King David's Warriors

King David's Warriors

King David's Warriors 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 3, and The Thirty, of which there is somewhere between 30 and 37. 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 assuming that "The Three" is separate. The text cryptically refers to "The Three" and "The Thirty" as if they were both important entities, rather than just an arbitrary list of 3 or 30+ significant men (respectively).

Textual scholars 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 - textual scholars suspect that the passages may themselves be compiled from multiple source documents. Further, as 2 Samuel 23:23-24 is "...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 [JewishEncyclopedia] (some translations move "Among the thirty were" to be before "Ashahel", which smooths over the issue).

The Three

The Three are named [2 Samuel 23:8-12] as(Josheb-basshebeth="dwelling in rest" Tachmonite="thou will make me wise")Adino the Eznite (Adino="his ornament" Eznite="sharp, strong, spear

(Eleazar="God has helped" Dodo = "his beloved" Ahohite = "brother of rest")

"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. ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"]

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 full of 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, 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. ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] 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 [a few manuscripts of the masoretic text read "Heled" rather than "Heleb"] 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 [unlike the Books of Samuel, the Book of Chronicles names him as "Eliphel"; this is near universally considered a typographic error] 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. [Jewish Encyclopedia; "Peake's commentary on the Bible"]

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. [this varies between common English translations]

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 3 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. [Jewish Encyclopedia]

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 sneak 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. ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"]


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.

Comparing the two lists

Variations are shown in "italics."

Note: In 2 Samuel 23:39, the list finishes with "thirty and seven in all."

