Was Goliath six cubits and a span or four cubits and a span?


The King James Bible reports the giant Goliath as "six cubits and a span" in height — over nine feet tall, (over 2.75 m) (I Samuel 17:4), but the Septuagint, a Greek Bible, also gives Goliath's height as "four cubits and a span" (~2.00 m). So by the interpretation which one is correct?


This isn't an interpretation problem, but a textual problem. Ancient texts were copied one from another. But as careful as people work on the copies, errors will creep into the text. Those who study the texts group the texts into families. These are similar texts where it is apparent they came from the same ancient text. The largest family of text for the Hebrew Scriptures is called the Masoretic texts. Our Old Testaments, for the most part, are based on this text.

One of the jobs of a textual critic is to examine the various families of text and using what is known about how people tend to make mistakes, compare the texts to try and determine what the original text was actually like.

Evidence for Six Cubits in I Samuel 17:4 Evidence for Five Cubits in I Samuel 17:4 Evidence for Four Cubits in I Samuel 17:4
The Masoretic Text family (935 AD and later) Septuagint(n) The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew done about 150 BC
Septuagint(o) Codex Venetus, eighth century AD 4QSam(a), one of the Dead Sea Scroll documents, about 50 BC
Codex Sigma(prime) Josephus, a Jewish historian about 70-90 AD in Antiquities, IV, 171.
Symmachus' Greek translation, AD 200 Lucian recension, a third century AD revision of the Septuagint
Origen's Hexapla, third century AD Codex Vaticanus, fourth century AD Greek translation
Jerome's Translation, fourth century AD Codex Alexandrinus, fifth century AD Greek translation

One plausible explanation is that a copyist made a mistake by looking aside to I Samuel 17:7 and accidentally picked up the word "six" from that verse. It is argued that there isn't a close verse that contains a four to make the mistake in the opposite direction.

A problem with the "four" witnesses is that Josephus used the Septuagint versions for his work fairly heavily. The Lucian recension and the Codex Vaticanus are Septuagint works as well. So the number of independent witnesses is less than it might first appear.

So it comes down to the point that we don't know. The oldest copy we currently have says "four" but it is fairly certain that copies that said "six" were in existence near the same time period.

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