 Sam. 21:19. Thankfully, 500 years after the fact, similar to how Fox News shills for Trump, the chronicler shows up to spin David into Goliath’s killer and Elhanan into the killer of Goliath’s brother Lahmi. That’s right, Goliath the Philistine giant with a good Philistine name just like the other Philistine giants had a giant brother with a Jewish name that means “my bread”. LOL!”  - from a comment on the blog post What Christian Parents Should Learn from theNormalize Atheism Movement

Everything else contained in Dave’s comments were standard, run of the mill arguments about the immorality of the Bible which have been answered over and over by better men than me and easily found if one really wants an answer. But I don’t believe that I had ever seen this particular argument before, so wanted to look into it and give an answer (1Peter 3:15).    So, it’s been a long time coming, but I finally took the time to reply to this accusation.

The texts in question, along with 1 Samuel 17, are 2 Samuel 21:15-22 and 1 Chronicles 20:4-8. The claim that 1 Samuel 17 was not in the original text of the Hebrew Tanakh (what we as Christians call the Old Testament), is at best a spurious one, and at worst libelous.  Since the books of 1st and 2nd Samuel were very likely penned by at least several authors (“holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” - 2 Peter 1:21) at the very least one would need to verify at what point the words were gathered into one book before claiming any one part of it to be a later addition.  Nowhere does the Bible make the claim that Samuel himself was the author of the two books which bear his name. A reading of 1 Chronicles 29:29 suggests that the books of 1st & 2nd Samuel were compiled using documents written by Samuel, Nathan, and Gad, which in no way makes it any less inspired sacred scripture.

But of course, the claims of later additions, redactions, or changes nearly always are the opining of self -styled experts who have one thing in common: unbelief. All of their “scholarship” is built upon the presupposition that there is no God, and that the Bible is a collection of fables.  Keywords that reflect the pedigree of their findings include “generally agreed”, “the consensus is”, “scholars agree”, and my personal favorite “according to modern scholarship”.  In fact, Dave’s statement that the description of the battle between David and Goliath as recorded in 1 Samuel 17 “is demonstrably a later interpolation in the text and contradicts 2 Samuel 21:19” is, in itself, a fine example of an interpolation based on a presupposition (if we follow the definition of interpolate as being “to alter or corrupt by inserting new or foreign matter”).  Namely the presupposition that the Bible is not true.  For those of us who side with Jesus Christ in affirming the Old Testament narrative as truth, there is nothing here to suggest a real contradiction, let alone a 2500 year old conspiracy to beef up David’s “street cred.” 
To drill down a little deeper into Dave’s claims, let’s look at the verses which do appear to contain a contradiction.  Keep in mind that I am no scholar and have no training in the original languages, so I am open to honest correction.

Samuel 21:19  And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam. 
1Chronicles 20:5  And there was again war with the Philistines, and Elhanan the son of Jair struck down Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.

It is very possible that two simple and understandable transcription errors explain any confusion.  One is that since the Hebrew word for Bethlehem actually contain the word Lahmi, it is easy to see how part of the word Bethlehem could have either been inadvertently left off while being transcribed or not even an error at all but only a shortened version of the word for the town. For example, if a biker tells you they are riding to Daytona in March would you need them to clarify that they mean Daytona Beach Florida or would the context give you enough information to know where he meant?

The Hebrew words in consideration are:
 בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי

And are written in English like this:
lachmiy or Lahmi
beyth hallachmiy or Bethlehem (bold added)
I believe a close look at the first characters of the Hebrew, even when transferred into English letters sheds a lot of light.  Remember, Hebrew reads from right to left unlike English text.

Note that “Bethlehemite” is included in the description of Elhanon in 2 Samuel, but missing from 1 Chronicles.  The description “brother of” is included in 1 Chronicles, but missing from 2 Samuel. It would seem (to me at least) that the best explanation is that 1 Chronicles 20:5 is correct that is was the unnamed brother of Goliath who was slain by Elhanan, but a part of the word Bethlehem was lost in transcription, causing Lahmi to be assumed to be a name rather than a short version of Bethlehem which should have been applied to the description of Elhanon who was from Bethlehem.
As for the missing “brother of” in 2 Samuel 21:19, in Hebrew characters it would look like this:  אָח

A modern example might go something like this; suppose I copied a letter from my great grandfather written to my mother which contained this sentence: “I decided to pay to have my dog bred.”  But, in copying it, I inadvertently copied it as “I decided to pay to have my dog red.”  Oops.  Small mistake, but it changes the meaning.  In fact, the way I actually copied it might lead anyone reading it to assume my great grandfather was going to buy a dog was named Red.  How important was the copying mistake?  Not very.  In fact my copying mistake would have had about the same impact on the Gospel of Jesus Christ as does the possible mistake in copying that might have been made in these two Old Testament texts.
Now, unless your standard of accuracy for the copying of texts which were first written down over 3000 years ago is that of a photocopy, these minor discrepancies occurring at some time during the long ages of copying and re-copying are pretty insignificant.  After all, what would you have had God do: strike a scribe dead just before he made a mistake? That may have decreased the number of textual variants, but it would have also greatly decreased the number of scribes willing to reproduce scripture. In short, I find myself in agreement with the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which says in part:

“Article X. WE AFFIRM that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy.”


“Article XI WE AFFIRM that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses. WE DENY that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infallible and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.”

One thing is quite sure, when a person stands before God Almighty and says he could not be sure whether or not Goliath had a brother named Lahmi, it will probably not be accepted as a good excuse for rejecting the entirety of His word.