The fearsome Syrians.
A Nonbeliever's SECOND Reading of the Bible
2 Samuel 10 - I like a good war novel on occasion. One of my favorite books is The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. What distinguishes that story from these historical texts in the Bible is a coherent plot, along with the familiarity of a culture that I am only 150 or so years removed. When reading Biblical texts, I am reading stories of people who had no qualms about genocide, who existed at a time thousands of years before modern science and the Enlightenment, and who were essentially of the Bronze Age.
I am, however, thankful that those who were around at the time wrote these texts down, as it does give an interesting insight to how these people think and what they did. This makes it interesting from an anthropological point of view, and even a philosophical one.
In Chapter 10, David is going to war against the Syrians and the Ammonites. He uses strategy to split up his forces, which are under Joab's command. Joab takes half of the available soldiers and puts them under the control of his brother Abishai. Joab's half of the army went to battle against the Syrians, and Abishai against the Ammonites. The strategy - if the Syrians are too strong for Joab, then Abishai would have to come to his aid; and vice versa.
Well, the strategy apparently worked quite well. As soon as the Syrians saw Joab, they ran. And as soon as the Ammonites saw the Syrians flee, they also broke and ran and fled into their city.
Upon hearing of Joab's success, David then gathered all of Jerusalem and went to war against the Syrians, and just slaughtered them - apprently taking out 700 chariots and 40,000 horsemen.
Biblical Contradictions: In this chapter, David kills 700 chariots and 40,000 horsemen. But in 1 Chronicles 19:18's account of the same battle, David takes out 7000 chariots and 40,000 footmen.
There's also a strange account in the beginning of the chapter where David said he will show kindness to Hanun, son of Nahash, because Hanun had showed David kindness before. But the only other account where we come across Hanun and David is when Hanun either threatened to or actually gouged out the eyes of David's messengers (1 Samuel 11).
In response to this David's kind gesture, Hanun shaved off half of their beards and cut their garments up to their ass. This shaming of David's messengers is what eventually led to the battle described above.