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In the NASB and NRSV, the editorial heading before 2 Chronicles 23:12 reads "Athaliah Murdered" (emphasis added).

I thought that these headings we're added by the translators or someone close to them on the editorial board.

Why would anyone say that she was "murdered" (unjustified killing) rather than executed or something similar?

The other translations/publications I looked at that contained headings all put it a different way. The NASB and NRSV both expressed it using "murder."

It seems like describing her death as murder is incorrect, since it could be justified. She killed all her grandchildren (except Joash, who was saved by his aunt) and committed flagrant idolatry with her husband, both of which were offenses punishable by death.

Can anyone tell me why anyone might conclude that this was murder (a violation of the sixth commandment)? Are there notes, proceedings, or something from the editors that would elucidate the reasoning behind this decision?

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The ‘headings’ we found in a lot of Bible translations are not inspired by God, obviously. They represent only a practical device to subgroup the text in logical paragraphs. They are very useful also to search and found a given passage we have in mind.

As regards 'murder' as a verb the following site (https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=murder&ref=searchbar_searchhint; bold is mine) presents the following etymology: "c. 1200 mortheren, "to kill, slay; kill criminally, kill with premeditated malice," from Old English myrðrian, from Proto-Germanic *murthjan (source also of Old High German murdran, German mördren, Gothic maurþjan, from Proto-Germanic *murthra-."

As regards 'murder' as a noun the same site has the following definition (bold is mine): "unlawful killing of another human being by a person of sound mind with premeditated malice," c. 1300, murdre, earlier morþer, from Old English morðor (plural morþras) "secret killing of a person, unlawful killing," also "mortal sin, crime; punishment, torment, misery," from Proto-Germanic *murthran (source also of Goth maurþr, and, from a variant form of the same root, Old Saxon morth, Old Frisian morth, Old Norse morð, Middle Dutch moort, Dutch moord, German Mord "murder"), from suffixed form of PIE root *mer- "to rub away, harm" (also "to die" and forming words referring to death and to beings subject to death)."

So, it seems to me that in English language all Bible translators have to take into consideration the difference between 'to murder' and 'to kill' (or, to 'slain'). However, a number of Bible translations correctly understand this concept.

For an example, the following data drawn by NKJV Study Bible could be useful (bold is mine) in this discussion.

It has (on the passage of 2 Chr 23:12-21) the heading ‘Death of Athaliah’. The footnote on verse 10 starts with the sentence: “Most of the royal heirs Athaliah murdered...”. In the box (on page 639) titled ‘Queen Mothers’, speaking of her, we read again: “She [Athaliah] then tried to kill all the righteous heirs...” And, as final sentence this box says: “... Athaliah was overthrown and killed...”. Moreover, in the main text (the proper translation), we found the use of the verbs ‘to slay’ and ‘to kill’ (both in 23:14).

So, in this case, it seems to me the editor of NKJV Study Bible have well understand the difference between these death-related verbs, using the verb ‘to murder’ for the killings of the righteous heirs, from Athaliah’s part; as well as the use of the verb ‘to kill’ for Athaliah’s death.

I don’t know the reason why the editorial board of some Bible translations decide to use the verb ‘to murder’ in connection with the righteous death of Athaliah, though I admit this option is an ill-chosen term.

Interestingly, commenting the verse 14 (where the priests said “Do not kill her [Athaliah] in the house of the LORD”) the linked footnote of NKJV Study Bible states: “The temple was regarded as a place of sanctuary from violence”. Now, if this latter point was the basis of the priest’s scruple, this was a scruple with no divine basis (but only a personal one, or, it was based on the epoch’s ‘politically correct’ behaviour). In fact, Lord Yahweh thought differently.

In Exo 21:14, we read about God’s viewpoint on this matter: “If you plan in advance to murder someone [like Athaliah did], there’s no escape, not even by holding on to my altar (מזבח). You will be dragged off and killed.” (aptly, please compare this passage with Joab’s execution, described in 1 Kin 2:28-34)

So - we may ask - are now some translators influenced (like those priests of ancient times) by the ‘politically correct’ trend of today, that all kind of killing is divinely wrong? I hope not. Differently, they have to dig deeper into the Bible text.

