How did David kill Goliath?
I know he used a sling. Beyond that, I had never really thought about it.
Recently, though, I came to a point in writing where a character needs a weapon. This character is a shepherd, and he doesn’t have any money or influential friends. Naturally, I thought of David, probably most famous warrior-shepherd in history, and his sling.
I hadn’t really thought about what kind of sling David used. I always pictured him using a handheld sling, probably because that’s how the story is usually portrayed in paintings and illustrations. Truth be told, though, I didn’t know much about slings.
I started researching, and found a great video that argues David probably used a staff sling.
I had never heard of a staff sling before.
A staff sling is very similar to a handheld sling, but with the cords attached to the top of a staff or long stick. One cord is tied firmly to the staff, while the other is tied in a loop that slips over the top and sits on the first cord. To throw, you use a motion similar to throwing a lacrosse ball, and at a certain angle, the loop of the second cord slips off and the projectile is released.
It looks like this:
That was only my 10th attempt or so. I got better with practice.
A shepherd, alone with his flock, would have plenty of time to practice.
As evidence that David used a staff sling, the folks in the video cite scripture:
“And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.” (1 Samuel 40)
Based on this passage, they note that:
- David had his staff with him
- Going into combat, he wouldn’t be carrying anything he didn’t need
- It’s hard to use a hand sling with a staff in your other hand
- It’s very difficult to load a sling with a staff in your other hand
- Staff slings are easy to make (just as easy as hand slings)
- Staff slings are easy to conceal (just as easy as hand slings)
- Staff slings generate more power (2x or more)
- Staff slings are faster to throw
- Shepherds always carry a staff anyway
- Staff slings might be more accurate
They then do some backyard tests, which show that a staff sling generates at least twice as much power as a hand slingshot, and inflicts a lot more damage.
In my own practice, I found the staff sling definitely generates a lot of power. Mine seems to work best with larger rocks, about the size of a tangerine or a small orange. When I hit exposed ledge or a boulder, the projectile would often explode, sending shards up to 30 feet in the air. Even more surprising, when I threw into water, the projectile would often pop back out of the water, and a few times it jumped 6 or 8 feet straight up!
It’s key to understand that a sling is a powerful weapon that an ordinary person can make using ordinary materials. It requires only cord, which can be either woven rope or sinew from an animal, leather for the cradle, and stones, which can be found anywhere.
Also, a sling may be easily hidden within a pouch. A shepherd could carry a sling, and no one would know.
The sling itself is basically the same for both a hand sling and a staff sling. A shepherd would almost always carry a staff, so a staff sling and a hand sling would be equally convenient and equally easy to conceal.
I practiced with my staff sling by a small river, and found plenty of stones of just the right size along the riverbed. It makes sense to me that David “chose him five smooth stones out of the brook” as he prepared for battle. I think a person would be able to find suitable ammunition in almost any landscape.
So, I concluded that this character uses a staff sling.
I imagine shepherds across the world must have used this style of sling for thousands of years. Perhaps many of them even considered it to be the weapon of the prophet David.