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Some Notes, mainly for Biblical Scholars, can safely be ignored by everyone else

Note 1

At the time the books of the Bible were first being written down there were no computers or typewriters, not even any printing, so they had to be hand-written on parchment - hand-written documents are called manuscripts. Parchment does not last very long, particularly if it is being handled a lot, and very few complete manuscripts are more than a few hundred years old. By the time the Bible was first printed, in the 15th century CE, all the the manuscripts the printers were copying from were themselves copies of copies of copies, perhaps more than twenty times, so there are sometimes very slight differences between different manuscripts. Sometimes a copyist might miss out a word or make a mistake copying it; sometimes a manuscript might not make sense to him so he might alter it slightly so that it did, and of course these changes would be copied by the next copyist. Although we do not often find complete manuscripts of any of the books of the Bible which are more than a few hundred years old, we do sometimes find small pieces (fragments) of Biblical manuscripts which are more than two thousand years old. What surprises most modern people is how little difference there actually is between different manuscripts: we can find fragments of Bibical manuscripts which are identical word for word even though they were copied a thousand years apart.

This passage from Samuel refers only to blacksmiths (working in iron) and iron swords, because we know from other books in the Bible and from other sources that the Israelites did have bronze swords a long time before this. The original writer of this Book did not say this referred only to iron because he assumed everyone would realise it. But we think that much later on one of the copyists thought this passage referred to the Israelites not having any swords at all (as in fact many modern readers do), so he added that Saul and Jonathan had swords because he could not imagine a King going into battle without one!

Note 2

The description of Goliath in 1 Sam 17:4 says that the tip of his spear was iron, but it does not mention his sword at all. However we know that he did have a sword because later in the story David cuts Goliath’s head off with it. Possibly the person who first wrote the story down did not bother to describe the sword because he assumed everyone already knew what it looked like - after all at the time he was writing the sword was being kept in a tent with other holy things so anyone could still go and have a look at it. After the battle it was taken by the priests and kept with other holy things (1 Sam 21:9) so it must have been thought of as very special; David says there is no sword like it. So as the tip of Goliath’s spear was iron it must be regarded as certain that his sword was iron too. And that is why the Israelites were afraid of him!

© Barry Gray August 2006