How Many Charioteers Did David Slay?
Throughout the years, the Bible has proven to be one book that refuses to relinquish its well- established position as the inspired Word of God. As a result, many Christians and infidels alike have studied the Bible diligently in order to determine whether it contains mistakes that would disqualify it from being God’s inspired Word. After all the evidence is in, the facts stand in favor of the Bible. However, some still insist that it is filled with errors and contradictions. One such alleged contradiction can be seen in 2 Samuel 10:18 and 1 Chronicles 19:18.
2 Samuel 10:18: “And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew of the Syrians the men of seven hundred chariots, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, so that he died there.”
1 Chronicles 19:18: “And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew of the Syrians the men of seven thousand chariots, and forty thousand footmen, and killed Shophach the captain of the host.”
Both these verses obviously deal with the same battle, yet the verse in 2 Samuel suggests that King David slew “the men of seven hundred chariots” while the verse in 1 Chronicles states that he slew “the men of seven thousand chariots.” How can these two texts be reconciled?
The easiest and most obvious resolution is that one of the verses has been miscopied. William Arndt, in his book, Does the Bible Contradict Itself? wrote: “The difference in the number of chariots is best explained as due to the error of a scribe, who especially if letters were used as numerals, could easily write seven thousand instead of seven hundred, or vice versa” (1976, p. 34). [For a general background on copyists’ errors, please see our foundational essay on that subject.]
After dealing with the difference in the number of charioteers slain by David and his men, we must proceed to resolve the difference between the forty thousand other men killed. The text of 2 Samuel describes them as horsemen, but the chronicler records them as footmen. Is there a true contradiction here?
The answer is no. Once again, Arndt submits a quite plausible explanation:
With respect to the other divergence between the two passages, the one saying David slew 40,000 horsemen, the other that he slew 40,000 footmen in this battle, a simple solution presents itself. These warriors could fight both as cavalry and as infantry, just as the occasion required. Their status was similar to that of the dragoons a century or two ago. We can then very well harmonize the apparent discrepancies which we meet here (p. 34).
To illustrate this point, suppose you were fighting in a battle and several men driving Jeeps charge you. With a few grenades, you destroy the Jeeps, but the drivers escape from the burning wreckage, regroup, and come at you from the ground. You defeat them again, this time killing them. What kind of men were killed—Jeep drivers or foot soldiers? Of course, the answer could be both, or either.
As plausible as this solution is, it is not the only possible resolution. Eric Vestrum stated: “Another possibility is that in the battle, some of the 40,000 were on horse, some were on foot. The 2 Samuel author used the term ‘horseman’ to denote the whole group, whereas the 1 Chronicles author used the term ‘footman’ to denote the whole group. Again, this type of labeling is not unfaithful to idiomatic language” (Section 10). After looking closely at the verses, several possible resolutions can be enumerated that allow the Bible to maintain its position as the inerrant Word of God.
Vestrum, Eric, Contradictions: Numerous, Theological, Chronological, Factual, Philosophical, Ethical, [On-line], URL: http://www.tektonics.org/EV_MCK04.html.