Judges 18:30: Moses or Manasseh?

Quek Suan Yew


Judges 18:30 reads, “And the children of Dan set up the graven image: and Jonathan, the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of Dan until the day of the captivity of the land.”


The textual problem here has to do with the word “Manasseh.” This word has an elevated nun (the Hebrew letter נ) in the text. Without the elevated Nun, the consonants read “MSH” which means “Moses” in Hebrew. The Hebrew text in Judges 18:30 with the elevated nun looks like this:


Those who choose to translate the word as “Moses” and say that this is a scribal error or a mistake explain that since Moses’ grandson was such a wicked and idolatrous man, the scribes in an attempt to protect the good name of Moses inserted the letter nun into “Moses” (MSH) to make it read “Manasseh” (MNSH). “Moses” they conclude must be the correct inspired reading, not “Manasseh.”

This is reflected in the many translations of the Bible. Some have “Moses,” while others have “Manasseh.” The following is a tabulation of some versions of the Bible on Judges 18:30.

1890 Darby Bible Die Bibel (Martin Luther 1545, 1912)
1901 American Standard Version Young’s Literal Translation
New International Version Jewish Publication Society of the OT
New Revised Standard Version King James Version
The New Living Translation New American Standard Bible
The New Century Version The New King James Version
LXX Family A (Codex Alexandrinus) LXX Family B (Codex Vaticanus)

Now, which reading is correct, “Moses” or “Manasseh?” Let us examine the manuscript evidence for Judges 18:30. The critical apparatus of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS) states:

  1. The codex Leningradensis multi-manuscripts have nun
  2. Many manuscripts/editions of the Hebrew Texts according to Kennicott, de Rossi and Ginsburg, do not raise the nun.
  3. To be read with a few manuscripts—Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate—MSH—compare with the Syriac version from the Hexaplar Greek Text A.

In light of this, here are the facts:

  1. There is not a single Hebrew manuscript which reads “Moses.” Only three versions, the Greek Septuagint (i.e. Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, or the LXX), Latin Vulgate and Syriac version have it as “Moses.” The critical Hebrew text—BHS—itself has “Manasseh.”
  2. At least one of the Septuagint manuscripts (LXX Family B) has “Manasseh,” revealing that not all manuscripts of the Septuagint agree.
  3. All the Hebrew manuscripts have “Manasseh,” some with the nun suspended and the rest have them on the same line.
Raised Letters in the OT

When we look at the other parts of the Old Testament, we find three other occurrences of suspended Hebrew letters. They are found in Psalm 80:14 [13]; Job 38:13, and 15.

  1. In Psalm 80:14 [13], the letter ayin (ע) is elevated. This was to indicate that the letter ayin is the middle consonant of the 150 Psalms. The suspended ayin in Hebrew looks like this:


  1. In Job 38:13 and 15, the ayin is also raised. The raised ayin in Hebrew looks like this:

רשׁעים (Job 38:13)

מרשׁעים (Job 38:15)

It is important to note that all the Hebrew manuscripts have the raised ayin, and none of the versions/translations omit this suspended letter.


All the textual evidences on Judges 18:30 point to “Manasseh,” not “Moses.” There is not a single Hebrew manuscript that has “Moses.” The priority of the traditional Masoretic Text should cause us to read it as “Manasseh,” but the modern versions like the New International Version (NIV), and New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) chose to follow the conjectural emendations of the ancient Greek and Latin versions. To elevate a translation above the Hebrew text is “Ruckmanism” (Ruckmanism is the heresy that says the KJV is more inspired than the original Hebrew and Greek texts). Those who say that the ancient translations and modern versions should change the Hebrew text are thus practising a form of Ruckmanism.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) which was based upon the American Standard Version (ASV) has “Moses” changed to “Manasseh.” It appears that the NASB translators realise that there is no textual support whatsoever for “Moses” and so decided to change it back to “Manasseh.” By the way, the ASV was the American edition of the English Revised Version (ERV). The ERV was the translation made by Westcott and Hort based on the corrupt text for the purpose of replacing the KJV and its traditional and preserved texts!

Why did the supporters of “Moses” choose to remove the elevated nun from “Manasseh” in Judges 18:30 and not do the same with Psalm 80:14 [13] and Job 38:13 and 15? If Judges 18:30 is a scribal error or mistake as they claim, why do they not call the other three scribal errors too?

