How Many Supervisors Did Solomon Have?
A helpful concept to remember when one is dealing with alleged discrepancies is the idea that a simple difference is not necessarily a contradiction. Just because two texts differ in the way they relate the facts does not necessarily mean that there exists no possible reconciliation of the texts. Let’s look at one example of texts that differ, yet do not contradict each other.
1 Kings 5:16: “Besides Solomon’s chief officers that were over the work, three thousand and three hundred, who bare rule over the people that wrought in the work.”
2 Chronicles 2:18: “And he set threescore and ten thousand of them to bear burdens, and fourscore thousand that were hewers in the mountains, and three thousand and six hundred overseers to set the people at work.”
These two verses frequently have been accused of contradicting one another because 1 Kings mentions 3,300 supervisors over the people, while 2 Chronicles mentions 3,600 overseers. To label these passages as contradictory represents a misunderstanding that could be based on several factors. One possible solution to this alleged contradiction is that the author of 2 Chronicles could be including a number of reserves who were standing ready to work should any of the “ regular” supervisors get sick or accidentally be killed. In their essay on alleged Bible contradictions, Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, et. al. wrote:
This is not too great a problem. The most likely solution is that the author of 2 Chronicles included the 300 men who were selected as reservists to take the place of any supervisors who would become ill or who had died, while the author of the 1 Kings 5:16 passage includes only the supervisory force. With the group as large as the 3,300, sickness and death certainly did occur, requiring reserves who would be called up as the need arose (n.d.).
The profoundly respected Old Testament commentators, Keil and Delitzsch, offered another solution. They pointed out the fact that 1 Kings 9:23 mentions 550 chief officers of Solomon, thus giving the total number of supervisors in 1 Kings 5:16 and 9:23 as 3,850. Also mentioned is the fact that 2 Chronicles 8:10 mentions 250 chief officers of Solomon, bringing the total number of officers in 2 Chronicles 2:18 and 8:10 to exactly 3,850—the same total as in 1 Kings. The difference does not lie within the numbers of the text; rather, the two authors simply classified the officers according to different standards. Whereas the chronicler might have been dividing the supervisors according to their nationality, the author of 1 Kings seems to have been dividing them by their authority (1982, 3:63-64).
So we see that any hint of contradiction can be cleared away quite easily, and it is once again evident that a simple difference is not necessarily a contradiction.
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1982 reprint), Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Smith, Jay, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, and James Schaeffer (no date), 101 Cleared-Up Contradictions in the Bible, [On-line], URL: http://debate.org.uk/topics/apolog/contrads.htm.