King David's Warriors are a group of biblical characters explicitly singled out by an appendix of the Books of Samuel. The text (2 Samuel 23:8-39) divides them into The Three, of which there are 3, and The Thirty, of which there is somewhere between 30 and 37. The text explicitly states that there are 37 individuals in all, but it is unclear whether this refers to The Thirty, which may or may not contain The Three, or the combined total of both groups assuming that The Three is separate. The text cryptically refers to The Three and The Thirty as if they were both important entities, rather than just an arbitrary list of 3 or 30+ significant men (respectively).

Textual scholars regard the passages referring to The Three and The Thirty as having come from either a source distinct to the main sources in the Books of Samuel, or being otherwise out of place. Since parts of the text have distinct stylistic differences from other portions - appearing as a list, as a series of character introductions, or as a flowing narrative - textual scholars suspect that the passages may themselves be compiled from multiple source documents. Further, as 2 Samuel 23:23-24 is ... David put him in command of his bodyguard. Ashahel, brother of Joab. Among the thirty were..... , the text is regarded as corrupted, and the middle of verse 23:24 (between the words Joab and Among) is generally presumed to have been lost[1][page needed] (some translations move Among the thirty were to be before Ashahel, which smooths over the issue).

The Three

The Three are named[2] as Josheb Basshebeth (meaning "dwelling in rest") the Tachmonite ("thou will make me wise"), Eleazar ("God has helped") son of Dodo ("his beloved") the Ahohite ("brother of rest"), and Shammah son of Agee the Hararite.

The Three are also mentioned in the Book of Chronicles, where, in the Masoretic Text, the first of these three is named as Jashobeam instead. However, the Septuagint version of the same passage presents a name that scholars regard as clearly being a transliteration from Isbosheth - the euphemism employed in some parts of the Bible for the name Ishbaal. Hence the first member of The Three was probably Ishbaal, Saul's son and heir; the text having become corrupted either deliberately (eg. due to an editor that sought to downplay Ishbaal's heroism) or accidentally.[3]

In the narrative, Josheb Bashebeth (who is probably Ishbaal) is described as being the leader, and is said to have killed 800 men in a single encounter. Some Septuagint manuscripts, however, attribute the deaths of these 800 men to Adino the Eznite instead, though it is unclear why Adino, who is not one of The Three, would be introduced into the narrative in this way. Josheb Bashebeth is also described as a Tahkemonite, which is probably a corruption of Hacmonite, the latter being how he is described by the Book of Chronicles. Though many translations state that the 800 men were killed by a spear, the Hebrew text is somewhat obscure, and alternative translations are plausible.

Eleazar is described as standing his ground against the Philistines at Pas Dammim when the rest of the Hebrews ran away, and as successfully defeating them. Similarly Shammah is described as having stood his ground when the Philistines attacked a "field of ripe lentils" despite the rest of his associates dispersing, and as having defeated the attackers.

The Thirty

The Thirty are not heavily described by the text, merely listed. The list is somewhat corrupt, and there are several differences between the ancient manuscripts of the list, whether they are of the masoretic text or of the Septuagint. Textual scholars generally consider the Septuagint to be more reliable than the masoretic text in regard to this list, particularly since the masoretic text of Chronicles matches the Septuagint version of the Books of Samuel more closely than the masoretic version.[4] In addition there are a few places where it is uncertain whether one person is referred to or if it is two people. The individuals that are clearly identified are:

  • Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem
  • Shammah from Arad
  • Helez from Beth-Palet
  • Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa
  • Abiezer from Anathoth
  • a man from Hushah that was named either Mebunnai (according to the masoretic text) or was named Sibbecai (according to the Septuagint and Chronicles)
  • Zalmon, descended from Ahoah
  • Maharai from Netophah
  • Heleb[5] son of Baanah from Netophah
  • Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah
  • Benaiah from Pirathon
  • a man from the ravines of Gaash that was named Hiddai (according to the masoretic text) or was named Hurai (according to the Septuagint and Chronicles)
  • Abi-Albon from Beth-Arabah
  • Azmaveth from Bahurim
  • Eliahba from Shaalbim
  • the (unnamed) sons of a man that was either named Hashem and was from Gizon (according to the Septuagint and Chronicles) or was named Jashen (according to the masoretic text)
  • Ahiam from Arad, whose father was either named Sharar (according to the masoretic text) or was named Sacar (according to the Septuagint and Chronicles)
  • Eliphelet[6] from Maacah, whose father was either named Ahasbai (according to the Books of Samuel) or Ur (according to Chronicles)
  • Eliam son of Ahithophel from Giloh
  • Hezro from Carmel
  • Zelek from Ammon
  • Ira from Jattir
  • Gareb from Jattir
  • Uriah the Hittite.

