9 And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000 men.
NASBu  2 Samuel 24:9

5 Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword.
NASBu  1 Chronicles 21:5

SAB contradiction 341 (by book)

The ‘contradictions’ under debate

We seem to have two contradictions here and the question is: Could Joab count? Or couldn’t he?

2 Samuel 24:9            Men of Israel: 800,000       Men of Judah: 500,000

1 Chronicles  21:5       Men of Israel: 1,100,000    Men of Judah: 470,000

Commentators of old

The results of Joab’s census, as he presented them to King David, have been incorporated in the books 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. The differences in the numbers have invariably been considered by interpreters as a problem. Couldn't Joab count perhaps? The following distinguished commentators have accepted the discrepancies without even an attempt to explain them: Matthew Henry, Clarke, Barnes, Gill, Delitzsch, Goslinga (COT), and Roubos (POT).

Present view

The NIV Study Bible gives the following note on 2 Chronicles 21:5:
"The reason for the difference is unclear. Perhaps it is to be related to the unofficial and incomplete nature of the census (see 27:23-24), … etc. Or perhaps it is simply due to a copyist’s mistake." But is this really a contradiction or problem?

Let’s read …

Reading accurately, we see that 2 Samuel says that Israel had 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword. In Hebrew: ‘isch-chaïl’ (correctly translated here as ‘valiant men’), also means: ’experienced men’ or ‘men with fighting experience’  In 1 Chronicles, 1,100,000 men (of Israel) are mentioned, but without the qualification ‘chaïl’. That simply means there were also 300,000 Israelites who drew the sword but were without real battle experience. They could be called as an extra mobilization. This is the simple implication of the texts.

Further on, the men of Judah were 500,000 men (2 Samuel) of which 470,000 men (1 Chronicles) drew the sword. That means that there were 30,000 soldiers of Judah who didn’t use swords as hand weapons, but axes and maces etc. Of course they had also other weapons and they certainly could be classified as bowmen, spearmen and slingers. The complete army of Israelites and Judeans was therefore 1,600,000 men.

SAB about the subject

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible declares about 2 Samuel 24:9: "Of course, this is a ridiculously high number for a battle between two tribal armies in 1000 BCE. (The United States had about 1.37 million active duty soldiers in 2001.)" SAB fails to see that the army of Israel was formed by the number of all men capable of bearing arms. In fact this number of soldiers was approximately the number of male inhabitants of Israel and Judah between the ages of 20 and 50 (60?). That’s realistic.

Who can’t count?

The real question seems to be: Who can’t count? Who is to be blamed? Joab, or his modern commentators and annotators? Whatever the answer may be, one thing must be very clear: Definitely, there is not one single Contradiction in these Texts.

No Bible Contradiction