"And he smote the men of Bethshemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter." (1 Samuel 6:19, KJV)
Critics say the small town of Bethshemesh would not have had 50,070 inhabitants, so they side with the reading of "70" as found in a few Hebrew manuscripts and the LXX. However, a careful study of the context and the passage demonstrates that the Masoretic reading of 50,070 is correct.
First, the context suggests the 50,070 figure is correct. The description of "great slaughter" (מכה גדולה) is a clue of the magnitude of the death count. This same phrase is used in the following passages which also provide numerical figures to indicate the magnitude:
Second, 1 Samuel 6:19 does not say 50,070 of the people of Bethshemesh died. It says 50,070 of "the people" died as the "LORD had smitten many of the people" and "the people" lamented over this. This general reference to "people" rather than to a particular town or nationality suggests that not all of the 50,070 slain were inhabitants of Bethshemesh. This portion of the narrative often describes individuals by their nationalities: e.g. Philistines, Ekronites (1 Samuel 5:10), Bethshemite (1 Samuel 6:18), children of Israel (1 Samuel 7:4). If the author meant that 50,070 Bethshemites were killed, he could have said, "even he smote of the Bethshemites fifty thousand and threescore and ten men," but the author did not say that. In fact, the author is often very specific when stating who are killed in these narratives, specifying the nationality of the slain:
Read more articles from: The King James Version is Demonstrably Inerrant
Also read: Masoretic Readings Defended