Here is the full text of 2 Chronicles 13:9 from the NKJV:

Have you not cast out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made for yourselves priests, like the peoples of other lands, so that whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull and seven rams may be a priest of things that are not gods?

and here is the verse from the RSV:

Have you not driven out the priests of the Lord, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods.

Note that the RSV uses the word “or” instead of “and” as in the NKJV (the NLT, NIV, NASB, KJV, & CSB all use “and” here as well). The RSV preface states that it is a revision of the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901, but the ASV uses the word “and” in this phrase.

The NRSV and ESV also both have “or” here, but appear to have inherited this from the RSV, seeing as how their prefaces state that they are further revisions of it (NRSV preface; ESV preface). Their prefaces also state they have used the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) for their Old Testament translations. The BHS has וְאֵילִ֣ם שִׁבְעָ֔ה, which is the phrase the majority of other translations render as “and seven rams” (literally: “and rams seven”).

Why would the RSV translators have used “or” here?

Interestingly, while the NET Bible also has “...a young bull or seven rams...” in this verse, “and” is in the corresponding translator's note for this phrase:

12 tn Heb “whoever comes to fill his hand with a bull of a son of cattle, and seven rams, and he is a priest to no-gods.”

  • Although an answer talks about the "And / Or" semantic range of "vav" ... I hope that an answer isn't accepted until perhaps some analysis of the ANcient Greek and Aramaic translations are considered. It may be that the translators deferred to those translations ... The Septuagint translation is very interesting, (2 Chronicles 13 @ katabiblon.com). Commented Aug 20, 2017 at 23:39
  • A.) "Deviation" rather than "incorrect" would be a more suitable presupposition. Instead, it might be stronger to ask - why did those translators deviate with others, and even in their own translations in very similar contexts and syntax. Deuteronomy 30:15 is a clear example where ESV/RSV/NRSV all translate this as "And" instead of "Or", where the context can arguably, (and conveniently) suggest "Or". B.) Ultimately, this question is a "fishing trip", guess-work, and opinion - unless someone were to ask the editors directly. Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 0:31
  • The Septuagint reads as follows: βοῶν καὶ κριοῖς ἑπτὰ καὶ ἐγίνετο εἰς ἱερέα τῷ μὴ ὄντι θεῷ The word kai is used here. Often translated as "and, even, also." I don't know that a LXX reading would help much in this situation. First the LXX authors are not considered fluent in Greek (although they did translate it). Second, a reading of this translation may tell more about their theology than their understanding of textual translation. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 23:36

5 Answers 5


The conjunction waw can mean "or" in some cases. Here's Joüon-Muraoka (formatting mine):

The idea represented by the Engl[ish] or is usually expressed by אוֹ... But instead of this precise word, a Waw often suffices, e.g.

  • [2 Sam 2:19:] לא־נָטָה לָלֶ֫כֶת עַל־הַיָּמִין וְעַל־הַשְּׂמֹאל
    he did not turn aside right or (nor) left,

with a less precise nuance of or;

  • Ex 21.17: מְקַלֵּל אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ
    he who curses his father or mother.

Whether to translate "and" or "or" must be determined based on context. The text, according to BHS | ESV:

kol-habbāʾ lᵉmallēʾ yāḏô
Whoever comes for ordination

bᵉp̱ar ben-bāqār
with a young bull

wᵉʾêlim šiḇʿāh
or seven rams

wᵉhāyāh ḵōhēn lᵉlōʾ ʾᵉlōhı̂m
becomes a priest of what are no gods.

I can't say for sure why the ESV, etc., translators made the decision that they did, but a couple factors come to mind that may have played into it.

  • There's a disjunctive accent (pashṭa) on bāqār, the last word in the phrase here translated "a young bull" (lit. "a bull son of a herd"). This suggests that the Masoretes felt the waw as a disjunctive (i.e. "or").

  • (This is more my "sense" and is difficult to verbalize.) This list of two items occurs in a prepositional phrase modifying the main clause "whoever comes", kol-habbāʾ, lit. "every-of the-one-coming." This subject looks forward to an indefinite and conceptually plural referent.2

    Of course, it's possible to talk about "everyone" who comes with "a young bull and seven rams", but the generic nature of the subject may have tipped translators to find appealing the translation both a) less well-specified, and b) allusive to more than one individual.

In direct response to the question:

Why is 2 Chronicles 13:9 translated incorrectly in the RSV / NRSV / ESV?

It's not a priori incorrect. The contextual clues are subtle, but the RSV etc. present us with what is, at the very least, one reasonable option.

1. This translation of kōl as "every" follows with HALOTs description (8, s.v.) "preceding a generic word, the individual members of which are focused".

2. This is grammatically singular, but like "everyone" or "anyone" in English, one senses that more than one person will eventually fall into this category.

Paul Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 2006), 605.

