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The Hebrew says:

וְאֶת־חֲמֵ֗שֶׁת בְּנֵי֙ מִיכַ֣ל בַּת־שָׁא֔וּל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָלְדָ֛ה לְעַדְרִיאֵ֥ל בֶּן־בַּרְזִלַּ֖י הַמְּחֹלָתִֽי

My translation:

and the five sons that Michal daughter of Shaul bore to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite

However nearly all English translations render this verse as follows:

the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite (NIV)

the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah (NLT)

and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite (ESV)

Michal appears in nearly all Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, as well as early witnesses like Josephus and Targum Jonathan.

What is the textual support for Merab? What translation philosophy is being used when choosing that name over the more well attested Michal?

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First, let me confirm and agree with the OP that the Hebrew text of 2 Sam 21:8 has "Michal". What do most versions give "Merab"?

This question is answered by (among many others) by Ellicott when he writes:

The text has Michal instead of Merab; but this must be an error of the scribe, since it was Merab, not Michal, who was married to “Adriel the Meholathite” (1 Samuel 18:19), and Michal was childless (2 Samuel 6:23). The English phrase “brought up for” is taken from the Chaldee; the Hebrew, as noted in the margin, is bare to.

The Cambridge Commentary has more details:

he five sons of Michal … whom she brought up for Adriel The Heb. text can only mean whom she bare to Adriel. But it was Merab, not Michal, who was married to Adriel (1 Samuel 18:19). Consequently we must either read Merab for Michal, or take the explanation given in the Targum and adopted by the E. V.: “the five sons of Merab, (whom Michal the daughter of Saul brought up), whom she bare to Adriel.”

The Pulpit commentary is similar:

Verse 8. - Michal. It was Merab who became the wife of Adriel the Meholathite (1 Samuel 18:19). Michal was childless (see 2 Samuel 6:23). Whom she brought up for. This is one of the many cases of untrustworthiness in the renderings of the Authorized Version. We have noticed a very flagrant instance before in 2 Samuel 5:21. The object of these mistranslations is always the same, namely, to remove some verbal discrepancy in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew says here "five sons of Michal, whom she bare to Adriel;" but Michal never bore a child, therefore something must be substituted which will save the Hebrew from this verbal inaccuracy, and Michal must be represented as having taken Merab's place (perhaps at her death), and been foster mother to her children. This explanation is, it is true, taken from the Jewish Targum; but the Targum never professes to be an exact translation, and constantly perverts the meaning of the plainest passages for preconceived reasons. 2 Samuel 21:8

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  • Interesting. It might have been an earlier error. The LXX also has Michal, but sadly the DSS is missing 2 Samuel 21:7-14. Thus, in this case, I respect the scribes and the Masoretes that followed for resisting the urge for "correcting" the text (i.e. a Masoretic recension) here--surely they all knew that it was Merab rather than Michal who was married to Adriel. Maybe, there is indeed more here than meets the eye.
    – Dieter
    Apr 10 at 15:50
  • Maybe "brought up" is indeed different than "bore"--maybe Michal raised Merab's five sons.
    – Dieter
    Apr 10 at 15:56
  • Good finds and sources! So it’s a corrective translation Apr 10 at 17:50

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