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The biblical account is told as a lesson of courage, faith, and overcoming what seems impossible, after David – a young shepherd armed only with a sling – beats Goliath, the mighty warrior. Malcolm Gladwell, the author of five New York Times bestsellers, believes this story has been completely misunderstood. Mr Gladwell detailed evidence from the religious text that suggested David was a far-more skilled warrior, and Goliath was the real underdog.
Speaking at a TedTalk, he said: “The Philistines, who are the biggest of enemies of the Kingdom of Israel, are living in the coastal plain. They’re originally from Crete.
“They’re seafaring people. And they may start to make their way through one of the valleys of the Shephelah up into the mountains, because what they want to do is occupy the highland area right by Bethlehem and split the Kingdom of Israel in two.
“And the Kingdom of Israel, which is headed by King Saul, obviously catches wind of this, and Saul brings his army down from the mountains and he confronts the Philistines in the Valley of Elah.
“The Israelites dig in along the northern ridge, and the Philistines dig in along the southern ridge, and the two armies just sit there for weeks and stare at each other, because they’re deadlocked.
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“Neither can attack the other because to attack the other side you’ve got to come down the mountain into the valley and then up the other side, and you’re completely exposed.”
Mr Gladwell explained how David and Goliath put themselves forward.
He added: “So finally, to break the deadlock, the Philistines send their mightiest warrior down into the valley floor, and he calls out and he says to the Israelites ‘send your mightiest warrior down, and we’ll have this out, just the two of us’.
“And the Philistine who is sent down, their mighty warrior, is a giant.
“He’s 6 foot 9. He’s outfitted head to toe in this glittering bronze armour, and he’s got a sword and he’s got a javelin and he’s got his spear. He is absolutely terrifying.
David overcomes Goliath in what is thought to be a shock win
“He’s so terrifying that none of the Israelite soldiers want to fight him. It’s a death wish, right? There’s no way they think they can take him.
“And finally the only person who will come forward is this young shepherd boy, and he goes up to Saul and he says ‘I’ll fight him’.”
The youngster was so confident in his ability, he refused to wear any armour. But this may not have been due to inexperience.
Mr Gladwell added: “Saul has no choice. He’s got no one else who’s come forward. So he says ’all right’ and then he turns to the kid, and he says ‘but you’ve got to wear this armour. You can’t go as you are’.
“So he tries to give the shepherd his armour, and the shepherd says ‘no, I can’t wear this stuff’.
“So he reaches down instead on the ground and picks up five stones and puts them in his shepherd’s bag and starts to walk down the mountainside to meet the giant.
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Malcolm Gladwell was speaking at a TedTalk
“And the giant sees this figure approaching, and calls out, ‘Come to me so I can feed your flesh to the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field’.
“The shepherd boy takes one of his stones out of his pocket, puts it in his sling and rolls it around and lets it fly and it hits the giant right between the eyes – in his most vulnerable spot – and he falls down either dead or unconscious.
“The shepherd boy runs up and takes his sword and cuts off his head, and the Philistines see this and they turn and they just run.
Mr Gladwell explained his obsession with the story and the reason why was because “everything” he thought he knew about it “turned out to be wrong”.
He explained: “David, in that story, is supposed to be the underdog, right? In fact, that term, David and Goliath, has entered our language as a metaphor for improbable victories by some weak party over someone far stronger.
“Now why do we call David an underdog? Well, we call him an underdog because he’s a kid, a little kid, and Goliath is this big, strong giant.
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“We also call him an underdog because Goliath is an experienced warrior, and David is just a shepherd.
“But most importantly, we call him an underdog because Goliath is outfitted with all of this modern weaponry, this glittering coat of armour and a sword and a javelin and a spear, and all David has is this sling.”
Mr Gladwell broke down the tools that David came to battle with, and why they were so deadly.
He added: “Well, let’s start there with the phrase ‘All David has is this sling,’ because that’s the first mistake we make.
“In ancient warfare, there are three kinds of warriors, there’s cavalry, men on horseback and with chariots, there’s heavy infantry, which are foot soldiers, armed foot soldiers with swords and shields and some kind of armour and there’s artillery, and artillery are archers, but, more importantly, slingers.
“A slinger is someone who has a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it, and they put a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball, inside the pouch, and they whirl it around like this and they let one of the cords go, and the effect is to send the projectile forward towards its target.
“That’s what David has, and it’s an incredibly devastating weapon.
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“When David rolls it around like this, he’s turning the sling around probably at six or seven revolutions per second, and that means that when the rock is released, it’s going forward really fast, probably 35 metres per second.”
Mr Gladwell explained why this weapon would have been perfect to defeat Goliath.
He added in 2013: “So what’s Goliath? He’s heavy infantry, and his expectation when he challenges the Israelites to a duel is that he’s going to be fighting another heavy infantryman.
“But David is not going to fight him that way, why would he? He’s a shepherd.
“He’s spent his entire career using a sling to defend his flock against lions and wolves, that’s where his strength lies.
“So here he is, this shepherd, experienced in the use of a devastating weapon, up against this lumbering giant weighed down by 100lbs of armour and these incredibly heavy weapons that are useful only in short-range combat.
“Goliath is a sitting duck. He doesn’t have a chance.”