King Saul and David initially got on well, but following David’s military victories Saul became envious of his popularity, and so devised a plan to get rid of him. Saul offered his daughter Michal to David, asking for a large number of Philistine foreskins as a present in return, expecting David to be killed in the attempt to get them. The plan backfired, however; David killed enough Philistines to satisfy Saul’s request, and so married Michal and became Saul’s son-in-law. There is some confusion, however, as to just how many foreskins David gave to Saul.
Saul sets his scheme in motion in 1 Samuel 18, requesting of David a gift of 100 Philistine foreskins:
Now Saul’s daughter Michal loved David. Saul was told, and the thing pleased him. Saul thought, ‘Let me give her to him that she may be a snare for him and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.’ Therefore Saul said to David a second time, ‘You shall now be my son-in-law.’ Saul commanded his servants, ‘Speak to David in private and say, “See, the king is delighted with you, and all his servants love you; now then, become the king’s son-in-law.”‘ So Saul’s servants reported these words to David in private. And David said, ‘Does it seem to you a little thing to become the king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man and of no repute?’ The servants of Saul told him, ‘This is what David said.’ Then Saul said, ‘Thus shall you say to David, “The king desires no marriage present except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged on the king’s enemies”‘. Now Saul planned to make David fall by the hands of the Philistines. [1 Samuel 18:20-25 (NRSV)]
In 2 Samuel 3, this price is confirmed: David, speaking later, says quite clearly that he had given 100 Philistine foreskins in order to be engaged to Michal:
Then David sent messengers to Saul’s son Ishbaal, saying, ‘Give me my wife Michal, to whom I became engaged at the price of one hundred foreskins of the Philistines.’ [2 Samuel 3:14 (NRSV)]
Returning to 1 Samuel 18, using the NRSV, everything seems to be as it should be; David goes, kills 100 Philistines, and brings back their foreskins for Saul:
Then Saul said, ‘Thus shall you say to David, “The king desires no marriage present except a hundred foreskins of the Philistines, that he may be avenged on the king’s enemies”‘ Now Saul planned to make David fall by the hands of the Philistines. When his servants told David these words, David was well pleased to be the king’s son-in-law. Before the time had expired, David rose and went, along with his men, and killed one hundred of the Philistines; and David brought their foreskins, which were given in full number to the king, that he might become the king’s son-in-law. Saul gave him his daughter Michal as a wife. [1 Samuel 18:25-27 (NRSV)]
In the NRSV, the problem is confined to a footnote explaining that the Hebrew manuscripts don’t say that David killed 100 Philistines, but 200. The NRSV, it seems, has corrected the verse in light of 2 Samuel 3:14 (quoted above).
As we are told that David gave to Saul the foreskins of the Philistines that he had killed “in full number”, if David killed 200 Philistines then he gave 200 foreskins to Saul. The Hebrew manuscripts therefore contain a contradiction (as do those English translations that follow them most closely here).
If David gave Saul 100 Philistine foreskins, then 1 Samuel 18:27 contains an error. If David gave Saul 200 Philistine foreskins, then 2 Samuel 3:14 contains an error. So which is it?
N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.
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