Queries & Comments

More Queries & Comments Spring 2023

Taking a Sling

AS A RETIRED NEUROSURGEON, I read with enthusiasm the article by Boyd Seevers and Victoria Parrott on biblical-era slings (“Taking a Sling: How David Defeated Goliath,” Fall 2022), which includes important comments on the story of David and Goliath. The authors wrote a wonderful description of biblical-era sling construction, ammunition, and sling ballistics. I would like to add that it has been speculated that the medical cause of Goliath’s death may have been an episode of pituitary gland apoplexy, which is a serious internal hemorrhage of the body’s master endocrine gland. Pituitary apoplexy has been described after bodily or serious head trauma, as Goliath experienced.

Goliath may have had a growth hormone-secreting tumor of the pituitary gland that produced acromegaly, which would explain his excessive height of six and half feet, his loud, strong voice that boomed over the valley to invite a challenger, robust body size that readily supported body armor, and seemingly poor visual acuity. The pituitary gland is uniquely seated within the skull in a deep, centrally placed region below the visual nerves and in front of the brainstem. The latter is a most important structure, as it funnels and integrates vital bodily functions, in particular the level of consciousness and respiration. Pressure on the visual nerves by the tumor may have sufficiently impaired Goliath’s vision such that the young David may have appeared as a blurry, small image from a distance, until they both advanced closer. This proximity would have facilitated David to take an accurate aim and shot.

In addition, the tumor’s unique location and size may have resulted in Goliath having tunnel vision, or full bilateral temporal visual field blindness. The stone struck Goliath in the forehead with a mortal blow, embedding itself in his brow and causing Goliath to fall.

David holds aloft the head of his slain enemy, Goliath, in this drawing by Gustave Doré. According to 1 Samuel 17, David defeats Goliath with a slingshot, then beheads him. Public Domain.

Thus, Goliath may have sustained two serious head injuries from this single hit. First, the vector of energy of the stone’s impact would have translated horizontally in a direct line to the pituitary gland to cause a large internal hemorrhage with subsequent gland destruction, and possibly a blood dissection into the brainstem resulting in a fatal stroke. Second, the blunt head trauma resultant from the fall would have created a secondary impact injury to compound the first injury.

Walter J. Faillace
Rockville, Maryland


IN MY YOUTH, I learned to use a sling. I was not much good at it, but it was a learning experience. Being a shepherd, David probably used the over-head rotation, since he was usually in open country, where there was room for the sling to rotate. A mass of slingers would have used the vertical rotation to avoid the conflict of slings in the air over their heads. In either case, the sling was a useful weapon.

Henry Depew
Tallahassee, Florida



Yahweh’s Desert Origins

YAHWEH’S DESERT ORIGINS,” by Juan Manuel Tebes (Fall 2022) may be one of the worst articles that BAR has ever printed. It is full of unscriptural assumptions and near blasphemy. The errors begin in the second sentence when, speaking of Israel’s God, the author writes, “we know very little about his origins.” That is a demonstrably false statement. God is transcendent. He has always been present.

Tebes also writes that little is known about how God “came to be worshiped by the peoples of Israel and Judah.” The book of Genesis clearly relates how the Israelites came to worship God. God called out Abraham to father a great nation. Abraham, along with his descendants, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, worshiped God. Within three generations, his descendants moved to Egypt for 400 years. Then God led them to Canaan in the Exodus. He had been the national God of Israel for over 500 years. Doesn’t Tebes read the Bible?

Then he says that many scholars, including himself, “used available biblical and archaeological evidence to argue that Yahweh originated in the desert lands south of ancient Judah.” That statement is best explained by one word, “baloney.” No one has ever dug up a piece of pottery saying God came from the desert. Worse, there is no biblical evidence to say God came from the desert in Midian. God was already Israel’s God when He came to Moses in Midian. The burning bush event was God sending Moses back to Egypt to lead the nation to the Promised Land. Doesn’t Tebes read the Bible?

In that same paragraph, the author writes that he believes “the Israelites only encountered this desert deity centuries later,” during the tenth century BC. Yet, in the 19th century BC, God initially called Abraham to leave Ur. Genesis 13–24 recounts event after event where Abraham worshipped God. That claim is revisionist Bible history. Doesn’t Tebes read the Bible?

These errors are just on the first page of the article. In the remaining nine pages, there are at least 20 additional inaccuracies and assumptions. A common theme found on several pages is that biblical references to southern geographical sites mean that is where Yahweh originated. I’ll address the two he mentioned in Habakkuk 3:3. He cites Teman, which means south, and Mt. Paran, a mountainous wilderness area north of the desert that forms the southern boundary of Israel. Habakkuk mentioned God coming from the south because it was the area transited during the Exodus. Habakkuk and several other Bible writers use southern geographical illustrations to show Israel is truly God’s people because He led them through that area as He was forming them into a nation on the way to Canaan.

What Tebes appears to have done is adjust and distort history, biblical truth, and the archaeological record to fit a preconceived notion.

Lester L. Stephenson
Wellford, South Carolina


THE ARTICLE ON YAHWEH presents some interesting archaeological discoveries, but also engages in a great deal of speculation. That alone is not a problem, if the speculation is carefully presented and balanced with alternate explanations. But after presenting his speculations, the author refers to them later in the article as factual. This is not a scholarly approach but represents either sensationalism or strong bias.

Richard Brown
Durham, North Carolina



Origins of the Gospels

ONE OF THE NEATEST ARTICLES I’ve read of late was “The Origins of the Gospels,” by Robyn Faith Walsh (Fall 2022).” What great insights.

