Did David commit manslaughter when he killed Goliath?

Did Goliath die from the rock, the ensuing fall or the beheading? Did David murder a defenseless prisoner?

Tzvi Fishman

OpEds Tzvi Fishman
Tzvi Fishman

Imagine a media personality, dressed in the Biblical garb of the era, standing outside the large camp of tents on the outskirts of Jerusalem, reporting:

"Today, the eyes of all Israel, and all of the world, are focused on Jerusalem, and on the Israeli Army Court, where the verdict and later, the sentencing, in the trial of the young shepherd boy, David ben Yishai, is to be rendered. On the surface, it would appear that the young hero, or villain, of the story, should never have found himself in court. But, here in Israel, the Land of Miracles, nothing seems to happen according to the normal course of events.

"At first, David’s killing of the Philistine, Goliath, drew an outbreak of cheers. But then, to the surprise of the country, the Israeli Minister of Defense declared that the Israeli soldier had committed a crime. Off record, ministers close to the reclusive King Saul have implied that Israel’s upper military echelon is behind the arrest of the popular, young David, an overnight hero who has been called 'the son of everyone.' 

"Reliable sources say that the army command, and perhaps King Saul himself, are apprehensive about having a religious, hilltop youth from Judea emerge as a new popular and charismatic leader. While the radical leftist organization Democracy Now prodded the Goliath family to demand a charge of murder, all kinds of speculations exist surrounding the backstage maneuvers which have brought the case to court.  But now, let’s go inside for the judge’s verdict."


David is on one side with his family and lawyers. The Goliath family of giants is on the other side of the courtroom flanked by their lawyers. The chief justice of the panel of judges reads from a sheaf of papers:

"According to the expert testimony of the Chief Physician, the tiny pebble which struck Goliath in his forehead could not possibly have caused the giant’s death. Eyewitnesses who were present at the scene have testified that they saw no blood when Goliath first fell to the ground. According to the Chief Physician’s testimony, even if Goliath’s skull received a blow when he fell, that blow also could not be the cause of his death because of the protection which his helmet afforded. Therefore, the Chief Physician states without any doubt that Goliath was alive when David chopped off his head.

"According to International Law, if an enemy is wounded to the point of incapacitation, and no longer a physical threat, it is forbidden to kill him. His wounds must be treated, and he is to be taken captive as a prisoner of war, entitled to earn a college degree, or a doctorate, while serving his sentence in prison, as do other enemies of Israel."

One of David's lawyers jumps to his feet:

"The court will remember that a Physician from the House of Todus testified that in his opinion, death resulted immediately from the impact of the pebble!"

One of Goliath's lawyers jumps to his feet.

"We have already heard the testimony of the soldier who was on the scene and said that he saw Goliath’s hand twitch while the warrior was lying on the ground, clearly indicating that Goliath was still alive when the defendant chopped off his head in an act of cold-blooded murder."

David's lawyer:                                              

"Since the deceased was an experienced fighter, if he were still alive, even on the ground he constituted a clear and immediate danger. With his great power, he could easily have toppled David with a sweep of his leg and then stabbed the Jewish youth with a knife."

Goliath's lawyer:                            

"That’s all baseless presumption, not fact!"

Chief Justice:                                         

"In light of the evidence, the court finds the defendant, David, the son of Ishai, guilty of manslaughter."

The Chief Justice reads an interminable explanation of the court's decision.

The ensuing weeks are filled with anger and disappointment on the part of most of the public, especially those with youngsters serving in areas near Philistine villages.

The sentencing drama begins and our media personality stands outside the courtroom, where the sentence is to be given, reporting:

"The sentence will be announced in the near future. Meanwhile, the young, shepherd boy, David, is being held in prison, and many people say that Israeli society, common sense and what is more, the moral heritage of the People of the Book, are being held captive in prison with him."