Often nowadays scholars take the position that much of the story of Israel in the Hebrew Bible was invented by writers hundreds of years after the fact. One of the reasons I dissent from this is that certain passages just do not work with that theory.
Today I want to think out loud about a passage in 2 Samuel 21. There has been a famine for three years during the reign of King David. David inquires of the Lord. In 1 and 2 Samuel this means that he sought an oracle. It doesn’t seem to be the kind of question that you could answer by asking yes-or-no questions and casting lots. So he probably consulted a seer or dream interpreter. Anyway, the answer he got was that the famine was because of the blood on the house of Saul.
That part is in line with the spin that 1 and 2 Samuel put on David’s rise to power. It was because of the inadequacy of the house of Saul.
But the specific reason here is that Saul massacred the Gibeonites. This is the first time we hear about this event. Gibeonite seems to name a group of Hivites who lived in enclaves on the Benjamin plateau just north of Jerusalem. We have no information about the Hivites outside of the Bible, so their identity is mysterious. The book of Joshua shows them as having been allies of Israel since the occupation of the hill country. It also shows considerable prejudice against them.
The only Gibeonite blood shed in the previous chapters had been at David’s hand. A group of Hivites from Beeroth (Joshua 9:17) had assassinated Saul’s son, Ish-bosheth. David had them executed (2 Samuel 4:12).
The only massacre attributed to Saul is that of the priests at Nob (1 Samuel 22:6). I have wondered if this slaughter included a bunch of Gibeonites. Gibeonites were said to have served the altar of the Lord as woodcutters and water bearers (Joshua 9:27). I doubt the historicity of Joshua on this. But that Saul’s attack on the Gibeonites refers to what happened at Nob is possible.
There is another group that Saul persecuted. When Saul seeks out a spiritualist medium at Endor to summon the spirit of Samuel, we learn that Saul had removed or cut off from the land necromancers and magicians (1 Samuel 28:3, 9). Compare this with the Gibeonites’ own description of what Saul had done to them. He had “planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel” (2 Samuel 21:5 NRSV).
Were the Gibeonites like a Voodoo cult? There was something like that still around in the time of Isaiah (Isaiah 8:19). The Davidic kings did not remove them from the land as Saul is said to have done.
That the religion of the Gibeonites was pretty messed up comes across in their proposal to David about how to make things right. What they want is not merely to take revenge on Saul’s family. They say they have no right to execute anyone in Israel (2 Samuel 21:4). What they ask is that seven sons of Saul be given to them so that they can “hang them before YHWH in Gibeah of Saul, who was YHWH’s chosen one (2 Samuel 21:6 my translation).
This was not an execution. It was a human sacrifice to the God of Israel to influence him to end the famine. There was a kind of creepy sarcasm about the idea that Saul was God’s chosen. And David went along with it all. What the heck!
Did this have anything to do with David obtaining the Ark of the Covenant, which was in the custody of Hivites in one of their enclaves (1 Samuel 7:2)?
I cannot imagine a supporter of the Davidic dynasty inventing a story like this hundreds of years later.
My own wildly conjectural theory about many of the stories in 1 and 2 Samuel is that they were produced under the sponsorship of the queen mothers Bathsheba and Naamah. They had a jaundiced view of David. Yet they wanted to defend the divine right of their sons, Solomon and Rehoboam.
Queen mother was a powerful institution in early Judah. These women seem to have been unothodox Yahwists. King Asa had to depose his mother, Maacah (1 Kings 15:13). But the institution came back with a vengeance in Athaliah.