Duels in Bible warfare
David and Goliath
When David fought Goliath (I Samuel 17), the Philistine and Israeli armies were standing ready for battle on opposite hills beside a stream. Goliath, the Philistine champion, shouted jeeringly across the stream to the Israeli army, taunting them to send their finest warrior to do battle with him.
At first sight this looks like bravado, but Goliath is not just being provocative. He is following a specific ritual, offering a solution to the confrontation. This solution, however, seems to have been unknown to the Israelites. As Goliath says:
Goliath is suggesting a duel, between himself and a representative of Israel,
For this duel to take place, both sides must accept that their fate will be decided by the outcome of the contest. So when David kills Goliath, the Bible says:
Technically it should have ended there, but the Bible records that the tribes of Israel
The story of David and Goliath is presented in detail. But there are other duels in the Bible, such as in II Samuel 21: 18-19:
Or I Chronicles 11:23:
Perhaps the most interesting of the other duel stories deals with the vicious clash
Here is the Biblical description, which appears in II Samuel 2:12-17:
The term 'young men' is the literal translation of the Hebrew Ne`arim. But in its military context, Ne`arim means picked troops, like the crack unit of Canaanite mercenaries serving in the army of Rameses II at the Battle of Kadesh, who were called Ne`arun.
Facing each other across Gibeon's pool, therefore, were not a group of high-spirited youngsters but the most highly skilled professional soldiers of both sides. And the 'game' they played was no game but a group of serious duels in the full technical sense of the term.
Grasping the head of one's adversary with one hand and stabbing his side by a short sword with the other was one of the accepted tactics, as we see in the relief of about this period on the orthostat from Tell Halaf (Biblical Gozan)
Orthostat from the palace of Kapara at Tell Halaf, 10th century BC
What almost certainly happened was that the two armies met at Gibeon, and one commander, Abner, suggested to his rival commander, Joab, to hold dueling contests between the picked men of both sides instead of pitting their entire force against each other. Abner made the request. But only after Joab had agreed did the duels begin. The result is indecisive, for the contestants 'fell down together.'
And this explains the next part of the story - 'The battle was very fierce that day.'
The duels had been fought, neither contestant had won, and so there was no alternative
This suggests that the duel, as a method of war, was quite common in Canaan long before the arrival of the Philistines. But it probably went out of practice over the years and was reintroduced by the Aegeans. The dual was an effort to secure a military decision without the heavy bloodshed of a full-scale battle.
See Bible Top Ten Warriors for the Bible's most valiant soldiers.
War - Old Testament - Archaeology of The Bible -
Bible Study Resource