How Tall was Goliath

Quick Answer comes from 1 Samuel 17:4 - "A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span." (NIV) - A cubit is the distance from a man's elbow to the tip of his middle finger. This can vary of course, but it is generally accepted to be an average of 18 inches. A cubit was equal to 6 palms or 2 spans. With a height of Six cubits and a span, Goliath's height can be calculated to have been 9 feet 9 inches.

David and Goliath

The height of over nine feet comes from the Masoretic text which is used in most modern translations of the Bible. The other most commonly used ancient text is the Septuagint which is Latin for seventy. This manuscript is much older than the Masoretic text. In the Septuagint text it lists Goliath's height at four cubits and a span. This translates into a height of approximately six feet nine inches.

The contents and accuracy of the Septuagint gets a boost from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls, discovered in caves above the community of Qumran in 1946. The scrolls proved to be from approximately 200 to 300 B.C. making them by far the oldest known copies of the Books of the Old Testament. The book of 1 Samuel was included in the Dead Sea Scrolls and it lists the height of Goliath at 4 cubits and a span. In addition, first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus recorded the events of David and Goliath in his writings. 

"...for he was of four cubits and a span in tallness, and had about him weapons suitable to the largeness of his body."

While six feet nine inches is still a very large man even by today's standards, it is not as intimidating as nine feet nine inches. However, it must be remembered that the average male during that time period was five feet five inches tall so a six foot nine man would be well above average in height. It must also be remembered that Goliath was reportedly not just tall, but very muscular and an experienced warrior. All of these factors combined would make Goliath a very intimidating opponent in a one on one encounter. 

Robert Wadlow
How does the height of Goliath, if he were nine feet nine inches tall compare to other individuals throughout history? Goliath would be the tallest man ever to have lived, but not by as much as you might think. Throughout history there have been several individuals who had a confirmed height of over eight feet. The tallest person, confirmed, was Rabert Wadlow who when last measured was an amazing eight feet eleven inches tall. Perhaps even more amazing was the fact he was reportedly still growing at the time of his death. (Side note, his shoe size was 37AA.) 

Doctors explained that Wadlow's exceptional size was caused by hyperplasia of his pituitary gland. This rare condition is now treatable in most patients. Some experts point to the possibility that Goliath suffered from this same condition and since it would have gone untreated he could have attained a height of over nine feet. While it is certainly possible he could have reached a height on nine feet or more, this type of rapid and uncontrolled growth comes with other medical problems. Robert Wadlow had to wear braces on his feet and ankles as they could not support the size and weight of his body. He would eventually die as the result of a blister caused by a poorly fitted brace. The blister became badly infected and due to a lack of sensitivity in his feet, Wadlow was unaware of the condition until he fell ill. Doctors treated him and eventually amputated his leg, but it was all in vain, the infection had spread too far and too fast. Robert Wadlow was only twenty-two years old when he passed away. 

While such a medical condition could account for Goliath's abnormal height, the results of the condition would make him a very poor warrior. His ability to stand, much less fight would have been severely limited without the aide of braces or other assistance. These limitations make in unlikely Goliath's size, whatever it might have been, was the result of such a medical condition. 

Regardless which height is correct, the fact Goliath was at least a foot taller than the average man of his day and was apparently a very muscular warrior he would have been very intimidating. Against such an opponent, with so much at stake, it would have been very difficult for any Israeli soldier to step up and voluntarily enter into one on one combat with Goliath. This was the important element of the story and is confirmed in all historical accounts of the events.

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