[b-hebrew] "about" Josh. 7:4-5

Jim West jwest at highland.net
Wed Dec 15 11:57:12 EST 2004

Yigal wrote

According to Joshua 7:4, Joshua's first attempt at capturing Ai was made 
with ke$lo$et alapim i$, "about three thousand men". In the next verse, the 
men of Ai smote of them ke$lo$im ve$iSah i$, "about thirty six men".

The prefix kaph is usually translated "like", "about" and so on. However in 
this context, "about 36" does not make sense. 36 is an exact number. I know 
that the Greek gives "eis", "into", but that doesn't explain anything. I've 
seen theories ranging from scribal error (dittography due to the preceding 
"ke$lo$et" - but with no textual evidence) through a theory of a 6-based 
system of counting, to the midrash that only Jair ben Manasseh was killed, 
but he was "like 36 men". I know that "eleph" is often thought to be a 
military or clan unit, so "about three elephs" makes sense. I also know 
that "$elo$im" may also be a military unit (as in 2 Sam. 23), so that 
"about a $elo$im" would also work, but then what about the extra 6? "about 
a $elo$im and six" does not.

And before anyone asks, the only known Qumran version (4QJosh a and b) is 
missing this particular column.

Any ideas?

I reply-

Trent Butler, of the Word Biblical Commentary, skips the problem altogether 
in his comments.  He offers no text critical note at all.  L. Daniel Hawk, 
in Berit Olam Joshua notes the "phrase [about 36] seems awkward in 
connection with the more exact number but succeds in drawing the connection 
between the plan, its execution, and its consequences" (p. 114).  BHS has 
no textual note. Evidently it wasn't a problem to early copyists or 
translators.  Gesenius does not offer a note on it.  Neither does Rudolf Meyer.

In my opinion, it seems that ki should here be understood in the sense of 
"like" = "approximately".  To be sure, as you point out, 36 is an exact 
number- but perhaps there was uncertainty in the writers mind if the number 
was in fact exact.  Perhaps he meant "something like 36 men" etc.



Jim West, ThD
Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies
Quartz Hill School of Theology

http://web.infoave.net/~jwest Biblical Studies Resources
http://biblical-studies.blogspot.com Biblical Theology Weblog

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