The Devil May Be in the Details, but Should He Be in Chronicles?

The Hebrew text of 1 Chronicles 21:1 has long been a problem for translators and interpreters, and how one solves this problem determines whether other problems are created. 1 Chronicles 21:1 famously (or infamously) changes the source of 2 Samuel 24:1 from saying that Yahweh’s anger burned against Israel, to saying that /satan/ took a stand against Israel. The translation of /satan/ is the crux here. Should this be rendered as a proper noun, “Satan”, or a common noun, “adversary”?
Among modern English translations there is general uniformity in translating the term as Satan. Young’s Literal Translation, the NET Bible, and (strangely) the Complete Jewish Bible alone have translated the terms as either “an adversary” (YLT, NET) or “The Adversary” (CJB). The Amplified Bible includes “an adversary” as a parenthetical reading of the main text, “Satan.” All other English versions checked have rendered the term as Satan.
Commentators are not as uniform in their adoption of the translation “Satan.” Citing four recent examples, Gary Knoppers and Sara Japhet both prefer the translation “adversary.” Eugene Merrill and Ralph Klein both prefer to render the translation “Satan.”
Evidence for unraveling the problem given in the commentaries typically runs in three directions: linguistic, biblical, and extra-biblical. It is fair to say that the linguistic and biblical evidence can render conclusions in both ways. The extra-biblical evidence, assuming that the Chronicler has imported later Persian theology, tends toward accepting “Satan” as the translation.
The thesis of this paper is that commentators have generally not paid sufficient attention to the most relevant biblical parallels coming from the earlier history of Samuel and Kings. When the reader reads the Chronicles passage in light of the full evidence seen in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, the easiest conclusion is that the Chronicler is speaking of a human adversary.
Once one has accepted that possibility, then David’s behavior and Joab’s response makes much clearer and better sense. Also, the change from 2 Samuel 24:1 to 1 Chronicles 21:1 is better understood as explanatory, rather than developmental.

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