Did Joshua take 30,000 (Joshua 8:3) or 5,000 (Joshua 8:12) men for an ambush against Ai? Is there a contradiction?
This is one of the most difficult supposed discrepancies I have seen. I can certainly see how it might be perceived as a genuine contradiction. Let’s see if there is a possible solution.
Some commentators do not touch on the difference here at all. Others have supplied a few suggestions.
- Adam Clarke says an initial 30,000 were sent to form an ambush in one place, then 5,000 more were sent to another location.
- Jamieson, Fausset & Brown say 30,000 men were stationed for the ambush, but just 5,000 of them were sent to descend on the city.
- Constable Expository Notes says 30,000 were selected for the battle, and that 5,000 were to hide in ambush on the west of the town. The other 25,000 approached from the North (with Joshua).
- Coffman Commentary suggests the difficulty may lie with the complexity and weakness of the Hebrew narrative. He goes on to say the word translated as “thousand” in the text may also be rendered as “chief.”
Options 1, 2 & 3 are awkward at best. Coffman’s suggestion that the issue may be in the translation of the Hebrew word is a distinct possibility. The words for thousand and chief are the same in the Hebrew, א לף. Why it was rendered as thousand in this text, I do not know. An expert in the Hebrew language might know. If it were translated as chief, the text would read:
…and Joshua chose thirty chief mighty men of valor and sent them by night. (Joshua 8:3)
That being the case, these 30 chiefs would be over the 5,000 men who were in the ambush.
It is a difficult text, but there are possible solutions. Exactly what the answer is, I do not know, it is not of necessity a contradiction.
A response to 1001 Bible Contradictions.