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In 1 Samuel 6:19 a number of people are struck dead by God after looking into the ark of the LORD.

1 Samuel 6:19 (NIV)

But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy[a] of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them.

As is evident from the citation above, the NIV has a footnote on the number 70, noting that most of the manuscripts have 50,070 people rather 70. This is not a small difference. I notice the NET opts for 50,070 while the NIV prefers 70. Which was more likely the original number?

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    I think this is a corruption of the original text that is too deep into the Hebrew for me to understand the proposed reconstructions. I think those who can answer this question will reconstruct the original to say 70. The background pressure might be the feeling that the inhabitants would not have exceeded 50,000 and because there is textual corruption needing some kind of reconstruction. However due to the uncertainty one can probably argue the other way also. – Mike Sep 27 '13 at 13:12
  • Ref MT: וַיַּךְ בְּאַנְשֵׁי בֵית שֶׁמֶשׁ כִּי רָאוּ בַּאֲרוֹן יְהוָה, וַיַּךְ בָּעָם שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ חֲמִשִּׁים אֶלֶף אִישׁ, וַיִּתְאַבְּלוּ הָעָם כִּי הִכָּה יְהוָה בָּעָם מַכָּה גְדוֹלָה – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Dec 26 '16 at 4:54
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A linear translation of the MT of I Samuel 6:19

וַיַּךְ בְּאַנְשֵׁי בֵית שֶׁמֶשׁ כִּי רָאוּ בַּאֲרוֹן יְהוָה, וַיַּךְ בָּעָם שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ חֲמִשִּׁים אֶלֶף אִישׁ, וַיִּתְאַבְּלוּ הָעָם כִּי הִכָּה יְהוָה בָּעָם מַכָּה גְדוֹלָה

is something like

And [he, God] smote the men of Bet Shemesh because they looked into the ark of YHVH, from the people seventy men fifty thousand men, and the people mourned because YHVH smote the people a great blow.

In the above I use "men" to translate איש and אנשים in order to distinguish it from "people" that I use for עם, although אנשים is not necessarily exclusively referring to males.

In any event the composition of the verse in the MT is not clear.

Given that fifty thousand people would have been a major city at the time and Bet Shemesh wasn't that large a town, and that fifty-thousand does not sound proportionate, it appears that the "fifty thousand" is an elision, possibly from I Samuel 5:9 (NASB):

... and He smote the men of the city, both young and old, [fifty thousand men] so that tumors broke out on them.

Another possible reading of I Samuel 6:19 is that the seventy men are the subject of "smote". This would read:

And [he, God] smote the men of Bet Shemesh because they looked into the ark of YHVH. Seventy men [smote] fifty thousand men and the people mourned because YHVH smote the people a great blow.

This reading might be the preservation a historical memory of an additional defeat at the hands of the Philistines at some point, possibly after the ark of the covenant was taken and the sons of Eli were killed.

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The Hebrew has two phrases: one has 70, one has 50K, and the grammar is not right to just add them up. Or to do anything else. In short, the text is a mess, and every translator has to choose his or her own solution. 'Likely' depends entirely on what assumptions you bring to the table.

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