This is the week of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. It is a family gathering time, and we have family coming in. So this will probably be my only post this week. I continue with Joel Baden’s The Historical David.
Baden discounts several biblical stories connected with Saul’s death.
The account of Saul’s visit to the medium at Endor (1 Samuel 28:5 ff.) shows many signs of literary construction and is part of the argument that God, not David, was responsible for the course of events.
The account of where David was and what he was doing while the Philistines attacked and killed Saul is fishy. Baden has previously claimed that David at Ziklag fought not against the residents of the Negev like the Amalekites, but against people in the territory –not yet a tribe– of Judah. So the story of David rescuing his wives from the Amalekites is unlikely (1 Samuel 30). Also the story that David obtained the crown of Saul from an Amalekite who happened to be on the battlefield (2 Samuel 1:10) is highly suspicious.
But it probably means David did obtain the crown somehow. And David, himself, was probably present for the battle between Saul and the Philistines. The Bible protests too much in making an elaborate scenario for how David was far away and still obtained Saul’s crown.
The historical possibilities go all the way from that David personally killed Saul to more indirect involvement with someone loyal to David bringing him the crown taken from the body of Saul. David’s lament for Saul in 2 Samuel 1, Baden says, touches “the extreme limits of biblical apology.”
Baden makes many good points. But how much fabrication could the apology allow?
We can know that David was accused of having been involved in Saul’s death. We can know that the narrative in 1 and 2 Samuel goes to great lengths to absolve David.
We can also know that, in some cases, the author really didn’t know what happened. There are two contradictory stories about how Saul died. They stand side by side, one at the end of 1 Samuel and the other at the beginning of 2 Samuel. So the rumors and stories were beyond the ability of the author to correct. He (or she, according to my theory that the Queen Mother under Solomon had something to do with this account) didn’t know.
So when Baden asks where David was when the battle of Gilboa was going on, the answer relies on texts written by someone who probably did not know. David, no doubt, claimed not to have been there.
A plausible suggestion Baden makes is that the plan of attack, with the Philistines swinging far north to attack Saul through the Jezreel Valley, was David’s idea. David would then be strategically responsible for Saul’s death no matter where he personally was during the battle.
Yet it seems likely that he had mixed feelings, which the lament in 2 Samuel 1:19 ff. may echo. Remember that David was probably married to Jonathan’s mother. His relationship with Jonathan may have some historical basis. At the very least, he had once fought on the same side as some of those killed in the battle. Think of the mixed feelings many officers on both sides had during the American Civil War.
Another possibility, not considered by Baden, is that not only was David not present at Saul’s final battle but that Achish and the men of Gath were not there either. One theory is that, since Gath is quite a distance from the site of this battle, Saul actually faced Sea Peoples from the area around Dor and that the Bible just calls all Sea Peoples Philistines (see my post here).
However, Baden makes a good point when he says that the reason the Philistines of Gaza had never previously decisively defeated Israel was that their chariot warfare did not work well in the hills. He imagines David figuring this out and suggesting an attack in an area where the Philistines would benefit from the topography.