How Much Did David Pay?

Rimon Kasher, “The Interpretation of Scripture in Rabbinic Literature,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 581.

Thus, the contradiction between 2 Sam 24:24, which states the price David paid for the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite as fifty shekels of silver, while 1 Chr 21:25 mentions a price of 600 shekels of gold, is resolved by explaining that, whereas the Book of Samuel refers to the site of the altar alone, Chronicles refers to the price of the entire threshing floor.

This attempt at harmonization comes from Sifrei Numbers, which may date to the third century C.E. I’ve heard this particular harmonization before. On my Christian dating site, I once remarked that the Bible has contradictions, to which a Christian conservative replied, “Yeah, such as?” Remembering the contradiction between II Samuel 24:24 and I Chronicles 21:25 from an article Samuele Bacchiocchi wrote against biblical inerrancy, I presented him with that one. And so the conservative Christian consulted some commentaries and gave me what also shows up in Sifrei Numbers: the fifty shekels of silver were for the altar, whereas the 600 shekels of gold were for the entire area.

What was interesting was that, when I tried to engage him further, he responded that he’d get back to me, but he went on to say that reconciling biblical contradictions was not one of his favorite topics. He did get back to me, and I let him have the last word. But his aversion to the topic makes me wonder if the spiritual power of Scripture rests on whether it’s consistent in every detail. As Paul Achtemeier once said, harmonizing Scriptural contradictions can become a matter of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! A lot of conservatives resort to harmonization because they want to believe that the Bible is true and without error, since that’s the only way they think they can rely on it. And, for them, a document cannot be simultaneously true and internally contradictory.

I’m not overly satisfied with the rabbinic harmonization of the two texts. For one, both texts say that the price was for the threshing floor, so I don’t understand how Sifrei Numbers can say that one text relates to the altar, whereas the other is about the entire area. And second, how do conservatives believe that David paid for the location? Do they claim that he gave fifty shekels of silver for the altar, and an additional 600 shekels of gold for the entire place? If David’s 600 shekels of gold pays for the entire place, which includes the altar, then why does he need to pay fifty shekels of silver for the altar?

I vaguely recall that many biblical scholars hold that Chronicles tends to exaggerate the numbers of the Samuel history. After all, the temple is important, so David certainly paid more than fifty shekels of silver to purchase the land for it! Can we honor the value that the Chronicle placed on the temple, without demanding that he be consistent with Samuel in every detail? Would the former be a way to respect Chronicles as sacred Scripture?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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