To quote Walsh, “The gospel writers use references to common literary trends to convey Jesus’s special stand, but they do so through familiar literary allusions. The empty tomb, for instance, is found throughout Greek and Roman literature to indicate someone had risen to divine status…”

Well, of course. Whether done from an oral tradition or as a literary device, what better way to show that the leader of a nation or movement was of great power than to show an empty tomb after they’ve died. But in the Gospels, was this a literary device? It seems that even “the authorities” recognized that the tomb of Jesus was empty.

And then there’s the matter of “Jesus’s sightings.” There are at least ten reported in Scripture. Now if only one person had “seen” Jesus after his crucifixion, it could be written off as an illusion. But there are reports of multiple people seeing Jesus, touching Jesus, and eating with Jesus. How do we account for that?

Walsh is correct in stating that the idea of an empty tomb is a great literary device, however, without the resurrected person being seen (by many), it seems that is what it remains, a literary device.

Robert Arnold 
Lockport, New York


I APPRECIATE Robyn Faith Walsh’s effort to position the Gospels among the noteworthy literature of the first and second centuries. However, the arguments offered for situating the Gospels in that company deprive them of their uniqueness as the “good news.” John tells us that he wrote his gospel so that people may believe that Jesus is the Christ and so have life because of him (20:31; 3:15). This declaration must count for something in determining the “gospel genre” in relation to its intended audience. Unlike ancient Greco-Roman biographies, the written Gospels proclaim the same unique, existential good news as the first Christian evangelists: The Gospel medium is the Gospel message.

Jim Barron
St. Petersburg, Florida


ROBYN FAITH WALSH RESPONDS: My book demonstrates that no author exists in a vacuum. All writers are shaped by their social position, education, experience, and training. Independent of an author’s stated motives for writing something, there are always tell-tale signs of what informs their work. For example, there are probably certain things you could tell about me from even just reading my article for (e.g., that I learned English at some point, went through formal schooling, likely have an advanced degree, was trained in the citation practices and style of scholarly writing… you might have even picked up that I like The Beatles!). This is also the case for the gospel authors who write in Greek, cite Jewish scriptures, use Stoic terminology and concepts, and engage common literary tropes. 

As a historian, I can analyze and describe this kind of evidence encoded in the text far more securely than I can confirm or deny anything we might hypothesize about the early Christian communities we assume were associated with these authors. And if we assume Christian uniqueness as a matter of method, we can miss all kinds of exciting connections and allusions that help us better understand the world from which Christianity emerges.

To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the gospel writers weren’t part of Christian communities of some kind. But their being part of a religious group doesn’t preclude us from noticing when they seem to be referencing Homer or the Septuagint, when they deploy well-known imagery (e.g., the empty tomb), or when they are engaging with the popular philosophy, biographies, novels, and histories of their time.

The Gospel of Luke, for instance, gives a formulaic preamble that is found elsewhere among other ancient biographers; he positions his work within a genre that ancient readers would have immediately recognized. Something similar is going on in John 20:31; John states that he hasn’t even told the entire story, but just enough to encourage or affirm the reader’s belief that Jesus was the predicted Jewish Messiah. Authors stating the rhetorical aim of their undertaking is nothing terribly new, particularly when the subject matter of their writing is a hallowed figure or the son of a god (of which there are many in this world)—Philo of Alexandria’s Life of Moses or Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana both come to mind. (By the way, we know that Apollonius was still being worshiped as a savior god—alongside Jesus!—in the time of Eusebius). And John 3:1–15 is not so much a creed, but a didactic strategy that both informs the reader (via Nicodemus) about the Son of Man, while also establishing Jesus’s authority within the story.

With all of this in mind, the declaration of the “good news” of Jesus may ultimately tell us more about how these writers are inserting Jesus into an already-established literary mold—not to mention more about the writers themselves!—than anything about the historical Jesus.



Biblical Geography

AS A LONGTIME BAR reader, I often find myself wondering about geographic labels and terms. For instance, what do you mean when you say the Levant, the Near East, or the Middle East? Which countries comprise them?

Stephen M. Flatow
Jerusalem, Israel


I AM A RECENT SUBSCRIBER and am continually fascinated with your coverage of archaeology in Israel and other parts of the Middle East. But being a novice, I am often challenged by some of the terms used in your articles. For example, words like “tel” and “Levant” regularly appear in BAR but are not familiar to many non-specialists. These and other words require me to do some research to understand the details of an article.

Jack Sega
Oxnard, California

It is admittedly challenging to find consistent and widely understood terminology that accurately represents the geography of the biblical world. We use Near East to talk about ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, and the other lands that neighbored Israel and Judah in biblical times, while Middle East refers to the same region’s modern political geography. Levant refers specifically to the lands of the eastern Mediterranean. Finally, a tell is the ruin mound of an ancient city, but spelled tel in Hebrew and tell (or tall) in Arabic, while in Turkey and parts of Iraq and Syria, the term is hüyük or tepe.—ED.



Dig List

Since there are many archaeological digs going on in the Holy Land, would you consider publishing a list of current, active digs, indicating the work, sponsor (university or museum), leading archaeologist, and general location? It’s great to see the extensive work being done and (if the dig has been completed) also the results of the project.

Bud Warren
Greene, Maine

Certainly a great idea. You may find useful our Digs page, updated annually with many of the active and most prominent archaeological digs in Israel, Jordan, and elsewhere.—ED.



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