Something interesting I discovered today was the link between the David and Goliath story and Homer’s Iliad. I’ve already come to understand how much of the Old Testament (especially the flood story, but there are others) were lifted from Sumerian stories (Abraham was raised in, and left behind, a highly developed Sumerian culture before founding his new religious movement).
But I hadn’t considered the extent to which Old Testament scribes borrowed from successful Greek Literature such as the Iliad.
In 2004 Azzan Yadin suggested that the armor described in 1 Samuel 17 is typical of Greek armor of the sixth century BC rather than of Philistines armor of the tenth century, and that narrative formulae such as the settlement of battle by single combat between champions is characteristic of the Homeric epics (the Iliad) but not of the ancient Near East. Yadin also suggested that the designation of Goliath as a איש הביניים, “man of the in-between” (a longstanding difficulty in translating 1 Samuel 17) appears to be a borrowing from Greek “man of the metaikhmion (μεταίχμιον)”, i.e. the space between two opposite army camps where champion combat would take place.
Martin Litchfield West has pointed out that a story very similar to that of David and Goliath appears in the Iliad, where the young Nestor fights and conquers the giant Ereuthalion. Each giant wields a distinctive weapon—an iron club in Ereuthalion’s case, a massive bronze spear in Goliath’s; each giant, clad in armor, comes out of the enemy’s massed array to challenge all the warriors in the opposing army; in each case the seasoned warriors are afraid, and the challenge is taken up by a stripling, the youngest in his family (Nestor is the twelfth son of Neleus, David the seventh or eighth son of Jesse). In each case an older and more experienced father figure (Nestor’s own father, David’s patron Saul) tells the boy that he is too young and inexperienced, but in each case the young hero receives divine aid and the giant is left sprawling on the ground. Nestor, fighting on foot, then takes the chariot of his enemy, while David, on foot, takes the sword of Goliath. The enemy army then flees, the victors pursue and slaughter them and return with their bodies, and the boy-hero is acclaimed by the people.
Something that I find even more interesting, however, is who the Philistines were and who “had the right” to the land? In the David story it appears that David is protecting his homeland Israel – but that land was only recently stolen, by violence and genocide, from the peoples who were already living on it (much like North America). This is all fine because “God said it was OK”.
The Philistines had their high period along the coast of Israel around 1000BC. They were sea-faring people, possibly from Crete or Cyprus. David was for some time a servant to Philistine king Achis, before David grew in power and started killing them all. He even started collecting their foreskins as a gift to Saul. (A gruesome practice, not unlike scalping).
Samson killed 1000 Philistines with a jawbone. These are acts of genocide, which cleared the way for Israel to be settled by the Jewish people – but then we have to ask, if the whole thing is borrowed from Homer, maybe it never happened anyway. Maybe it is really a story of Greek conquest; which is what really drove the Philistines away, and the Jewish scribes wanted to credit their own national hero.