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1 Samuel 14:49-51 tells us that:

49 Saul’s sons were Jonathan, Ishvi and Malki-Shua. The name of his older daughter was Merab, and that of the younger was Michal. 50 His wife’s name was Ahinoam daughter of Ahimaaz. The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle. 51 Saul’s father Kish and Abner’s father Ner were sons of Abiel.

Verse 49 does not record the full number of Saul's sons. Ishbosheth, Saul's ephemeral successor, is missing along with Rizpah's sons viz. Armoni and Mephibosheth.

Some have claimed that they're missing because this verse was written before those sons were born. In order for this claim to stand, Samuel must've been written over a long period of time as 2 Samuel ends with David's death(40-32 years after Ishbosheth's own death). This is a claim that would need evidence besides an oddity in 1 Sam 14:49 to support it.

Additionally problematic about the '1 Sam 14:49 was written before Ishbosheth's birth' explanation is the fact that it would require Saul's daughters, Merab and Michal, to be born before Ishbosheth as they are mentioned in this verse. This is unlikely, as it would require Merab to have grown relatively old before Saul married them off:

  1. Saul reigned for 42 years(1 Samuel 13:1), a figure that Paul rounds to 40(Acts 13:21)
  2. Ishbosheth was between 35 and 40 years old when Saul died, depending on when he came to power at age 40(2 Sam 2:10) during the 7.5 years that David reigned in Hebron before he was made king over all Israel(2 Sam 5:5), meaning that 1 Sam 14:49, if written before the Ishbosheth's birth, must've in Saul's 7th year at the latest.
  3. This solution would then require Merab to be around 20 when Saul offered her up to anyone bold enough to challenge Goliath. While not at all early for marriage in the 21st century, it would've been strange at the very least for a woman, and a king's daughter at that, to be unmarried at such a late age.
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3 Answers 3

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The list in 1 Sam 14:48-51 is incomplete, as are other aspects of Saul's narrative. We have the following data:

  • 1 Sam 14:49-51 - children include Jonathan, and Ishvi, and Malchi-shua – and the two daughters.
  • 2 Sam 2:8 - lists Sauls' son Ishbosheth
  • 1 Chron 8:33 - Jonathan, Malki-Shua, Abinadab and Esh-Baal. (The last appears to be another name for Ishbosheth, as this latter name is highly insulting and may have been given him after his ignominious death.)
  • 2 Sam 21:8 - lists two sons by Rispah, Sauls concubine, namely, Armoni and Mephibosheth.
  • 1 Sam 31:2 - also lists Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua.

Thus, Saul appears to have had the following children:

  • Sons: Jonathan, Malki-Shua, Abinadab and Esh-Baal/Ishbosheth by his main wife Ahinoam.
  • Daughters: Merab and Michal by his wife Ahinoam
  • Sons: Armoni and Mephibosheth by his concubine Rispah.

Conclusion

1 Sam 14 does not list all of Saul's children. This is not unique - there is no comprehensive list in a single verse or two that lists all of the children of King David, King Solomon, King Rehoboam, etc.

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  • I'd find this answer likely if 1 Samuel 14:49-51 had some stated purpose but it does not. It just goes: Saul's sons were: and gives an incomplete list for no reason. Regardless of that, I would like to mention that the change of Eshba'al name was probably done out of an aversion to the name "Ba'al" as the author/editor of Samuel did the same thing to Mephibosheth's name, as he's referred to as "Meriba'al" in 1 Chronicles 8:34 and 9:40.
    – A.O.
    Nov 21, 2022 at 23:56
  • @A.O. - the noun "ba'al" is not as offensive as some think - it simply means "Lord" or "sir". Thus, several Hebrews had this name and many had it part of their name such as, Baalah, Baalath, etc.
    – Dottard
    Nov 22, 2022 at 0:00
  • Yes, I'm aware. That may've been what Saul was doing, although there was definitely some less than perfect religious practice in his family(Michal and David had an image in their house). Perhaps the editor of Samuel, regardless of the meaning, couldn't stand its usual association with pagan gods. We don't know. Is this even an issue? There's no foul done to inerrancy.
    – A.O.
    Nov 22, 2022 at 0:07
  • I'd like to mention that perhaps Ishbosheth was a concubine's son. Saul's sons by Rizpah aren't even mentioned in Chronicles so perhaps Ishbosheth was of a similar status and only mentioned there because he was king for a short while?
    – A.O.
    Nov 24, 2022 at 20:33
  • @A.O. - that is unlikely though not impossible. As stated above, Ishbosheth is likely another name for Esh-ba'al, as both sound similar in Hebrew.
    – Dottard
    Nov 24, 2022 at 20:48
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The reason relates to the genre and its purpose.

The Books of Samuel serve the purpose of explaining what transpired from Samuel's ministry as Israel's last judge. The story continues after Samuel's death (1 Sam 25:1), but not after his ministry—on through the remainder of David's life, whom Samuel anointed in 1 Sam 16.

