Gates or Goats?

pondering goat gate

Gates or Goats?
2 Kings 23:8

He brought all the priests from the cities of Judah and ruined the high places where the priests had offered sacrifices, from Geba to Beer Sheba. He tore down the high place of the goat idols situated at the entrance of the gate of Joshua, the city official, on the left side of the city gate. (NET)

Notice the goats in the NET Bible translation. Goat idols. Goats near the gate.

Very few English translations of the Hebrew include the word “goats.” A large majority follow the Hebrew manuscripts as written, along with the scholarly texts based on those manuscripts, and include the word “gates.” As in the Hebrew.

The English Standard Version is typical — high places of gates:

And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the gate of the city. (ESV)

Can you see a scribe looking back and forth from source scroll to copy scroll, his eyes jumping back and forth to “high places” and the “gate of Joshua” and another “gate of the city?” The Hebrew text at 2 Kings 23:8 has the appearance of scribal corruption. It seems as if the word for “gates” has been written in as spot where some other word belongs.

Here’s a modernized comparison: Instead of reading, “the fans tore down the statue of the gate standing near the gate entrance to Yankee stadium,” perhaps the original text is “the fans tore down the statue of Babe Ruth standing near the gate.” Yes?

The ESV and many other translations see no goats, but multiple gates near yet another gate. No goats near the gate. Only gates near the gate.

Did the ancients have high places of gates? Did they have gate idols? They used all sorts of other small objects and large statues as objects of worship. Were gates “a thing?”

Hmmm. We don’t think so.

So if the “gates” of concern is to be replaced with something else, what are the possibilities? Are there high places of gates? Perhaps the 2 Kings 23:8 should read “…he broke down the high places of Baal” or perhaps “… high places of Asherah” or “… high places of Milcon” or even “… high place of WalMart.”

Yet, the Hebrew text does indeed have the word gates, not goats, in the location of interest. Here is the quasi-official Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia published by the Deutsche Bibel Gesellschaft (German Bible Society) (reading right-to-left):

The root word of interest, appearing in this verse in variant forms, is שַׁעַר (shah’·ar). And it refers to gates. Sadly, not goats.

The translators of the NET Bible suggest however, that שַׁעַר can be emended by a slight tweak, and become goats.

The Hebrew words for goat and gate are similar in appearance. From the Lexicon at Blue Letter Bible, here are goat and gate:

שָׂעִיר (sa`iyr) = kid, goat, devil, satyr, hairy, rough

שַׁעַר (sha`ar) = gate, city, door, port, porters

Translators of the Bible, especially when dealing with Hebrew-language manuscripts, frequently speculate regarding what they call “emendations” to the text. When encountering words and letters which seem out of place, or corrupted by manuscript damage, or mis-written by scribal pen, they will propose an addition, or tweak of pen and ink, to add or subtract a letter or small stroke of black ink, and the “emendation” towards an improved word and improved meaning.

This is of course not to be taken lightly, as we are dealing with God’s text. And sometimes — rather often, actually — the more awkward meaning is considered to be the more accurate, more original, word and meaning. But we are also dealing with human-made, physical manuscripts penned and inked by human scribes, and often eaten by bugs and damaged by water and time. The errors of tired human hands are compounded by the nature of Hebrew alphabetic lettering, as Hebrew letters are so dynamically drawn with twists, turns, and small strokes this way and that. The little jots and tittles can get lost, as can portions of letters themselves.

Furthermore, was goat worship even a thing? Yes. Sure enough, the ancients did at times and in places objectify goats and images of goats in their worship. Goat worship, or worship involving images and statues of goats, are even mentioned in our Old Testament scripture:

Leviticus 17:7 in the NASB: They shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot. This shall be a permanent statute to them throughout their generations. (NASB)

Leviticus 17:7 in the ESV: So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. (ESV)

2 Chronicles 11:15 in the NASB: He set up priests of his own for the high places, for the satyrs and for the calves which he had made. (NASB)

2 Chronicles 11:15 in the in the ESV: and he appointed his own priests for the high places and for the goat idols and for the calves that he had made. (ESV)

Goats have not however, made their way into many English translations of 2 Kings 23:8. Let’s have a look:

First, two translation teams other than those creating the NET are brave enough to replace gates with goats:

New English Bible … and dismantled the hill-shrines of the demons [NEB note: or satyrs] in front of the gate of Jushua, the governor of the city, to the left of the city gate.

Good News Translation … He also tore down the altars dedicated to the goat demons near the gate built by Joshua, the city governor, which was to the left of the main gate as one enters the city.

NET Bible … He tore down the high place of the goat idols situated at the entrance of the gate of Joshua, the city official, on the left side of the city gate.

Next, a large number stick with “gates:”

English Standard Version And he brought all the priests out of the cities of Judah, and defiled the high places where the priests had made offerings, from Geba to Beersheba. And he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on one’s left at the gate of the city.

New Jerusalem Bible … He pulled down the High Place of the Gates, which stood at the gate of Joshua, the governor of the city, to the left of the entry to the city. [the JPS notes that the Septuagint refers to this shrine as “the high place” in the Greek, and that “nothing is known about this shrine.”

