Azzan Yadin on Goliath’s Armor

In 2004 Azzan Yadin published an article in Vetus Testamentum arguing that the depiction of Goliath’s armor points not to genuine Philistine battle armor, but to the armor of sixth century Greece.  Azzan states:

The present article suggests that the battle between David and Goliath—or, more accurately, the final redaction of this battle—is a response to burgeoning Greek national identity, and maintains a literary dialogue with the Greek epic tradition.

I agree with Yadin’s dating for the final redaction of Samuel, but I believe Goliath’s armor should be interpreted as reflecting Neo-Assyrian battle armor (not Homeric). Irrespective, I want to explain here why I take issue with the evidence that is presented for rejecting the Philistine provenance of Goliath’s armor. Here is what is the article says:

The head gear is unlike the distinctive feathered helmets of the Egyptian reliefs at Medinet Habu; Goliath’s chain mail (שריון קשקשים) is Mesopotamian-Syrian; and the great shield, requiring a shield bearer, is unlike the small round shields of the Philistines portrayed in Egyptian reliefs.

The second point accords with my own conclusions about Goliath’s armor, but the other two are based exclusively on the Medinet Habu reliefs. The first concerns the fact that the reliefs identify the Philistines, Denyen, and Tjekel as wearing “feathered helmets.” I don’t think these helmets have feathers in them at all. I prefer the conclusion that they represent leather straps. The Medinet Habu temple dates to the mid 12th century BCE (Iron Age 1A). The story of Goliath purports to relate events from over 100 years later. I think it’s a bit reaching to assert the Philistine origin of Goliath’s helmet can be rejected based on Egyptian bas reliefs from over 100 years earlier.

The originally monochrome pottery of the Philistines takes on Egyptian and Canaanite flavor after only a few decades of interaction, and is vastly different by the end of the 11th century. Ashdod and Ekron are the only cities where pottery from the original phase of Philistine settlement are found. Other aspects of Philistine culture, like architecture, art, burial customs, and cult objects, all show variegation and local influence. The three temples from Tell Qasile  all have different styles. Even the anthropomorphoid coffins have been shown to be borrowed from LBA Egyptian practices. According to Mazar (Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 10,000 – 586 BCE, 328), “isolated from the source of their culture, the Philistines were inspired by the indigenous population and were assimilated into it.”

I don’t think the continuity of battle armor can be presumed to the degree that the reliefs from Medinet Habu can be appealed to to reject Goliath’s armor as non-Philistine. The close parallels to Neo-Assyrian scaled armor, shield bearers, and the like I think present a better context than Homeric epic, but that’s a discussion for another day.


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