Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 6 (2006) - Review

Michael Avioz, Nathan's Oracle (2 Samuel 7) and Its Interpreters (Bible in History; Bern: Peter Lang, 2005). Pp. xx + 230. Paper, US$48.95. ISBN 3-03910-806-9.

Nathan's Oracle is a revision of Michael Avioz's doctoral thesis (Bar-Ilan University, 2003) that ventures beyond current discussions of 2 Samuel 7 to investigate the intra-canonical “interpretations” of the passage in the historiographies of the Deuteronomist and the Chronicler. The introduction to Avioz's monograph promises discussion on the disqualification of David as temple builder, the nature of the dynastic promise, and the relationship between David's building initiative with other ancient Near Eastern temple initiatives.

The biblical passages that attract Avioz's attention are those linked to Nathan's oracle by theme (prophecy and fulfillment, sin and punishment), style, motif, vocabulary, direct references, key words, and indirect references. The book is divided into three sections, the first opening with an analysis of David's disqualification as temple builder in 2 Samuel 7. Based on non-biblical ANE texts, Avioz contends that the prerogative for any temple initiative ought to lie with the deity rather than the king, hence King David's disqualification. The next chapter briefly summarizes previous discussions of covenant (Weinfeld and Knoppers) before arguing that 2 Samuel 7 is a vassal treaty covenant, despite the minimal presence of just two elements of a typical treaty typology. Avioz also argues that the nature of the 2 Samuel 7 covenant is both conditional and unconditional, leaving open a degree of indeterminacy for subsequent intra-biblical “interpreters” to resolve. Chapters three and four develop contrasting and parallel themes between the prophet's announcement and the king's response. In chapter five, Avioz looks at literary links between Nathan's oracle and the book of Samuel. Here, he maintains that Nathan's oracle functions as a prolepsis within the Davidic cycle—events threaten but ultimately fail to defeat God's unconditional promise. The last chapter of the first section unpacks allusions to Nathan's oracle in the stories of Saul, Jonathan, Abigail, Bathsheba, and David. For Avioz, the literary connections within Samuel evidence a “consciously planned composition” (p. 68) that (among other things) “[suggests] a program for future kings from the House of David, while emphasizing the divine election of David … explicitly presenting it as a conditional covenant” (p. 68).

In the book's middle section, Avioz frequently utilizes columns of parallel texts to investigate echoes of Nathan's oracle in the book of Kings. These echoes serve to legitimate David's son as builder of the temple in the Solomon Narratives. Whereas the book of Samuel focuses on divine obligation, the book of Kings emphasizes the unconditional aspects of the covenant and finds Solomon wanting in righteousness. Despite his moral debility, the dynastic promise remains intact. Next, Avioz uses “historiographic interpretation” to clarify why Nathan's oracle receives only implicit attention after the national schism in 1 Kings 12. According to Avioz, the facts of history enabled the author of Kings to highlight the behaviour of Judah's rulers as the decisive factor in the breakdown of a dynasty whose eternal promise is never in question.

The book's last section of four chapters begins with a careful investigation of Nathan's oracle in 1 Chronicles 17. Here, God opposes David's involvement in the temple construction while endorsing Solomon's. Avioz also works through the Davidic speeches of 1 Chronicles 22 and 28, where he detects a greater emphasis on temple building than on kingship. The author argues that the Chronicler used 1 Kings 5 and 8 to compose 1 Chronicles 22 and introduced David's bloodied hands as moral disqualification for involvement in temple construction. Avioz sees traces of 2 Samuel 7 and 1 Chronicles 17 in the themes of temple building, kingship, and dynasty found in 1 Chronicles 28. Throughout, Avioz maintains his “belief” in the formula: “If one king of the House of David will sin, he will be personally punished, but the promise to David for eternal kingship will be kept” (p. 157). The last two chapters of Nathan's Oracle work through the Davidic promise in 2 Chronicles, where the Chronicler awards tendentious favour to Solomon and his building program. Here, literary connections between Nathan's oracle and post-Solomonic passages are investigated; wicked rulers test but do not thwart the promise of a dynasty, while righteous northern kings pay homage to Davidide ideology. Finally, Solomonic “analogies” in the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah are interpreted as the foundation for a restored divine-human relationship, emblemized in the rebuilt Second Temple. Avioz rounds out his discussion with a valuable review of the work's primary themes.

Regrettably, the readability of the work would have benefited considerably from a thoroughgoing revision (incomplete sentences, redundant paragraphing, poorly integrated quotations, and inconsistency in Hebrew presentation are numerous). However, those interested in the important biblical themes of temple and kingship will likely find Nathan's Oracle a beneficial resource. Avioz's venture beyond the concentrated readings of 2 Samuel 7 of Eslinger and Murray is commendable, as is his broader ANE framework. Noteworthy are the discussions on the parallel literary structures of the Patriarchal and David Cycles (p. 47), the contention that conditional kingship was applicable only to the ten tribes of the northern kingdom (pp. 93-94), and the detailed comparisons of style and language between 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles 17 (pp. 126-29). For this reader, Avioz's work unintentionally raises important literary-critical questions: How is a speech act a “narrative” (p. 17)? Can two texts be considered “parallel” if either one cuts across speech acts (p. 54) or distorts the narrated sequence of the biblical text (pp. 57, 60, 72, 64)? And, when does an echo, allusion, or link become an “interpretation”? Perhaps a future work by Avioz that addresses these matters might be in order before Nathan's Oracle can be considered a “foundation for future research” (pp. 198-99).

David Bergen, University of Calgary