  • As a sidenote, this sentence reminds me of Isa 1:11c " I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats." (ESV), also connected by waw disjunctives.
    – Susan
    Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 19:16
  • I do think it's a good question, audacious title notwithstanding. I also think it's hard to speculate about precisely what breach of orthodoxy (if indeed that's what it was) is most likely. After all, numerically, 1+2 is closer to either 7 or 1 than it is to 7+1 ;-). OTOH, the subtleties of the Hebrew are beyond me, so there may be more argument on that front in either direction.
    – Susan
    Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 2:48
  • A.) "This suggests that the Masoretes felt ..." The Masoretes had nothing to do with Ta'amim, (vowel pointings), this was perhaps the Karaites - in 900AD. So, that conclusion is non-sequitor. B.) "but ... may have tipped translators ..." Guessing intent can only be valid if precedent is shown. C.) "It's not a priori incorrect." In law, "inclusive Or" should be interpreted as a conjunctive, to not violate "peshat". "Exclusive or" is absolutely clear, (אּם in Joshua 24:15, et al.). D.) Showing clear examples of "Inclusive Or" in Scripture would strengthen this argument. Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 0:21
  • *Clarification: Although the Aleppo codex was based of the Masoretic text, the Masorete tradition is older. Regardless, there are multiple traditions of "vocalization" of Hebrew Scripture - most notably the Yemeni. So, vowel pointing can not at all be claimed as a valid temple-period hermeneutic method, nor a reasonable justification that the ESV/RSV/NRSV translators could have used by citing "masoretic" authority. Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 0:46

Since the OP notes the NRSV and ESV are built on the RSV, the main question is:

Why would the RSV translators have used "or" here?

This answer correctly notes that it is not wholly incorrect to use "or" for a waw, context determining whether a disjunctive idea as opposed to a conjunctive is warranted or not.

So to answer "why" requires determining the reasoning (if that reasoning is not clearly noted otherwise, which as best I can find, it is not).

Translation Evidence

Evidence thus far is:

  1. The OP already correctly noted, it is not from following the RSV's base of the ASV (1901).

  2. It is not likely (I did not check every version) from other older English translations: Geneva Bible (1599), Douay-Rheims (OT, 1610), KJV (1611), Quaker Bible (1764), Young's Literal (1862), Revised Version (1885).

  3. It is not distinctly from following the Targum (Aramaic), which parallels the Hebrew with the waw (so the same possibility of "or" still exists, just not the common idea as with Hebrew):

    הלא תריכתון ית כהניא דייי בני אהרן וליואי ועבדתון לכון כומרין הי כעמי ארעתא כל דאתי לקרבא קורבניה בתור בר תורי ודכרין שבעא ויהי כהין בר מן מימרא דייי׃

  4. It is not from following the LXX, as it uses και ("and") in that passage, which does not generally have any disjunctive idea, and certainly not like the Greek ἤ ("or"):

    ἦ οὐκ ἐξεβάλετε τοὺς ἱερεῖς κυρίου τοὺς υἱοὺς Ααρων καὶ τοὺς Λευίτας καὶ ἐποιήσατε ἑαυτοῖς ἱερεῖς ἐκ τοῦ λαοῦ τῆς γῆς; πᾶς ὁ προσπορευόμενος πληρῶσαι τὰς χεῖρας ἐν μόσχῳ ἐκ βοῶν καὶ κριοῖς ἑπτὰ καὶ ἐγίνετο εἰς ἱερέα τῷ μὴ ὄντι θεῷ.

  5. It is not from following the Latin Vulgate, as it uses et ("and") in that passage, not vel or aut ("or"):

    et eiecistis sacerdotes Domini filios Aaron atque Levitas et fecistis vobis sacerdotes sicut omnes populi terrarum quicumque venerit et initiaverit manum suam in tauro in bubus et in arietibus septem fit sacerdos eorum qui non sunt dii

Appears to be Intentionally Changed

The above only indicates that the decision was not likely based on any clear historical precedent, and thus was an intentional change for other reasons. There are at least two main reasons it may have been done:

  1. Translators really felt a disjunctive idea was better (without explanation that I have yet found).
  2. Translators needed to make sure enough text was changed for copyright purposes (though I do not know the specifics of copyright law in the time of the RSV, it would not have been under the major revision of 1976). Since the change to "or" is grammatically "allowable" in this passage, it could have been chosen on this basis alone, though I would hope this is not the case. Still, based on my understanding at present, it cannot be ruled out as a possible reason.

Other Scriptures' Insights

Other passages having the concept of "a young bull" reveals uses

  1. for dealing with specific sins of Levitical priests (Lev 4:3),
  2. for those priests initial consecration (Lev 9:2),
  3. for consecration of the Levites generally (Num 8:8), and
  4. for the high priest's yearly sin offering for himself and family (Lev 16:3).

Other passages "seven rams" is found in reveals uses

  1. for Job's friends as an atonement for their misspeaking about God (Job 42:5),

  2. for seven sacrifices on seven altars by Balaam—along with seven bulls for each altar (Num 23:1, 29),

  3. for helping the Levites successfully move the ark of the covenant for David, which was also combined with seven bulls in the offering (1 Chr 15:25), and

  4. (later in history) for part of the sin offering of the Judah in Hezekiah's day, along with other groups of seven animals (2 Chr 29:21; NKJV, emphasis added):

    And they brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs, and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom, for the sanctuary, and for Judah. Then he commanded the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD.

The Passage in Question

One can assume that Abijah and those he spoke to at the time knew exactly what the rituals were for these non-Levitical priests consecration. So he certainly stated what he intended, and would have no doubt known whether "and" or "or" was intended. The fact that he chose the common word for "and" speaks strongly to that being his intentions. However, some other thoughts are relevant based on the above Scriptures that have similar word/concept relationships.

Since 2 Chr 13:9 is clear this priesthood was not populated by "sons of Aaron, and the Levites," then "the young bullock" likely refers to an individual, personal consecration ritual similar to the priests in Lev 9:2 and/or Levites in Num 8:8.

