Samuel's Tribe

It has been said that the Bible is the best commentary on itself. One of the best examples of this is the passage in I Samuel 1:1. The English Standard Version reads, "There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite." The translation Ephrathite, a return to that of the King James Version, is rather unusual here, perhaps reflecting an ambiguity in the minds of the translators. The American Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, New American Standard Version, New Revised Standard Version, New International Version, New King James Version, New English Bible, Revised English Bible, Jerusalem Bible, Holman's Christian Standard Bible, the Christian Standard Bible, and the New American Bible all have Ephraimite. This can be understood as either a person from the tribe of Ephraim or a person who lived in the land of Ephraim.

Several modern translations try to make it clear that Elkanah belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. These include the Living Bible Paraphrased, the Good News Bible (also known as the Today's English Version), the Contemporary English Version, New Century Version, and the Easy-to-Read Version. The problem is that Elkanah, the father of Samuel, actually belonged to the tribe of Levi. This is why Samuel could offer sacrifices. Levites did not have land of their own, but were scattered among the tribal allotments. Elkanah's tribal genealogy is made clear in I Chronicles 6:16-27. There the descendants of Levi down to Elkanah are listed. He was a descendant of Kohath, whose descendants were scattered throughout Judah, Simeon, Benjamin, Ephraim, Dan, and Manasseh (Joshua 21:9-26). Verses 26-27 list the parallel to the I Samuel passage: "... Zophai his son, Nahath his son, Eliab his son, Jeroham his son, Elkanah his son" (ESV). To be sure, variant names are given in the two passages: Zophai and Zuph, Nahath and Tohu, Eliab and Elihu; however, the difference is more apparent in English than in Hebrew, where names are written only with consonants. But the same thing happens in English: James and Jim, William and Bill, Daniel and Danny.

The translation problem above happens when translators try to make a text clear but do not know the biblical test themselves. Interestingly, the New Living Bible (revised by Bible scholars) corrects the Living Bible to make it clear that Elkanah lived in the hill country of Ephraim. Sometimes we avoid those lists of names in I Chronicles, but they also serve their purpose in the inspired word of God.'s_tribe.htm
Last updated on April 10, 2019
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