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 xi. 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 (I Sam. xiii. 2), called into service such a company, and that the necessity for resorting to the same expedient a little later in his career (I Sam. xxiv. 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 (I Sam. xiv. 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 I Sam. xxii. 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" (, II Sam. xxiv. 4). The captain of the royal body-guard is also mentioned as one of the high dignitaries of the court (II Sam. viii. 18, xx. 23). Captains of "runners,"—i.e., foot-soldiers, a body of men probably entrusted with the custodianship of the palace gates (II Kings x. 25)—are named in I Kings xiv. 27. These "runners" seem to have consisted of companies of hundreds (II Kings xi. 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., τριστάης); still, it is doubtful whether military chariots had come into use among the Israelites so early as David's reign. In Ex. xiv. 7 and xv. 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 élite of soldiers. (See Baentsch on Ex. xiv. 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 "shalshãa," Rawlinson "Asiatic Inscriptions," v. 3, 48; Assurbanipal "Inscriptions," 130, 1. Solomon, however, had "captains" of horse and chariots (I Kings ix. 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 (I Sam. viii. 12, xvii. 18, xviii. 13; II Sam. xviii. 1; Ex. xviii. 21; I Macc. iii. 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," i. 150) suggests that this is the officer described in Acts iv. 1, v. 24, 26 as στρατηγὸς τοῦ ίεροῦ ("captain of the temple"), and in II Macc. iii. 4 as προστατης ("governor"). This identification, however,is not very convincing. It is more reasonable to hold ατρατηγός 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 (στρατηός) by Josephus ("Ant." xx. 6, § 2; "B. J." ii. 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 xxii. 4, 52. The officers that assisted in the arrest of Jesus (John xviii. 3) may have belonged to this company. The "captain" of Acts xxii. 28, and possibly John xviii. 12, rendering the Greek word χιλίαρχος, represents a Roman officer, the "præfectus" or "tribunus militum"; it is not clear which grade of the Roman military hierarchy is meant by the "captain of the guards," in Acts xxviii. 16, where it is a translation of the Greek ατρατοπεδάρχης. The R. V. omits the sentence altogether.
Three Hebrew words are mistranslated "captain" by the A. V.: (1) , in II Kings xi. 4, 19 (probably a misreading for ; see Cherethites); (2) , in Ezek. xxi. 22 ("battering rams," R. V.); (3) , in Jer. xiii. 21, where "friend" is the proper meaning.
Following are other Hebrew equivalents: "Ṭifsar," (the Assyrian "dupsharu" = writer of tablets), in Jer. li. 27 and Nahum iii. 17, a military officer, probably the Hebrew "Sofer" (Jer. lii. 25; reading emended II Kings xxv. 19, see Nowack, "Lehrbuch der Hebräischen Archäologie," i. 360). "Nagid," a title of royal personages; secondarily, "chief," and hence "captain" (I Chron. xii. 27, xiii. 1); the "steward" of the palace (II Chron. xxviii. 7). "Nasi," truer rendering, "prince" (Num. ii. 3, as in R. V. generally). "Peḥah," an Assyrian title; "paḥati," from "bel paḥati," lord of a district = governor; military "captain" in II Kings xviii. 24; Isa. xxxvi. 9; Ezek. xxiii. 6, 12, 23. "Ḳaẓin," originally "elder," "judge." "Rosh," "head," "chief" (R. V.). "Ba'al," "lord" (Jer. xxxvii. 13), "captain" of prison. "Rab" (II Kings xxxv. 8), "captain" of executioners; interchanges with "sar" (Gen. xxxix. 1). "Sar" is equivalent to "prince," and hence "commander," "captain." "Shalliṭ" is rendered "ruler" in Dan. ii. 15. For renderings of "shalish" see above, and Dillmann on Ex. xiv. 7, in "Kurzgefasster Kommentar zu den Heiligen Schriften"; also Paul Haupt, in "Beiträge für Assyriologie und Semitischen Sprachwissenschaft," iv. 4, pp. 582-587, Leipsic, 1902.