Why Is the Son of Saul’s Name Different in 2 Samuel Versus 1 Chronicles?

The astute Bible reader will notice that the son of Saul who ruled Israel after Saul was killed is called Ish-Bosheth in 2 Samuel, but in 1 Chronicles is called Esh-Baal. What is going on? Both of these accounts are referring to the same person, so why can’t they get his name straight?

Walter Kaiser Jr. and Duane Garrett, in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, offer some interesting thoughts on why there are name differences:

Some changes in the Biblical text, including euphemistic expressions (intended, e.g., to express something less starkly), are not explicitly marked. One such example occurs with respect to the proper names that contain the element ‘Baal.’ The noun Baal, which originally meant simply ‘Lord,’ came later to signify almost exclusively the proper name of the Canaanite god. Later readers were apt to be offended by the appearance of this name in the Scripture, especially when associated with an Israelite.

Thus, names that included ‘Baal’ were sometimes changed in order to refrain from speaking even indirectly of false gods. For example, in 1 Chronicles the son of Jonathan is identified as Merib-Baal (1Ch 8: 34; 9: 40), whereas in 2 Samuel he is called Mephibosheth (2Sa 4: 4).

So what about Esh-Baal/Ish-Bosheth? They continue:

Similarly, a son of Saul is called Esh-Baal in 1 Chronicles 8: 33 and 9: 39 but Ish-Bosheth in 2 Samuel 2: 8. In both cases the name Baal has been substituted with ‘bosheth,’ the Hebrew noun for ‘shame.’ The change does not appear to reflect a negative judgment on the individual in question, but rather was a way of condemning the name of Baal.

The cumulative evidence of the Hebrew Bible shows that such emendations were not carried out systematically. It is also important to emphasize that most early scribal emendations are explicitly identified as such by marginal notations that preserve the text of the original reading. Viewed in this light, such changes provide insight into the religious sensibilities of various readers of the Bible rather than reflecting an attempt to alter the actual wording of the sacred text.