I’m sure readers of this biblically-based blogsite are very familiar with the story of David slaying Goliath. Our traditional understanding of David’s attack against Goliath was that David used a small sling to propel a stone at Goliath. However, a new theory has surfaced that David actually used a “secret weapon” against Goliath which greatly increased the “firepower” of the stone he slung at Goliath.
The first link describes an ancient weapon called a “staff sling” which was used by slingers of stones to greatly increase both the range and velocity of a stone projectile. The article notes this staff-sling “acted like a portable trebuchet (a large catapult-like device)” in multiplying the force with which a slung stone would hit an object. There is biblical support for this argument. During the battle between David and Goliath, the stone that David slung at Goliath hit so hard that it embedded itself into the giant’s skull (I Samuel 17:49). That David’s stone hit Goliath with such force argues that David did have such a device as a staff sling to propel his stone with such power.
The article also notes that staff-slings were known to be used as early as the 4th century AD, when they were called fustibals. However, mankind knew how to use this technology long before that. Did you realize the Bible mentions trebuchets or catapults? II Chronicles 26:14-15 records that King Uzziah of Judah fortified the city walls of Jerusalem with some ingenious weapons. It states that “he made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones…(emphasis added).” Because these “engines” were able to hurl “great stones” at an attacking enemy, then the kingdom of Judah had trebuchets in the 8th century BC! That these “engines” could also shoot arrows indicates that the kingdom of Judah had the same technology as the later Romans who had machines which could shoot large arrows in volleys at an enemy. Since the kingdom of Judah had trebuchets in the 8th century BC, it is no great thing to visualize that these large trebuchets were based on a simpler technology that had been in Israelite military practice long before King Uzziah’s time. That simpler technology would have been the staff-sling which likely propelled David’s hurled stone with so much force that it embedded itself into Goliath’s skull.
While David declared in faith that “the battle was the Lord’s” when he went into combat with Goliath (I Samuel 17:47), David also had reason to be confident. He knew that his staff-sling (a long-distance weapon) could kill Goliath long before the giant could reach David with his sword, and David also had a bag of stones with him in case his first shots missed (verse 49). David had also declared to King Saul that he (David) had defeated lions and bears in combat as a shepherd (I Samuel 17:37). One can understand how David killed or drove off lions and bears when he was equipped with staff-slings which made his hurled stones lethal weapons. As a shepherd, David had many long hours to practice his stone-slinging skills, and he later put that skill to use against Goliath.
As a sidebar to this blog post, you can see an example of defensive trebuchets being depicted on the walls of a city in the Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King. In that movie, the capital of Gondor, Minis Tirith, had trebuchets placed on its city walls and ramparts to hurl great stones at a besieging army. J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings books, was a devout Christian who was very skilled in the Bible, ancient history and ancient languages. I firmly believe that he designed the mythical city of Minis Tirith to be defended with the same technologies that were used on the walls of the ancient city of Jerusalem in II Chronicles 26:14-15. Indeed, I believe Tolkien “borrowed” many of the concepts and themes in his Lord of the Rings books from biblical sources, but that is a story for a future article…if I ever get time to write it.
My thanks to a reader who tipped me off to this story about staff slings!