In addition to these, there are a few cases where an individual is named, and is then followed by a description that is unclear as to whether it refers to them, or whether it refers to an additional unnamed person:

  • Naharai from Beeroth, (and/who is) the armour-bearer of Joab
  • Igal son of Nathan from Zobah, (and/who is) the son of a man named Hagri (according to the masoretic text and Chronicles) or Haggadi (according to the Septuagint)

For the remaining names of the list, there are some significant textual issues, the most minor of which being that the Books of Samuel lists Paarai the Arbite but the Book of Chronicles lists Naarai son of Exbai instead. The list in Samuel is generally presented in pairs, where each member of a pair comes from a similar location to the other member, but this pattern is broken by Shammah (from Arad), Elika (from Arad), and Helez (from Beth-Palet), who make a trio; in Chronicles, however, Elika isn't even listed.

The final name(s) on the list itself is/are given by the masoretic text as Jonathan son of Shammah from Arad, but the septuagint has Jonathan, [and] Shammah from Arad; the septuagint implies that the passage was understood to refer to a Jonathan significant enough to need no further qualification, thus probably referring to the Jonathan that elsewhere is described as a son of Saul - which Jonathan being a son of Shammah would contradict. According to textual scholars Jonathan is distinctly associated by other parts of the Books of Samuel with the Hebrews, while Saul is distinctly associated with the Israelites (who the text consistently treats as a distinct group from the Hebrews), and his being Saul's son is considered by some textual scholars as more ethnological than necessarily literal.[7][page needed]

As the list is proceeded with ...David put him in command of his bodyguard. Ashahel, brother of Joab. Among the thirty were..... , an Asahel the brother of Joab is sometimes considered to be part of the list, having become misplaced rather than the start of a lost passage.[8]

Three of The Thirty

The text also contains a narrative passage about three of The Thirty. It is unclear from the text whether this refers to The Three, hence implying that The Three were a special group within The Thirty, or whether it refers to another group of 3 individuals. The narrative, which recounts a single exploit, ends with such were the exploits of the three mighty men, and textual scholars believe that the narrative may be an extract from a larger group of tales concerning these three. The flowing narrative differs in style from the more abrupt introductions to individual members of The Three and The Thirty that surround it, and textual scholars believe that it may originally have been from a different document.[9][page needed]

In the narrative, three of the thirty visit David when he is located at the cave of Adullam. While there, David expresses a heartfelt desire for water from a well near Bethlehem, which the narrative states was occupied by Philistines. The three of the thirty therefore sneak past the Philistines, and draw water from the well, which they take back to David. David refuses to drink the water, instead pouring it out before Yahweh, arguing that it was the blood of the men who had risked their lives. Biblical scholars argue that the description of David pouring out the water is a reference to David offering the water to Yahweh as a libation.[4]


An additional account, continuing on from the description of The Three, which was interrupted by the narrative concerning David's thirst, describes Abishai, the brother of Joab. According to the text, he killed 300 men with a spear, and so became as famous as, and more respected than, The Three. The text states that despite the fame and respect he was not included among The Three, suggesting that being a part of The Three is not just a group of famous people, but something which an individual could in some way gain membership, with criteria that involved more than fame and honour.

According to most manuscripts of the masoretic text, Abishai became the commander of The Three, but according to the Syriac Peshitta, and a few masoretic text manuscripts, Abishai instead became the commander of The Thirty. The text explicitely states that Abishai became the commander of The Three despite not being among them, but it is unclear whether this is directly because he was their commander (as with the masoretic text), or whether he was commander of The Thirty (as with the Septuagint) and The Three were a subgroup of The Thirty (as possibly implied by the narrative about Three of The Thirty).


