the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of
The Blasphemer and Goliath:
A Comparative Analysis
Dr. Amichai Nachshon
of Basic Jewish Studies and
concludes with the story of the man who cursed the Almighty and what punishment
was meted out for such a person (Lev. 24:10-14, 23).
The incident began with a quarrel that took
place within the Israelite camp between a half-Israelite
another Israelite. In the course of the
quarrel the half-Israelite spoke unbefittingly
towards G-d: “The son of the Israelite
woman pronounced the Name [Heb. va-yikkov]
blasphemy” (Lev. 24:11). From the
reaction of the Torah in the course of the story, we learn that offending G-
d’s honor is a sin that bears the death penalty:
“Anyone who blasphemes his G-d shall bear his
guilt; if he also pronounces the name Lord, he shall be put to death” (Lev.
24:15-16). This law applies to all of
Now this prohibition, which in our case is addressed to
Israelite society, was perceived in biblical narratives and prophetic works to
be a universal law, also to be enforced on
Halakhic literature also extends the prohibition against holding the Lord in contempt to a broader audience. A halakhic homily on the story of the blasphemer that appears in the Babylonian Talmud (Hagigah 11b) interprets the repetition of the word ish (Lev. 24:15; rendered in the English simply as “anyone”) “to include non-Jews.” This prohibition against “blessing the Lord” (a euphemism) is included in the seven commandments required of the descendants of Noah and applies to all human beings (Maimonides, Hilkhot Melakhim, 9.1).
This idea is emphasized most strongly in the story of
David’s battle with Goliath (I Sam. -47).
David said to Goliath, “You come against me
with sword and spear and javelin; but I come against you in the name of the
Lord of Hosts, the G-d of the ranks of
Beyond this basic similarity between the two narratives, there are four other parallels, literary and substantive, between the story of the blasphemer (Lev. 24:10-14, 23) and parts of the story of the struggle between David and Goliath the Philistine (I Sam. 17:1-11, 43-49).
In view of the similarities between the two stories one could say that in the eyes of the author of the David and Goliath narrative, David meted out to his enemy the appropriate punishment as dictated in Leviticus: he treated him as one should treat a person who has cursed the Name of G-d.
The didactic message of the story is that anyone who dares curse the G-d of Israel will not be exonerated; the law for him is identical to the law for the Israelite blasphemer, and this comparison was already made by Midrash Tanhuma, Va-Yigash 8: “One finds that whoever blasphemes is liable to death, as it is said, ‘if he has thus pronounced the Name, he shall be put to death” (Lev. 24:16), and that wicked man [Goliath] had been cursing for forty days (I Sam. 17:16).”
Another way of looking at the two stories is that the story
of David’s battle with Goliath gives a new interpretation to the incident of
the blasphemer, extending the law which is found in Leviticus and enforcing it also
 “One whose mother was Israelite and whose father was Egyptian” (Lev. 24:10). There is a tendency in Scripture to be welcoming to non-Jews (gerim, or resident strangers). They are to be treated “as one of your citizens” (Lev. 19:34), it is one’s duty to befriend them (Deut. 10:19), one is forbidden to exploit or oppress them (Ex. 22:10, 23:9, Deut. 24:17, 27:19, Jer. 7:6, Ezek. 22:7, Zech. 7:10, Mal. 3:5), they are to be helped out in time of need (Lev. 19:10, Deut. 14:28-29, and elsewhere), they are to share in our day of rest (Ex. 20:10, 23:12, Deut. 5:14), and in our rejoicing (Deut. 16:11, 26:11). Part of this attitude toward them is the emphasis place on their participating in observing the laws of the Torah. For example, the laws of Passover (Ex. , Num. ), the laws concerning libations and burnt offerings (Num. -16), and the laws of sin-offerings (Num. ). There are two passages in Scripture (Num. , Josh. ) that ascribe to the resident stranger an obligation to uphold all the commandments of the Torah.
 The root
n-k-b [related to k-b-b] means to curse or hold in contempt, as
in “Come, curse me Jacob, come, tell
 This subject is treated at great length in my doctoral dissertation, “G- d’s Demands of the Gentiles in the Historiographic and Prophetic Literature”, Bar Ilan University, 2003, pp. 140-155.
Hebrew heruf means voicing words of defiance
and contempt. According to the biblical
narrative, Goliath boasted, “I herewith defy [Heb. herafti]
the ranks of
 In the
name of the gods of the Philistine Goliath.
This is how the phrase is interpreted by M. Z. Segal,
 For more
material on explaining one biblical text by another, termed inner-biblical
interpretation, see Y. Zakovitz, Parshanut