If you have followed this series on Brian Peterson’s The Authors of the Deuteronomistic History, it will come as no surprise that Peterson proposes that David’s priest, Abiathar, was the author of 1 and 2 Samuel.
Previously, he has argued that Abiathar edited old material from Moses in Deuteronomy, Joshua or some other eye-witness in Joshua, and that he wrote the earliest version of Judges. Many scholars would claim that Deuteronomy did not exist in Abiathar’s time. So you should note that his thesis that Abiathar gave these books a Deuteronomy-flavored editing depends on his theory about Deuteronomy.
Anyway, his evidence for Abiathar’s role in Samuel includes the fact that whoever wrote these books was pro-David and anti-Saul. He also thinks it had to be somebody who was alive throughout David’s reign. He adopts the view held by several scholars that the story of David’s rise is an apologetic work based on Hittite literary models.
However, unlike some of the other scholars who hold this view, he does not see it as an all out cover-up of David’s darker side. I am thinking about the kind of view assumed in the title of Baruch Halpern’s David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. Peterson is right that some of these views are too sensational and extreme. (Halpern thinks David was guilty of all the assassinations we might suspect except the one the text says he committed, the murder of Uriah.)
In addition, Peterson’s view that the material about the prophet Samuel and about the Ark of the Covenant came from Abiathar has merit.
A highly speculative idea from Peterson is also worth considering. His view that more and more evidence supports scribal activity in the Iron Age leads him to ponder the possibility that Abiathar made his living as a priestly scribe. He had been doing this under Saul. When he fled from Saul, he offered the same service to David.
However, the support he offers for this is just that some of the stories that occur during David’s time as a gang leader read like eye-witness accounts. So he thinks Abiathar was keeping a journal. The text shows Abiathar’s role as being a soothsayer using the ephod and the priestly lots he brought from Nob (1 Samuel 23:6, 9). Still, there could have been some kind of journal.
I cannot see 1 and 2 Samuel as a unity as much as Peterson does. He says,
The books of 1 and 2 Samuel reflect the work of one author, perhaps with minimal editing at a later date.
Here is just one of the things that I see as a problem with this. There are three chapters that tell us why the Lord rejected Saul. This certainly shows the anti-Saul nature of the work. But do they really “reflect the work of one author”?
In 1 Samuel 13 Saul offers a burnt offering that was a Levitical prerogative. However royal non-Levitical priests were acceptable in this period. David performed some priestly functions and even appointed some of his sons as priests (2 Samuel 8:18).
In 1 Samuel 15 Saul failed to make the Amalekite king a human sacrifice and took plunder that should have been dedicated to God. It has always seemed to me that this is a built on an older account, because Samuel’s reason for killing Agag has nothing to do with dedicating him to God as herem (15:33).
1 Samuel 28 seems to be built upon an original story that explained Saul’s rejection by God as coming near the end of his life because he broke his own laws and consulted a spiritualist.
One author? Minimal editing?
I have my theory about how the story of David’s rise is indeed an apology, but a later apology against Queen Athaliah’s attempt to eliminate and defame the line of David. See here. The tradition passed on by Abiathar’s family at Anathoth probably played a part.
I usually find myself opposing extreme minimalism. Peterson’s approach seems like extreme maximalism. But, just as I have found some of the minimalists stimulating, so Peterson’s views often expand my perspective.