In a recent post I asked how many times David killed Goliath. My co-worker Josh responded with the comment asking who killed Goliath? Why would Josh ask such a question? There are three passages that are involved with the defeat of Goliath.
1 Samuel 17:50-51 – So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. 51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. (NIV)
2 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. (ESV)
1 Chronicles 20:5 – In another battle with the Philistines, Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod. (NIV)
The two Samuel passages cite two different people as the slayers of Goliath. The Chronicles passage says Elhanan killed the brother of Goliath. To complicate matters Josh noticed that in 2 Samuel 21:19 his NIV 1984 edition says Elhanan killed Goliath but in his NIV 2011 it says he killed the brother of Goliath bringing it into agreement with the Chronicles passage. This is a complicated issue but several answers have been put forth. Here are four commonly offered harmonizations.
1) Elhanan was another name for David. The former being his original name and the latter his throne name.
2) The slaying of Goliath was by Elhanan but later attributed to David to increase his fame.
3) There were two Goliaths. “Goliath” was a common name for giant. (ESV Study Bible text note at 2 Samuel 21:19 “‘Goliath’ was a common noun for giant, just as ‘Achish’ (1 Sam. 21:10; 27:2) may have been a title or common noun for Philistine ruler (just as ‘Pharaoh’ is a title of the king of Egypt, not a name).
4) The 2 Samuel passage has been corrupted. Once the text is changed or corrected the problem is resolved. (See the NIV Study Bible and the NET Bible text note on 2 Samuel 21:19. NET Bible study note in part reads, “But in all likelihood the problem is the result of difficulties in the textual transmission of the Samuel passage; in fact, from a text-critical point of view the books of Samuel are the most poorly preserved of all the books of the Hebrew Bible. The parallel passage in 1 Chr 20:5 reads, “Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath.” Both versions are textually corrupt. The Chronicles text has misread “Bethlehemite” (בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי, bet hallakhmi) as the accusative sign followed by a proper name אֶת לַחְמִי (’et lakhmi). (See the note at 1 Chr 20:5.) The Samuel text misread the word for “brother” (אַח, ’akh) as the accusative sign (אֵת, ’et), thereby giving the impression that Elhanan, not David, killed Goliath. Thus in all probability the original text read, “Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath.”)
A final solution I found is by Victor Hamilton in his book Handbook on the Historical Books (Baker Books). He says,
“Is it possible that David had some kind of assistance in his contest with Goliath and the Philistines? After all, even the 2 Samuel 21 account that credits the victory over Goliath to Elhanan ends by including Goliath in the group of four warriors who ‘fell at the hands of David and his men’ (2 Sam. 21:22). Most of us need co-combatants when facing giants.” (262)