I have read some books about King David. Some of them treat him as an elusive historical figure. Some treat him more as a literary invention. This has caused me to focus on the question of where the composers of the Hebrew Bible got their information. Did they have oral and written sources? Did they freely create the narrative because they had no real information? Or, as some imply, did God supernaturally reveal the historical information to them?
Nadav Na’aman has done us the service of making a stimulating article about this available online here: Sources and Composition in the History of David, in V. Fritz and P.R. Davies (eds.), The Origins of the Ancient Israelite States (JSOTSup. 228), Sheffield 1996, pp. 170-186.
He deals with what Egyptian and Babylonian palace libraries were like and what a possible palace library in Jerusalem might have contained. He says that such libraries contained a variety of material, from administrative records to epic narratives, and were used in the training of royal scribes (David Carr, whose detailed study, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart, I read and posted about last year documented this). Na’amen argues that such a library was available to the Deuteronomistic historian.
He has two points that resonate strongly with my own thinking.
With regard to the account of the Shishak/Shoshenq’s campaign in 1 Kings 14:25-28, he notes that it is mostly about the golden shields and Rehoboam’s replacing them with copper ones. What kind of source is behind this account? Na’aman says it must have been a court record that said that “in the fifth year of Rehoboam golden shields were delivered to Shishak, king of Egypt.” The later historian reasonably thought this meant that Shishak had attacked Jerusalem and that Rehoboam bought him off with the treasures of the palace and the temple.
The point is that the ancient historians had incomplete information, but tried to fit what they had into their narrative. Modern historians who are able to compare Egyptian records with the Bible have better information. So we might question the assumption that Shishak’s attack came 5 years after Solomon’s death. And we might imagine other scenarios for the transfer of the shields. But we would not think the historian just invented his data.
The other point has to do with Philistine Gath. Later sources, including the biblical prophets, speak of four–not five– Philistine city states. Gath is the one they leave out. 2 Kings 12:17 records the conquest of Gath by Hazael of Aram. Thus Gath is not mentioned in later sources because it no longer existed as a power.
“The biblical scribe who described Gath as an independent kingdom governed by it own seren must have recalled the city’s status prior to the time of Hazael. He must therefore have lived long before the time of the Deuteronomistic historian. The source available for the historian is again the chronicle of the early Israelite kings whose author lived in the eighth century BCE, not long after the time of Hazael.”
This would fit in with my theory in a recent post that the story of David’s reign was composed in the court of Joash after the overthrow of Athaliah. The time is a match for my theory. Hazael attacked Gath during Joash’s reign. Not that Na’amen would agree with this. He seems to think the Deuteronomic historian composed the narrative based on a royal chronicle from the library which would have been more matter-of-fact and less literary.
The more important point is that there had to have been a source and not just creative invention centuries after the fact.