David's Mighty Warriors

David's Mighty Warriors

David's Mighty Warriors (also known as David's Mighty Men or the Gibborim) are a group of biblical characters explicitly singled out by an appendix of the Books of Samuel. The text (2 Samuel 23:8-39) divides them into the "Three", of which there are three, and "Thirty", of which there are more than thirty. The text explicitly states that there are 37 individuals in all, but it is unclear whether this refers to The Thirty, which may or may not contain The Three, or the combined total of both groups. The text cryptically refers to The Three and The Thirty as if they were both important entities, rather than just an arbitrary list of three or 30-plus significant men (respectively).

Some Textual scholars[who?] regard the passages referring to The Three and The Thirty as having come from either a source distinct to the main sources in the Books of Samuel, or being otherwise out of place. Since parts of the text have distinct stylistic differences from other portions—appearing as a list, as a series of character introductions, or as a flowing narrative—Some[who?] suspect that the passages may themselves be compiled from multiple source documents. Further, as 2 Samuel 23:23-24 reads "...David put him in command of his bodyguard. Ashahel, brother of Joab. Among the thirty were...", the text is regarded as corrupted, and the middle of verse 23:24 (between the words Joab and Among) is generally presumed to have been lost[1][page needed] (some translations move Among the thirty were to be before Ashahel, which smooths over the issue).


Complete list

2 Samuel 23:8–39 1 Chronicles 11:10–47
Josheb-Basshebeth[2][3] the Tahkemonite Jashobeam the Hakmonite
Eleazar ben Dodai the Ahohite Eleazar ben Dodo[4] the Ahohite
Shammah ben Agee the Hararite (unnamed)
Abishai ahi Joab ben Zeruiah Abishai ahi Joab
Benaiah ben Jehoiada Benaiah ben Jehoiada
Asahel ahi Joab Asahel ahi Joab
Elhanan ben Dodo of Bethlehem Elhanan ben Dodo of Bethlehem
Shammah the Harodite[5] Shammoth the Harorite
Elika the Harodite
Helez the Paltite Helez the Pelonite
Ira ben Ikkesh of Tekoa Ira ben Ikkesh of Tekoa
Abiezer of Anathoth Abiezer of Anathoth
Mebunnai[6] the Hushathite Sibbekai the Hushathite
Zalmon the Ahohite Ilai the Ahohite
Mahari the Netophathite Mahari the Netophathite
Heleb[7] ben Baanah the Netophathite Heled ben Baana the Netophathite
Ithai ben Ribai of Gibeah of Benjamin Ithai ben Ribai of Gibeah of Benjamin
Benaiah the Pirathonite[8] Benaiah the Pirathonite
Hiddai[9] of the Ravines of Gaash Hurai of the Ravines of Gaash
Abi-Albon the Arbathite Abiel the Arbathite
Azmaveth the Barhumite Azmaveth the Baharumite
Eliahba the Shaalbonite Eliahba the Shaalbonite
the sons of Jashen the sons of Hashem the Gizonite
Jonathan ben[10] Shammah the Hararite[11] Jonathan ben Shagee[12] the Hararite
Ahiam ben Sharar[13] the Hararite Ahiam ben Sakar the Hararite
Eliphelet ben Ahasbai the Maakathite Eliphal ben Ur
Eliam ben Ahithophel the Gilonite
Hepher the Mekerathite
Ahijah the Pelonite
Hezro the Carmelite Hezro the Carmelite
Paarai the Arbite Naarai ben Ezbai
Igal ben Nathan of Zobah Joel ahi Nathan
the son of Haggadi[14][15] Mibhar ben Hagri
Zelek the Ammonite Zelek the Ammonite
Naharai the Beerothite Naharai the Berothite
Ira the Ithrite Ira the Ithrite
Gareb the Ithrite Gareb the Ithrite
Uriah the Hittite Uriah the Hittite
Zabad ben Ahlai
Adina ben Shiza the Reubenite
Hanan ben Maakah
Joshaphat the Mithnite
Uzzia the Ashterathite
Shama ben Hotham the Aroerite
Jeiel ben Hotham the Aroerite
Jedieael ben Shimri
Joha the Tizite
Eliel the Mahavite
Jeribai ben Elnaam
Joshaviah ben Elnaam
Ithma the Moabite
Jaasiel the Mezobaite

The Three

The Three are named[17] Josheb Basshebeth (meaning "dwelling in rest") the Tachmonite ("thou will make me wise"), Eleazar ("God has helped") son of Dodo ("his beloved") the Ahohite ("brother of rest"), and Shammah son of Agee the Hararite.

