50,070 Smitten, Or Just 70?

Q. Thank you so much for this wonderful site. I have found answers to so many interesting questions. Now I have one of my own.

My pastor is preaching through the book of 1 Samuel right now. Recently, we covered 1 Samuel chapter 6.

I use a New American Standard, while my pastor preaches from a New King James. Verse 19 notes that God struck down 50,070 men. However, while talking about it later with some of our friends, they said they were confused when our pastor read that part. Their translations said it was just 70, not 50,070. There was no explanation, and at the time they were confused where that extra fifty thousand came from.

Sure enough, the notes in my Bible state that the 50,000 was probably a copyist’s error, as it was not properly conjugated or something like that, and doesn’t appear in all the manuscripts. It further states that there’s no way the city held over fifty thousand people, and that the likely number was actually just seventy.

So what’s going on here? Obviously, I’m extremely confused. Can you shed some light on this for me?

A. The words translated 50, 1,000 and 70 in 1 Sam. 6:19 are cardinal numbers in Hebrew. Apparently the confusion is caused by the fact that there’s no conjunction between the 50 and the 1000.

But most Hebrew manuscripts and the Septuagint, which is a Greek text translated from Hebrew, say 50,070. Only a few Hebrew texts opt to eliminate the 50 and the 1000.

Jewish scribes had an elaborate system for avoiding errors like the one that’s being claimed for this verse, and then there’s the God factor. Would He allow an error of that magnitude to get by everyone?

Finally, the verse ends by saying that the people lamented that the Lord had smitten them with a great slaughter, which sounds to me like it must have been a number larger than 70. So even if it seems improbable, I’m going to stick with the majority Hebrew opinion, 50,070.

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