How Solomon became king is told in 1 Kings 1, right after the end of 2 Samuel. That's not in the Books of Samuel because Solomon's reign was not part of Samuel's ministry. The Books of Kings are a continuation after that.

The Books of Samuel never claim to give any comprehensive family tree, but only what is necessary to understand the story being told.

The Chronicles retell much of the same history as Samuel & Kings, but with emphasis on family line and the temple. Many think it was written by a priest, Ezra specifically.

BibleRef.com:

The book itself does not name its author and remains anonymous. Jewish tradition states it was written by the Jewish priest Ezra.

The Books of Samuel never claim to give any comprehensive family tree, just how the Gospels never claim to have every statement recorded verbatim—which no one thought to do at that time anyway.

You will find a more complete list in 1 Chronicles 8:33 because it is more in line with the purpose of that book—to explain the legitimacy of the family line and genealogical history of the captives returning from Babylonian captivity under Cyrus (2 Chron 36:22-23).


I remember sitting with Dr. Walton for lunch after our homework assignment of reading the Chronicles. He asked what I thought. I said, "There's a lot about genealogy and the temple. It seems to have an angle."

"Precisely!" he answered. "It was written with a clear purpose, mainly supplying evidence to the returning captives where their inheritance land was. And, we'll get into that in the next class."

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  • I'm not understanding why genre would cause the author to leave out these members of Saul's family. These characters go on to be mentioned in the book(Ishbosheth succeeds Saul & Michal and Merab marry David) so it can't be that they're simply irrelevant.
    – A.O.
    Dec 23, 2022 at 0:25
  • @A.O. Every story leaves out something because a picture is worth a thousand words and every story has thousands of pictures. What we tell is always selective. Consider the Gospels, how each one chooses which parts to tell. Never once, ever, not ever once was there any claim that these stories ever contained "all" of the events. So, the author doesn't need a reason to leave it out, only a reason to include it. That reason is the purpose of the writing. This concept is absolutely essential if you want to understand how to study any literature, especially the Bible.
    – Jesse
    Dec 23, 2022 at 7:02
  • Although the modern English and Hebrew arrangements term the books separately as 'Samuel' and 'Kings', they haven't been treated this way uniformly through history, and may share an author. It'd be helpful to talk a little about how you understand the book to have arrived in its current form and give a stronger argument around why you think it was divided in this way, if the delineation between the books is important to your argument
    – Steve can help
    Dec 23, 2022 at 18:42
  • @Stevecanhelp While Samuel and Kings follow a similar style, Chronicles takes a different path on the same period of history. It is Chronicles that is being juxtaposed with Samuel, not Kings, because Chronicles shows the difference. I added a little more as you suggested.
    – Jesse
    Dec 24, 2022 at 4:53
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This answer may relatively simply clear up a some of the mysteries of the O.P.. which says:

Ishbosheth, Saul's ephemeral successor, is missing along with Rizpah's sons viz. Armoni and Mephibosheth.

Ishvi = Ishbosheth

First, Ishboseth, may be merely another name for the O.P.s Ishvi, whose original name was Ishbaal. The Jewish commentator Emil Hirsch explains explains:

... Names containing "ba'al" were changed (though not consistently), as in this case, by substituting for the objectionable element the significant and contemptuous word "boshet" [shame]... or, as in I Sam. xiv. 49, by making some other substitution ("Ishui" [Hebr. "Yishwi" = "Ishyo"] for "Ishba'al").

So in this case an editor has changed Ishbaal's name to Ishvi, a innocuous name used several other places in the Bible, instead of his better-known alternate name, Ish-bosheth, 'man of shame.'

Mephibosheth and Armoni

Mephibosheth is identified as Jonathan's son, not Saul's, both in Chronicles and in 1 Sam. 14. (He is called Meri-baal in 1 Chronicles 8:34.) This is clearly at odds with 2 Samuel 21:8 which says that Mephibosheth and Armoni were Saul's sons by his concubine Rizpah. We may be dealing with confusion in Samuel's sources here. Another possibility is that since Rizpah's reputation for marital fidelity was in question (2 Samuel 3:7) Saul's paternity of Mephibosheth and Armoni may have been dubious.

Conclusion: Ishbosheth is probably not missing after all, since Ishvi may be another name for him. Mephibosheth is called 'Jonathan's son' elsewhere, and this part of Samuel's narrative is apparently following that tradition. Finally Saul's paternity of Rizpah's son Armoni may have been in doubt, or else the author may have considered him, like his brother Ishbosheth, to have been Jonathan's son.

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  • That'd mean that Abinadab was missing too. Samuel 31 tells us that Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-shua were killed by the Philistines shortly before Saul himself died.
    – A.O.
    Aug 1, 2023 at 4:31

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