The Three are also mentioned in the Book of Chronicles, where, in the Masoretic Text, the first of these three is named as Jashobeam instead. However, the Septuagint version of the same passage presents a name that scholars regard as clearly being a transliteration from Isbosheth—the euphemism employed in some parts of the Bible for the name Ishbaal. Hence the first member of The Three was probably Ishbaal, Saul's son and heir; the text having become corrupted either deliberately (eg. due to an editor that sought to downplay Ishbaal's heroism) or accidentally.[18]

In the narrative, Josheb Bashebeth (who is probably Ishbaal) is described as being the leader, and is said to have killed 800 men in a single encounter. Some Septuagint manuscripts, however, attribute the deaths of these 800 men to Adino the Eznite instead, though it is unclear why Adino, who is not one of The Three, would be introduced into the narrative in this way. Josheb Bashebeth is also described as a Tahkemonite, which is probably a corruption of Hacmonite, the latter being how he is described by the Book of Chronicles. Though many translations state that the 800 men were killed by a spear, the Hebrew text is somewhat obscure, and alternative translations are plausible.

Eleazar is described as standing his ground against the Philistines at Pas Dammim when the rest of the Hebrews ran away, and as successfully defeating them. Similarly Shammah is described as having stood his ground when the Philistines attacked a "field of ripe lentils" despite the rest of his associates dispersing, and as having defeated the attackers.

The Thirty

The Thirty are not heavily described by the text, merely listed. The list is somewhat corrupt[citation needed], and there are several differences between the ancient manuscripts of the list, whether they are of the masoretic text or of the Septuagint. Textual scholars generally consider the Septuagint to be more reliable than the masoretic text in regard to this list, particularly since the masoretic text of Chronicles matches the Septuagint version of the Books of Samuel more closely than the masoretic version.[19] In addition there are a few places where it is uncertain whether one person is referred to or if it is two people. The individuals that are clearly identified are:

  • Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem
  • Shammah from Arad
  • Helez from Beth-Palet
  • Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa
  • Abiezer from Anathoth
  • a man from Hushah that was named either Mebunnai (according to the masoretic text) or was named Sibbecai (according to the Septuagint and Chronicles)
  • Zalmon, descended from Ahoah
  • Maharai from Netophah
  • Heleb[20] son of Baanah from Netophah
  • Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah
  • Benaiah from Pirathon
  • a man from the ravines of Gaash that was named Hiddai (according to the masoretic text) or was named Hurai (according to the Septuagint and Chronicles)
  • Abi-Albon from Beth-Arabah
  • Azmaveth from Bahurim
  • Eliahba from Shaalbim
  • the (unnamed) sons of a man that was either named Hashem and was from Gizon (according to the Septuagint and Chronicles) or was named Jashen (according to the masoretic text)
  • Ahiam from Arad, whose father was either named Sharar (according to the masoretic text) or was named Sacar (according to the Septuagint and Chronicles)
  • Eliphelet[21] from Maacah, whose father was either named Ahasbai (according to the Books of Samuel) or Ur (according to Chronicles)
  • Eliam son of Ahithophel from Giloh
  • Hezro from Carmel
  • Zelek from Ammon
  • Ira from Jattir
  • Gareb from Jattir
  • Uriah the Hittite.

In addition to these, there are a few cases where an individual is named, and is then followed by a description that is unclear as to whether it refers to them, or whether it refers to an additional unnamed person:

  • Naharai from Beeroth, (and/who is) the armour-bearer of Joab
  • Igal son of Nathan from Zobah, (and/who is) the son of a man named Hagri (according to the masoretic text and Chronicles) or Haggadi (according to the Septuagint).

For the remaining names of the list, there are some significant textual issues, the most minor of which being that the Books of Samuel lists Paarai the Arbite but the Book of Chronicles lists Naarai son of Exbai instead. The list in Samuel is generally presented in pairs, where each member of a pair comes from a similar location to the other member, but this pattern is broken by Shammah (from Arad), Elika (from Arad), and Helez (from Beth-Palet), who make a trio; in Chronicles, however, Elika isn't even listed.

