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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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One at the head of, and in command over, others a chief or officer the head man of a clan the commander of an army. The title occurs both in A. V. and R. V. as the equivalent for a large variety of Hebrew and Greek words frequently translated differently in other passages. Even where the rendering "captain" is adopted, the exact military or official implication of the title is often not indicated. This indefiniteness is due to the fact that Jewish military forces, especially during the earlier periods of their history, were not rigidly or systematically organized. Standing or regular armies were unknown before the days of the kingdom.

The Tribe the Military Unit.
The levies raised for purposes of offensive or defensive warfare fell naturally into units corresponding to the tribes or clans to which they belonged, the captain of each contingent being usually the chief of the tribe or clan though occasionally the captain did not belong to the tribe, or was not its chief. Bands of men unconnected tribally, the "vain men" or fellows of Judges 11:3 , under the command of a captain distinguished by his prowess, are sometimes mentioned and it is very likely that Saul, in "choosing" three thousand men (1Samuel 13:2 ), called into service such a company, and that the necessity for resorting to the same expedient a little later in his career (1Samuel 24:2 ) induced him to keep together as a permanent establishment a body of armed men under his personal command. It is during his reign that mention is first found of a commander-or captain-in-chief namely, Abner ( 1Samuel 14:50 ).

Under David much progress was made in the development and organization of a standing military force. While a fugitive and an exile, David had been himself the leader of a band of freebooters (see 1Samuel 22:2 et seq. ). His followers formed the nucleus of a standing army. Under him are found, in addition to the commander-in-chief, "captains of the host" (, 2Samuel 24:4 ). The captain of the royal body-guard is also mentioned as one of the high dignitaries of the court (2Samuel 8:18 , 20:23 ). Captains of "runners,"— i.e. , foot-soldiers, a body of men probably entrusted with the custodianship of the palace gates (IIKings 10:25)— are named in 1Kings 14:27 . These "runners" seem to have consisted of companies of hundreds (IIKings 11:4, ).

The meaning of (A. V., "chief among the captains" R. V., "chief of the captains") is not certain. "Shalish" has been explained as the third occupant of the Chariot (LXX., τ ρ ι σ τ ά η ς ) still, it is doubtful whether military chariots had come into use among the Israelites so early as David's reign. In Exodus 14:7 and 15:4 the reference is to Egyptian chariots, and these are known to have been manned by two men only. "Shalish" in these two verses seems to designate "picked troops," the é lite of soldiers. (See Baentsch on Exodus 14:7 , in "Handkommentar zum Alten Testament.") In other passages the "shalish" probably was a military officer in charge of a third of a larger division (compare battalion = ⅓ regiment), or the third officer in rank. Compare Assyrian "shalshã a," Rawlinson "Asiatic Inscriptions," 5:3,48 Assurbanipal "Inscriptions," 130,1. Solomon , however, had "captains" of horse and chariots (IKings 9:22).

Military Divisions.
It is not unlikely that during the period of the kings the army was divided into tactical units of 1,000, subdivided again into bodies of 100,50, and 10, each under its proper officer or "head" (), or "captain" (). The fixed titles of the various ranks in the military hierarchy are not exactly known, but it is probable that each officer was designated as the "head" or "captain" ("sar") of the number under him (1Samuel 8:12 , 17:18 , 18:13 2Samuel 18:1 Exodus 18:21 1 Maccabees 3:55 ), though the title "shalish" would indicate also another nomenclature. The sources furnish too scanty a supply of facts to substantiate a more definite assertion.

Captains of the Temple.
The priests and Levites of the Second Temple were organized into groups, with proper officers or captains. Under the high priest the ("segan"), more generally designated ("the memunneh"), often officiated as his lieutenant. Jost ("Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten," 1:150) suggests that this is the officer described in Acts 4:1 , 5:24,26 as σ τ ρ α τ η γ ὸ ς τ ο ῦ ί ε ρ ο ῦ ("captain of the temple"), and in 2 Maccabees 3:4 as π ρ ο σ τ α τ η ς ("governor"). This identification, however, is not very convincing. It is more reasonable to hold α τ ρ α τ η γ ό ς to be the rendering of , the Mishnaic title of the "captain [of one] of the priestly groups" (ma' amad or "mishmar"). The officer named in the passages quoted above corresponds to the one given the same title (σ τ ρ α τ η ό ς ) by Josephus ("Ant." 20:6, § 2 "B. J." 2:5, § 3). He is the captain of the Levitical temple-guard (compare Maimonides, "Kele. Ham." iii.), a body of police, referred to also in Luke 22:4,52 . The officers that assisted in the arrest of Jesus (John 18:3 ) may have belonged to this company. The "captain" of Acts 22:28 , and possibly John 18:12 , rendering the Greek word χ ι λ ί α ρ χ ο ς , represents a Roman officer, the "præ fectus" or "tribunus militum" it is not clear which grade of the Roman military hierarchy is meant by the "captain of the guards," in Acts 28:16 , where it is a translation of the Greek α τ ρ α τ ο π ε δ ά ρ χ η ς . The R. V. omits the sentence altogether.

Three Hebrew words are mistranslated "captain" by the A. V.: (1) , in 2Kings 11:4,19 (probably a misreading for see Cherethites ) (2) , in Ezekiel 21:22 ("battering rams," R. V.) (3) , in Jeremiah 13:21 , where "friend" is the proper meaning.

Following are other Hebrew equivalents: "Ṭ ifsar," (the Assyrian "dupsharu" = writer of tablets), in Jeremiah 51:27 and Nahum 3:17 , a military officer, probably the Hebrew "Sofer" (Jeremiah 52:25 reading emended 2Kings 25:19 , see Nowack, "Lehrbuch der Hebrä ischen Archä ologie," 1:360). "Nagid," a title of royal personages secondarily, "chief," and hence "captain" (1Chronicles 12:27 , 13:1 ) the "steward" of the palace (2Chronicles 28:7 ). "Nasi," truer rendering, "prince" (Numbers 2:3 , as in R. V. generally). "Peḥ ah," an Assyrian title "paḥ ati," from "bel paḥ ati," lord of a district = governor military "captain" in 2Kings 18:24 Isaiah 36:9 Ezekiel 23:6,12 , 23. "Ḳ aẓ in," originally "elder," "judge." "Rosh," "head," "chief" (R. V.). "Ba' al," "lord" (Jeremiah 37:13 ), "captain" of prison. "Rab" (IIKings 35:8), "captain" of executioners interchanges with "sar" (Genesis 39:1 ). "Sar" is equivalent to "prince," and hence "commander," "captain." "Shalliṭ " is rendered "ruler" in Daniel 2:15 . For renderings of "shalish" see above, and Dillmann on Exodus 14:7 , in "Kurzgefasster Kommentar zu den Heiligen Schriften" also Paul Haupt, in "Beiträ ge fü r Assyriologie und Semitischen Sprachwissenschaft," 4:4, pp. 582-587, Leipsic, 1902.

Jewish Captives in Attitude of Supplication .
(From Layard's "Monuments of Nineveh.")
E. G. H.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Captain'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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