Benaiah is singled out by the text for being a particularly great warrior, as famous as The Three, and significantly more respected than any of The Thirty, for which reason he was put in charge of the royal bodyguard. As with Abishai, the text emphasises that despite these qualities, Benaiah was not a member of The Three. The text gives a list of Benaiah's great exploits, suggesting that these are what brought him fame and honour; compared with the feats ascribed by the text to Abishai, and to the members of The Three, Benaiah's feats are somewhat minor (though regarded by scholars as more realistic):

  • Killing two of Moab's best warriors
  • Killing a lion in a pit on a snowy day
  • Attacking a 7-and-a-half foot tall Egyptian with a club, stealing the spear that the Egyptian was using, and killing the Egyptian with it.

Comparing the two lists

Variations are shown in italics.


Note: In 2 Samuel 23:39, the list finishes with "thirty and seven in all."

2 Samuel 23 1 Chronicles 11 Meanings[10]
Josheb-Basshebeth, a Tahkemonite Jashobeam, a Hacmonite Josheb-basshebeth="dwelling in rest"; Tachmonite="thou will make me wise"
Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite Eleazar="God has helped" Dodo = "his beloved" Ahohite = "brother of rest"
Shammah son of Agee, the Hararite Shammah="astonishment"; Agee="I shall increase"; Hararite="mountain dweller"
Abishai the brother of Joab son of Zeruiah Abishai the brother of Joab Abishai="my father is Jesse(or a gift)"; Joab="Jehovah is father"; Zeruiah="balsam"
Benaiah son of Jehoiada of Kabzeel Benaiah son of Jehoiada Benaiah="Jehovah has built" or "Yahweh has built up"; Jehoiada="Jehovah knows"; Kabzeel="God gathers"
Asahel the brother of Joab Asahel the brother of Joab Asahel = "God-made"; Joab="Jehovah is father"
Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem Elhanan = "God has been gracious"; Dodo = "his beloved"; Bethlehem="house of bread(food)"
Shammah the Harodite Shammoth the Harorite Shammah="astonishment"; Harodite="trembling"
Elika the Harodite Elika="my God rejects"; Harodite="trembling"
Helez the Paltite Helez the Pelonite Helez="he has saved"; Paltite="escape"
Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa Ira="watchful of a city"; Ikkesh="twisted"; Tekoite="trumpet blast"
Abiezer from Anathoth Abiezer from Anathoth Abiezer="my father is help"; Anethothite = "affliction"; Anathoth = "answers to prayer"
Mebunnai the Hushathite Sibbecai the Hushathite Mebunnai = "building of Jehovah"; Hushathite = "inhabitant of Hushah"; Hushah = "haste"; Sibbecai or Sibbechai = "weaver"
Zalmon the Ahohite Ilai the Ahohite Zalmon = "shady"; Ahohite = "brother of rest"; Ilai = "exalted"
Maharai the Netophathite Maharai the Netophathite Maharai = "impetuous"; Netophathite or Netophath= "dropping"
Heled son of Baanah the Netophathite Heled son of Baanah the Netophathite Heled = "transient"; Baana or Baanah = "in affliction"; Netophathite or Netophath= "dropping"
Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah of the children of Benjamin Ithai son of Ribai from Gibeah in Benjamin Ittai or Ithai = "with me"; Ribai = "pleader with Jehovah"; Gibeah = "hill"; Benjamin = "son of the right hand"
Benaiah the Pirathonite Benaiah the Pirathonite Benaiah = "Jehovah has built" or "Yahweh has built up"; Pirathonite or Pirathon = "princely"
Hiddai from the ravines of Gaash Hurai from the ravines of Gaash Hiddai = "for the rejoicing of Jehovah"; Gaash = "quaking"
Abi-Albon the Arbathite Abiel the Arbathite Abialbon = "El (God) is my father"; Arbathite = "desert house"; Betharabah = "house of the desert valley" or "place of the depression"; Abiel = "El (God) is (my) father"
