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1 Chronicles 20:3a King James Bible

And he brought out the people that were in it, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes.

New King James Version

And he brought out the people who were in it, and put them to work with saws, with iron picks, and with axes.

Why this drastic difference between the two versions?

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  • In Hebr 11:32 it says: “they were sawn asunder”, so that way of being killed was one of the ways practiced in ancient Israel. May 9 at 14:19
  • Good point. Please expand it into an answer. I usually +1 for the effort.
    – Tony Chan
    May 9 at 14:29
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The verse in Hebrew reads:

וְאֶת־הָעָ֨ם אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֜הּ הֹוצִ֗יא וַיָּ֨שַׂר בַּמְּגֵרָ֜ה וּבַחֲרִיצֵ֤י הַבַּרְזֶל֙ וּבַמְּגֵרֹ֔ות וְכֵן֙ יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה דָוִ֔יד לְכֹ֖ל עָרֵ֣י בְנֵי־עַמֹּ֑ון וַיָּ֧שָׁב דָּוִ֛יד וְכָל־הָעָ֖ם יְרוּשָׁלִָֽם׃ פ 20:3

...of which the focal point for this question would be on the word "וַיָּ֨שַׂר" (way·yā·śar). The annotations given this word are: "Conj‑w | V‑Qal‑ConsecImperf‑3ms" -- of which the "Conj-w" means it begins with the "and/then" conjunction that is typical of this verb form/pattern in Hebrew (wayyiktol: see more about it HERE). The third-masculine-singular prefix applies to the subject of this verb, not its object, and no object pronoun is attached, meaning the "them" in English is supplied (not in the Hebrew text).

The Hebrew word root itself is not well understood. It is thought to be an onomatopoeia word for sawing/cutting based on the Hebrew yod, sin, and resh root letters. The word appears ONLY in 1 Chronicles 20:3; this is its only usage in the entire Hebrew text of the Bible (though there are two variants which are very similar, found in Hosea 12:4 and Judges 9:22). Because there is some ambiguity as to its precise meaning, a wider variation in translation can be expected.

There is always, too, another possible source of this variance. It may be that the translators felt that the Hebrew root letters could have had different vowel pointings which would have changed the word's meaning. Hebrew was not originally written with vowel pointings. The Masoretes, from about the 6th to the 10th centuries A.D., added those. Most scholars today accept most of the Masoretes' decisions: But there are cases which generate some discussion. There are times when simply the change of one vowel can alter the meaning of a word entirely in Hebrew. Ps. 34:10, for example, contains a word usually translated as "young lions", but with merely a change in vowel pointings could refer to rich men--and at least one Spanish Bible follows this interpretation. While this may not be a common possibility, it does occur, and scholars do not always choose to accept the Masoretes' decisions.

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From the 2001 Romanian Orthodox Bible:

În traducere (foarte) literală: „Iar pe poporul din ea l-a scos afară și l-a tăiat cu ferăstrăul și cu topoarele și l-a despicat ca pe lemne“. Așa apare textul în aproape toate edițiile românești (dar și străine, mai vechi, precum KJV). Eroarea vine de la traducerea necritică a verbului diaprío, al cărui sens primar este „a tăia în două cu ferăstrăul“. Folosit însă la timpul trecut, ca în cazul de față (diéprisen), el înseamnă „a tortura“, „a chinui“, „a face pe cineva să sufere“ (sau, cu o nuanță mult mai temperată „a se mânia“, „a fremăta de furie“ împotriva cuiva, ca în FA 5, 33; 7, 54). Așadar, e vorba de supunerea prizonierilor de război la munci forțate (de care avuseseră parte și fiii lui Israel în Egipt). În comparație cu 2 Rg 12, 31, cronicarul omite munca la cuptoarele de ars cărămidă. („A despica lemne“: preluat, aici, din Codex Vaticanus).

which, when rendered into English, would translate as follows:

In a (very) literal translation: "And he brought forth the people out of it, and cut them with saws and axes, and brake them in pieces like wood." This is how the text appears in almost all Romanian editions (but also foreign, older ones, such as KJV). The error comes from the uncritical translation of the verb diaprío, whose primary meaning is "to cut in two with a saw." But used in the past tense, as in the case at hand (diéprisen), it means "to torture", "to torment", "to make someone suffer" (or, with a much more temperate shade, "to get angry", "To tremble with rage" against someone, as in Acts 5:33; 7:54). So it is a matter of subjecting prisoners of war to forced labor (of which the sons of Israel had also been part in Egypt). Compared to 2 Kings 12:31, the chronicler omits work on brick-burning furnaces. ("To split wood": taken here from the Codex Vaticanus).

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There is plenty of criticism of the NKJV - how it was first understood to be an 'updating of archaic KJV language'...to how it ended up perverting KJV text. On this topic, however, they have like-minded company.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Chronicles+20%3A3&version=NKJV

2 Sam. 12:31 - NKJV - And he brought out the people who were in it, and put them to work with saws and iron picks and iron axes, and made them cross over to the brick works. So he did to all the cities of the people of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.

1 Chron. 20:3 - NKJV - And he brought out the people who were in it, and [a]put them to work with saws, with iron picks, and with axes. So David did to all the cities of the people of Ammon. Then David and all the people returned to Jerusalem. ([a] - LXX cut them with)

After the killing of the people in 2 Sam. 12:31, the Hebrew reads: ...the brzl/iron u-eobir/he-caused-to-pass auth-m/them b-mlkn/in-MLKN....

Is MLKN actually a plural for the fires of Molech, the smelting furnaces for their iron foundaries?

Knowing what we do about Yahweh forbidding the "passing through the fire to Molech" (Lev. 18:21), it seems plausible that this is what David did to the inhabitants of the Ammonite cities - after killing them first. Perhaps it's another example of where the scribes choose to 'veil' incidents where revered personages are 'behaving badly' in their eyes.

It seems highly unlikely (read: downright impossible), to me, that Yahweh would have permitted the Ammonite people of multiple cities to be brought into the borders of Israel. Or to have Israelites become 'supervisors' over them doing iron works in their own cities.

There is an interesting article on JSTOR. I get the free 100 reads per month, so don't know if this link will be viewable to others:

https://www.jstor.org/stable/1516445?read-now=1&refreqid=excelsior%3A6b12dc0cb59326b998b9f68f8f25bb8b&seq=9#page_scan_tab_contents

O'Ceallaigh, G. C. “And So David Did to All the Cities of Ammon.” Vetus Testamentum, vol. 12, no. 2, 1962, pp. 179–189. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1516445

Excerpt:

enter image description here

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  • FWIW, the Hebrew verb in 2 Samuel 12:31 translated as "put them to work" is the Hebrew word "שׂוּם" (suwm), and is used hundreds of times in the Old Testament, translated variously as put, set, make, appoint, place, set up, etc.; whereas the verb used in 1 Chronicles 20:3 is "שׂוּר" (suwr), and is used in only that verse. To translate them in the same way is to make some quite probably unsound assumptions that either the third root letter had been mis-written, or that these two different spellings meant the same thing.
    – Polyhat
    May 10 at 0:50
  • @Polyhat - To me, it was the Chron. verse that was 'substituting with clues' in their effort to tone down David's actions, but they trusted their changes would be noticed. Their object, to me, was not to obliterate what happened, but to not have it blatantly stated by them. They changed 2Sam.-1Chron.: shm-shr, and mgzrth-mgruth. Then omitted other key words from 2Sam. Enough remained intact to know it was the same incident, though.
    – tblue
    May 11 at 3:19

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