How did the Philistines get 30,000 chariots in 1 Sam 13:5? Is there any evidence that this is a copyist error?


The answer is that the Septuagint and Syriac translations have 3000 rather than 30,000 chariots. Both are very early translations of the Old Testament which were made many hundreds of years before the Masoretic text was compiled. The Masoretic Text, which was the standard Greek text in the second half of the first century has 30,000 chariots. This number seems too high. Philistia was a significant local power, but was not a large empire. Only a large empire such as Assyria or Egypt could have put 30,000 chariots into the field.

As I have said a number of times, there are certainly many copy errors in the Old Testament. The most likely and common kind of copy errors is with numbers. The reason is that, unlike words, numbers do not give context for a scribe in copying. Using an English example, if we saw the following sentence with two copying errors: Bill told his friend Jose to please bring a chalr and 25 dollars to his house tomorrow. If the original was Bill told his friend Jose to please bring a chair and 250 dollars to his house tomorrow, we would not need to see the original to detect the error in the word chalr, but the context could not tell us that 25 was an error. For this reason, copying errors such as that found in 1 Sam 13:5 are not surprising. I cannot prove that 3000 is the original correct number, but it certainly seems a more reasonable number of chariots for a small power to have in its military force. I have studied the subject of copying errors in the Old and New Testaments. My tentative conclusion is that no significant point of theology or doctrine is affected by this issue. Certainly there is no important point of theology or doctrine surrounding the number of chariots which were in the Philistine army.

John Oakes

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