2 Samuel 231 Chronicles 11Meanings [The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon is Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon; this is keyed to the "Theological Word Book of the Old Testament." These files are considered public domain." ]
"Josheb-Basshebeth", a "Tahkemonite""Jashobeam", a "Hacmonite"Josheb-basshebeth="dwelling in rest"; Tachmonite="thou will make me wise"
Eleazar son of Dodai the AhohiteEleazar son of Dodai the AhohiteEleazar="God has helped" Dodo = "his beloved" Ahohite = "brother of rest"
Shammah son of Agee, the Hararite Shammah="astonishment"; Agee="I shall increase"; Hararite="mountain dweller"
Abishai the brother of Joab son of ZeruiahAbishai the brother of JoabAbishai="my father is Jesse(or a gift)"; Joab="Jehovah is father"; Zeruiah="balsam"
Benaiah son of Jehoiada of KabzeelBenaiah son of JehoiadaBenaiah="Jehovah has built" or "Yahweh has built up"; Jehoiada="Jehovah knows"; Kabzeel="God gathers"
Asahel the brother of JoabAsahel the brother of JoabAsahel = "God-made"; Joab="Jehovah is father"
Elhanan son of Dodo from BethlehemElhanan son of Dodo from BethlehemElhanan = "God has been gracious"; Dodo = "his beloved"; Bethlehem="house of bread(food)"
"Shammah" the "Harodite""Shammoth" the HaroriteShammah="astonishment"; Harodite="trembling"
Elika the HaroditeElika="my God rejects"; Harodite="trembling"
Helez the "Paltite"Helez the "Pelonite"Helez="he has saved"; Paltite="escape"
Ira son of Ikkesh from TekoaIra son of Ikkesh from TekoaIra="watchful of a city"; Ikkesh="twisted"; Tekoite="trumpet blast"
Abiezer from AnathothAbiezer from AnathothAbiezer="my father is help"; Anethothite = "affliction"; Anathoth = "answers to prayer"
"Mebunnai" the Hushathite"Sibbecai" the Hushathite Mebunnai = "building of Jehovah"; Hushathite = "inhabitant of Hushah"; Hushah = "haste"; Sibbecai or Sibbechai = "weaver"
"Zalmon" the Ahohite"Ilai" the Ahohite Zalmon = "shady"; Ahohite = "brother of rest"; Ilai = "exalted"
Maharai the NetophathiteMaharai the NetophathiteMaharai = "impetuous"; Netophathite or Netophath= "dropping"
Heled son of Baanah the NetophathiteHeled son of Baanah the NetophathiteHeled = "transient"; Baana or Baanah = "in affliction"; Netophathite or Netophath= "dropping"
Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah of the children of BenjaminIthai son of Ribai from Gibeah in BenjaminIttai or Ithai = "with me"; Ribai = "pleader with Jehovah"; Gibeah = "hill"; Benjamin = "son of the right hand"
Benaiah the PirathoniteBenaiah the PirathoniteBenaiah = "Jehovah has built" or "Yahweh has built up"; Pirathonite or Pirathon = "princely"
"Hiddai" from the ravines of Gaash"Hurai" from the ravines of GaashHiddai = "for the rejoicing of Jehovah"; Gaash = "quaking"
"Abi-Albon" the Arbathite"Abiel" the ArbathiteAbialbon = "El (God) is my father"; Arbathite = "desert house"; Betharabah = "house of the desert valley" or "place of the depression"; Abiel = "El (God) is (my) father"
Azmaveth the "Barhumite"Azmaveth the "Baharumite"Azmaveth = "strong unto death"; Barhumite = "son of the blackened: in the pitied" (a person from Bahurim)
Eliahba the Shaalbonite Eliahba the ShaalboniteEliahba = "God hides"; Shaalbonite = "place of foxes"
of the sons of "Jashen"the sons of "Hashem the Gizonite"; Jashen = "sleeping"
Jonathan son of "Shammah" the HarariteJonathan son of "Shagee" the HarariteJonathan or Jehonathan = "Jehovah has given"; Shammah = "astonishment"; Shage = "erring"; Hararite = "mountain dweller"
Ahiam son of "Sharar" the HarariteAhiam son of "Sacar" the HarariteAhiam = "mother's brother"; Sharar = "enemy"; Sacar = "wages"; Hararite = "mountain dweller"
Eliphelet son of Ahasbai the MaacathiteElpalet or Eliphalet or Eliphelet = "God is deliverance"; Ahasbai = "brother of my encompassers"; Maachathite = "pressure (literally she has pressed)"
Eliam son of Ahithophel the GiloniteEliam = "God of the people" or "God is kinsman"; Ahithophel = "my brother is foolish (folly)"; Gilonite = "gentilic of preceding"
Eliphal son of UrEliphal = "my God is supplication"; Ur = "flame"
Hepher the MekerathiteHepher = "a well"; Mecherathite = "he of the dug-out" or "he of the digging tool"
Ahijah the PeloniteAhiah or Ahijah = "brother of Jehovah (Yahu)"; Pelonite = "a certain one"
Hezro the CarmeliteHezro the CarmeliteHezro or Hezrai = "enclosed"; Carmelite or Carmel = "garden-land"
Paarai the ArbitePaarai = "gaping"; Arbite = "an ambush"
Naarai son of Ezbai
Igal son of Nathan from ZobahJoel the brother of Nathan
the son of Hagri"Mibhar" son of Hagri
Zelek the AmmoniteZelek the Ammonite
Naharai the Beerothite, the armor-bearer of Joab son of ZeruiahNaharai the Beerothite, the armor-bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah
Ira the IthriteIra the IthriteIra="watchful of a city";Ithrite = "a remnant: excellence"
Gareb the IthriteGareb the IthriteGareb = "scabby"; Ithrite = "a remnant: excellence"
Uriah the HittiteUriah the Hittite Uriah or Urijah = "Jehovah (Yahweh) is my light (flame)"; Hittite = "descendant of Heth"
Zabad son of AhlaiZabad = "he endows"; Ahlai = "O! would that!"
Adina son of Shiza the Reubenite, who was chief of the ReubenitesAdina = "slender"; Shiza="splendour"; Reubenite="behold a son" or a descendant of Reuben the son of Jacob
the thirty with him
Hanan son of MaacahHanan = "he is merciful"; Maachah = "oppression"
Joshaphat the Mithnite
Uzzia the Ashterathite
Shama and Jeiel the sons of Hotham the Aroerite
Jediael son of Shimri
his brother Joha the Tizite
Eliel the Mahavite
Jeribai and Joshaviah the sons of Elnaam
Ithmah the Moabite
Jaasiel the Mezobaite

ee also

*English translations of the Bible
*Masoretic text
*Syriac Peshitta
*Textual criticism

Notes and Citations

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