“He cut them with saws” or “ He put them to work with saws”?
2 Samuel 12:31 and 1 Chronicles 20:3 - Did David cut his enemies with saws and kill them and burn their bodies in the brick kilns, or did he just “put them to work” with saws and made them go to the brick works to labor there?
Obviously, both readings and meanings are not the same and both cannot be what God recorded in His words as historical fact.
2 Samuel 12:31 King James Bible - “And he brought forth the people that were therein, and PUT THEM UNDER SAWS, AND UNDER HARROWS OF IRON, AND UNDER AXES OF IRON, AND MADE THEM PASS THROUGH THE BRICK-KILN: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem.”
1 Chronicles 20:3 - KJB - “And he brought out the people that were in it, AND CUT THEM WITH SAWS, AND WITH HARROWS OF IRON, AND WITH AXES. Even so dealt David with all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.”
NKJV - 2 Samuel 12:31 - “And he brought out the people who were in it, and PUT THEM TO WORK WITH SAWS AND IRON PICKS AND IRON AXES, AND MADE THEM CROSS OVER TO THE BRICK WORKS.”
(As a side note, the word for “brickkiln” is found only three times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is # 4404 mal-behn and all three times it is translated as “brickkiln” in the KJB but the NKJV has “brick works” here, “brick courtyard” in Jeremiah 43:9 and “brick kiln” in Nahum 3:14. A brickkiln is a furnace or oven for baking bricks.)
NKJV - 1 Chronicles 20:3 - “And he brought out the people who were in it, and PUT THEM TO WORK WITH SAWS, WITH IRON PICKS, AND WITH AXES. So David did to all the cities of the people of Ammon.”
The NKJV then has a very misleading footnote. It says: "Septuagint reads "cut them", thus implying that the KJB got this reading from the Greek Septuagint. It didn't.
It is the Hebrew text itself that reads as the KJB has it. The so called Greek Septuagint just happened to get it right as well. But the NKJV footnote is WRONGLY implying that the KJB got its reading from the Septuagint. It didn't. It comes from the Hebrew text, and it is the NKJV along with the perverted ESV, NIV, NET, Holman Standard and Jehovah Witness NWT and modern Catholic versions that simply CHANGE THE TEXT.
The very first Bible translation to change the meaning found in the King James Bible where David CUT the people with saws and killed them in this way was the liberal Revised Standard Version of 1952. It said: “And he brought forth the people who were in it, and SET THEM TO LABOR with saws and iron picks and axes.”
BUT then in a revealing footnote it informs us that instead of “set them to labor” the Hebrew text reads “SAWED”.
The NRSV has the same footnote and so does the ESV 2011. Right there in the text where the ESV translators have arbitrarily changed to wording to "set them to labor with saws" they tell us in the footnote that the Hebrew text reads "Hebrew HE SAWED" and in the 2 Samuel 12:31 passage where the ESV translators have changed the meaning of the text to "he... MADE THEM TOIL AT the brick kilns" they footnote that the Hebrew text reads "PASS THROUGH the brick kilns"!!!
In other words, they just changed the text to make the actions of king David seem less extreme and cruel. They tampered with and corrupted the word of God and many modern versions have since then followed suit.
Agreeing with the NKJV in its basic meaning that David only turned his former enemies into day laborers are the RSV, NRSV, ESV 2001, the NIV 2011, Holman Standard and the Jehovah Witness NWT - “CONSIGNING THEM TO LABOR WITH SAWS and with iron picks and axes, and he made them work at brick making.” (NIV 2011)
The Message, Wallace’s NET version - “and SET THEM TO LABOR WITH SAWS and iron picks and iron axes and made them toil at the brick kilns.” and the Holman Standard 2003. This false reading began with the RSV and has continued to this day in many modern versions.
The Holman Standard says: "He brought out the people who were in it and PUT THEM TO WORK WITH SAWS (d), iron picks and axes. David did the same to all the Ammonite cities. Then he and all his troops returned to Jerusalem."
Footnote (d) TEXT EMENDED (changed) Masoretic Text reads: "AND SAWED THEM WITH SAWS". They come right out and tell you that they deliberately changed what the Hebrew text says.
So where did the ESV, NIV, NET, Holman Standard, Jehovah Witness NWT and the modern Catholic versions get this reading from?
Not from the so called Greek Septuagint because it says: "he brought out the people that were in it AND SAWED THEM ASUNDER WITH SAWS, AND CUT THEM with iron axes and with harrows."
