How Old Was Saul When He Began to Reign?

Sidebar to: Saul & David

Saul was the first king of Israel. He began to reign shortly before 1000 B.C. But how old was he when he became king? And how many years did he reign?

If you pick up the Jewish Publication Society translation, you will read: “Saul was … years old when he became king; and when he had reigned two years over Israel” (1 Samuel 13:1).

The first sentence has an omission, and the second sentence makes no sense—it is not a complete sentence. In the New Jewish Publication Society translation, the translators drop a footnote that tells us, “The number is lacking in the Hebrew text; also, the precise context of the ‘two years’ is uncertain.”

In the Revised Standard Version translation, the first part of the verse contains the same ellipsis as in the New Jewish Publication Society translation. The second half of the verse is rendered: “And he reigned … and two years over Israel,” with a footnote that says, “Two is not the entire number. Something has dropped out.”

The New English Bible reads: “Saul was fifty years old when he became king, and he reigned over Israel for twenty-two years.”

The Jerusalem Bible simply omits the verse entirely, and begins 1 Samuel 13 with verse 2. A footnote explains: “The Heb. reads ‘Saul was one year when he became king, and he reigned over Israel for two years, which is absurd.”

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