Bob Ryan

David’s Sling and Stone

Most are familiar with the story of David and Goliath. David, a young son of a shepherd, was the only one willing to fight Goliath, the Philistine giant. He successfully killed Goliath with nothing more than a sling and single stone.

Based on the evidence, could the son of a shepherd kill Goliath with a single stone from his sling?

The ancient Israeli shepherds and their sons, like David who would later become king, were all expert marksmen with their slings and stones. In a time before rifles, they needed accuracy and distance to protect their flocks from the various predators.

Ancient slings have been found all over the ancient world and shepherds did use them for protection of their sheep. They also had a great deal of time to practice their marksmanship. It did not do much good to have a weapon to defend a flock if the stone missed when needed.

Shmuel or Samuel 1 includes two animals David killed who attacked his father’s flock. A lion and a bear. There would have been other predators who were just as dangerous to a flock and the slings with stones were crucial to stopping predators.

Shmuel 1, Chapter 17:34-35:

“34. And David said to Saul, “Your bondsman was a shepherd of sheep for his father, and there came a lion and also a bear, and carried off a lamb from the flock.

  1. And I went out after him and smote him, and saved it from his mouth. And he arose upon me, and I took hold of his jaw, and I smote him and slew him.”

Since there is no mention of having to go after the bear, but there is the lion, it meant that David killed the bear and severely wounded the lion. He did not do this with sword or spear, since going after either in such a way would have resulted in dead sheep and shepherd boy.

David needed to be able to kill from a distance with great accuracy and speed, which is where the sling and stones came into play for shepherds and their sons. They were lethal weapons in the hands of people who had time to practice, as shepherds did.

Considering the thick skull of a bear and needing to be a headshot to be lethal, there was not much difference between that and an opposing soldier’s head, with or without armor.

What is striking is that, unlike other ancient armies, Saul and the Israelites failed to see the military advantage of slings and stones. He believed they were best left in the hands of shepherds, rather than soldiers. They were the greatest marksmen of their day and the Israeli Army looked at it as less than deserving in battle.

Even the other shepherds who were there when Goliath challenged them did not see their own slings and stones as weapons of war, the way David did. One of the people mentioned was Eliab, who was David’s eldest brother and every bit as familiar with slings and stones, failed to see the advantage.

Shmuel 1, Chapter 17:28:

“And Eliab, his eldest brother, heard when he spoke to the men, and Eliab’s wrath was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? With whom have you left those few sheep in the desert? I know your impetuousness, and the evil of your heart, for you have come down in order to see the war.”

The fact is that Eliab, or any shepherd, should have already delt with Goliath. They knew what David knew, that they were lethal at a distance. But only David seemed to comprehend the advantage, which showed early signs of the strategist he would become.

It took David time to convince King Saul of his value on the field to stand against Goliath and the removing of the armor given that would have slowed down his movements, before being allowed to take on Goliath with his weapon of choice.

Shmuel 1, Chapter 17:49:

“And David stretched his hand into the bag, and took a stone therefrom, and slung it, and he hit the Philistine in his forehead, and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.”

A single shot and Goliath was dead. They battle was won as any shepherd with a little forethought, like the young David, could have done.

It is a well-known Biblical story for both Jews and Christians, but how accurate is it? Could a sling and single stone really kill Goliath? Yes, according to archaeological evidence, it can.

It was not just ancient Israel that eventually used slings on the battlefields, but Assyrians, Romans and a whole host of other major powers that did use slings successfully for warfare.

Approximately 2000 years ago, Romans were trying to conquer Scotland. The Battle of Burswark was one location of many leaving archaeological evidence of the weapons used by the Romans and Scots.

From Ancient Origins:

“Researchers have found 400-some lead slingshot balls at the site of a Roman siege in ancient Scotland and say the balls would have struck the natives with nearly the force of a .44 Magnum handgun—one of the most powerful pistols in the world.”

All the ancient slings were similar in design and stones used. Regardless of lead being used, the stones were just as lethal. That could have just as easily been testing done form Israel or anywhere else stones and lead have been discovered as weapons of war.

It wasn’t just the velocity that gave the advantage to those who employed slings in battle, but another important factor that made them almost impossible to defend against, which is why there was no mention of Goliath doing anything to block the stone.

From Warfare History Network:

“Due to the small size of its missiles, making them nearly invisible when released at such high velocities, the sling was particularly hard to defend against. This is especially true considering that the blunt trauma caused by the small stones upon impact could damage organs, shatter bones, and cause concussions or kill those struck in the head, even when the victim was armored.”

Slingers were the snipers of their day. Goliath never tried to block the stone, because he never saw it coming. At the speed the stone was travelling, he was already dead before he realized David released the stone from his sling.

It is clear that a sling and single stone could have easily killed Goliath. Accuracy and velocity made it a formidable weapon in the hands of shepherds.

About the Author
Bob Ryan is a novelist of the future via science-fiction, dystopian or a combination of the two, and blogger of the past with some present added in on occasion. He believes the key to understanding the future is to understand the past, since human nature is an unchanging force. As any writer can attest, he spends a great deal of time researching numerous subjects. He is someone who seeks to strip away emotion in search of reason, since emotion clouds judgement. Bob is an American with an MBA in Business Administration. He is a gentile who supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. He is a Christian Zionist who knows God is calling His chosen home as foretold in prophecy.
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