Note: Here is another textual issue I ran across when preaching last Sunday morning on 2 Samuel 8.
I. The Issue: Did David smite the Syrians or the Edomites in the valley of salt?
The traditional Hebrew Masoretic Text reads aram (Syria).
This reading is reflected in translations which follow the traditional text for this verse. Compare (emphasis added):
Geneva Bible: 2 Samuel 8:13 So David got a name after that he returned, and had slain the Aramites in the valley of salt eighteen thousand men.
KJV: 2 Samuel 8:13 And David gat him a name when he returned from smiting of the Syrians in the valley of salt, being eighteen thousand men.
NASB: 2 Samuel 8:13 So David made a name for himself when he returned from killing 18,000 Arameans in the Valley of Salt.
NKJV: 2 Samuel 8:13 And David made himself a name when he returned from killing eighteen thousand Syrians in the Valley of Salt.
An alternative tradition adopted in several modern versions reads “Edomites.”
The BHS apparatus indicates that a few mss from Qumran and the Syriac read edom in v. 13. The LXX reads “Idumeans [Idoumaia].” It is preferred in several modern translations. Compare (emphasis added):
NIV: 2 Samuel 8:13 And David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
RSV: 2 Samuel 8:13 And David won a name for himself. When he returned, he slew eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
NRSV: 2 Samuel 8:13 David won a name for himself. When he returned, he killed eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
ESV: 2 Samuel 8:13 And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
The modern critical text reading of “Edomites” harmonizes and resolves at least two perceived difficulties in the traditional text:
(1) The text has already recorded David smiting the Aram (Syria) in v. 5 including noting the slaying of “two and twenty thousand men.” Does it make sense to record another Davidic victory over Aram in which an additional eighteen thousand men were slain?
(2) The southern location of the battle, in the valley of salt, makes more sense if the opponent was a traditional southern group like the Edomites, who are also the focus of v. 14.
Furthermore, this reading seems to be cinched by comparison with the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles which attributes the victory not directly to David but to Abishai, one of his commanders, yet has the defeated as the Edomites:
KJV: 1 Chronicles 18:12 Moreover Abishai the son of Zeruiah slew of the Edomites in the valley of salt eighteen thousand.
The problem with the modern critical adaptation is the tenacity of the traditional Masoretic reading. These scholars who transmitted the tradition were likely not ignorant of the perceived difficulties with the reading of aram in v. 13 yet they persisted in promoting it. Why? Could it be because this was the original and the alternative traditions represent efforts to improve it? Can we apply one of the canons of modern text criticism here: The more difficult reading is to be preferred?
The traditional text need not be abandoned to find a reasonable interpretation of the passage which harmonizes with its immediate context and with the parallel in 1 Chronicles 18:12.
As if often the case, Matthew Poole can be relied upon to offer an interpretation which upholds the traditional text while offering a rationally coherent harmonization:
The Syrians, or Edomites, as they are said to be, 1 Chron. xviii.12. It is likely these two people were confederates, and that divers of the Syrians whom David had defeated in Syria fled to Edom, and there joined with them against their common enemy, and made up together a very great army, (as the number of the men slain in it showeth), consisting of the veteran soldiers of both countries; although the slaughter here following may seem not to have been of the Syrians, as the words at first reading seem to intimate, but of the Edomites; (it not being probable that the Syrians would come so far from their own country, as to the valley of salt, to fight;) and this verse may be read thus, and that very agreeable to the Hebrew: And David gat him a name when he returned from smiting of the Syrians, in smiting (which is easily repeated out of the last clause, according to the common usage of Scripture), in the valley of salt eighteen thousand men, who were Edomites, as is sufficiently implied here in the next verse, and expressed 1 Chron. xviii.12….
Very helpful Pastor Riddle. Thank you.
Glad you found this helpful Chris. Blessings. JTR
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