This comparative study shows the results of changes, possibly made innocently, when Scriptural texts have been incorrectly copied many centuries ago. In this case, no one knows who made the change or how it came about to be. Some translators and scholars have recognized that there is a corruption of text in this verse, 1 Samuel 6: 19. As you read these renditions of the verse in twenty versions and from two historians, note the following, in particular:
- Why were the people killed?
- Who were killed?
- How many were killed?
- What happened with the number 50?
Numerous other versions of the Bible which I checked showed the same variations as these twenty do.
- AAT – An American Translation (Beck)
- MNT – Moffatt New Translation
- DHB – Darby Holy Bible
- NBV – New Berkeley Version
- EVD – English Version for the Deaf
- NJPS – New JPS Version
- GW – God’s Word
- NKJ – New King James Version
- HBME – The Holy Bible in Modern English
- NLT – New Living Translation
- JBK – Jerusalem Bible (Koren)
- NRS – New Revised Standard Version
- KJV – King James Version
- NWT – New World Translation
- KTC – Knox Translation
- SGAT – An American Translation (Smith-Goodspeed)
- LBP – Lamsa Bible
- TJB – The Jerusalem Bible (Catholic)
- LXX – The Septuagint
- YLR – Young’s Literal Translation, Revised Edition
1 Samuel 6: 19
AAT – But because the men of Beth-shemesh looked at the ark, the LORD struck down 70 men of the people of Beth-shemesh [there were 50,000 men]. The people mourned because the LORD struck down so many of them.
DHB – And he smote among the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of Jehovah, and smote of the people seventy men: and the people lamented, because Jehovah had smitten the people with a great slaughter.
EVD – But there were no priests there when the men of Beth Shemesh saw the Holy Box of the Lord. So God killed 70 men from Beth Shemesh. The people of Beth Shemesh cried because the Lord punished them so severely.
GW – God struck down some of the people from Beth Shemesh because they looked inside the ark of the LORD. He struck down 70 people. The people mourned because the LORD struck them with such a great blow.
Footnote: “70 people” is found in a few Hebrew manuscripts and the writings of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus. Masoretic text and Greek read “50,070 people.”
HBME – But the EVER-LIVING punished some of the inhabitants of Beth-shemsh, because they had looked into the Ark; He punished seventy persons, and fifty bullocks. So the men murmured among the people, for the EVER-LIVING struck the people with a great stroke.
Footnote: This difficult passage has puzzled translators for over 2,000 years. But if we take ALEF to mean “bullocks,” as it does amongst its other significations, and as I do, the whole difficulty vanishes, for it arose from the love of the marvellous in commentators, or the Greek translators, who fancied that to insert impossible statements in the text added to its grandeur – a plan of amending the Scriptures not extinct yet. (Note: See Strong’s #441 in the Hebrew section.)
JBK – And he smote the men of Bet-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, smiting fifty thousand and seventy men of the people; and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
KJV – And he smote the men of Beth-she-mesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and three score and ten men; and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
KTC – And the Lord smote some of the Bethsamites themselves, for prying into the ark of the Lord. (And he smote seventy men out of the people, and fifty thousand of the common folk.) Over this visitation the Lord had brought on them there was great grief among the people; … .
Footnote: Once more the words in brackets probably represent a corrupt text, which we have no means of restoring. According to the Septuagint Greek it was a single household, that of a certain Jechonias, that was punished, and punished for not sharing in the rejoicings of the other Bethsamites on this occasion.
LBP – And the LORD smote the men of Beth-shemesh because they worshipped the ark of the LORD, and the LORD smote five thousand and seventy men of the people; and the people mourned because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter.
LXX – And the sons of Jechonias were not pleased with the men of Bæthsamys, because they saw the ark of the Lord, and the Lord smote among them seventy men, and fifty thousand men: and the people mourned, because the Lord had inflicted on the people a very great plague.
(NOTE: 1 Kings in LXX is 1 Samuel in other versions.)
MNT – The sons of Jeconiah, however, did not rejoice along with the men of Beth-shemesh when they saw the ark of the Eternal; so he struck [[fifty thousand and]] seventy of them. And the folk mourned because the Eternal had smitten the folk with a heavy slaughter.
NBV – But of the Bethshemite men He slew some because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He slew seventy of the people, fifty to the thousand, and the people mourned because the LORD had slain so many of them.
NJPS – And He smote of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had gazed upon the ark of the LORD, even He smote of the people seventy men, and fifty thousand men; and the people mourned, because the LORD had smitten the people with a great slaughter.
NKJ – Then He struck the men of Beth Shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck fifty thousand and seventy men of the people, and the people lamented because the LORD struck the people with a great slaughter.
Footnote: Or He struck seventy men of the people and fifty oxen of a man.
NLT – But the LORD killed seventy men from Beth-shemesh because they looked into the Ark of the LORD. And the people mourned greatly because of what the LORD had done.
Footnote: As in a few Hebrew manuscripts, most Hebrew and Greek version read 50,700 men. Perhaps the text should be understood to read the LORD killed 70 men and 50 oxen.
NRS – The descendants of Jeconiah did not rejoice with the people of Beth-shemesh when they greeted the ark of the LORD, and he killed seventy men of them. The people mourned because the Lord had made a great slaughter among the people.
NWT – And he went striking down the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked upon the ark of Jehovah. So he struck down among the people seventy men – fifty thousand men – and the people began mourning because Jehovah had struck down the people with a great slaughter.
SGAT – The sons of Jechoniah, however, did not rejoice with the men of Bethshemesh, when they looked upon the ark of the LORD. Therefore he smote among them seventy men (fifty thousand men) and the people mourned because the LORD had made a great slaughter among the people.
TJB – Of the people of Beth-shemesh the sons of Jeconiah had not rejoiced when they saw the ark of Yahweh, and he struck down seventy of them. The people mourned because Yahweh had struck them so fiercely.
YLR – And He smiteth among the men of Beth-Shemesh, for they looked into the ark of Jehovah, yea, He smiteth among the people seventy men – fifty chief men; and the people mourn, because Jehovah smote among the people – a great smiting.
But now it was that the wrath of God overtook them, and struck seventy persons of the village of Bethshemesh dead, who, not being priests, and not so worthy to touch the ark, had approached to it. Those of that village wept for these that had thus suffered, and made such a lamentation as was naturally to be expected on so great a misfortune that was sent from God; and every one mourned for his own relations.
Footnote: These seventy men, being not so much as Levites, touched the ark in a rash or profane manner, and were slain by the hand of God for their rashness and profaneness.
[Complete Works of Josephus. Kregel, 1960. Antiquities, vi, i, 4.]
What the peculiar desecration or sin of the Beth-shemites may have been, either on that day of almost unbounded excitement, or afterwards, we cannot tell. Suffice it that it was something which the people themselves felt to be incompatible with the “holiness” of Jehovah God (verse 20), and that it was punished by the death of not less than seventy persons.
Footnote: The Authorised Version translates in verse 19, “they looked in the ark,” following in this the Rabbis. But this view is scarcely tenable. Nor is the rendering of other interpreters satisfactory: “They looked (in the sense of curious gazing) at the ark,” although this assuredly comes with the range of warning, Numbers 4: 20. But the whole text here seems corrupted. Thus in the statement that “He smote three score and ten men,” the addition “of the people, 50,000,” has – judging it both on linguistic and rational grounds – unquestionably crept into the text by the mistake of a copyist. But Thenius points out other linguistic anomalies, which lead to the inference that there may be here some farther corruption of the text.
[Bible History: Old Testament. Hendrickson, 1887, 1995. Pages 423, 424.]