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Malcolm Gladwell has an observant TED Talk deconstructing the image of Goliath. Gladwell’s ultimate thesis is that Goliath likely suffered acromegaly. This would account for Goliath’s size, but also afflicted Goliath with an Achillean visual deficit. Gladwell then premises that the story of David and Goliath should not be construed as one of a triumphant underdog, but rather one of clever strategy by a bold soul completely comfortable with being underestimated. I think Gladwell presents a truly edifying argument, but he also misses some other profoundly important considerations.
My own personal contempt for bullies, both the fierce and the farcical, is fairly well documented. When I look at Goliath, I don’t see a strongman terrorizing the everyman. To my eyes, I see two stalemated armies. Both the Philistines and the Israelites understand that their armies are fairly well matched; Neither army appears certain of victory. Or perhaps each believes itself superior but is held soberly in check by concerns for the casualties that the other side will inflict. David and Goliath could just as easily be the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. of the latter twentieth century whose actual conflict degraded into bellicose vociferations.
The thing about farcical bullies is that their conduct is intrinsically inconsistent. Why exactly does such a valiant warrior need hundreds of pounds of body armor and weaponry? All of Goliath’s seemingly impressive accoutrements actually present as defensive gear rather than offensive gear. The only thing that Goliath actually projects is his own voice (and in this regard I wonder if David hadn’t aimed for Goliath’s mouth to shut him up and/or compromise his airway).
Gladwell very circumspectly suggests that David picked up on Goliath’s weaknesses, but I find it unlikely that the Israelite army had no other “slingers” or archers. Perhaps that was why Goliath was so heavily armored—to prevent aerial assault. I think what set David apart from the other “slingers” and archers was David’s precision. Why would Saul pin his hopes on a brash teenager, sending him out to battle without David having first demonstrated his precision? David was essentially the walk-on player who begs the coach to put him in the game for the win. No coach puts a player on the team without a tryout! Everything Gladwell said is very well said, but I also think that David’s uniqueness flowed from his confidence in his own marksmanship. David saw that Goliath had hedged his success entirely on defense and Goliath’s armament restricted his movement. Goliath’s face was therefore a fixed target and far easier to target than the spry lion and bear hunting his flocks.