Answering The Atheist
January 15, 2006 / Volume 6, Issue 3
THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
When did Absalom rebel against David? 2 Samuel 15:7 says after 40 years, but 2 Samuel 5:4 indicates it was much less than forty years, since David only ruled for a total of forty years. Is there a contradiction?
The questioner is correct, David reigned forty years, and thus, it is not possible that Absalom rebelled against David 40 years after his reign began. And it appears that Absalom was not born until after David had begun to reign (2 Samuel 2:4; 3:2-5). There is no forty year span which is readily noticeable of which 2 Samuel 15:7 could be speaking of.
It is noteworthy that the Syriac and Arabic versions of the Old Testament, along with Josephus (1st century Jewish/Roman historian) all read "four years" instead of "forty years". As yet, available Hebrew manuscripts read "forty", but as archaeological digs continue, perhaps it will be found that older Hebrew manuscripts read "four".
Note the similarity between the two words, forty and four . It can easily be understood had a transcription error could enter into the text. As has been stated before, it is admitted that there are occasional errors which can be attributed to scribal errors, especially when it comes to numeric values stated in the text. This is another example of such an error. This does not speak against the integrity of God's revelation, but is a display of man's fallibility.
This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible