Na’amen-the palace library as source for David’s story

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.

Na’amen says,

“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.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Wright-invented or shaped?

Today I am looking back on my reading of Jacob L. Wright’s David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory.  Often we are tempted to avoid books we know we are going to disagree with.  Early on I knew I was going to have a different point of view than Wright.  He used the Song of Deborah as an example of war commemoration and as a late construction having to do with the status of the various tribes.  I, however, take seriously the studies of ancient Hebrew poetry that see the Song of Deborah as one of a handful of examples of authentic pre-monarchic material.

I am not going to get into details about post-structuralism and the anti-realism of many contemporary historians.  These philosophical issues are probably at the root of my problem with Wright’s approach.   The main thing I want to point out is that just because you know you will not like an author’s conclusions is no reason not to read his or her work.

He made several observations that helped me.  His notion of an old History of Saul’s Reign and an old History of David’s Reign ring true even though I doubt they were so completely disconnected that they shared no events or characters. Also he developed vividly the literary grandeur of the story of David as high tragedy. He pointed me in some new directions that may prove fruitful in my own research.

Up until our time, when we see history as an academic discipline supported by footnotes and peer reviews, history existed as a form of rhetoric.

Wright avoids the term “propaganda” for his idea that exilic and post-exilic writers supplemented older material in order to help Judah deal with defeat.  To those of us who remember the Cold War, propaganda connotes the blatant distortions used by totalitarian states.  But what the literary circles that produced the Bible have done in regard to David and Caleb is to create memories as war commemoration in order to deal with identity politics in Judah.

To the extent that this is true, I try to remember that this probably arose from a desire to interpret history, not to utterly distort it.

Wright’s specialty is the post-exilic period.  He wrote another book whose title gives insight into this one: Rebuilding Identity: The Nehemiah-memoir and Its Earliest Readers. He sees the David and Caleb stories  as a part of the rebuilding of identity in this period.

I do not deny that we see some of this agenda in the final form of the Hebrew Bible. But I think it came about more by shaping material than by creating narratives. Wright is very suspicious of the idea of sources.  And yet other people are quite sure they see sources behind David and Caleb narratives.

A contemporary  example of what I am talking about is the Drudge Report.  This is a website that puts a strong right-wing slant on the news.  Yet Matt Drudge is an aggregator.  He doesn’t create sources.  Some of the news articles he puts up are from left-wing sources.  He just shapes it all to put out his own message.  Some of his sources are crap sources.  But my point is that he doesn’t have to create them himself. It is possible to use sources and yet put out your own point of view by the way you select and shape them.

Finally, at the end of the book Wright says he does not embrace Thomas Carlyle’s “Great Man Theory” of history.  Wright does not see history as created by heroes.  He does not see David as having a pivotal impact due to the force of his own greatness. The great hero, David, is an invented character.

But sometimes history and other social sciences today seem dehumanized.  They are all about structures, paradigms and models and not much about people.  So I sympathize with Carlyle.  After all, he was writing over against the utilitarians and a deterministic view of history.  Better than Carlyle, though, is Isaiah Berlin’s lecture on “Historical Inevitability”.  He insisted that history is about people and the choices they make.

If David lived and made choices, he had an impact.  We are just more limited than we would like as to how much we can discover about him.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wright- a question addressed to his silence

I read Jacob L. Wright’s David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory to the end. Today I want to comment about something he does not talk about.

Wright’s theory is that Hebron remained the capital of Judah until after -722. I waited until I had finished the book to see if he dealt with a question that has been nagging me. He didn’t.

So here is the question: Why is there no mention of Hebron as capital or the shift from there to Jerusalem in the early prophets? Hosea, of course, is only concerned about the north. But Amos preached before -722. And Micah and Isaiah of Jerusalem lived through this time. None of these ever mention Hebron or the transition to Jerusalem.

Wright almost has to believe that post-exilic editors have worked over the prophets and removed references to Hebron as the seat of government and the transfer of the administration to Jerusalem. (None of the above mentioned prophets ever mention Hebron in any context.)

I just don’t buy that the true capital has been disremembered by these prophets, especially in Amos 6:1:

Woe to those who live in ease in Zion,
to those who feel secure on Mount Samaria.
They think of themselves as the elite class of the best nation.
The family of Israel looks to them for leadership (Amos 6:1 NET Bible).

Zion is Jerusalem for Amos (1:2). In 6:1 it is on a par with Samaria in the north as a place where elites dwell and where leadership is supposed to come from. So it sounds like Jerusalem was the capital in the time of Amos.

But just because Jerusalem was the capital in the 8th century doesn’t mean it was in the 9th or 10th. So I am considering Wright’s idea that David did not move the capital to Jerusalem.

He says that all we really know about the historical David is that he established the kingdom of Judah with its capital at Hebron.  But I assume that behind his idea that Hebron remained the capital for a while is that Shoshenq I (biblical Shishak) of Egypt never mentioned Jerusalem in his Karnak relief.

A straightforward reading of that relief seems to show that the Egyptian army began by marching against Hebron and then, after mopping up Judah, went north against Benjamin and Gilead and finally west against the Jezreel valley strongholds.

The Bible’s account of how the kingdom split at a political convention at Shechem seems bound up with the post-Deuteronomy, post-Josiah theological slant on Israel’s history. This slant has great spiritual value. But it is often historically problematic.

Based on the geopolitical realities of the time, what really might have happened is that David and Solomon ruled from Hebron, although they may have been in Jerusalem often for religious and military reasons (I am adopting Avraham Faust’s view that the Large Stone Structure E. Mazar found is not a palace David built, but the Jebusite citadel.)

Shoshenq wanted to renew Egyptian control in the Levant. So after Solomon died, he invaded. He is the one who divided the kingdom by establishing Jeroboam as a puppet king in the north. Rehoboam may have fled to Jerusalem, which Shoshenq bypassed. However, like a Hezekiah later, Rehoboam was a caged bird there. Egypt controlled the roads. So Rehoboam eventually had to pay tribute.

When Egypt weakened again, it left the two separate and opposed kingdoms.

While I am speculating, let me say that “united kingdom” probably does not quite define the situation, at least while David was king. He was acclaimed king of Judah at Hebron and then installed separately in the north, probably with the support of Abner or Abner-like turncoats. So we really had twin kingdoms.

Solomon tried to make the twin kingdoms administratively one. The fact that Shoshenq had to take the north by force shows that this attempt succeeded on a military level. But after Solomon’s death, there was popular support for northern independence. Probably civil unrest or war broke out even before Shoshenq invaded.

Wright sees the attempt by Judah to annex northern territory in the wake of the Assyrian conquest of Samaria as the context for moving the capital to Jerusalem. According to the Bible, an earlier king of Judah had also looked north. King Asa seems to have annexed some territory. And, according to 2 Chronicles 15:9, he also took in many refugees from the north. Chronicles’ embellishment of Asa’s reign is hard to evaluate. But there could have been an occasion during his reign for officially moving the capital north.

An additional hint from Chronicles may be its departure from the usual way of acclaiming kings in the case of Ahaziah. Usually, when the accounts do not just say that such-and-such a king succeeded the previous one, they say that the elders, the people of Judah, or “people of the land” had a hand in acclaiming the king. But for Ahaziah, 2 Chronicles 22:1 says that the “inhabitants of Jerusalem” made him king. To me that just has the ring of truth, given that the “people of the land”, according to 2 Kings 11:17-20, played such a role in the overthrow of his mother and the installation of Joash.

In any case, it seems to me that there are both empirical and intuitive reasons to believe that the seat government in Judah had moved to Jerusalem well before -722.


Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wright-the David-Caleb rivalry through time

The stories of Caleb and David come together in the story of Nabal and Abigail in 1 Samuel 25.  Nabal is a wealthy Calebite, perhaps their chief.  And David brings the Calebites into Judah as a result of the death of Nabal and his marriage to the widow.

Baruch Halpern and Jon Levenson, who have written about the political significance of David’s marriages, claim that this story originated in the royal court at a time when people still remembered how David brought the clan of Caleb under his sway.  They raise the question of how much special interests within the royal court shaped this story.

In the next to the last chapter of David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory, Jacob L. Wright goes his own way on this question.

“In the course of this chapter, I will adopt a new approach to this question.  Instead of attempting to discern the intentions of the historical David–an endeavor that is severely impeded by the nature of our sources–I will demonstrate the degree to which competing political factions delineated Caleb and David as rival figures that vie with each other for the position of Judah’s greatest hero (p. 207).

According to Wright, Hebron was the capital and central city of Judah during Judah’s early centuries.  The story about David going up to Hebron with Abigail, settling there, and receiving the crown there (2 Samuel 2:1-4) is a projecting back into the time of David of this state of affairs.  The stories about Caleb were originally a counter narrative by Calebites who first felt displaced by the Davidic state and later by Edom.

But Calebites seem to have originally occupied territory even further south than Hebron.   So Nabal, for instance, is at Carmel.  (You should distinguish this from Mt. Carmel, a range of hills in northern Israel.)   Wright thinks the claim of Caleb to Hebron was invented late.  There may have been Calebites settled in the vicinity of Hebron who were uncomfortable with the growing power of the Davidic monarchy.

One of the ways that scribes promoted nation building under the monarchy was with war commemoration stories about David.  They continued to elaborate these stories after the end of the kingdom.  The war commemoration stories about Caleb served to recall the deeds of Caleb as a counterweight to the David stories.

In Wright’s scenario, Jerusalem was just a border fortress in the north until after Assyria destroyed the kingdom of Israel.  Then, after -722, Judah attempted to annex the southern parts of Israel and relocated the capitol to the north.  It was at that time that certain stories, for instance the story about Absalom being proclaimed king at Hebron, were constructed to deal with resistance to the relocation of the capitol.

To counter this narrative, other stories, like expansion of the story of the burial of Sarah at Mamre to explain that this was near Hebron and the shift of Jacob’s burial place from the Transjordan to Mamre, underwent construction or reconstruction. Hebron was touted as the city of the Patriarchs.  These stories reflect a rivalry between Jerusalem and Hebron.

A study from the 1950s by Alfred Jepsen argued that Calebites were behind the stories about Abraham and Hebron.  Hebron means something like “covenant place”.  So Jepsen thought Hebron was the location for the cutting of a covenant between the clan of Caleb and other clans when Judah originally accepted YHWH as  God.  Wright thinks this thesis is a little too speculative.

Wright’s alternative, which he believes is less speculative, is to move the context for these narratives to the period after the Babylonian conquest when Edom occupied southern Judah, including Hebron.

The Persians reconstituted the state of Judah, but Hebron remained disputed territory. 1 Esdras 4:50 claims the king of Persia decreed that the Edomites should give up any Jewish town that they held.  But they probably didn’t.

During this period the Calebites, according to Wright, continued a kind of literary defiance, and the war commemoration stories about Caleb are a witness to this.

The political use of Caleb continued down through history as Jews, Christians, and Muslims appropriated the story.  Hebron remains a disputed site.

I am grateful for some insights into the text, but am unconvinced by much of Wright’s treatment.  I will wait until I have read the concluding chapter to make more comments.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wright-layering Caleb’s cake

In David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory, Jacob L. Wright sees the biblical text as like a layer cake.  It is not the product of someone stitching together fully developed narrative sources like the documentary theory claimed for the Pentateuch. Instead, he has a supplementary theory.  Those who created the text as we have it, developed early traditions by layering on supplemental material, some of which they just invented.

There are ways to see what some of the earlier layers looked like.  In regard to Caleb his method is to focus on the minor and incidental things that do not fit the motives of the redactor. The story of Caleb now centers on the idea from Numbers 13-14 that Caleb was one of the 12 spies Moses sent to scout out the Judean territory.

In terms of the narrative, this story functions to show why the Israelites ended up entering the land from the east.  In one of the very few historical judgments Wright makes, he concludes that the ancestors of the northern Israelites came from the east. So when editors from Judah retold the story, they had to give a reason that the Exodus people did not come directly north from Egypt and enter the land from the south.

