Could someone please explain why the bible verses contradict when it comes to associating the title of "chief of the thirty" to 2 different people?

1 Chronicles 11:11 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

11 These constitute the list of the mighty men whom David had: Jashobeam, the son of a Hachmonite, the chief of the thirty; he lifted up his spear against three hundred [e]whom he killed at one time.

1 Chronicles 11:20 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

20 As for [j]Abshai the brother of Joab, he was chief of the thirty, and he swung his spear against three hundred [l]and killed them; and he had a name as well as the [m]thirty.

  • 1
    YLT has 'head of thirty' for Jashobeam in 11:11 and 'head of three' for Joab in 11:20. KJV has 'chief of the captains' for Jashobeam 11:11 and 'chief of the three' for Joab 11:20.
    – Nigel J
    Sep 25 '19 at 12:54

The NASB translation notes that the sentence Abshai the brother of Joab was chief of the thirty comes from the Syriac. In the MT there is no contradiction between these two verses: Jashobeam is chief of the thirty (ketiv) or chief of the officers (qere), and Abshai is chief of the three. So the contradiction comes from the mix between the MT and Syriac (but is also present in the Syriac itself in a different way).

So the problem is really: Why does the NASB (and Peshitta) call two people by the same title, "chief of the thirty"? This contradiction seems to be theoretically solvable in only two ways: they didn't have the title at the same time, or the title could belong to more than one person at one time. Since the text gives no hint of any changes in David's list of warriors, the first option seems unlikely. So for the Chroniclist not to contradict himself, we would have to fall on the second option.

I think that this is more clear, considering the fact that "head of the officers" (רֹ֚אשׁ הַשָּׁ֣לִישִׁ֔ים qere 11:11) is similar in Hebrew to "head of the thirty" (ketiv ראש השלושים). In the parallel list in 2 Samuel 23:8, the term used is רֹ֣אשׁ הַשָּֽׁלִשִׁ֗י, which Barthélemy (pp. 312-313, 450-451) takes to mean "member of the highest guard," which can obviously apply to both of them; the Chroniclist, no longer recognizing the title, added the ם to make both of them "head of the officers" or "heads of the thirty" depending on the text. However, working with the reasonable assumption that Chroniclist was aware that he was giving them both the same title, it would seem that the author viewed this as a title that could belong to more than one person, so that for the Chroniclist the thirty had to have had multiple chiefs.

  • 1
    Why does the NASB not stay with the MT ?
    – Nigel J
    Sep 25 '19 at 16:30
  • ba your evidence from 1 Samuel 23:8 is highly tentative. There is much disagreement if the warrior of that verse is Adino or Josheb-Basshebeth (which you apparently identify with Jashobeam). If the true warrior is Adino (this is I believe the proper way to read it) then there is no "parallel" verse for it in Chronicles, and nothing can be learned from it to "reconstruct the text". There is so much confusion regarding the identification of the Three Warriors of David that I would be very weary of drawing any conclusions from these badly preserved texts.
    – Bach
    Sep 26 '19 at 1:26
  • And for every verse you will find two different versions: one reading thirty and one three, making it almost impossible to reconstruct the text.
    – Bach
    Sep 26 '19 at 1:46
  • That the Chronicler's version of שלושים always meant 'thirty' could draw some confusion over how to interpret 1Chr 12:18, where if thirty were meant it should not necessarily indicate which 'thirty', given it was said under a context of Saul's kingdom not David's(1Ch 12:1). It should not seem to me to be the thirty listed in 2Sa 23:24-38, if for instance Joab was possibly replaced by Benaiah from the thirty(1Ch 11:15;22), having died, and Amasa also having died. Suffice to say, I suppose of some thirty would still be possible.
    – user21676
    Sep 26 '19 at 7:45
  • @Bach 1S 23:8 is clearly the parallel of 1C 11:11 in my opinion. The verses are identical, almost letter by letter, except for יֹשֵׁ֨ב בַּשֶּׁ֜בֶת תַּחְכְּמֹנִ֣י vs. יָֽשָׁבְעָ֣ם בֶּן־חַכְמוֹנִ֗י and עֲדִינ֣וֹ העצנו vs. עוֹרֵ֧ר אֶת־חֲנִית֛וֹ, and even both of these differences are very graphically similar, so they could've relied on the same source. I don't see the lists of David's warriors as random lists of names and facts, but of two recensions of the same text. I make no attempt to reconstruct the text, but I see no reason to deny them as parallels, since there is clear literary dependence
    – b a
    Sep 26 '19 at 9:08

In this post I will not address the problem with the NASB's choice to translate "head of thirty" both in v. 11 and v. 20, for this @ba has already provided an illuminating answer. My intention is only to provide what I think is the best and most accurate translation for v. 11 and v. 20, and I hope this will shed some light on this very confusing topic.


