Errancy.com

How many Philistine foreskins did David pay Saul, 100 or 200?

Posted on Jan.30, 2009. Filed in 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel. Average rating: 3.2 / 10 (Rate It).

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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Comments

  1. 1
    Errancy

    This does look like a simple copyist error. It’s a shame that the NRSV obscures the issue, but it does seem clear enough that 100 is intended throughout.

  2. 2
    Amtiskaw

    Arguably not a contradiction in any case – perhaps more Philistines met him in battle than he hoped for…

  3. 3
    Errancy

    If we just had 1 Samuel 18, then I think we’d be able to say that Saul asked for 100, but David paid 200, and that there’s no contradiction in his overpaying.

    However, 2 Samuel 3:14 complicates things by saying that the price paid was 100.

    Because of that, to reconcile all of the verses we would need to say that David gave 200 to Saul, 100 as payment and 100 as a ‘tip’ (excuse the pun). I’ll add this as an inerrantist response.

    The problem with that is that 1 Samuel 18:27 says that all of the foreskins that David gave to Saul were given “that he might become the king’s son-in-law”. That sounds to me like they were all part of the payment.

  4. 4
    inerrancy

    It is rather obvious that in your desire to find errors in the Bible you miss the understanding of the text. Saul wanted David out of the way and set him up by promising his older daughter in marriage only to renig at the last minute giving her to someone else. Saul then offered Michal, who David really wanted, and required the 100 foreskins dowery. Saul’s plan was to eliminate David by putting him in harms way by this daunting task. When David brought 200 foreskins instead of 100 it indicated the extent of David’s victory and bravery, and did not obviate the terms of the original contract. The scribes had it right at 100 and you got it wrong again.

  5. 5
    Errancy

    “It is rather obvious that in your desire to find errors in the Bible you miss the understanding of the text.” [inerrancy, #4]

    I’d prefer it if we could confine the discussion to specific points of biblical exegesis and the broader question of inerrancy. Attacking me (or any other contributors) personally isn’t helpful.

    “When David brought 200 foreskins instead of 100 it indicated the extent of David’s victory and bravery, and did not obviate the terms of the original contract.” [inerrancy, #4]

    And what do you make of the point that 1 Samuel 18:27, in saying that 200 foreskins were given in full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law, says that the price David paid was 200 foreskins?

    If you accept the point, then how do you reconcile it with the claim in 2 Samuel 3:14 that the price paid was 100 foreskins?

    If you reject it, why? (Hint: There’s a suggestion in one of the “inerrantist responses” listed above.)

    “The scribes had it right at 100 and you got it wrong again.” [inerrancy, #4]

    You may find it useful to read the About page to get a better handle on my position. My opening comment on this post makes it clear that I think that 100 is the correct number, and that there’s no problem for inerrancy here.

    By the way, if, as you suggest, only someone blinded by errantist prejudice would see a problem here, why do you think the NRSV changes “200″ to “100″ in 1 Samuel 18:27? Are the NRSV translators simultaneously driven by a desire to find errors in the Bible and by a desire to conceal them?

  6. 6
    Amtiskaw

    “in your desire to find errors in the Bible”

    Meh. This website presents many putative claims of error, some of which are very weak. The appearance here of a putative error does not mean the webmaster (that’s “errancy”) claims it as an actual error.

  7. 7
    hobopotato

    I’m certainly not opposed to it being a copyist error – and numbers are very prone to that sort of thing (think Ezra 2 vs. Nehemiah 7 for example), but my gut instinct is actually more in line with it being a case of David going above and beyond what was required. Especially in light of how uneasy he was with accepting the position of son-in-law to the king in the first place. [see here: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1sa%2018:20-30&version=HCSB ]

    As for David’s statement that he payed 100, it’s not (as far as I can think) an error at all, if 100 was the price. In other words, I think the “he payed 100 as asked, and the other 100 was a tip/bonus” thing is very plausable. And it’s not difficult to see the motive in recording it, either – the writer is interested in showing that David more than met Sauls requested price.

  8. 8
    robbieyahu

    no matter the size of this error it remains a vile and repugnant story ….. terrible ..imagine killing somebody just to take his penis’ foreskin !!!! now imagine sifting thru 100 or 200 penisses … for the foreskins …. and they pretend god loves them …sis!

  9. 9
    WisdomLover

    “…imagine killing somebody just to take his penis’ foreskin !!!!”

    David didn’t kill the Philistines just to get their foreskins. He killed the Philistines because the Israelites were at war with the Philistines. Saul asked for the foreskins as proof of David’s battle success because that’s one piece of a Philistine’s anatomy that the Israelites wouldn’t have. Had Saul asked for scalps, for example, then, for all he knew, David could have gotten them from Israel’s own fallen.

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