Where Did Goliath’s Head Go?

Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath.  Many are probably not aware, however, of what happened next.  That was the subject of James Hoffmeier’s recent lecture at the Bible and Archaeology Fest.  “Exploring David’s Strange Antics after Defeating Goliath” looked specifically at 1 Samuel 17:53-54.

1 Samuel 17:53-54 (ESV) “And the people of Israel came back from chasing the Philistines, and they plundered their camp. 54 And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.”

If these verses are not baffling, remember that David had not yet conquered Jerusalem (he would do that after he became king, in 2 Samuel 5).  The other difficulty here is the phrase, “he put his armor in his tent.”  Presumably the “he” is David, “his armor” refers to Goliath’s gear, but whose tent is involved?  Some think it is the tent of David (see the translation of the NIV), others think it is the home of David (“tent” being used elsewhere of one’s home), and an intriguing suggestion is that it is the tent of Yahweh (but that requires changing the text). 

Hoffmeier’s lecture gave a tour of tents in the Ancient Near East, including those of Ramses II and Sennacherib.  Kings Thutmose III and Sargon II are recorded as having plundered the tent of their enemies.  Hoffmeier suggested that this statement indicates that David took Goliath’s tent and weapons back to Bethlehem.

As for Goliath’s head, did David store it in his refrigerator for a few years until he conquered Jerusalem?  Probably not.  While some scholars view this statement as an anachronistic error, Hoffmeier has identified a number of ancient scenes where conquerors carried off the heads of the defeated, tying them to their chariots or garden trees.  Heads were often displayed as warnings to potential enemies.  Perhaps, then, David had it in his mind to conquer the Jebusite stronghold already as a youth, and he took Goliath’s head to serve notice to Jerusalem that they were next.

Ashurbanipal after capture of Babylon, tb112004733dddAssyrian relief depicting Ashurbanipal’s army after capture of Babylon, c. 650 BC.  Relief now in British Museum.  Notice the pile of heads in the upper center.  This same king put a hook in Manasseh’s nose and hauled him off to Babylon (2 Chr 33).

I found Hoffmeier’s lecture enjoyable and his ideas provocative.  This is a difficult problem, and I find his solution preferable to the alternatives.  My comments here are an unofficial record (I may have made a mistake in my note-taking), but you can read some of his findings in his article, “The
Aftermath of David’s Triumph over Goliath,” in Archaeology in the Biblical World, Spring 1991, pp. 18-23.

Hoffmeier is, of course, best known for his work in Egypt, and he has written a couple of excellent books on the subject of historical and archaeological evidence for the Israelites in Egypt:

One on his works on my shelf that I have not yet had time to read is The Archaeology of the Bible, published in 2008.


15 thoughts on “Where Did Goliath’s Head Go?

  1. My reading is that he took the spoils of Goliath to the temporary "Jerusalem" of that time: Nov, which is on Mt. Scopus, overlooking the Temple Mount. The head- to the city, and the armor- to the Mishkan.
    That is where David later receives Goliath's sword from Achimelech ("behind the ephod").
    Menachem Brody

  2. Justin – I don't know if a recording was made, and if it was, if it will be made available. Audio would only tell half of the story, as he had some good photographs.

  3. I believe that David saw in his triumph over Goliath, the death-blow that God's son would deal to the sin-power. The real struggle is against the sin within (Romans 8:3; Mark 7:21-23). Jesus triumphed in his personal warfare with sin and achieved perfect obedience (Hebrews 5:7-9).
    Is there not an etymological link between the words Goliath and Golgotha, known as "the place of the skull"?
    Beulah Edwards

  4. I've heard it referenced to that David later named the city where he beat Goliath "Baul Prism" (not sure on the spelling) do you have any insight or help on this? Thank you very much for your help.

  5. גל גת. גלית
    Goliath. Gol -gath

    Goliath or properly known as goliath of gath as I have written above in Hebrew was beheaded and his head is placed at the place outside of Jerusalem named after him "golgatha"

  6. I share a deep mystery with you here that we are blessed to receive. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, David was compelled to take that head to Jerusalem and bury it in a very specific place.

    Quincy, you are correct, that place is known today as "Golgatha" or "Hill of the Skull".

    The skull of who? The name of this place is a play on words. The Hebrew word for skull-Concordance number 1538, "Gulgoleth". The "hill of the skull of Goliath Golgoleth/Golgatha. The "hill of the skull…of Goliath of Gath"

    The very place that Yahshua was crucified; ultimately defeating death and the grave. This is where the giant head was buried, the head that symbolized the head of idolatry that still currently plagues our world.

    Yahshua did overcome but we must come to see that revelation to enter into His rest.

  7. When we consider that the enemy is defeated by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimonies of the saints; perhaps we should probably consider that Goliath's head served as a testimony of God's power and His might to future enemies as well as a reminder (or encouragement) to the Israelites who struggled to keep their trust in God. The Isrealites often returned to fear man, grumble about God, worship false idols and etc not long after the Providence of God brought them victories. Genesis 3:13 mentions Jesus will crush the skull of satan…..he did just that on the cross….he gave us victory over our biggest "giant" sin and the accuser of the brethren. With the given parallels of Jesus's and Davids stories as "giant slayers" it wouldn't be a far stretch to consider the location of our saviors sacrifice to be the very place that Goliath's head was buried. The probability is rather empowering and lends itself a great faith builder! Wonderful article and comments. Thank you for intriguing us to put on our spiritual thinking caps and raising our shields of faith!

    1. could it be Goliath was a type of the flesh,David was a type of Christ.By cutting off Goliath head and taking it to Jerusalem.Most likely burring it in the place of the skull, this place is nothing but rock which some say has the shape of a skull.Later Jesus is crucified on that hill.They had to dig a hole down in the place of the skull and stand a cross for Jesus.Just something to think about

  8. I contend that the skull of Goliath was buried directly beneath the crucifix of Christ. At the point He gave up the Ghost, the earthquake opened the ground and the blood of Jesus, from his heel, flowed downward and covered the skull of Goliath…Thus fulfilling the prophecy of the the seed of Eve's heel that was pierced,crushing the skull of Satan's seed…and They overcame him by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony…Rev 12:11 It is small details in the story like that which make the bible more and more accurate and believable in its delivery of actual historic events and future events being united by a current event.

  9. Genesis 3:15; 1 Samuel 17; Matt.27:23; Mark 15:22; John 19:17; Luke 23:33

    If Golgatha is the place of the skull of Goliath, when Christ was crucified satan bruised Christ heel as they drove the nails into his feet. When Christ cried out & gave up the ghost the ground shook, in my imagination I picture the skull of the giant being crushed. The Bible yells us that when Christ Jesus was raised up that he conquered both sin & death.
    Goliath being a picture of the beast, & his skull being buried in Golgatha, when Christ stepped foot on Calvary giving his life for our sins he crushed the head of the serpent, saying in John 19:30 "It is finished".

  10. Is there any chance at all that the 5 smooth stones David picked up, and particularly, the one which killed Goliath (or knocked him out until David could behead him) were somehow saved by the Jewish people as a testament of the power of God? I think it would be interesting if some of the items from ancient Biblical times were actually stored somewhere on earth .

  11. Mike Fry, the Bible says that Goliath had 4 more giant brothers that were killed by David. it is an interesting coincidence that David had 4 more stones remaining after killing Goliath, possibly with those remaining stones?

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