There is not any evidence to deduce that seven altars are specifically in view (like Balaam) with respect to this statement in 2 Chr 13:9, so the "seven rams" may refer to either the older practice of ritual cleansing (per Job's friends) or more likely—given the nearer historical context—related to cleansing based upon items/locations as David had done when moving the ark.

Jeroboam, who instituted the calf worship, living in the time of Solomon, David's son (1 Kg 11:26), may have personally known David, but at the least would have been aware of him in more specific ways, having served for the royal house (1 Kg 11:28). So the "seven rams" seem more likely to parallel with David's use of that number when moving the place of the ark, hence the place of worship, as this parallels Jeroboam's moving of Israel's worship to the locations of the two golden calves in Bethel and Dan and installing the priests for those (1 Kg 12:25-33). Yet unlike David, seven bulls were not also offered if this is the parallel. Also note that Hezekiah's later offering is also strongly related to consecration of the place (the kingdom, the sanctuary) during the restoration of temple worship in 2 Chronicles 29.

Unfortunately, this analysis and speculation does not 100% definitively resolve whether to take the term as "and" or "or," but given that in 2 Chr 13:9 it is the consecration of priests specifically noted (not place), then it seems more likely to me the proper reading is still "and," probably where the seven rams are some gesture of that person's testimony that this place (the golden calf site/s) is my place of service (assuming it is not simply part of the cleansing ritual).

But it could be that the seven rams relates to moving of the calf idols (or other idols) at times, as there were also "high places" set up in Jeroboam's territory (1 Kg 12:31). In this case, maybe an "or" would be better (young bull offered by priest at time of service or seven rams whenever the calf idols or idols in the high places move). As well, it cannot be fully ruled out that "or" is simply the choice of the one being made a priest (perhaps a status symbol, one bull or seven rams).

"Or" in Chronicles

At first glance, one might expect Abijah would have used the Hebrew word for "or" (אוֹ) if he meant that. However, an examination of the books of 1 & 2 Chronicles reveals some interesting facts. Using the NKJV translation as a target/baseline English translation for this study, the following words are used for what the translators of that version deemed an "or" statement (where "or" is found 39 times):

  • 1 time without underlying Hebrew word, taken from context of the contrast of "small"/"great" (2 Chr 18:30)
  • 1 time the unequivocal "or" (אוֹ) is found (2 Chr 6:36)
  • 3 times the typical word for "for" (לְ) is found, but only when found with the lead of בַּ֫יִן ("whether"; 2 Chr 14:11, 19:10[x2])
  • 5 times the typical word for "if" (אִם) is found, generally with the sense of "whether ... or" or "rather" (1 Chr 21:12[x2], 2 Chr 7:13, 18:5, 18:14)
  • 29 times the waw (וְ) is found (1 Chr 5:23, 23:26; 2 Chr 1:11[x2], 6:14, 6:24, 6:28[x4], 6:29, 7:13, 8:15, 16:1, 19:10, 20:9, 21:12, 32:15[x2], 34:2, 36:17[x2]), three in conjunction with לֹא ("not"; 2 Chr 5:6, 11:4, 29:7), two in conjunction with אַל ("not"; 2 Chr 20:17, 32:15), and two in conjunction with עַד (in reference to measures or comparisons of degree, 2 Chr 15:13[x2]).

Within 1 & 2 Chronicles, what the above reveals is the fact that waw is the most common term used for an "or" idea. However, that idea is still outweighed by the translation of "and" for the waw, where NKJV translates it so 2534 times, along with various other translations 1127 times: then, but, so, that, also, now, etc. So in the NKJV, about 8/1000's of a percent (0.0078) of the time the translators took it to mean "or" in that version. Which implies that translators, at least for NKJV, see "or" in 1 & 2 Chronicles as still a very rare idea behind the waw, and I think similar statistics would be found for other versions.


The above does not resolve to ultimately answering "why" the RSV translators chose "or" against nearly all other major versions (though it does show that it seems intentionally departing from those). We are still left with the possibility that "or" is correct, but not likely the intended meaning in the original context, and so most likely is "incorrect" in that location.


Exodus 29:1 gives Yahweh's instructions for the consecration of priests as, one young bull and two rams without blemish. All of the versions have "AND".

Knowing Yahweh's requirements, Abijah has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he says to Jeroboam (with the conjunction as it should be):

... so that whosoever cometh to consecrate himself with a young bullock and seven rams, the same may be a priest ...

Israel has corrupted their practice of God's law, and Abijah is having a joke at Jerobaom's expense -- they'll need more rams for their false priests than Yahweh requires for a true one, and they can use any old rubbish from the herd or flock.


The word is without doubt "and" not "or", which would not have escaped the notice of the RSV translators. The use of "or" here, is perhaps their way of adding emphasis to Abijah's jibe.

The NRSV and ESV have not understood what was done, or got it and passed it on. The NET translators know something is amiss but are not sure what, so they covered themselves with a text note.

  • @elikakohen I have edited my answer in accordance with your suggestion.
    – enegue
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 1:46
  • @elikakohen Don't worry about it, Elika. It's pretty clear the "mistake" was intentional, whatever the motivation.
    – enegue
    Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 5:47
  • Yep, it looks clearly intentional. And I think you are right, or very close. But, it would be awesome if we could get an answer from the editors. So, who knows? Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 5:56

As Steve Fassberg humorously says,

The conjunction waw means everything and nothing — it merely indicates that clauses or words are in some sort of relationship. The meaning must be derived from the context. Biblical poetry tends to lack the waw and you simply juxtapose the words or clauses.

