The Curious Case of a Giant named Goliath

The story of David and Goliath (‘Dawud ‘and ‘Jalut ‘in Arabic) has forever been a literary cliché in self-help scenarios and as a precursor to ‘anything is possible’ speeches. It is one of those stories specifically highlighted in the Quran, Bible and Talmud making it significant for Muslim, Christians and Jews.

That said, the biggest problem that I have with historic stories such as these is that there are aspects in it which are quite far-fetched.  Take for example the fact that David who is known to be a shepherd boy of average size was able to ‘out maneuver ‘ and take on a very ‘powerful’ and ‘tactful’ giant Goliath which seems to suggest that there was a real competition playing out on that field that day. Not that it is impossible; however I felt gaps in understanding on how it actually played out. The ‘physics’ of it all somehow seemed to be out of place. Then last evening I got a plausible explanation: A recent book and a TED video by Malcolm Gladwell explains that the competition may not have been the spectacle that it was made out to be. 

For readers, who are not familiar with this story, it occurs in the 11th century B.C (around the year 1040-50 BC) during a time when the Kingdom of Israel was at loggerheads with the Philistines, a sea faring tribe most likely originating from modern day Greece and Turkey. The two armies had gathered at Elah, a valley in the plains of Israel which was so conspicuous that any army advancing into the valley first would clearly be exposing themselves to failure. For this reason, the two parties decided to wait it out, till finally it was apparent that the only way there could be a winner was if either parties sent their finest warrior for a face to face combat. The winner of the duel would decide who had won the war. The Phiistines banking on scaring the opponent with size decides to send Goliath, a 9 foot giant from the hills of modern day Armenia while the Israelites still undecided on who to send turn to their leader and King Saul. A shepherd boy named David persists to be sent till King Saul finally agrees and lets him proceed. At this point, I must draw attention to the mystery of David’s confidence in facing this giant and convincing King Saul. Given his upbringing as a shepherd and little or no military experience per se, my view is that either this boy was unbelievably brave or there was a divine intervention (similar to Muhammad’s -PBUH victory at the battle of Badr) which guaranteed him of victory. In either case, David proceeds with a stick and his satchel containing stones for his slingshot. He takes a shot at Goliath between the eyes, and Goliath tumbles to the floor after which David used Goliath’s sword to sever the beast. 

Gladwell argues that Goliath might NOT have been the finest fighter that the Philistines had; instead he would have in most probability been their tallest, and heftiest which would serve well in scaring off the enemy. Given that Goliath’s height was close to 9 feet, it is most likely he suffered from Acromegaly, a condition related to Gigantism that in turn causes pituitary adenoma. Pituitary adenoma is a tumor like growth that affects eyesight and mobility. Gladwell supports this theory with the following observations:
  •  On seeing David approaching, Goliath says “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks”. Why “sticks” when David was carrying only a single stick? Could it be that the giant’s vision was so poor that he was seeing double or even triple?
  • Goliath was assisted down the hill by a helper. Why would their “finest” fighter need assistance? Also when David used his slingshot to hit Goliath, why was he so slow in reacting if he was indeed their ‘”finest” fighter? Both indicate a problem in mobility functions i.e. not being able to react and move quickly.
 According to me and it follows from Gladwell’s observations that David was probably made aware of these facts beforehand through divine sources. His faith coupled with this revelation probably catapulted this young man from being a mere shepherd boy to one of the greatest kings of the kingdom of Israel. Thus the story may not be about the victory of the underdog but instead of the fact that with immense unconditional faith, a solution to your problems always appears!

1 comment:

Mohamed Firose said...

Needless to say that David was a prophet of the Almighty. I totally agree with ur conclusion, but in my opinion, the victory of the underdog can also be a plausible explanation. The divine revelations for a prophet is a foregone conclusion. But in the eyes of the beholder, David was an ordinary shepherd, who showed the courage to take on the monstrous Goliath, whatever may be his limitations..