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Making a Giant Killing
Jim Johnson

During the overthrow of Michmash, Philistines were slaughtered in their thousands. It was then that we lost our ascendancy over Israel. The Hebrews were no longer our servants. It had been twenty-seven years since that national disaster. It took so long for the Philistine people to recover. But finally our strengths and spirits had returned and it was time to regain supremacy. Our army mustered for battle on the top of a ravine, Wady Beit Hanina, that lead down to the Philistine plain, about fourteen miles southwest of Jerusalem. On the opposite side of the valley the Israelites stood ready and waiting.

A long forty days passed since that first sighting of the enemy. But during this period not one single soldier was killed. Goliath had decided to appoint himself champion of the Philistines and started to march in front of the ranks of Israelites, shouting abuse and calling for a Hebrew champion to oppose him. It was good of him to offer to settle this dispute with just one fight; after all, it could have saved many Philistine souls. However, because of a lack of response from the Jews, for the rest of us it meant a long and boring wait, just sitting around in the camp with nothing to do. Mind you, it was no real surprise that a challenger was hard to find, Goliath was over nine feet tall and his armour and weapons alone weighed more than the average man.

Twice a day, morning and evening, Goliath would venture down into the valley and do his stuff. For a while it was good entertainment: his formidable appearance, his boastful parading, the torrent of abuse that would pour from his mouth. We watched the Jews cower resentfully, too fearful and too incapable of doing anything to stop him. But after about ten days or so, it became repetitive, we’d heard all of Goliath’s witty insults, and knew that the mortified Jews would do nothing in return. So we started desperately looking for ways to amuse ourselves.

Before I was called upon to join the army I ran a small bookmakers in Ashkelon. Some of the men persuaded me to apply my talents by running a book on the upcoming bout. At first I was reluctant, as we had no idea of whom the Jews would find to challenge Goliath. How could I give a fair price on a fight where only one of the competitors was known? But then I realised that with Goliath as our champion it didn’t really matter who represented the Jews. The fact that they were taking so long to find anyone showed they were obviously struggling to meet the grade.

So I offered 1-20 on the big guy, and 10-1 on the mystery Jewish champion. Everyone wanted to back our man, but at such low odds it was hardly worth a bet. But under such circumstances how could I lengthen the odds on Goliath? So, to keep things interesting I offered prices on the method of despatch that Goliath would employ. Goliath was armed with a five foot long bronze spear, capable of being used as a javelin, and a heavy sword. His protector carried a shield to fend away missile attack. I chalked up the odds for the mortal blow.

The Israelite challenger will be:

Decapitated with sword 2-1(fav)
Disembowelled with sword 5-2
Beaten or strangled to death with bare hands 10-3
Punctured with spear 4-1
Bludgeoned with shield 6-1

This really caught the imagination of the punters. Over the weeks leading up to the fight the money came flooding in. I even took bets on bizarre and unlikely forms of killing that the soldiers invented themselves. For instance, I took 20 shekels from a man who was prepared to bet at 45-1 that Goliath would kill his challenger by thrusting the blunt end of his javelin up his nose - until it ruptured the brain of his defeated foe. Easy money, I thought.

One day an old man walked over from the Israelite ranks on Elah. ‘Would I be correct in assuming that you are the Philistine who is running a book on this contest?‘ he asked.
‘I am, but I didn’t think you Israelites were allowed to gamble.’ I replied.
‘Money should indeed be earned by honest work to obtain God’s grace.’ He said.
‘So how can you come here and gamble?’
‘It is stealing that really upsets God, and while gambling may not be honest hard work it is certainly not stealing. It does not say in the Bible that thou shall not gamble. I wish to bet on our challenger, what odds will you give me?’
’5-1’ I said, not wishing to offer the same value to the enemy as I had to my fellow soldiers.
‘What if I told you that our challenger is just a shepherd and not a warrior at all? Would you lengthen the odds then?’
‘No, because I would not believe you.’ I replied. ‘Out of all your forces why would you choose a shepherd boy to fight a nine foot giant?’
‘So be it, 5-1 it is then.’ He replied.

I accepted the old man’s stake; it was the biggest single bet I’d taken, 100 shekels, more easy money. As the old guy walked back to his ranks the Israelites cheered him home. ‘Nice one Samuel!’ they cried. ‘Did you tell him you were a prophet?’ they laughed. Obviously this guy wasn’t quite all there I thought. Fancied himself as a prophet indeed! That suited me fine though, the more punters who deluded themselves into believing they’d got a winning system or a special relationship with lady luck, the better it was for me.

Goliath was on his evening jaunt on the 40th day when finally the Israelites started to get excited about something. They left their camp and gathered around the top of the valley. Goliath looked up at them ‘So you have finally found someone with enough courage to face me!’ He boomed. ‘Bring out your champion of the Jews!’ Then a boy came out from the ranks, brandishing what looked like a double rope contraption and a stick.
‘Am I a dog,’ he roared at the boy, ‘that you come at me with a stick?’ Then followed some more of the kind of abuse that we had become accustomed to.
‘Come over here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and wild animals!’ Goliath boomed.
‘Now taking 100-1 on a Hebrew victory!’ I yelled across the camp. And although I was joking, I would willingly have taken the money from any soldier who had wanted to place that bet. But the soldiers laughed along with my joke; no one was about to throw away good money on a boy with a stick.

The laughter had hardly died down when I turned back to look across the valley and saw a terrible sight. Goliath was stumbling blindly, clutching his forehead. His bronze helmet toppled from his crown. With a deafening crash that echoed across the valley he collapsed face down into the ground. We stood there, silent for a second. We watched speechless as the boy strode over to unsheathe Goliath’s sword from his writhing body. He coolly raised it high in the air before swinging it down and slicing clean through Goliath’s neck.

We turned to run. The Israelites charged after us. I was lucky, after several miles I reached safety behind the town gates of Gath. The road behind me, from Shaaraim as far as Ekron, was strewn with the bodies of dead and wounded Philistines - those who had lacked the speed and stamina to run for such a distance.

All bets had lost. Except for one of course, the one placed by the Jew. Maybe this Samuel guy was some kind of prophet after all. Perhaps the Israelites were not laughing at him, but at me, the stupid bookmaker had just accepted a bet from a man who could predict the future. As I write this account of the battle, I realise that I am forever destined to be looking over my shoulder for this Samuel - to whom I owe a small fortune.

© Jim Johnson 2001

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