Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Textual Note: 2 Chronicles 22:2

In some recent devotional reading in Chronicles, I was struck by textual issues in 2 Chronicles 22:2. The issue is the age of Ahaziah. The NKJV renders the passage in question: “Ahaziah was forty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem” (v. 2a). It adds a note before “forty-two” which reads “twenty two 2 Kin. 8:26.” Here is the issue. According to 2 Chronicles 21:20 Ahaziah’s father Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years till his death, presumably at age forty (cf. also 21:5).

This would make 2 Chronicles 22:2 appear to be in error, since it would state that Ahaziah was two years older than his father. Add to this the conflict with 2 Kings 8:26 which states that he was twenty-two when he became king. Is 2 Chronicles 22:2 an “error”? What does this apparent contradiction mean for the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture? How could the diligent Masoretes allow this to stand in the traditional text?

The Hebrew of 2 Chronicles 22:2 reads: ben-arbaim ooshtayim shanah, literally “a son of forty and two years.’

The Hebrew of 2 Kings 8:26 differs by one word (“forty” to “twenty”): ben-esrim ooshtayim shanah

Various ancient versions, like the LXX, read “twenty-two” (huios eikosi kai duo eton, “a son of twenty and two years”) in 2 Chonicles 22:2. Is this a “correction” or is it based on an ancient Hebrew text?

It is interesting to compare various translation and Study Bibles on this text:

The NIV read “twenty-two” but supplies a text note which reads: “Some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac (see also 2 Kings 8:26; Hebrew forty-two).” The ESV reads “twenty-two” with no explanatory note on this variation from the Hebrew.

Many modern, evangelical, study Bibles attribute the difference to scribal error. Compare:

KJV Study Bible: “A comparison with 21:5 indicates that the proper figure for Ahaziah’s age here must be 22 as read in the margin of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, 2 Kings 8:26, and several ancient versions of the Old Testament. Forty and two was probably miscopied. It is highly unlikely that Ahaziah came to the throne twice at different ages.”

NIV Study Bible: “The Hebrew reading of “42” would make Ahaziah older than his father (21:20).”

MacArthur Study Bible: “This is a copyist’s error, easily made due to the small stroke that differentiates two Hebrew letters. The reading from 2 Kin. 8:26 of ‘twenty-two’ should be followed.” Riddle comment: The remark on the Hebrew words (presumably the difference between 40 and 20) being different only by “a small stroke” does not appear accurate, since the words for 40 (arbayim) and 20 (esrim) are more markedly different in Hebrew.

Analysis: There appears to be a distinct doctrinal problem with these evangelical interpretations. If the original, inerrant text of the Bible read “22” in 2 Chronicles 22:2 why was the “scribal error” of “42” allowed to stand in the canonically received, traditional text of Scripture? How could the erudite Masoretic scribes have let such an “error” stand? Could it be that “42” is, in fact the original, inerrant reading, no matter how irrational it might appear to some modern readers? Is there some rational explanation for this reading? We find such attempts in the old exegetes. Matthew Henry, for example, offers this possibility:

Some make this forty-two to be the age of his mother Athalia, for in the original it is, he was the son of forty-two years, that is, the son of a mother who was of that age; and justly is her age put for his, in reproach to him, because she managed him—and did what she would—she, in effect, reigned, and he had little more than the title of king.

Henry also recognizes the possibility that “42” arose “as the mistake of some transcriber,” and he still defends the integrity of the text even in that case: “Few books are now printed without some errata, yet the authors do not therefore disown them, nor are the errors of the press imputed to the author, but the candid reader amends them by the sense, or by comparing them with some other part of the work, as we may easily do this.”

I am more inclined to his first interpretation or to some other that might escape our present ability to comprehend the meaning (cf. Robert Alter's The Art of Biblical Narrative for a discussion of the ways in which modern readers often fail to comprehend design in Hebrew narrative). The consistency of the Hebrew text indicates that the reading of “42” was not found to be unreasonable.


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