There were layers of tradition to explain this.  Probably the oldest was the claim that God told them to go around because they would face war on the northern route and be tempted return to Egypt (Exodus 13:17).  Later editors supplemented this with a story that spies came back with a negative report about the southern approach.  Moses changed course, and all the spies died before reaching the promised land.

Finally, other editors added Caleb to the story.  He was the one spy with the courage to attempt a conquest from the south.  But the rest of Israel did not share his courage so they all died in the wilderness.  But God commended Caleb as worthy and allowed him to take part in the conquest of the land while his whole generation suffered the divine punishment of dying off in the wilderness.

Joshua 14-15 intends to complete this story.  But it also builds on some older layers.  A passage that does not really fit the tradition of Caleb as a mighty warrior is the one reported in both Judges and Joshua that Caleb did not capture Debir himself, but offered his daughter, Achsah, to a warrior who could take the place (Joshua 15:15 ff. Wright thinks the parallel passages in Judges 1 are a later layer).  

The warrior who took Debir was Othniel, a son or descendant of Kenaz.  But, in a sequel to the story, Othniel is secondary to Achsah; who, by being pretty assertive, obtains the transfer of some water rights from the Calebites to the Kenazites.  This account is probably the oldest story about Caleb.  It is now isolated from its original context.

There is also embedded in Joshua 15 a layer that has Caleb drive the Anakites out of Hebron (Joshua 15:14).  But overlaying this is the story of how Joshua struck Hebron with the “edge of the sword” and took it (Joshua 10:36).  So now the story emphasizes that Joshua alloted the land to Caleb.

The story as it now stands has Caleb spying out the land at age 40, and then finally obtaining Hebron in his 80s. This may be one reason that the military feats of Caleb are downplayed in the Joshua story.  Still, the story is an example of war commemoration.  Caleb comes off as one of the few members of his generation willing to fight for the land.

The main thrust of Wright’s argument is that Caleb as the person who obtained, along with his son in law and daughter, portions of southern Judah, has been transformed by the spy story in Numbers 13-14 into an exemplar of religious and patriotic virtue for theological and nationalistic purposes.

In Numbers, Moses sends out 12 spies and Caleb is the one representing the tribe of Judah.  Wright sees significance in the fact that Nahshon, an ancestor of David, does not get chosen for this.  Many interpret the spy account as a pro-Judah story.  Wright agrees that there is some truth to that, but also points out that it is Caleb alone, and not the tribe of Judah, that displays great courage.  So the story is more likely meant to explain the position of the clan of Caleb in later Judah.

You cannot use an empirical method to study Caleb.  With David, there are some inscriptions, possibly some buildings, and correlations with Philistia and Phoenicia. There is none of that with Caleb.  All we have is the text.  And the text obviously has other interests than reporting about historical events.  Thus, Wright does not treat even the earliest layers as reflecting historical truth.

Still, he does make a few historical claims.  One of them is that Hebron, rather than Jerusalem, was the capital of Judah during the early part of Judah’s history.  He bases this on skepticism about the existence of a united monarchy and the geographical centrality of Hebron in Judah.

But, precisely because Hebron was an important center, I would not rule out there being preserved there a true memory of Caleb as its founder.  Also the site of Tel Masos in the Beer-sheba valley seems to show a large early Iron Age settlement with pottery and houses like the ones in the central highland villages.  So the possibility that there was Israelite or Yahwist encroachment from the south as well as the east has some empirical backing.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Wright-Caleb, Edom, and the Exile

Jacob L. Wright spent the first ten chapters of his David, King of Israel, and Caleb in Biblical Memory exploring what he sees as the literary construction of the David narrative.  He especially emphasized that many of the stories were war commemoration literature, constructed to negotiate disputes about belonging and status in Judah hundreds of years after the supposed time of King David.

In three additional chapters he deals with the Bible’s stories about Caleb in a similar way.  The Calebite’s place in Judah was somehow problematic, so they constructed war memories to include tales of the Calebite’s ancestor “performing indispensable deeds of valor on behalf of Judah and all Israel” (p. 167) during the exodus and conquest.