As for disjunctive accents, it is a question of length of the clause or sentence. Yes, when it looks like the meaning ‘or’, you get a disjunctive, but you can also get a disjunctive with the meaning ‘yes’ when the clause is long enough. The accents show us, to a certain extent, the syntactical analysis of the Masoretes — but sometimes the length of the clause and verse forces them to break things up differently from the obvious meaning of the verse.

Steve Fassberg
Department of Hebrew Language, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Mark Boda also mentions this versatility, though he does lean more towards “and” being most likely in 2 Chronicles 13:9.

ו is a more general term that occurs between phrases and words that range from coordination to subordination and on. It is possible that an alternative is in view here as with the use of ו in 2 Sam 2:19; Exod 21:16; 21:17; Deut 24:7; Ezek 2:5.

In light of Exod 29, where consecration to priesthood required one young bull AND two young rams, it is most likely that the ו here is “and” and in Jeroboam’s cult the requirement was raised to seven rams.

So translating the ו as or is not incorrect, as it is a possibility, but most likely it refers to “and”.

Mark Boda
Professor of Old Testament, McMaster Divinity College
Hamilton, Ontario

Ron Hendel also sides with “and,” and says that “or” is more of an interpretation:

“And” is correct. “Or” is an interpretation of an odd statement. It's not really incorrect, but tries to make it sound like good English.

Ron Hendel
Norma and Sam Dabby Professor of Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies
University of California, Berkeley

Chief Editor of The Hebrew Bible: A Critical Edition

When asked to clarify his last sentence, Professor Hendel agreed that there was just enough ambiguity that a translator could get away with using “or.”

However the next two take a much stronger stance against “or”:

Translating the ו as “or” here is incorrect
you should translate --- and
a young bull and seven rams

Gershon Galil
Department of Biblical Studies, University of Haifa
Mount Carmel, Haifa

In my opinion there is no doubt that the correct translation is “and”. Translating the ו as “or” here is incorrect. The verse is based on a comparison to Ex. 29:1. You can compare to many other verses such as Num. 28:11, 19; Lev. 23:18 and more.

Jonathan Jacobs
The Zalman Shamir Bible Department, Bar-Ilan University

Rick Hess also sides with “and,” for several reasons:

I reviewed the 46 occurrences where bqr and ‘yl occur in the same verse. In the NIV all of them are translated by “and,” and that seems to me to be the best way to translate the waw. There are two other texts with the specific bn bqr w’yl(m), as in 2 Chron 13:9. Those are Exod 29:1 and Ezek 43:25. There is no difficulty with translating these with “and,” as the NIV does.

Then I reflected on the genre of sacrificial texts and (as here) a list of sacrifices for a deity. After looking at Pardee’s Ugaritic sacrifice lists and recalling other such texts I have read, I realized that there is no example where a sacrificial list presents an option, so many of this animal or so many of that animal, as though the offerer could pick and choose. There are, of course, exceptions. In the case of poverty where someone cannot afford one type of animal and so can sacrifice a cheaper animal (not just in the Old Testament). But there the exception is clearly specified and marked as such. Otherwise, these texts never present such options, to my knowledge. It goes against the nature of the specifics of a sacrifice. The deity is assumed to know what he or she wants and the sacrificer is not at liberty to choose from a “menu.”

Therefore, I would need more proof than a disjunctive accent to translate a waw as “or” in such a context.

Unless there is a clear reason from context to translate waw as “or,” it should take a copulative sense. This is what the NIV does and I feel most comfortable with that approach. The LXX has kai, again a copulative sense. I think it more likely that the NRSV, NET, and ESV come to this conclusion from context. However, I don’t see a context that requires this. Seven rams occur in the Balaam context of Num 22-24. But there they occur with seven bulls as in 1 Chr 15:26; 2 Chr 29:21; Job 42:8; and Ezekiel 45:23. So I am not clear as to why they choose to translate the text in this manner.

Rick Hess
Distinguished Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages, Denver Seminary
Littleton, Colorado

Member of the Committee on Bible Translation for the New International Version (NIV)

Rick Hess also agreed with Bruce Waltke's more grammatical assessment:

I decided to look into this to see whether the NIV or ESV--actually NRSV, which ESV follows--got 2 Chronicles 13:9 right.

To consider the use of waw in 2 Chronicles 13:9, whether it presents alternative objects of “to fill his hands with” (that is, “to consecrated himself with”). I reflected upon all the uses of ו waw that connect alternatives in BDB entry 1. d. (p. 252) and in Muraoka, P. 175. In every case this use involves conjoining simultaneously incompatible nouns or nominal constructions. The specific disjunctive pashta is irrelevant for the choice of a particular disjunctive and is based on its location in the verse (see William Edward Wickes, Two Treatises on the Accentuation of the Old Testament). In this use, mostly disjunctives are used but conjunctives also occur.

Genesis 45:6 “neither plowing nor harvesting” (Muraoka). Two incompatible predicate nominatives. Disjunctive tipha.

Exodus 20:10 “On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.”
The subjects are incompatible at the same time. Interestingly, the Masoretes present both conjunctive and disjunctive accents.

Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” The conjunction joins incompatible objects at the same time. The full thought is: “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife; you shall not covet his male or female servant….” In fact, the verb “covet” is repeated, suggesting that “house” (household) is analyzed as wife, servants, animals and property. Here disjunctive accents are used except for pairs: “male and female servant.” “ox and donkey.”

Exodus 21:16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper's possession.” Here the double waw represents incompatible objects of “kidnap.” The full thought: “Anyone who steals a man and sells him and anyone who kidnaps a man and who is still in his possession will be put to death.”

Exodus 21:17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” Here again the waw is conjunctive presenting two incompatible objects of cursing. The full thought is “anyone who curses his father is to be put to death”; “anyone who curses his mother will be put to death.” Both conjunctive and disjunctive accents are used.

Lev. 21:14 “He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution,” The waw is conjunctive conjoining incompatible objects: widow, divorced, prostitute. The full thought is: “he must not marry a widow; he must must not marry a divorced woman…”: Both conjunctive and disjunctive accents are used.

Lev. 22:23 “You may, however, present as a freewill offering an ox or a sheep that is deformed or stunted,” Here again we have the wawwaw (“both…and”) construction with incompatible objects. The full thought is: “you may present …an ox; you may present… a sheep.” A conjunctive accent is used with “ox or sheep” and with “deformed or stunted.”

Lev. 22:24 “You must not offer to the LORD an animal whose testicles are bruised, crushed, torn or cut. You must not do this in your own land,” Again, the wawwaw (“both…and”) construction with incompatible objects: bruised, crushed, etc. Conjunctive and disjunctive accents are used.

1 Kings 17:1 “neither dew nor rain.” Incompatible predicate nominatives. Conjunctive munach.

Prov. 29:9 “If a wise person goes to court with a foolish person, there is no peace whether he is angry or laughs.” (Prov. 29:9 NET). The waw is conjunctive presenting there is no peace with two types of fools: raging or laughing.

Job 31:13 “If I have denied justice to any of my servants, whether male or female,” The waw is conjunctive “and.,” presenting alternative to “deny justice.” : “If I have denied justice to my male servant, then…; and if I have denied justice to my female servant….” The same applies to the compounding of incompatible circumstantial situations in Job 31:16, 26.

2 Sam 2:19 “turning neither to the right nor to the left” Two incompatible adverbial phrases. Full thought: “he did not turn to the right and he did not turn to the left.”

With this data in hand I find that the objects, young bull and seven rams, in 2 Chronicles 13:9 are compatible and not incompatible. Had the Chronicler intended to contrast them I would have expected him to use אוֹ.

Bruce Waltke
Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia
Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, Knox Theological Seminary, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Co-author of An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Eisenbrauns, 1990.

Here is Leeor Gottlieb on why translators would have chosen to use “or.”

[Speaking of the accent marks:] They are not the reason some modern translations chose ‘or’. The translations who did so made their decision based on context. What bothered the translators was that if they interpret ‘and’ the verse seems to be giving a very rigid prescription of the sacrifices of the so-called priests mentioned in the verse. They saw no justification for this, because they understood the plain sense of the verse as a description of the various acts that a priest may perform. Knowing that the Hebrew Waw may connote ‘or’ in some cases, they made the conscious decision to employ that meaning here.

Leeor Gottlieb
The Zalman Shamir Bible Department, Bar-Ilan University

Professor Gottlieb later added that he personally does not support the choice of ‘or’ here, and that the above scenario was only his attempt to present the train of thought that the translators who did support ‘or’ might have had.

Historical Background

Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8 show that a bull and two rams without blemish were required for consecrating true priests. Both types were required.

Some time after Jeroboam became king, 1 Kings 12:25-33 says he started to worry about eventually losing his kingdom:

25 Then Jeroboam built Shechem in the mountains of Ephraim, and dwelt there. Also he went out from there and built Penuel. 26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, “Now the kingdom may return to the house of David: 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam king of Judah.

28 Therefore the king asked advice, made two calves of gold, and said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” 29 And he set up one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan. 30 Now this thing became a sin, for the people went to worship before the one as far as Dan. 31 He made shrines on the high places, and made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi.

32 Jeroboam ordained a feast on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the feast that was in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. So he did at Bethel, sacrificing to the calves that he had made. And at Bethel he installed the priests of the high places which he had made. 33 So he made offerings on the altar which he had made at Bethel on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, in the month which he had devised in his own heart. And he ordained a feast for the children of Israel, and offered sacrifices on the altar and burned incense. (NKJV)

Jeroboam's counterfeit worship system was similar in many ways to the true worship system, with the required amount of rams being raised to seven for whatever reasons Jeroboam devised in his own heart (seven was considered a perfect number to many in Israel, with one example being Ruth 4:13-15, where Ruth is said to be better to Naomi than seven sons).

Additional Considerations

The phrase used in 2 Chronicles 13:9 is בפר בן־בקר ואילם שבעה

ב - with
פר - a young bull

בן - son
בקר - [of] a herd

ו - and
אילם - rams
שבעה - seven

NKJV / NASB: “with a young bull and seven rams”
RSV: “with a young bull or seven rams”

A few examples of similar phrases:

Leviticus 16:3
בזאת יבא אהרן אל־הקדש בפר בן־בקר לחטאת ואיל לעלה

RSVBut thus shall Aaron come into the holy place: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

Leviticus 23:18
והקרבתם על־הלחם שבעת כבשים תמימם בני שנה ופר בן־בקר אחד ואילם שנים יהיו עלה ליהוה ומנחתם ונסכיהם אשה ריח־ניחח ליהוה

RSVAnd you shall present with the bread seven lambs a year old without blemish, and one young bull, and two rams; they shall be a burnt offering to the Lord, with their cereal offering and their drink offerings, an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord.

Ezekiel 43:23
בכלותך מחטא תקריב פר בן־בקר תמים ואיל מן־הצאן תמים

RSVWhen you have finished cleansing it, you shall offer a bull without blemish and a ram from the flock without blemish.

Ezekiel 43:25
שבעת ימים תעשה שעיר־חטאת ליום ופר בן־בקר ואיל מן־הצאן תמימים יעשו

RSVFor seven days you shall provide daily a goat for a sin offering; also a bull and a ram from the flock, without blemish, shall be provided.

Ezekiel 46:6
וביום החדש פר בן־בקר תמימם וששת כבשם ואיל תמימם יהיו

RSVOn the day of the new moon he shall offer a young bull without blemish, and six lambs and a ram, which shall be without blemish;

Not exactly the same, but very similar phrase constructions that the RSV renders with “and.”


Translating 2 Chronicles 13:9 with “or” is interpretive. Unlike the following variations, which do not change the sense in any real or meaningful way

Leviticus 1:2

דבר אל־בני ישראל ואמרת אלהם אדם כי־יקריב מכם קרבן ליהוה מן־הבהמה מן־הבקר ומן־הצאן תקריבו את־קרבנכם

NKJVSpeak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock.

RSVSpeak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of cattle from the herd or from the flock.

NASBSpeak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of animals from the herd or the flock.

Leviticus 27:32

וכל־מעשר בקר וצאן כל אשר־יעבר תחת השבט העשירי יהיה־קדש ליהוה

NKJVAnd concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, of whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.

RSVAnd all the tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.

NASBFor every tenth part of herd or flock, whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.

Numbers 23:8 (note how the KJV and NKJV differ from each other, while the RSV leaves out the conjunction entirely but there is not any change of meaning)

מה אקב לא קבה אל ומה אזעם לא זעם יהוה

KJVHow shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied?

NKJVHow shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?

RSVHow can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?

NASBHow shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?

translating 2 Chronicles 13:9 with “or” very much changes the sense. This passage is one of the few clues of how Jeroboam's counterfeit priesthood operated. For this particular phrase, only one meaning can truly be what was intended. While “or” is an interpretive choice here, it is, ultimately, incorrect.


The original question Why is 2 Chronicles 13:9 translated incorrectly in the RSV/NRSV/ESV? has produced much on how "and" is correct, but little justification for why the RSV translator(s) chose to use "or." Lacking notes or input from the source, asking “why” a scholar chose what is apparently a wrong understanding invites speculation.

As noted in the question, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) is a revision of the American Standard Version (ASV):

Have you not driven out the priests of the LORD, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made priests for yourselves like the peoples of other lands? Whoever comes to consecrate himself with a young bull or seven rams becomes a priest of what are no gods. (RSV)

Have ye not driven out the priests of Jehovah, the sons of Aaron, and the Levites, and made you priests after the manner of the peoples of other lands? so that whosoever cometh to consecrate himself with a young bullock and seven rams, the same may be a priest of them that are no gods. (ASV)

Obviously, the ASV was not the direct source for the choice of “or” in the RSV and the change from "and" to "or" was deliberate. The decision to change the conjunction waw from "and" to "or" means the RSV translator(s) no longer saw a single method by which a person became a priest (one bull and seven rams); rather they believed there were two different methods by which a person became a priest: either by the offering of a young bull or by the offering seven rams.

There are three reasons why two completely different types of offerings would be applied:

  1. Poverty - the person could not afford both a bull and seven rams.
  2. Gender - one offering was for men and the other for women.
  3. Nationality - one offering was for an Israelite the other for an non-Israelite.

In studying the context, there is a nuance which suggests Jeroboam accepted non-Israelites to be priests. If a translator understood Abijah was speaking to this additional corruption, it would explain why someone would make an exception to use "or" in place of "and" in this particular passage.

Chronicles and Kings

Since “the bulk of Chronicles is a retelling of the books of Samuel and Kings1 any scholar working with Chronicles will look beyond the immediate text to compare a passage with its counterpart in those books. As David Rothstein says:

The existence of many discrepancies between Chronicles and Samuel-Kings was noted already by Jews living shortly after the book’s composition. Ancient readers of the Bible, as well as virtually all premodern exegetes, assumed as a matter of course that there could be no substantive contradictions between Chronicles and its earlier biblical sources. The Jewish translators responsible for the Septuagint translation, living in the pre-Christian era, thus called Chronicles “Paraleipomenon,” i.e., a “supplement to things omitted.” This title implies an exegetical stance, according to which the additional material of Chronicles is not the literary creation of the author; rather, it represents a genuine “historical” tradition which, for one reason or another, was not included in Samuel. While this approach is incorrect, it does reflect the fact that at points Chronicles presupposes the reader’s familiarity with earlier sources.2 [Emphasis added]

It would natural for the RSV scholar to compare the text in Chronicles with Kings where the comparable passage makes no mention of animals offered; it only states Jeroboam appointed priests who were not Levites:

And he made houses of high places, and made priests from among all the people, that were not of the sons of Levi. (1 Kings 12:31 ASV)

With no emphasis on an offering, the implication is Jeroboam simply appointed priests with the objective to make sure no priests were from Aaron’s sons or the house of Levi. Kings omits details about how Jeroboam installed his priests, focusing instead on who became a priest. This message is repeated with added emphasis:

Even after this happened, Jeroboam didn’t change his evil ways. Instead, he continued to appoint all sorts of people as priests of the shrines. Anyone who wanted to be a priest Jeroboam made a priest for the shrines. In this way the house of Jeroboam acted sinfully, leading to its downfall and elimination from the earth. (1 Kings 13:33-34 CEB) 3

Jeroboam’s two sins were making the golden calves and establishing a counterfeit priesthood and Kings states the sin which lead to the house of Jeroboam being eliminated from the earth was appointing non-Levitical priests.

A scholar working in Chronicles will note how the Chronicler picked up and expanded the theme by exemplifying the priests and Levites: they left their pasturelands and holdings in the North and set out for Judah and Jerusalem:

And the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel presented themselves to him from all places where they lived. For the Levites left their common lands and their holdings and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons cast them out from serving as priests of the LORD, and he appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat idols and for the calves that he had made. And those who had set their hearts to seek the LORD God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD, the God of their fathers. (2 Chronicles 11:13-16 ESV)

As the OP notes in their answer, the Chronicler has used Abijah’s speech to provide insight on how Jeroboam’s counterfeit priesthood operated. Yet this is a secondary issue. As with Kings, the primary focus in on the priests themselves. First the Chronicler explains the legitimate priests left on their own accord and then Abijah's speech is used to add the fact the sons of Aaron and the Levites were forcibly expelled:

Have you not driven out [H5080-nadach] the priests of the LORD…

Forcing the priests and Levites to leave Israel had no effect on their serving in the Temple, which required travel to Jerusalem. However, by driving them out, Jeroboam disinherited them from cites Joshua had appointed for them and denied the people of their potentially positive influence (compare 2 Chronicles 11:17 and 1 Kings 12:26-27).

Thus the Chronicler adds to Jeroboam's sin. Not only did he allow anyone who was not a son of Aaron or a Levite to become a priest, he forced the legitimate priests to leave. Where Kings states Jeroboam was concerned about the people voluntarily going to Jerusalem to make offerings, the Chronicler omits this detail; instead they describe a kingdom devoid of Levites, some whom left on their own account the rest who were forcibly cast out.

Thus the primary approach to the text is on of the identity of Jeroboam’s priests. The method of consecration is of secondary importance.

Jeroboam’s Priests

The ASV was an attempt to revise the King James Version. The relevant passages in the KJV highlight the issue of who Jeroboam chose to be priests:

…and made priests of the lowest of the people… (1 Kings 12:31)
… made you priests after the manner of the nations of other lands?...(2 Chronicles 13:9)

The KJV states Jeroboam took of low standing people while Chronicles suggests Jeroboam may also chosen some who were not from the nation of Israel.4 If a scholar sees Jeroboam choosing his priests from both the Israelites and non-Israelites, it is possible he would also have two different sacrifices, one for the “low standing people” of Israel (a young bull) and another from those “of other lands” (seven rams). This is both logical and practical for two reasons. First, having the smallest offering for the "lowest of the people" is a practical reality. Second, if Jeroboam allowed someone who was not an Israelite to become a priest, it would be reasonable for him to impose a larger offering. In other words, "or" is a reflection of a two-tiered system where the non-Israelite was required to pay a higher price.

While the RSV translator opted to preserve the ASV change in 1 Kings 12:31 away from the “lowest of the people” they also recognized how the Chronicler described the people Jeroboam chose to be priests differently from that in Kings and how Kings suggests Jeroboam may have also included non-Israelites.

Therefore an "or" aspect of the conjunction which is remotely possible in the text, in this case makes sense, especially if one was influenced by the KJV translation of Kings to mean the poor residents of the Northern kingdom became priests.

The “Lowest” of the People

The KJV renders מִקְצ֣וֹת in 1 Kings 12:31 as "lowest:"

And he made an house of high places, and made priests of the lowest (מִקְצ֣וֹת) of the people, which were not of the sons of Levi.

The word means end or extremity [H7098-qatsah] It is used 35 times in 30 OT verses; 23 times the word is used in the context of the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, the Altar of Burnt Offering, Aaron’s Ephod, Aaron’s breastplate, and the Most Holy Place in Solomon's Temple. The first use in Scripture illustrates the meaning:

And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends (קְצ֥וֹת) of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end (מִקָּצָה֙), and one cherub on the other end (מִקָּצָ֖ה). Of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends (קְצוֹתָֽיו). (Exodus 25:18-19 ESV)

The sense of the word is spatial: it describes the placement of the two cherubim on either end of the covering to the Ark.

The writer of Kings deliberately chose a word whose meaning is intimately tied to the Levitical priesthood, to define Jeroboam’s counterfeit priests. Yet there is more than irony in the choice of this word. Since Jeroboam put one calf in Dan and the other in Bethel, the two idols sat at the ends of his territory, just like the two cherubim sat at the ends on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. The writer of Kings is saying Jeroboam took his priests from the people in the territory which lay between his two calves and since he drove out all of the Levites, anyone who remained between the two idols would be eligible to be a priest. This would include non-Israelites.

Kings makes the same description of Jeroboam’s priests in three different places. The third one clearly includes non-Israelites living in the land:

But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the Samaritans had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived. The men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal, the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. They also feared the LORD and appointed from among (מִקְצוֹתָם֙) themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. So they feared the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. (2 Kings 17:29-33 ESV)

When the land was populated with people from many different nations, Jeroboam’s selection process remained intact: anyone living in the land could become a priest. The Chronicler continues this theme:

Did you not banish the priests of the LORD, the sons of Aaron and the Levites, and, like the peoples of the land, appoint your own priests? Anyone who offered himself for ordination with a young bull of the herd and seven rams became a priest of no-gods. (2 Chronicles 13:9 JPS)

The phrase “like peoples of the land” is כְּעַמֵּ֣י הָאֲרָצ֔וֹת literally peoples or inhabitants of the lands. The LXX indicates Abijah accused Jeroboam of taking anyone who was in the land:

Have you not thrown out the Lord’s priests, the sons of Aaron and the Leuites, and made for yourselves priests from the people of the land? Anyone who approaches to fill the hands with a calf from cattle and seven rams becomes priest to what is no god. [NETS - S. Peter Cowe]

It is customary to think of Israel strictly in terms of the twelve tribes of Jacob but the Canaanites and others were never removed from the land. Judges especially noted how the Canaanites remained in land belonging to the Northern tribes: Manasseh (1:27), Ephraim (1:29), Zebulun (1:30), Asher (1:31), Naphtali (1:33). If Jeroboam allowed anyone living between Dan and Bethel to become a priest, he permitted Canaanites to become priests. There is no reason to believe Jeroboam would think his idolatrous system could be ministered only by Israelite priests; rather, Canaanites would be far more knowledgeable about how to function as a priest to their gods.


Lacking direct input from the translator(s), any explanation as to why the choice of "or" was made is speculation. However, since "or" was a deliberate choice and one which went from what is almost universally accepted as textually correct, it is a reasonable to understand the decision to use "or" as one which was also driven by the rationale there was a reason or a necessity for Jeroboam to have two different offerings.

While poverty and gender are possible, I believe the most probable explanation is the translator(s) saw the priesthood as one which Jeroboam took anyone living in the territory over which he was king. The mixed nationalities resulted in a two-tier system where a greater offering was required if the person was not an Israelite.

Finally, additional light could come from the practices of the Canaanite religions. For example, if there is evidence seven rams (or one young bull) were the required offering to become a priest/priestess of Ba'al, Asheroh, or one of the other Canaanite gods, then there would be additional evidence Jeroboam not only accepted priests from outside the descendants of Jacob, he followed their methods of ordination.

1. David Rothstein, The Jewish Study Bible, Oxford Press, 2004, p. 1713
2. Ibid p. 1714
3. Like “or” of 2 Chronicles 13:9, the Hebrew יְמַלֵּ֣א is often interpreted as “ordained” or "consecrated." The word means to fill or be made full [H4390-male']. Compare to קָדַשׁ [H6942-qadash] as in Exodus 29 and Leviticus 8.
4. The question of and/or can be studied from text in the Bible, but the practical answer of knowing how many animals were needed to become a (non-Levitical) priest is found in Canaanite or other pagan rituals. In other words, if Jeroboam is following the ways of other nations in making priests, it is those practices Abijah is referencing.

  • There are a few issues with this answer. You state that "With no indication of an offering, Kings implies Jeroboam simply appointed priests." 1 Kings 13:33 contradicts that statement when it says "...he consecrated him...". A consecration implies an offering of some kind. It would be interesting if any source at all could be found where a priest was consecrated without an offering. You also said "Kings places the greatest emphasis on Jeroboam's sin as appointing non-Levitical priest." This is not entirely accurate....
    – user6503
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 18:06
  • 2 Kings 10:29 makes plain that the 'sins of Jeroboam' were in setting up the golden calves in Bethel and Dan. This included his counterfeit priesthood, but the greatest emphasis was not on appointing non-Levites as priests. You also said "...Chronicles suggests Jeroboam may have also gone outside Israel [to get some of his false priests]." Chronicles does not suggest that at all. The phrase "after the manner of the nations of other lands" does not imply making priests from other lands, it only means that...
    – user6503
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 18:07
  • ...the northern kingdom made priests for itself like the other nations did. Also "lowest of the people" doesn't exclusively mean poor. "Low" has attested uses of "humble in rank" from around 1200; "undignified" from the 1550s; "dejected, dispirited" from 1737; and "coarse, vulgar" from 1769, which might have been why the KJV used it, as in 'Jeroboam made priests from even the most undignified of the people (since anyone could become a priest if he paid the price).'
    – user6503
    Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 18:07
  • @Bʀɪᴀɴ I have modified the answer to address your comments. Once you accept the RSV chose "or" you must acknowledge they saw two sacrifices: 1 bull or 7 rams. As Rick Hess notes poverty is one possibility. I also added how the writer of Kings would understand מִקְצ֣וֹת. as the most important aspect is how the writer understood the meaning. As I stated, there is a nuance in the context which could lead the RSV translator to see two different classes of people and from there decide there were two different types of offerings. Poverty is a potential answer for one side but... Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 14:11
  • says nothing about the 7 rams. OTOH if Jeroboam allowed non-Israelites to become priests there is a single element which accounts for both the lesser and greater requirements. It is fairly obvious Jeroboam allowed whoever wanted to become a priest and it is not so far-fetched to think he restrict the priesthood to Israelites. More likely it was utterly corrupt and he may have allowed wealthier non-Israelites to become priests. Commented Sep 2, 2017 at 14:17

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