The final name(s) on the list itself is/are given by the masoretic text as Jonathan son of Shammah from Arad, but the septuagint has Jonathan, [and] Shammah from Arad; the septuagint implies that the passage was understood to refer to a Jonathan significant enough to need no further qualification, thus probably referring to the Jonathan that elsewhere is described as a son of Saul—which Jonathan being a son of Shammah would contradict. According to textual scholars Jonathan is distinctly associated by other parts of the Books of Samuel with the Hebrews, while Saul is distinctly associated with the Israelites (who the text consistently treats as a distinct group from the Hebrews), and his being Saul's son is considered by some textual scholars as more ethnological than necessarily literal.[22][page needed]

As the list is proceeded with ...David put him in command of his bodyguard. Ashahel, brother of Joab. Among the thirty were..... , an Asahel the brother of Joab is sometimes considered to be part of the list, having become misplaced rather than the start of a lost passage.[23]

Three of The Thirty

The text also contains a narrative passage about "three of The Thirty". It is unclear from the text whether this refers to The Three, hence implying that The Three were a special group within The Thirty, or whether it refers to another group of three individuals. The narrative, which recounts a single exploit, ends with "such were the exploits of the three mighty men", and textual scholars believe that the narrative may be an extract from a larger group of tales concerning these three. The flowing narrative differs in style from the more abrupt introductions to individual members of The Three and The Thirty that surround it, and textual scholars believe that it may originally have been from a different document.[24][page needed]

Woodcut of David pouring out the water, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860.

In the narrative, three of the thirty visit David when he is located at the cave of Adullam. While there, David expresses a heartfelt desire for water from a well near Bethlehem, which the narrative states was occupied by Philistines. The three of the thirty therefore forcefully break past the Philistines, and draw water from the well, which they take back to David. David refuses to drink the water, instead pouring it out "before Yahweh", arguing that it was the blood of the men who had risked their lives. Biblical scholars argue that the description of David pouring out the water is a reference to David offering the water to Yahweh as a libation.[19]


An additional account, continuing on from the description of The Three, which was interrupted by the narrative concerning David's thirst, describes Abishai, the brother of Joab. According to the text, he killed 300 men with a spear, and so became as famous as, and more respected than, The Three. The text states that despite the fame and respect he was not included among The Three, suggesting that being a part of The Three is not just a group of famous people, but something which an individual could in some way gain membership, with criteria that involved more than fame and honour.

According to most manuscripts of the masoretic text, Abishai became the commander of The Three, but according to the Syriac Peshitta, and a few masoretic text manuscripts, Abishai instead became the commander of The Thirty. The text explicitely states that Abishai became the commander of The Three despite not being among them, but it is unclear whether this is directly because he was their commander (as with the masoretic text), or whether he was commander of The Thirty (as with the Septuagint) and The Three were a subgroup of The Thirty (as possibly implied by the narrative about "three of The Thirty").


Benaiah is singled out by the text for being a particularly great warrior, as famous as The Three, and significantly more respected than any of The Thirty, for which reason he was put in charge of the royal bodyguard. As with Abishai, the text emphasises that despite these qualities, Benaiah was not a member of The Three. The text gives a list of Benaiah's "great exploits", suggesting that these are what brought him fame and honour; compared with the feats ascribed by the text to Abishai, and to the members of The Three, Benaiah's feats are somewhat minor (though regarded by scholars as more realistic):

  • Killing two of Moab's best warriors
  • Killing a lion in a pit on a snowy day
  • Attacking a 7-and-a-half foot tall Egyptian with a club, stealing the spear that the Egyptian was using, and killing the Egyptian with it.

See also


  1. ^ This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
  2. ^ Some Septuagint manuscripts have "Ish-Bosheth".
  3. ^ The Hebrew manuscripts and some Septuagint manuscripts seem to say Josheb-Basshebeth was also called "Adino the Eznite": "Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite, was chief of the Three; it was Adino the Eznite, who killed eight hundred men."
  4. ^ Some manuscripts have "Dodai".
  5. ^ It is not clear whether this is the same as "Shammah ben Agee the Hararite", one of the Three.
  6. ^ Some Septuagint manuscripts have "Sibbekai".
  7. ^ Some Hebrew manuscripts and the Vulgate have "Heled"
  8. ^ It is not clear whether this is the same as "Benaiah ben Jehoiada".
  9. ^ Some Septuagint manuscripts have "Hurai"
  10. ^ The Hebrew manuscripts and most Septuagint manuscripts do not have ben ("son of").
  11. ^ Presumably the same as "Shammah ben Agee the Hararite", one of the Three.
  12. ^ Apparently a contraction or error for "Shammah ben Agee".
  13. ^ Some Septuagint manuscripts have "Sakar".
  14. ^ Some Septuagint manuscripts have "Hagri".
  15. ^ Some Hebrew manuscripts instead read "Bani the Gadite".
  16. ^ Apparently distinct from "Eliel the Mahavite".
  17. ^ 2 Samuel 23:8-12
  18. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible
  19. ^ a b Peake's commentary on the Bible
  20. ^ a few manuscripts of the masoretic text read Heled rather than Heleb
  21. ^ unlike the Books of Samuel, the Book of Chronicles names him as Eliphel; this is near universally considered a typographic error
  22. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia; Peake's commentary on the Bible
  23. ^ this varies between common English translations
  24. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia

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