The fact is that there is a special purpose for elevating a consonant. In the case of Psalm 80:14 [13] it is the central letter of the entire 150 psalms. The elevated consonant served as a marker for the scribes when they copy the Scriptures. This is to ensure no letters were lost or added. When they proofread the copy, they would count the letters of the texts and ensure that the central letter is the ayin of Psalm 80:14 [13].

In the case of Job 38:13 and 15, the word is “wicked” in both instances. The precise reason for the raised letter is not stated or known at this time. A possible reason could be for simple emphasis. Could not the elevated nun in Judges 18:30 be for this reason?

There are a number of ways to highlight the text in the Hebrew Scriptures. There is the enlarged consonant in Genesis 1:1 (the letter beth, ב); Leviticus 11:42 (the letter waw, ו, which is the middle consonant of the Pentateuch); Numbers 14:17 (the letter yodh, י). The consonant is sometimes reduced in size too as in Genesis 2:4 (the letter he, ה). There is the minimised consonant in Numbers 25:12 (the letter waw, ו), Exodus 32:25 and Numbers 7:2 (the letter qoph, ק). There is the large mem, מ, in Isaiah 9:6 and the open mem in Nehemiah 2:13. The inverted nun in Numbers 10:35, 36 and before Psalm 107:23–28, and 40. These are some examples where the raising or enlarging or reducing or minimising or inverting or opening of a letter is used to draw special attention to a word. Why should we be so quick to call them mistakes or scribal errors just because they do not conform to our way of emphasising a word or phrase? When we highlight a word by putting it in bold or in italics or by underlining it, we do not say they are mistakes do we?

Now, let us consider the names. Who was Gershom? Must he be necessarily linked to Moses? It is significant to note that there are at least three Gershoms in the Old Testament: (1) the eldest son of Moses by Zipporah (Exod 2:22); (2) a son of Levi (1 Chron 6:16; 15:7); and (3) a descendant of Phinehas (Ezra 8:2). And who was “Manasseh?” There were at least four Manassehs in the Old Testament: (1) the elder son of Joseph (Gen 41:51); (2) the son of Hezekiah (2 Kgs 20:21; 21:1–20) and (3) two men who put away foreign wives (Ezra 10:30, 33). It looks like “Manasseh” and “Gershom” were common names in Old Testament days. Historically and textually, there is no necessity to link Gershom to Moses in Judges 18:30. There are also no compelling reasons to identify the Manasseh and Gershom of Judges 18:30 with any of the above-mentioned Gershoms and Manassehs. It is best to let the text be.

Furthermore, in 1 Chronicles 26:24, we are told that the grandson of Moses was “Shebuel” (meaning “O God, return”) not “Jonathan.” Shebuel was “ruler of the treasures” whereas Jonathan was despotic priest of the disobedient tribe of Dan. Those who insist on “Moses” say that Jonathan was Shebuel because he later repented and returned to God. It goes without saying that this is purely speculative.

It ought to be noted that Dan was the only tribe that broke off from the “land covenant” which God made with all Israel (cf. Lev 25:23–34; Num 36:7–9). The Danites were not to sell or move from their designated lot as given to them by God through the hand of Joshua soon after the conquest. But they despised God’s choice and sought a land after their own desire. Jonathan, as a Levite and teacher of the law, failed in his duty to rebuke them for their their evil deed. Out of pure greed and self-interest, he supported the Danites in their disobedience. Perhaps his sin was so grave in the sight of God that it was highlighted by the use of a raised nun. The nun was used on his grandfather probably because he was the one to be blamed for moving his family out of the Levitical city into Bethlehem-Judah which was not a Levitical city. Bethlehem-Judah was located in the tribe of Judah (cf. Josh 21:9–16 for a list of Judah’s Levitical cities). Jonathan came from Bethlehem-Judah which was not God’s allotted city for the Levites (cf. Judg 17:7, 9). Manasseh broke God’s “land-covenant” by leaving the Levitical city. His grandson followed his bad example and joined the tribe of Dan which committed the same sin.


There is no convincing biblical nor textual basis for the conjectural emendation of the traditional and preserved Hebrew text in Judges 18:30 which reads “Manasseh” as accurately translated in the KJV, and not “Moses” as found in the NIV and some of the modern versions. It is thus pure speculation to call the elevated nun of Judges 18:30 a scribal error.

Rev Quek Suan Yew is pastor of Calvary Bible-Presbyterian Church (Pandan), and a lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at the Far Eastern Bible College.

Published in The Burning Bush, Volume 10 Number 1, January 2004.