And it isn't from the Syriac version either. It reads totally differently than either the Hebrew text or the Septuagint. Lamsa's 1933 translation of the Syriac Peshitta actually says: "And he brought out the people who were in it, and BOUND THEM WITH CHAINS, iron bands, locks and fetters. And thus did David BIND all of them, and did likewise to all the men who were found in the cities of the children of Ammon; but HE DID NOT KILL ANY ONE OF THEM; and he brought them and settled them in the villages of the land of Israel."
This it totally different from either the Hebrew or the Greek.
So, where did these modern versions get their reading from? They just MADE IT UP OUT OF THIN AIR.
The Catholic Connection
The Catholic Douay-Rheims 1610 and the Douay of 1950 both read: "And the people that were therein he brought out, and made harrows and sleds and chariots of iron to go over them, so that they WERE CUT AND BRUISED TO PIECES."
But the St. Joseph New American bible 1970 and the Catholic New Jerusalem bible 1985 now read: "He deported the people of the city AND SET THEM TO WORK WITH SAWS, IRON PICKS AND AXES."
The Jehovah Witness New World Translation - "And the people that were in it he brought out, AND HE KEPT THEM EMPLOYED AT SAWING STONES AND AT SHARP INSTRUMENTS OF IRON AND AT AXES."
The International Standard Version 2014 (another critical text) says: “ brought back the people who had lived in it, AND PUT THEM TO CONSCRIPTED LABOR WITH SAWS, iron picks, and axes.”
The Voice 2012 (critical text) - “He SET THE PEOPLE of the city TO WORK WITH TOOLS OR IRON: saws, axes and other sharp implements.”
The Common English Bible (another Critical text perversion) says: “AFTER REMOVING THE PEOPLE WHO WERE IN THE CITY, DAVID DEMOLISHED THE CITY WITH SAWS, IRON PICKS, AND AXES."
1 Chronicles 20:3 - "And he brought out the people that were in it, and CUT THEM WITH SAWS, and with harrows of iron, and with axes."
Agreeing with the the King James Bible reading that king David cut the people with saws, harrows of iron and made them pass through the brick-kiln so that they died are the following Bible translations.
Coverdale 1535 - “he broughte the forth, & parted them in sunder with sawes, & hokes & betels of yron.”, the Great Bible 1540 - “And he brought out the people that were in it, and tormented them with sawes and harowes of yron, and with other sharpe instrumentes”, Matthew’s Bible 1549, Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1587 - “and cut them with sawes, and with harowes of yron, and with axes”, The Wellbeloved Scriptures 1862 - "he CUT THEM with saws", The Jewish Family Bible 1864, The Revised English Bible 1877, The Sharpe Bible 1883, Darby 1890, the English Revised Version 1885, the ASV of 1901, Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible 1902, The Ancient Hebrew Bible 1907 - "he CUT THEM WITH SAWS", the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) 1917 translation, the 1936 Hebrew Publishing Company translation, the NASB 1995 - “and cut them with saws and with sharp instruments and with axes”, the KJV 21st Century Version 1994, The NASB 1995, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, the Heritage Bible 2003, Updated Bible Version 2004, the Catholic Public Domain Version 2009 - “And he caused plows, and sleds, and iron chariots to go over them, so much so that they were cut apart and crushed.” and the 2004 Complete Jewish Tanach - “And the people who were in it he brought forth and sawed with a saw and with harrows of iron and with saws.”
Other English bibles that agree with the KJB and "they brought out the people that were in it, AND CUT THEM WITH SAWS" are The New Jewish Version 1985 - “AND HE HACKED THEM WITH SAWS AND IRON THRESHING BORADS AND AXES.”, The Word of Yah 1993, The World English Bible 2000, the Sacred Scriptures Family of Yah 2001, The Apostolic Polyglott Bible 2003, Green’s literal translation 2005, The Revised Geneva Bible 2005, the Context Group Version 2007, Bond Slave Version 2009, The New European Version 2010, Hebraic Transliteration Scripture 2010, Holy Scriptures VW Edition 2010, the Biblos Interlinear Bible 2011 - "he CUT THEM WITH SAWS", Conservative Bible 2011, The New Brenton Translation 2012 - "and he SAWED THEM ASUNDER WITH SAWS AND CUT THEM WITH IRON AXES AND WITH HARROWS.", The Hebrew Names Version 2014.
Among foreign language translations that follow the Hebrew text and read like the King James Bible are the so called Greek Septuagint - “and sawed them asunder with saws, and cut them with iron axes and with harrows”, the Modern Greek - “ και εκοψεν αυτους με πριονας “, Martin Luther’s German bible, the French Martin 1744 - “Il emmena aussi le peuple qui y était, et les scia avec des scies, et avec des herses de fer et de scies.”, the French Louis Segond 1910, the French Ostervald 1996, the Italian Diodati 1649 - “ e li fece a pezzi con delle seghe, degli erpici di ferro e delle scuri.”, the Italian Riveduta 1927, the Spanish Sagradas Escrituras 1569 - “y los cortó con sierras, y con trillos de hierro, y segures.”, the Reina Valera 1909 (but not the 1960, 1995 versions) and the 2004 Reina Valera Gomez translation.