V. 11 according to the Hebrew as preserved in the MT:

וְאֵלֶּה מִסְפַּר הַגִּבֹּרִים, אֲשֶׁר לְדָוִיד: יָשָׁבְעָם בֶּן-חַכְמוֹנִי, רֹאשׁ השלושים (הַשָּׁלִישִׁים)--הוּא-עוֹרֵר אֶת-חֲנִיתוֹ עַל-שְׁלֹשׁ-מֵאוֹת חָלָל, בְּפַעַם אֶחָת.

Whether you go with the kere הַשָּׁלִישִׁים or you go with the ketiv השלושים Jashobeam is clearly not head of any three. He is either head of the "officers" or the "thirty" but not of "three". And the Septuagint agrees with this. The parallel verse in Samuel which reads ראש השלישי doesn't pose a problem at all, since according to the Masoretic text this should not be read as "head of three" but רֹ֣אשׁ הַשָּֽׁלִשִׁ֗י which is an archaic term for "head of officers" as well. (see @ba post for more on this). So the texts in Chronicles and Samuel both point to "head of officers" as the original title of Jashobeam. Even the ESV who has "head of three" in v. 11 notes that it is not being loyal to the Hebrew text, only that the text in Samuel indicates that "head of three" is the correct title, but as we saw this is simply not the case if we go with the Masoretic version (which they simply disregard). Likewise the NLT notes that "three" comes up in some Greek manuscripts, and that Samuel likewise suggests "three". But as I said, in the Hebrew text of Chronicles there is no number three (in any of the versions), and Jashobeam clearly does not feature as their commander. Since the MT and the Septuagint both seem to agree that the text does not have a "three" then I think it would be logical to reject the ESV and the NLT's translation.


Moving on to v. 20 the Hebrew reads:

וְאַבְשַׁי אֲחִי-יוֹאָב, הוּא הָיָה רֹאשׁ הַשְּׁלוֹשָׁה, וְהוּא עוֹרֵר אֶת-חֲנִיתוֹ, עַל-שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת חָלָל; ולא- (וְלוֹ-) שֵׁם, בַּשְּׁלוֹשָׁה.

In the MT Abishai is clearly identified as "head of the three", and the Septuagint agrees with this reading. The NASB which has "head of thirty" in my opinion unnecessarily complicates matters. The problem is that in the subsequent verse Abishai is clearly described as "head of the three", so according to the NASB this would make Abishai both head of three and thirty! Furthermore, the text changes drastically from thirty to three:

As for Abshai the brother of Joab, he was chief of the thirty, and he swung his spear against three hundred and killed them; and he had a name as well as the thirty. 21 Of the three in the second rank he was the most honored and became their commander; however, he did not attain to the first three.

See how awkward the two verses become according to the NASB. But according to the majority of traditions the text flows smoothly as Abishai in v. 20 and 21 is consistently described as being the head of three.

Syriac text

I should note that the NASB's choice of "thirty" is influenced by the Syriac text. The Syriac text, according to @ba's research, indeed gets out of this conundrum by substituting "thirty" for "three" in v. 21 as well. While this ensures coherence, it differs vastly from the text of the MT and LXX which have "three" consistently throughout v. 21. The Syriac differs from the MT and LXX in other aspects as well. For example, the word בַשְּׁנַ֙יִם֙ which is present in the MT and LXX is missing from the Syriac. Similarly the end of v. 21 in the Syriac differs completely from our known text (according to @ba's unsophisticated translation it reads: and he warred like thirty), which, in my opinion, casts serious doubt on the reliability of the Syriac's text here. Indeed the NASB, itself being aware of this discord, deftly reverts back to the MT's text in v. 21 thus creating the incoherence between the two verses. All I'm saying is that the text as we know it supports Abishai as being the head of three.

So from my research I conclude that Jashobeam is most likely the head of thirty, while Abishai is most likley the head of the three mighty warriors of David.

It is mind boggling how Jashobeam is described by most bible scholars as "head of three" with little to no evidence to back up their claim.

It should also be noted that the only person clearly identified in the bible as one of the three warriors is Eleazar the son of Dodo (v. 12). The other two are never clearly mentioned by name, and though bible scholars try to identify them they are nothing more than speculations.

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