Answering The Atheist
September 4, 2005 / Volume 5, Issue 36
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
How many men did David kill? 2 Samuel 10:18 says 700 charioteers and 40,000 horsemen, but 1 Chronicles 19:18 says 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers. Is there a contradiction?
First, let us deal with the description of the latter portion of men. 2 Samuel speaks of these as "horsemen", while 1 Chronicles calls them "foot soldiers" (NKJV). Are they on horses, or are they on foot? The Hebrew word from which translators have rendered "foot soldiers" is 'iysh. This word simply means men. The inference that they were foot soldiers rather than horsemen can be attributed to translator's interpolation of the word.
So then, how many charioteers? 700 or 7,000? It is certainly possible that we are faced here with an error in the work of a scribe, as has been admitted on other occasions. However, consider a few alternatives:
1) Adam Clarke suggests, "It is very probable that, in former times, the Jews expressed, as they often do now, their numbers, not by words at full length, but by numeral letters; and, as many of the letters bear a great similarity to each other, mistakes might easily creep in when the numeral letters came to be expressed by words at full length. This alone will account for the many mistakes which we find inthe numbers in these books, and renders a mistake here very probable. The letter zain with a dot above, stands for seven thousand, nun for seven hundred: the great similarity of these letters might easily cause the one to be mistaken for the other, and so produce an error in this place."
2) The Geneva Bible Notes suggests of the 700, "Who were the chief and most principal: for in all he destroyed 7,000, as in 1 Ch 19:18, or the soldiers who were in 700 chariots."
What is the correct answer? I do not know. Regardless, there are certainly ways to explain the supposed contradiction. The overall integrity of the inspired text surely remains intact. The very nature of the discrepancy renders it useless as a means to discount the Bible.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible