Who Killed Goliath?
by Joe Deweese, Ph.D.
“And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim the Beth-lehemite slew Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam” (2 Samuel 21:19).
“And there was again war with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam” (1 Chronicles 20:5).
The record of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) clearly speaks of the defeat of the giant of Gath by the shepherd boy. This story is used to emphasize faith and faithfulness to the young from their earliest ages. However, some have alleged a discrepancy between the account in 1 Samuel and two other passages (2 Samuel 21:19 and 1 Chronicles 20:5). According to 2 Samuel 21:19, it appears that Elhanan killed Goliah; yet 1 Chronicles 20:5 states that Elhanan killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath. The question, then, is who did Elhanan kill?
First, we must recognize who Elhanan was not. According to 1 Chronicles 20:5, Elhanan was the son of Jair. This was not the same man as Elhanan the Bethlehemite, son of Dodo (2 Samuel 23:24; Keil and Delitzsch, 1996, 2:681). Furthermore, it appears that Jair and Jaareoregim actually are the same person (Barnes, 1998, 2:120). Barnes, as well as the editors of The Pulpit Commentary, noted that the difficulty may have begun when oregim, the Hebrew word translated “weaver” in this passage, ended up being placed on the wrong line by a copyist—something that has been known to happen in several instances (see Spence and Exell, 1978, 4:514). Therefore, Jair, combined with oregim, became Jaare-oregim in order to make it fit with proper Hebrew grammar (Spence and Exell, 4:514).
Second, the phrase “Lahmi the brother of” is absent in 2 Samuel 21:19. The King James Version inserts the phrase “the brother of” between “Bethlehemite” and “ Goliath.” Furthermore, in the Hebrew, eth Lachmi (a combination of “Lahmi” and the term “brother”) appears to have been changed into beith hallachmi (Beth- lehemite). With this simple correction, the two texts would be in clear agreement (Clarke, n.d., p. 369). In other words, “the brother of” and the name “Lahmi” likely were combined by a copyist to form what is translated in English as “Beth-lehemite” in 2 Samuel 21:19. This, however, caused the difficulty when the passage was paralleled with 1 Chronicles 20:5.
In his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason Archer used the same scenario mentioned above to explain this difficulty, and then summed up the situation by noting: “In other words, the 2 Samuel 21 passage is a perfectly traceable corruption of the original wording, which fortunately has been correctly preserved in 1 Chronicles 20:5” (1982, p. 179). A fair, in-depth examination of the alleged difficulty shows that there actually is no contradiction at all, but simply a copyist’s mistake.
Archer, Gleason L. (1982), Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Barnes, Albert (1998 reprint), Barnes’ Notes: Exodus to Esther (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Clarke, Adam (no date), Commentary and Critical Notes on the Old Testament: Joshua to Esther (New York, NY: Abingdon).
Keil, C.F., and F. Delitzsch (1996), Commentary on the Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 and 2 Samuel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Spence, H.D.M., and Joseph S. Exell, Eds. (1978), The Pulpit Commentary: Ruth, I & II Samuel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).