Q&A: How Many Chariots? 1 Samuel 13:5

How Many Chariots? 1 Samuel 13:5

Question

In the KJV, 1 Samuel 13:5 reads as 30,000 chariots, but in other versions only 3000.

Answer

1 Samuel 13:5 (KJV) And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.

1 Samuel 13:5 (NIV) The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven.

Some of the Septuagint manuscripts have 30,000. This is more than likely a copyist error. Hebrew numbers are very similar. It is more likely that the original manuscripts recorded the number of chariots at 3,000. The number in any case is approximate and it may be counting the men in the chariots - for instance approximately 900 chariots with 3 men each, etc.

The Word Biblical Commentary states:

Even in its emended form, v 5 records an exceedingly large Philistine force of 3,000 chariots. Sisera had only 900 chariots (Judg 4:3)! The terrain in the vicinity of Michmash is not suitable for large chariot forces in any case. Six thousand charioteers (not horsemen) would be enough for a two-man crew for each chariot. Such two-man chariots are known from Egypt (ANET, 172, 183184) although Yadin has shown that the Philistines had three-man chariots (Art of Warfare 250, 336), as did the Hittites. The overwhelming odds against Israel are indicated by the troops as numerous as sand (cf. Josh 11:4; Judg 7:12; 2 Sam 17:11).

The UBS Handbook records:

Thirty thousand. the ancient Syriac text and one tradition of the Septuagint text read three thousand, which is the basis for the translations in NIV, NAB, NJB, SEM, Osty, BP, and EB. The earlier editions of the Segond translation in French have a thousand chariots here, but SER joins those versions that have thirty thousand. Thirty thousand is an extremely large number. CTAT, however, correctly notes that such large numbers are part of ancient military narratives (see, for example, Josh 11:4 and Judges 7:12) and gives the MT a {B} rating.

References

Klein, R. W. Word Biblical Commentary: 1 Samuel. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002 (126)

Omanson, R. L., & Ellington, J. A Handbook on the First Book of Samuel, UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies, 2001. (256)

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).