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And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim; and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive.—Numbers 21:1 (JPS)

The text indicates that the king of Arad took a captive(s?) from the Israelites. Whom did he take? Was the captive(s) ever returned/rescued?

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I'm not sure I understand the question. The text seems clear that some of the Israelites where taken captive. It's vague on the precise number, but certainly more than 1. Did astay13's answer satisfy your curiosity? –  Jon Ericson Jul 2 '12 at 18:21
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2 Answers

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It's not clear to me who the captives were, but since the following verses indicate that the Caananites were destroyed, I think we can reasonably infer that the captives were rescued in the process.

Another piece of evidence is that the captives were the reason Israel cried to the Lord for help. He granted the help they requested, so again, it's implied that the captives were rescued.

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The text says that they cried to the LORD (not the Lord) for help promising "to destroy their cities if You deliver those people into our hands." Nothing about rescuing hostages. –  Blessed Geek Jul 5 '12 at 0:05
    
@BlessedGeek, right, the text doesn't specifically mention rescuing captives, so I wouldn't stand and die for that interpretation, but as I noted above, I think it's implied. –  astay13 Jul 5 '12 at 14:36
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Let me make an attempt at interpreting ancient biblical hebrew:

וַיִּשְׁמַע and hears-he

הַכְּנַעֲנִי the canaanite

מֶלֶךְ־עֲרָד king of arad

יֹשֵׁב (who) lives in

הַנֶּגֶב the Negev

כִּי that

בָּא comes-he

יִשְׂרָאֵל Israel

דֶּרֶךְ (by) way of
alternatively: passing thro

הָאֲתָרִים the spies

וַיִּלָּחֶם and fights-he

בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל in Israel

וַיִּשְׁבְּ and captures-he

מִמֶּנּוּ from-him

שֶׁבִי captive

The unfortunate thing here is that the text did not use

he-captures from-them

but rather

he-captures from-him

The question is, unfortunately, legitimate viewing from my stand point on the hebrew text. So, here are the non-exhaustive permutation of possible translations.

Possibility Sequence 1:

So hears
{
  {the canaanite king of arad}
  {living in the negev}
}
that
{
  comes-Israel
  {by the way of the spies}
}
and
{fights-he among israel}
and captures-he
{from israel captive(adjective)}

Possibility Sequence 2:

So hears
{
  {the canaanite king of arad}
  {living in the negev}
}

so that
comes-he-to
Israel
{by the way of the spies}

and
{fights-he among israel}
and captures-he
from israel captive

Possibility Sequence 3:

So hears
{
  {the canaanite king of arad}
  {living in the negev}
}

that

comes-he (to) Israel
{by the way of the spies}

and
{fights-he among israel}
and captures-Israel
from him captive

I am inclined to believe that sequence 1 is the intention of the text.

But then, of course, I could fall into a mystical intent of the text saying that the author deliberately had the text ambiguous for us to imbibe a mystical multi-dimensional meaning.

That the canaanite king came to take captive but was himself taken captive by the situation. That in an invasion, the invaders are themselves invaded upon to suffer equivalent losses. (For example the invasion of Iraq or the exploits of Alqaeda).

It is interesting that the text must be referring to the path the israeli spies had taken 40 years ago.

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Nice answer! Thanks for including your translation notes. –  Jas 3.1 Jul 5 '12 at 0:38
    
I think you are mistranslating מִמֶּנּוּ which, with the vowels you've included, means from "them". Furthermore even if it meant from "him" it would still be referring to the nation of Israel (ie 'him' plural) –  user448 Jul 5 '12 at 15:09
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