When Elisha curses the children who were mocking him (2 Kings 2:23-24), the Hebrew uses Strongs H1234 -- בָּקַע baqa` -- to describe what the bears did to the 42 of them they caught. Most often this word is translated "rip," "cleave," "rend," or something along those lines. What I'm trying to decide is whether this necessarily means the attack was fatal. To my (admittedly very inexpert) eye, it seems at least questionable whether the children were put to death or not.

A search on H1234 shows it's most commonly used with something inanimate as the object. In this and six other instances, the object is a person or people (2 Kings 8:12, 15:16; 2 Chronicles 25:12; Hosea 13:8, 13:16; Amos 1:13). Now in all of those other six instances, the context (acts of war, judgment from God) does make it pretty clear that the injuries are fatal. Hosea 13:8 is particularly relevant because God's warning, "...like a lion I will devour them -- a wild animal will tear them apart," is directed against Israelites who persist in idolatry.

The question that remains though (to me) is whether this same judgment would likewise be directed against children who are mocking a prophet. Coming back to 2 Kings 2:24, the context doesn't have the same clarity as to the deadly intentions or the end result of the attack. I also note that the text does not use H2026 (הָרַג harag), H4191 (מוּת muwth), H5221 (נָכָה nakah), which seem to be the most common words to describe a killing.

Am I right that there's some ambiguity here?

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    Whether fatal or not, I think it will discourage children from mocking prophets in the future. Touch not mine anointed and do my prophets no harm.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 14, 2018 at 10:35
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    I personally don't think there's any ambiguity here. They were obviously mauled to death. The author did not feel the need to spell it out "and the died", as it is obvious from the text. Usually this term depicts an unusual cruel and horrible death. Cf. 2 chronicles 25:12 where the blow was certainly fatal, although this term alone is used.
    – bach
    Jun 14, 2018 at 13:54
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    @Bach, the context in the 2 Chronicles passage is 10,000 captured enemy soldiers being pushed en masse off a high rock. That's not the sort of thing done merely "as a warning," the intent was clearly to kill. But people can and often do survive a bear attack. And we're talking only 2 bears here, going into a crowd of... how many? Well, at least 42 people. It would be reasonable to expect that many to be cuffed, gouged, mauled before the crowd scattered. But 42 taken down and fatally ripped to shreds? Only happening if the all stand frozen in place and wait for the end.
    – JDM-GBG
    Jun 14, 2018 at 23:02
  • Welcome to the forum, JDM-GBG. Thank you for the nicely researched question. Best wishes,
    – Dieter
    Jun 15, 2018 at 1:11
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    @JDM-GBG it was obviously an unnatural phenomena for two bears to suddenly march out of the woods and devour 42 children. Were dealing here with biblical prophets so in this context anything could've happened. The question is really what the term בקע means, and that I think always has a fatal death connotation. Just sharing my thoughts.
    – bach
    Jun 15, 2018 at 2:19

3 Answers 3


Along with the answer of Enegue, and the comments of Bach, I should add a linguistic particular regarding the occurrences of the conceptual root we've discuss here (בקע). Often, in the MT, we found expressed a particular concept by different graphical roots (someone speaks about them as 'allomorphic roots').

In this case, the same basic concept included in בקע is present in פקע, also. Often, graphical variants of this kind arised from the proximity of the physical point of consonantal 'generation of sound' (technically, we speak about them as homorganic consonants). So, it is also very unlikely (from a math probability viewpoint) these two roots were unrelated. Interestingly, the Strong lexicon, combines the פקע entry (# H6497, "From an unused root meaning to burst") with the derived noun פַּקֻּעָה (# H6498), and explains it refers to "the wild cucumber (from splitting open to shed its seeds)". Substituting 'wild cucumbers' with 'boys', and 'seeds' with 'bloods' we have got the full idea expressed by the 1 Kings' verse...

All this confirms the basic meaning of this root(s), that is, 'to burst', and in this specific case, "to rip, cleave, rend", like JDM-GBG wrote in his introduction.


Well as you mentioned, the hebrew verse use תבקענה - the 3rd person plural (female - refer to the 2 bears*) from the root בקע that mean to crack or split by force.

As for you question, when בקע refer to the "young kids" from the Bears - i think that is correct to think that they slaughtered to death. The final sentence in that verse even point the number from those kids that died.

This action is one of Elisha's sins, as described in Talmud.