He says there is evidence that Judah as a tribe emerged very late and even then was “loosely consolidated”.  So we shouldn’t think of the Calebites joining an already existing tribe.  The Bible’s ideas of the origin of the Calebites do not all agree.  But they originally seem to have been Kennizites, an Edomite tribe.  So the Calebites were not-Israelite.

But then, as Wright sees, the whole Pan-Israelite notion came about as as a creative, unhistorical narrative.  The tribes were not actually descended from the 12 sons of Jacob.  So what does it even mean to say that the Calebites were not Israelite?

Wright believes that the passages in Genesis 15 and 36 that say Caleb was a Kennizite are supplements added at the time of exile or later.  After the Babylonian conquest, southern Judah from Hebron south, came under Edomite control.  So it was at this time that people living there came to be identified as Edomite.

So the stories about Caleb, Wright thinks, came about as a result of this border shift after the Babylonian conquest.  Before that time there would have been little problem with the people in southern Judah being just another one of the varied constituents of Judah.  But then they became de facto Edomites.  So depicting their ancestor as a Judahite hero was a way of dealing with their status after the exile.

Some have interpreted this as a defense of the right of Calebites to call themselves Judeans.  But Wright gives it a unique turn.  He thinks the Calebites were an elite and aristocratic group within Judea. The Caleb stories are meant to uphold this status and defend their distinctive merit as devout and valiant YHWH worshipers among the clans.

In reading this I feel conflicted.  On the one hand, when Wright talks about the late emergence of Judah and its formation from a diverse set of people, he is agreeing with something I have long thought.  On the other hand, when he implies that many narratives about David or Caleb were entirely invented hundreds of years after these characters lived, I see it differently. Certainly folk lore about these characters developed over the years.  But to rule out the possibility that later writers were working with very old sources that provided real information about David and Caleb, seems unwarranted.

One good thing about Wright is that he does not cover up the fact that many other scholars have come to completely different conclusions.

Posted in Ancient Israel, Bible | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Greenblatt on Augustine

I have wondered if the puritanism that seems to be behind  the cultural, Christian right is necessary.  The Christian right is on to something, I think, in its opposition to abortion on demand and its  suspicion of the isolation of gender from biology. However, their actual advice to people and society in regard to family life and sexuality seems messed up.

By puritanism, I don’t mean a particular branch of English-speaking Protestantism.  I mean an emphasis on purity in the sexual realm that seems to me to conflict with a healthy view of creation.  Did God make us this way or not?  And if God did make us this way, why define purity as a rejection of the way God made us?

It all goes back to Augustine and how he interpreted the Fall as a fall into lust from calm, passionless sex that supposedly mirrored the way Mary conceived Jesus.

There is a thought-provoking (and entertaining) article by Stephen Greenblatt in The New Yorker, that shows how Augustine tried and failed to use the Adam and Eve story to understand his personal, tortured struggle with psycho-sexual development and relationships.  Greenblatt says of Augustine’s idea of what we lost in the Fall:

In Paradise, Augustine argued, Adam and Eve would have had sex without involuntary arousal: “They would not have had the activity of turbulent lust in their flesh, however, but only the movement of peaceful will by which we command the other members of the body.” Without feeling any passion—without sensing that strange goad—“the husband would have relaxed on his wife’s bosom in tranquility of mind.”

It is clear from the article that Augustine had to distort scripture to arrive at this idea of paradise.  It is also clear that he never fully resolved the purity issue for himself.

You could fault the article for trying too much to psychoanalyze Augustine.  But Augustine, of all ancient figures, invited this approach by the way he wrote his Confessions.

Augustine was a brilliant mind and contributed much to Western thought.  But it is worth noting that his idea of the Fall was all tied up with his own hang ups (it was also based on Jerome’s mistranslation of Romans 5:12).

If we do not take Augustine’s issues with the women in his life and his own sexuality as seriously has he did, do we really need his conception of the Fall?

Posted in Theology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment