David and Goliath (and Goliath’s Enlarged Pituitary)

Statue of David

The beautiful Statue of David was carved from marble by the great italian artist Michelangelo, and now resides in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, Italy.

David is a character from the Bible everyone seems to love. He is benevolent and ruthless, all at once. He is “the man after God’s own heart”. His statue (which I was fortunate enough to have been able to see close-up when I was younger) stands tall in Florence, Italy. Michelangelo consecrated David’s image for the world.

Specifically, the story of David and Goliath is probably one of the most well-known and repeatedly-mentioned stories from the Hebrew Bible. It is a story that carries the message of never letting any obstacle get in your way – no problem is unconquerable in the eyes of God. It is the idea that now has been implanted into the modern-day sports world, where a victorious “underdog” individual or team is branded with the name of David for having conquered the previously-thought-to-be-formidable opponents.

Most of you already know the whole story. If you don’t, look at my previous much-too-long entry for more information. The basic idea is the David, a seemingly feeble fighter, defeats a much larger and battle-ready opponent, Goliath, a leader of the Philistines. David, with the power of God behind him, is able to kill Goliath by striking him in the forehead with a stone from his sling. The opposing army flees in terror of David’s awesome power and David cuts off Goliath’s head for a souvenir.

However, I’m here talking about it because I was recently made aware that there may be more to the story than this. Many scientists are fascinated by biblical history and are eager to look for ways to prove or disprove what man has believed for centuries. I’m all for this. I think questioning old forms of thought and looking for more precise answers that fit our modern understanding is always a good thing. In this case, there are scientific clues that David may have had a hidden advantage over the seemingly superior Goliath that allowed him to strike the fatal blow.

David vs. Goliath

This is a depiction of the scene just prior to the fight between David and Goliath. Notice Goliath's size relative to his fellow countrymen and David's sling ready for action.

The theory has to do with Goliath’s brain. Neurologists believe that Goliath suffered from a disorder known as Gigantism (or more formally, acromelagy). People with this disease are characterized by excessive growth and abnormally large heights, caused by an overproduction of human growth hormone in the pituitary gland. The overwhelming amount of growth hormone coming from the pituitary usually results in bigger problems than just extreme height, such as issues with development of the circulatory and respiratory systems. These problems manifest themselves in an early mortality for many unfortunate patients. It is thus reasonable to suggest Goliath’s 8 foot frame would have been 6 feet under fairly soon even had he not met David.

However, more immediately relevant to their encounter was the effect this illness could reasonably have had on Goliath’s ability to fight. What hasn’t been said yet about those inflicted with Gigantism is that the abnormal levels of growth hormone secreted from the pituitary are often due to a tumor actually embedded within or upon the pituitary. The net result is a swelling in the area of the pituitary, which rests anteriorly (forward) within the skull. More specifically, the pituitary lies wedged behind and beneath the spot where the optic nerves (coming from the eyes) cross (at a place known as the optic chiasm). Thus, any significant growth in the pituitary (as we would expect with a tumor) can effectively lesion a nearby portion of the nerves sending information to the brain from the eyes. Specifically, a tumor of the pituitary would most likely result in the pinching of nerves crossing over at the chiasm, which are the nerves carrying information from the interior/nasal retina, or rather, carrying information concerning the peripheral fields of vision. Thus, Goliath’s Gigantism might have effectively left him blind to actions occurring in his periphery.

What this means for the story is a possible explanation for why David was able to successfully approach the great warrior with enough time to get off his fatal shot. What this theory effectively postulates is that if David had approached Goliath from anywhere outside the giant man’s view, he would have been effectively invisible to Goliath. In short, this scientific examination leads us to believe that Goliath might not have seen David approaching.

The other issue of concern is how a presumably small stone killed such as large man. My straight-up answer to that question would probably have been something smart-alecy like: Well, any thing that is traveling fast enough can kill someone. Have you seen a bullet lately? They’re not very big. However, the more scientific explanation might be the one already given, which is the tumor on Goliath’s pituitary. Perhaps the stone struck directly alone the axis of the tumor, causing him to instantaneously bleed internally upon impact and die.

The importance of this post is simply to explain a cool (my inner nerd coming out) possible explanation for how David did it. However, it is important to note this explanation in no way should tarnish the lesson of the story, because as we might imagine, neither Goliath, David, or anyone else at the time suspected anything was wrong with Goliath’s pituitary. He was a big guy. David was a small guy. David, with God’s Love behind him, stood tall and was victorious. None of that changes , David was going up against what he thought to be a tough battle.

The simple point here was that it might have not just been David and Goliath out there. It was David, Goliath, and Goliath’s enlarged pituitary.

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~ by Andru on January 19, 2011.

2 Responses to “David and Goliath (and Goliath’s Enlarged Pituitary)”

  1. Interesting article! I don’t think that adding facts from science diminishes the story at all. Makes it more plausible.

  2. As I read the text, it seems 2 me that the first ‘killed’ (1 Sam.17:50) might merely give that package deal of the stone followed by the sword (51). I stun a man then drop him into the river, where he drowns. Some say I killed him; I say the water killed him. Did stone or sword kill Goliath? I suspect both, but the emphasis being in David’s case by the stone handing him over to die, and in the latter (fictitious!) case the emphasis being on me, not on the water.

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