Azmaveth the Barhumite Azmaveth the Baharumite Azmaveth = "strong unto death"; Barhumite = "son of the blackened: in the pitied" (a person from Bahurim)
Eliahba the Shaalbonite Eliahba the Shaalbonite Eliahba = "God hides"; Shaalbonite = "place of foxes"
of the sons of Jashen the sons of Hashem the Gizonite ; Jashen = "sleeping"
Jonathan son of Shammah the Hararite Jonathan son of Shagee the Hararite Jonathan or Jehonathan = "Jehovah has given"; Shammah = "astonishment"; Shage = "erring"; Hararite = "mountain dweller"
Ahiam son of Sharar the Hararite Ahiam son of Sacar the Hararite Ahiam = "mother's brother"; Sharar = "enemy"; Sacar = "wages"; Hararite = "mountain dweller"
Eliphelet son of Ahasbai the Maacathite Elpalet or Eliphalet or Eliphelet = "God is deliverance"; Ahasbai = "brother of my encompassers"; Maachathite = "pressure (literally she has pressed)"
Eliam son of Ahithophel the Gilonite Eliam = "God of the people" or "God is kinsman"; Ahithophel = "my brother is foolish (folly)"; Gilonite = "gentilic of preceding"
Eliphal son of Ur Eliphal = "my God is supplication"; Ur = "flame"
Hepher the Mekerathite Hepher = "a well"; Mecherathite = "he of the dug-out" or "he of the digging tool"
Ahijah the Pelonite Ahiah or Ahijah = "brother of Jehovah (Yahu)"; Pelonite = "a certain one"
Hezro the Carmelite Hezro the Carmelite Hezro or Hezrai = "enclosed"; Carmelite or Carmel = "garden-land"
Paarai the Arbite Paarai = "gaping"; Arbite = "an ambush"
Naarai son of Ezbai
Igal son of Nathan from Zobah Joel the brother of Nathan
the son of Hagri Mibhar son of Hagri
Zelek the Ammonite Zelek the Ammonite
Naharai the Beerothite, the armor-bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah Naharai the Beerothite, the armor-bearer of Joab son of Zeruiah
Ira the Ithrite Ira the Ithrite Ira="watchful of a city";Ithrite = "a remnant: excellence"
Gareb the Ithrite Gareb the Ithrite Gareb = "scabby"; Ithrite = "a remnant: excellence"
Uriah the Hittite Uriah the Hittite Uriah or Urijah = "Jehovah (Yahweh) is my light (flame)"; Hittite = "descendant of Heth"
Zabad son of Ahlai Zabad = "he endows"; Ahlai = "O! would that!"
Adina son of Shiza the Reubenite, who was chief of the Reubenites Adina = "slender"; Shiza="splendour"; Reubenite="behold a son" or a descendant of Reuben the son of Jacob
the thirty with him
Hanan son of Maacah Hanan = "he is merciful"; Maachah = "oppression"
Joshaphat the Mithnite
Uzzia the Ashterathite
Shama and Jeiel the sons of Hotham the Aroerite
Jediael son of Shimri
his brother Joha the Tizite
Eliel the Mahavite
Jeribai and Joshaviah the sons of Elnaam
Ithmah the Moabite
Jaasiel the Mezobaite

References in popular culture

King David's Warriors are the subject of the novel series Lion of War by Cliff Graham, which is being made into a major motion picture franchise from director David L. Cunningham and producer Grant Curtis.[11]

See also


  1. This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.
  2. 2 Samuel 23:8-12
  3. Peake's commentary on the Bible
  4. 4.0 4.1 Peake's commentary on the Bible
  5. a few manuscripts of the masoretic text read Heled rather than Heleb
  6. unlike the Books of Samuel, the Book of Chronicles names him as Eliphel; this is near universally considered a typographic error
  7. Jewish Encyclopedia; Peake's commentary on the Bible
  8. this varies between common English translations
  9. Jewish Encyclopedia
  10. The Old Testament Hebrew Lexicon is Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon; this is keyed to the "Theological Word Book of the Old Testament." These files are considered public domain."
  11. *Film development press release [1]

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