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Translating 2 Samuel 1:18 seems to be a very difficult task. Could anyone please lay a helping hand?

A very accurate solution seems to be:

NET: He gave instructions that the people of Judah should be taught “The Bow.” Indeed, it is written down in the Book of Yashar.

That would be something like a song, a canticle, "The Bow". Just like in:

ASV: and he bade them teach the children of Judah the song of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jashar ...

In other versions there is "the lament of the bow"(see NIV), which is more or less the same idea.

Yet there is so different here:

ISV... he gave orders to teach the descendants of Judah the art of warfare, as is recorded in the Book of Jashar

The ISV is apparently more like an interpetation of the Hebrew, according to Rashi's:

Rashi on II Samuel 1:18 - He said, "To teach the Bnei Yehudah archery. David said, "Now that mighty among Yisroel have fallen, the Bnei Yehudah need to be taught how to make war and how to pull back a bow.

Very similar in the KJV:

KJV: Also he bade them teach the children of Judah the use of the bow: behold, it is written in the book of Jasher.

YET, there are quite a few versions, in which the bow is gone. Lost in translation? See:

ESV: And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, and he said it should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar (2 Samuel 1:17-18)

Most likely, these no bow versions are taking into account the LXX, where there is no bow:

LXX: καὶ εἶπεν τοῦ διδάξαι τοὺς υἱοὺς Ιουδα ἰδοὺ γέγραπται ἐπὶ βιβλίου τοῦ εὐθοῦς ...

So, I was wondering what's up here? We have 3 very different translations:

  1. it is about a song called "the bow" (from the Hebrew)
  2. it is about the art of using the bow (from the Hebrew)
  3. there is no bow at all (from the Greek)

From 1 / 2 - which one would be closer to the Hebrew text?

And is it possible that the authors of the LXX have overlooked the bow because of the ambiguity of the Hebrew text?

Or perhaps they used different Hebrew versions of the text with no bow?

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The ESV most likely follows the version of the LXX in which the word bow is missing from the text. In this version there are no problems with the text, it is smooth and well ordered.

The ISV and Rashi's interpretation on the other hand I think are hardly defensible: Why would the text tell us now that David taught the Israelites archery? It interrupts the flow of the lament and doesn't follow any logical or natural order and seems to me completely out of place. If Rashi were correct in his translation, v18 (archery) would've preceded v17 which introduces the lament of David; for why would the text first introduce the lament in v17 only to distract the reader with a marginal, tangential note about David teaching the people archery. This is unjustifiable. Take a look at the text yourself.

17Then David took up this lament for Saul and his son Jonathan, 18and he ordered that the sons of Judah be taught archery. It is written in the Book of Jashar 19“Your glory, O Israel, lies slain on your heights. How the mighty have fallen!

As you can see, v18 (which I have italicized) is completely out of order and makes these verses awkward and unreadable.

If we must accept the word bow as part of the original text then the interpretation of the ASV and NIV is most likely. It is the "song/lament of the bow" that David taught to them. Indeed it is understandable why the author inserted this verse as part of the introduction to this lament.

The E. V. cannot be right in inserting “the use of,” for the bow was a weapon already in common use. If the text is sound, “the Bow” must be a title given to David’s elegy from the mention of Jonathan’s bow in 2 Samuel 1:22. (Cambridge Bible Commentary)

  • Yes, it seems to me too that the versions with the bow (song of…) are closer to the Hebrew text. Still, I'm rather intrigued by Rashi's comment. I'm not trying to defend this, but Rashi's reading makes sense, in a way. I'll post another comment for this. – Constantin Jinga Feb 3 at 16:21
  • If we look at how Rashi is understading the vs. 27, we can see that for him, Saul and Jonathan are themselves, metaphorically speaking, the "weapons of Israel" as some sort of a champions of Israel.Now that they have died, Israel (as a people) will have to learn to fight for themselves. That would be Rashi's reading. I don’t know to what extent he could have had any influence on translations such as the ISV or the KJV. If you or anyone else have any information on this, it shall be of a real use to me. – Constantin Jinga Feb 3 at 16:22
  • On the other hand, with respect to the LXX, we know that its authors also used versions of the Hebrew text older than the MT. Perhaps this is the reason why the bow is missing? Do you have any suggestion on this, please? – Constantin Jinga Feb 3 at 16:22
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The greater context I think sheds some light on the passage.

2 Samuel 1:17-22, NKJV

Then David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son, and he told them to teach the children of Judah the Song of the Bow; indeed it is written in the Book of Jasher:

“The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath,
Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon—
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.

“O mountains of Gilboa,
Let there be no dew nor rain upon you,
Nor fields of offerings.
For the shield of the mighty is cast away there!
The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
From the blood of the slain,
From the fat of the mighty,
The bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
And the sword of Saul did not return empty.

This isn't the full hymn, but we know that David was quite the psalmist. The emboldened print is in a sense the climax of the hymn, and it highlights the same concept that Jesus spoke of when He said,

Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Matthew 26:52

And thus, it seems reasonable that the KJV and NKJV hav it correct that "The Song of the Bow" is the title given to this hymn written by David, which was apparently also recorded in the book of Jasher (no longer extant). The hymn speaks of the woe of warfare, and the consequences of taking up arms.

When it comes to the differences seen in most modern translations, and with the critical text which we call the Septuagint, the culprit can be pinned down as the Greek texts from which they are derived. The same few select manuscripts responsible for the majority of modern translations are also behind the LXX, as is stated in the Wikipedia article:

Modern critical editions of the Septuagint are based on the Codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus.

These texts are well known for having a lot of missing materials and changes from the majority represented by the Byzantine family of manuscripts.

This article does a fair job at introducing manuscript history for more information. For further inquiry, I recommend the book "Our Authorized Bible Vindicated" by Benjamin G. Wilkinson, which is an extremely thorough and in-depth look at the history of the Bible, its sources, and the work of some since the days of Origen to develop a "new," adjusted text which is more appropriate for an ecumenical audience (reflected in the Alexandrian, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus manuscripts).

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    Why do you introduce the KJV only controversy here when that involves the New Testament?? There is little dispute here about the Masoretic text! Please stick to the text involved without getting on hobby horses. – user25930 Feb 1 at 19:50
  • I'm not KJV only, and this certainly isn't just a "hobby horse." Manuscript history is a very important issue which we need to be educated on. – Jacob M. Feb 3 at 1:36
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    If you are not KJV only, why recommend one of the "high priests" of the movement and his book that is so widely quoted and (some argue) the 20th century's genesis of the movement? "Our Authorized Bible Vindicated" contains no evidence for his conclusion except for a series of unsubstantiated accusation and a parade of guilt by association allegations. – user25930 Feb 3 at 1:40
  • Just because a fanatical movement takes something and runs too far with it doesn't discredit the work itself. Groups have done that with the Bible for ages, and yet we don't discredit the Bible because of it. "Our Authorized Bible Vindicated" is an extremely valuable tool with fantastic insight into one of the greatest issues facing Christendom today - the issue of whether or not we can trust the Bible. Any further discussion on this probably doesn't belong here, by the way. Maybe send me a personal message? – Jacob M. Feb 3 at 1:43

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