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1 Samuel 13:1 – Saul’s Regnal Formula

Summary

This key text is corrupt or missing at precisely the places we need to establish the chronology of the monarchy.

Analysis

Throughout the Deuteronomistic History the reigns of kings begin with a stereotyped regnal formula: "Name was X years old when he began to reign, and he reigned X years over Israel" (see, for example, 2 Samuel 2:10; 1 Kings 14:21). Here, the first number has not been preserved, so we do not know how old Saul was when he became king; the second number is "two," which seems rather short for the length of his reign. Much speculation has tried to solve this vexing problem:

  • Some translations (for example, the NIV) follow a few Greek manuscripts and read "thirty" for Saul's age when he became king; however, most Greek versions lack the entire verse.
  • Since Saul has a grandson in 2 Samuel 4:4, some suppose he was forty at the time of his accession. If this is true, and the information that he ruled forty years is also accurate (Josephus; Acts 13:21), then Saul was leading his troops in battle at eighty years of age (1 Samuel 31), which is unlikely.
  • In light of these difficulties, others maintain that a reign of two years is plausible.

1 Samuel 13:1

Saul’s Unlawful Sacrifice

13Saul was . . .* years old when he began to reign; and he reigned for . . . and two* years over Israel.

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10 February 2011

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