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The verses which speak of Athaliah's being put to death use the Hebrew word "muwth" (H4191) which is not the word "murder" (H7523, "ratsach") in Hebrew that is forbidden in the Ten Commandments.

Then Jehoiada the priest brought out the captains of hundreds that were set over the host, and said unto them, Have her forth of the ranges: and whoso followeth her, let him be slain (H4191) with the sword. For the priest said, Slay (H4191) her not in the house of the LORD. So they laid hands on her; and when she was come to the entering of the horse gate by the king's house, they slew (H4191) her there. (1 Chronicles 23:14-15, KJV)

This word "muwth" (H4191) is the same word God used to speak of what would happen to Adam and Eve if they ate of the forbidden fruit.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely (H4191) die (H4191). (Genesis 2:17, KJV)

God doesn't murder; He doesn't break His own laws. Sometimes killing is necessary, but murder is never right. Murder, as used in the Bible, is defined in Numbers 35, and involves killing unjustly, from hatred, with premeditation, or with obvious intent (deliberate) and without cause.

Conclusion

The Biblical text itself does not support the use of the word "murder" as applicable to Athaliah's case. She was put to death, not murdered.

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    This is an informative answer. I'm also interested to know why these two translations choose to use "murder" in the heading.
    – mojo
    Oct 24 at 15:50
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    Because there is no Biblical backing for it, I think you might have to hope someone from their translation committee sees your question and is willing to answer it. However, my guess is that whomever added the subheading with "murder" was of the persuasion that all killing is essentially murder--which is, unfortunately, one of the winds of doctrine that has been making the rounds. It is often accompanied with the belief that God does not kill/punish/destroy--an equally specious and unscriptural doctrine.
    – Polyhat
    Oct 24 at 16:06
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    The other way to answer the question would be to point to some resources or notes by the committee. IDK if such things even exist, but am willing to be enlightened.
    – mojo
    Oct 25 at 11:26
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    Curiously, this heading existed even in the 1977 edition of the NASB. The NRSV was published in 1989, based on the RSV, published in 1952. As far as I can tell, the RSV has no editorial headings.
    – mojo
    Oct 25 at 11:31
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Any King or Queen Could be Considered God's Anointed

The only explanation I can think of, and it is not very satisfying, is that any monarch could be considered to be God's anointed, and in the words of David, one should "not stretch out [his] hand against the LORD's anointed."

Other Monarchs Were Executed

God sanctioned the execution of other monarchs, e.g. Jezebel and her sons, including the king of Judah, Ahaziah. It's not as though royalty in Israel were above the law.

We're not told about any decision by God to execute Athaliah.

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  • Athaliah was not the rightful monarch. God had not selected her. In fact, God never selected a woman to be a civil ruler or leader over His people. Had He done so, He would have gone contrary to His own established order (see Genesis 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:12-15). Athaliah was a usurper and at enmity with God. The kings of Israel were only to exercise authority under God's direction, and it has always been God's prerogative to set up or remove kings (see Daniel 2:21; 4:17).
    – Polyhat
    Oct 24 at 16:23
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    @Polyhat - what of Deborah in Judges 4:4?
    – Dottard
    Oct 24 at 20:09
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    @Polyhat - the fact that she was a prophetess does not exclude her from being judge as Judges 4:4 clearly says. Your interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12-15 is at variance with the meaning of the text as per hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/56112/…
    – Dottard
    Oct 24 at 21:32
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    @Polyhat - out of interest - do you believe that women cannot teach in the Christian church?
    – Dottard
    Oct 24 at 22:07
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    The question is not so much about whether or not Athaliah was the rightful monarch, but whether the NASB and NRSV editorial boards could justify saying that she was murdered. If she were God's anointed, then, perhaps, one could make an argument that she shouldn't have been executed (as those who killed her almost certainly saw the situation).
    – mojo
    Oct 25 at 11:24

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