New International Version … broke down the gateway at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua…

Berean Study Bible … tore down the high places of the gates at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor…

New American Standard Bible … and he broke down the high places of the gates which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor…

American Standard Version … and he brake down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua…

King James Bible … and brake down the high places of the gates that were in the entering in of the gate of Joshua…

American King James Version … and broke down the high places of the gates that were in the entering in of the gate of Joshua…

New King James Version … also he broke down the high places at the gates which were at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were to the left of the city gate.

David Stern’s Complete Jewish Bible He removed the cohanim from the cities of Y’hudah; then, from Geva to Be’ er- Sheva, he desecrated the high places where the cohanim had been making offerings. He also smashed the High Places of the Gates that were at the entrance of the Gate of Y’hoshua the governor of the city, on the left as one enters the city.

Young’s Literal Translation … and hath broken down the high places of the gates that are at the opening of the gate of Joshua…

Holman Christian Standard Bible … He tore down the high places of the gates at the entrance of the gate of Joshua…

Christian Standard Bible
… He tore down the high places of the city gates at the entrance of the gate of Joshua…

International Standard Version
… He also demolished the high places of the gates that had been erected to the left as one enters the city gate—that is, near the entrance operated by Joshua, the governor of the city.

JPS Tanakh 1917 … and he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua the governor of the city, which were on a man’s left hand…

JPS Tanakh 1988 … He also demolished the shrines of the gates, which were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua, the city prefect — [JPS note: the remainder of this verse is uncertain in the Hebrew] which were on a person’s left [as he entered] the city gate.

New Heart English Bible … and he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua…

Douay-Rheims Bible … and he broke down the altars of the gates that were in the entering in of the gate of Josue governor of tile city, which was on the left hand of the gate of the city.

Darby Bible Translation … and he broke down the high places of the gates, those at the entrance of the gate of Joshua…

English Revised Version … and he brake down the high places of the gates that were at the entering in of the gate of Joshua…

Webster’s Bible Translation … and broke down the high places of the gates that were in the entrance of the gate of Joshua…

World English Bible … and he broke down the high places of the gates that were at the entrance of the gate of Joshua…

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Some translations cleverly avoid the gates vs goats issue:

New Living Translation Josiah brought to Jerusalem all the priests who were living in other towns of Judah. He also defiled the pagan shrines, where they had offered sacrifices—all the way from Geba to Beersheba. He destroyed the shrines at the entrance to the gate of Joshua, the governor of Jerusalem. This gate was located to the left of the city gate as one enters the city.

Contemporary English Version In almost every town in Judah, priests had been offering sacrifices to the LORD at local shrines. Josiah brought these priests to Jerusalem and had their shrines made unfit for worship–every shrine from Geba just north of Jerusalem to Beersheba in the south. He even tore down the shrine at Beersheba that was just to the left of Joshua Gate, which was named after the highest official of the city.

GOD’S WORD Translation … He tore down the worship site at the entrance of the Gate of Joshua, the gate named after the mayor of the city. (The worship site was to the left of anyone going through the city gate.)

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

If “gates” is incorrect, it is also incorrect in the Greek Septuagint text of the Old Testament, which predates the Masoretic Hebrew text by several hundred years. Translators often look to this older, Greek version of the Old Testament when encountering passages which “look funny” in the Hebrew. We suspect translators would be much more willingly to make the switch from gates to goats, if this had support in the LXX.

Here are two English translations of the LXX:

Brenton Septuagint Translation (19th century Greek to English)
And he brought up all the priest from the cities of Juda, and defiled the high places where the priests burned incense, from Gaebal even to Bersabee; and he pulled down the house of the gates that was by the door of the gate of Joshua the ruler of the city, on a man’s left hand at the gate of the city.

NETS New English Translation of the Septuagint (2009)
And he brought up all the priests out of the towns of Iouda and defiled the high places, there where the priests had made incense offerings from Gabaa and as far as Bersabee, and he tore down the house of the gates that was at the entrance of the gate of Iesous, governor of the city, which were from a man’s left in the gate of the city.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

So, what to make of all this? A conundrum of translation is deciding when to choose a smoother, clearer-meaning, better-meaning phrase in English even though that choice is not supported in the manuscript evidence. Translators are extremely hesitant to do this.

The goats choice used by the NET, Good News, and suggested by the NEB is attractive, and makes all the sense in the world, and makes far more sense that gates. But it may not be correct.

We at Bible Bits are less than novices at Hebrew, so let us know if we are missing something in our explanation of all this. Also, if you can pin-point the precise emendation of Hebrew changing gates to goats, we’d like to see it written out in the Hebrew lettering. You can see the gist of it here, but there may be more to the 2 Kings 23:8 case than we can properly explain:

Gate: שַׁעַר Goat: שָׂעִיר

Special thanks to Biblios, Blue Letter Bible, the German Bible Institute and the NET Study Bible.

Blessings to you! God’s blessings to you and please read the actual Bible for yourself.

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