The Bible Commentators
Matthew Poole (1624–1679) - “And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Amnion. So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem..
The people that were therein: the words are indefinite, and therefore not necessarily to be understood of all the people; for it had been barbarous to use women and children thus; but of the men of war, and especially of those who had been the chief actors or abettors of that villanous action against David's ambassadors, (which was contrary to the law of nature, and of nations, and of all humanity,) and of the dreadful war ensuing upon it; for which they might seem to deserve the severest punishments. Although indeed there seems to have been too much rigour used; especially, because these dreadful deaths were inflicted not only upon those great counsellors, who were the only authors of that vile usage of the ambassadors; but upon a great number of the people, who were innocent from that crime. And therefore it is probably conceived that David exercised this cruelty whilst his heart was hardened and impenitent, and when he was bereaved of that free and good Spirit of God which would have taught him more mercy and moderation. Put them under saws : HE SAWED THEM TO DEATH; of which punishment we have examples, both in Scripture, Heb. xi. 37, and in other authors. Under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron; he caused them to be laid down upon the ground, and torn by sharp iron harrows drawn over them, AND HEWED IN PIECES BY KEEN AXES. Made them pass through the brick-kiln, i. e. to be burnt in brickkilns... punishing them with their own sin, and with the same kind of punishment which they inflicted upon their own children: see 2 Kings xvi. 3; xxiii. 10; Lev. xviii. 21; xx. 2 ; Deut. xviii. 10.”
Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament
“The translators of the RSV have severely altered the meaning of the last few clauses here in 2 Sam. 12:31, contrasting dramatically with the ASV. Note the difference:
ASV: "David brought forth the people ... and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln: and thus did he to all the cities of the Ammonites."
Of course, this is a reference to the wholesale torture of the Ammonites. Such brutal and inhuman treatment of captives was widely practiced in ancient times as proved by the statement in Amos that, "Damascus threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron" (Amos 1:3); and we are not fully convinced that David was not guilty of a similar treatment of the Ammonites. In the whole Biblical account of David's behavior, we find nothing whatever that requires us to suppose that he was incapable of such an atrocity. God's prophet in this very chapter tells us that HE HAD NO PITY (2 Samuel 12:5).”
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary on the whole Bible (1871)
“he brought forth the people . . . and put them under saws - This excessive severity and employment of tortures, which the Hebrews on no other occasion are recorded to have practised, was an act of retributive justice on a people who were infamous for their cruelties (1Sa 11:2; Am 1:13).”
John Gill (1697-1771) Commentary
“and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron whereby they were cut asunder, as some were by the Romans and others, or their flesh torn to pieces, and they put to extreme pain and agony, AND SO DIED MOST MISERABLY; see (1 Chronicles 20:3) and made them pass through the brickkiln; where they burnt their bricks, by which they were not only scorched and blistered, BUT BURNT TO DEATH... and now in the same place they themselves are made to pass through, and be burnt, as a righteous punishment of them for their barbarous and wicked idolatry.”
John Wesley (1703-1791) and Matthew Henry (1662-1714) both read the passages as teaching that David had his enemies cruelly put to death by means of cutting them with saws and burning them up in the brickkilns. Matthew Henry comments:
“He seems to have been too harsh with his prisoners of war, 2 Samuel 12:31. Taking the city by storm, after it had obstinately held out against a long and expensive siege, if he had put all whom he found in arms to the sword in the heat of battle, it would have been severe enough; but to kill them afterwards in cold blood, and by cruel tortures, with saws and harrows, tearing them to pieces, did not become him who, when he entered upon the government, promised to sing of mercy as well as judgment, Psalms 101:1. Had he made examples of those only who had abused his ambassadors, or advised or assisted in it, that being a violation of the law of nations, it might have been looked upon as a piece of necessary justice for terror to other nations.”
Another Bible believing Christian pointed out to me that there were repercussions that king David suffered as a result of his war time cruelty. In 1 Chronicles 28:2-3 David is recorded as saying: "As for me, I had in mine heart to build an house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God, and had made ready for the building: But God said unto me, Thou shalt not build an house for my name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood."
The King James Bible is right (as always) and modern versions that try to soften the severity of what king David did to his enemies are false perversions of the true words of God.
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