Old Testament

Goliath was a Nephilim of the Anakim

According to the book of 1 Samuel, Goliath was the most impressive warrior in the Philistine army. He was also a man of incredible height. He was, after all, a giant! However, questions about Goliath’s ancestry often come up. Was Goliath a native Philistine, an Egyptian, or perhaps something else? I would argue that although Goliath fought as a Philistine, the evidence suggests that he probably was of the Anakim, not a native Philistine.

Photo of Goliath to illustrate his height in contrast to David
The Giant Goliath

Tracing the Nephilim and Anakim from Judah to the Coastal Plains

Before the wilderness wandering, Israel sent out spies to spy out the land of Canaan (Num 13). When the spies returned, all but Joshua and Caleb were shaking in their boots. The chief complaint was that the people “are of great height” and that the Nephilim (the sons of Anak) were there (Num 13:32-33).

The phrase Nephilim is not used often, but in the context of Numbers 13, it seems to be used to refer to someone of great height. This is the understanding of the ancient Greek and Latin translations, which translate the Hebrew word as “giants.” Even in Genesis 6:4, the narrator tells us that Nephilim (i.e., giants) were on the earth in those days, and also after. That means that, regardless of who the sons of God are in Genesis 6, God wiped out the earth with the flood, and giants began to populate the earth again afterwards.

Is there any evidence to connect Goliath with the Nephilim of Numbers 13? Take note of Joshua 11:21–22:

And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain.

During the conquest, Joshua and the people of Israel drove out the Anakim and the survivors fled to the land of the Philistines, specifically the cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. Where was Goliath from? From the city of Gath. So, tracing the theological threads we arrive at the following deductions.

  • Numbers 13 interprets the Nephilim as giants.
  • Numbers 13 connects the Nephilim with the sons of Anak (the Anakim).
  • Joshua 11 notes that the Anakim were driven to into Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod.
  • 1 Samuel 17 says Goliath was from Gath and that he was a giant.

Thus, it makes logical sense that Goliath was a descendant of the Anak, a Nephilim (a giant) in the eyes of the Israelites.

The Philistines and Other Anakim

The above information and logic also explains the other giants that Israel had to deal with. For example, 2 Samuel 21:16-22 (cf. 1 Chron 20:4-8) lists Ishi-benob and Saph as “descendants of the giants” and fighting for the Philistines. That same passage also talks about another individual named “Goliath the Gittite,” which is probably a reference to the brother of Goliath (cf. 1 Chron 20:5). Gittite is a descendant of Gath and thus further demonstrates that these giants came from Philistine territory, having been driven there from the hill country of Judah.

If the Anakim were dwelling with the Philistines who had given them refuge, they would be helping the Philistines fight their battles. This appears to be the case with Goliath, his brother, and his fellow giants. These descendants of Anak had suffered defeat at the hands of the Israelites, having been driven from their homes about 350 years earlier. They were ready and eager to support the Philistine armies who had given them refuge, as well as enact revenge upon the Israelite armies.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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