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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:1, Spring 2022

Epistles: A Thousand Words: Plate with the Battle of David and Goliath

Biblical Archaeology Review

This silver plate depicts the biblical battle between David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), with the story progressing from top to bottom. The top register shows David confront the Philistine champion. Between them sits a personification of the river that provides David stones for his sling. God’s hand reaches down from the heavens, representing his protection over David, who also appears with a halo. In the middle register, the battle appears, from which David and the Israelites emerge victorious. After hitting Goliath in the forehead with a stone from his sling, David beheads the giant—with Goliath’s own sword—in the bottom register.

Made in the capital city of Constantinople (modern Istanbul), the plate dates to c. 630 C.E., during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, who had just won a war with Persia (602–628) and recaptured Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Byzantine writer Nicephorus I of Constantinople recounts that Heraclius and the Persian general Razatis fought each other in single combat, and Heraclius won with one thrust. His victory parallels the biblical episode of David and Goliath.

This plate, along with eight others depicting scenes from King David’s early life, was found in Karavas, Northern Cyprus, in 1902. Such elaborate dishes would have been used as display pieces or in banquets, common in late Roman and early Byzantine society. Interestingly, this set of plates might be the earliest to depict biblical scenes. The figures on the plate appear in contemporary Byzantine dress, and the overall iconography owes to the depictions of the heroes of classical mythology.

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