  • Could you supply the quote from the Talmud that you're referring to? It really surprises me that this would be described as a sin on Elisha's part, given that God implicitly gave His 'approval' by following through.
    – JDM-GBG
    Jun 27, 2018 at 21:24
  • Bavli Suta 45 a @JDM-GBG
    – A. Meshu
    Jun 28, 2018 at 16:15
  • I meant the quote, the actual text. (I don't have any familiarity with the Talmud and I'm not able to locate a passage by reference.)
    – JDM-GBG
    Jun 28, 2018 at 21:23

There are many problems with the way this incident has been depicted in the various English versions of the text, but whether or not anyone died is not one of them. It is pretty certain that many of the people involved in the harassment of the prophet died.

Here is how I see the Hebrew of 2 Kings 2:23-24,

23So he went up from there to Bethel. But as he was going along the way ignorant young men came forth from the city and scoffed at him and called to him, "Go up, baldy! Go up, baldly!"
24And he turned back and stared at them and scolded them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came forth from the forest and tore forty-two of the young men to pieces.

Details: enter image description here

Here are some things that ought to be considered important:

  1. וּ/נְעָרִ֤ים קְטַנִּים֙ is given by the KJV as "little children", but that is misleading:

    And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child:נַ֣עַר קָטֹ֔ן I know not how to go out or come in.
    -- 1 Kings 3:7 (KJV)

    This is part of the prayer that Solomon prayed when he was appointed to the throne. According to the time-line at BibleHub, Solomon was born in 990 BC and prayed this prayer in 967 BC, making him 23 years old at the time -- hardly a little child. Given this, וּ/נְעָרִ֤ים קְטַנִּים֙ is likely an idiomatic expression referring to one who is young, ignorant and inexperienced.

  2. The passage records that forty-two מֵהֶֽם ("from them") were torn to pieces. How many of these ignorant young men were there? It can't be determined how many there were, but surely it would be unreasonable to imagine more that 42 "little children" coming out without adult supervision to harass a prophet on his way to their city. No, it was clearly a gang of ignorant young men.

  3. The gang of ignorant young men came up from behind. The narrative records concerning the prophet, וַ/יִּ֤פֶן אַֽחֲרָי/ו֙ ("and he turned back and stared at them...").

  4. וַֽיְקַלְלֵ֖ם (from קָלַל Strong's H7043 - qalal) has nothing to do with invoking/pronouncing/calling down/ a curse as a witch might cast as spell. Such an idea is complete rubbish.

    And he that curseth וּמְקַלֵּ֥ל his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.
    -- Exodus 21:17 (KJV)

    This is the judgment associated with trespassing the fifth commandment to כַּבֵּ֥ד ("honour" Strong's H3513 - kabad) your father and mother.

    קָלַל is about lightness, i.e. to treat with disdain, dishonour and contempt, whereas כַּבֵּ֥ד about heaviness, i.e. to treat with gravity, honour and respect.

    The obvious reason for the belief that the prophet invoked a curse on the gang of ignorant young men is because two bears appeared on the scene. Did God spontaneously create them, or transport them magically from somewhere else? Again, what rubbish! The bears came from the forest, and were clearly incensed by the noise of a gang of more than 42 ignorant young men yelling abuse at a man on his way to their city.


Forty-two of a gang of young ignorant men who came out to harass the prophet died due to their own folly. People's liking for spells and curses and magic can't help but read such ideas into this passage.

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    The first paragraph does give a response to my question, but the rest of it is completely off the point -- going into issues I never asked about and refuting positions I never took. The answer would be a lot more helpful if you supplied reasons for the certainty that the 42 who were mauled, died of their injuries.
    – JDM-GBG
    Jun 14, 2018 at 22:38
  • @JDM-GBG You said, The question that remains though (to me) is whether this same judgment would likewise be directed against children who are mocking a prophet. This question invited a fuller exploration of the misleading idea that "little children" were involved.
    – enegue
    Jun 14, 2018 at 22:48
  • Poor choice of words on my part. That wasn't part of my question, I just meant it was a point of uncertainty that led to the actual question -- i.e. the one given in the headline.
    – JDM-GBG
    Jun 15, 2018 at 3:13
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    @enegue If I refer to myself as a 'baby' because I was afraid to go to the dentist, that does not nullify the word 'baby' from being properly applied to babies.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 15, 2018 at 9:27
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    @enegue Your "And Bethel arose from there, so he went up that way himself." seriously misconstrues the Hebrew. "Bethel" is not the subject; "himself" misunderstands the syntax of hu'. I thought you would want to know. NASB pretty much nails it.
    – Dɑvïd
    Jun 15, 2018 at 22:57

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