Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 16 (2016) - Review
Steven T. Mann's recent book, Run, David, Run, a revised doctoral dissertation completed at Fuller Theological Seminary under Pamela Scalise and John Goldingay, examines 2 Sam 1420 utilizing Speech Act Theory (SAT). The opening chapter sets out the thesis of the monograph: that the function of 2 Sam 1420 is to display David's faith that Yahweh brings exiles back and will work for David's good; and that the text can be viewed as an illocutionary act which could potentially encourage its readers as a perlocutionary act if they read it not only as a story about David, but a story about themselves (p. 9).
Mann proceeds to set out the textual limits of his study, noting that previous work has rarely looked at this story on its own. Mann does not view these chapters as having originally been an independent source but as one of many stories about David in Samuel. The justification for treating it on its own is that it displays all the classic parts of a storya beginning, middle, and end (p. 4). Further, Mann views the structure of the story as a chiasm (p. 5), further bolstering his arguments for analysing these chapters together as a unit.
The second chapter surveys relevant literature on approaches to 2 Sam 1420, usually as part of the so-called Succession Narrative. Contrary to many previous studies, Mann does not view succession as the main theme of these chapters. Instead, rather than answering the question of who will succeed David, the story explores whether Yhwh will bring David back to Jerusalem or not? (p. 29). Rather than seeing a theme of punishment, Mann underscores the theme of faith and David's enduring hope that Yhwh might be working in his favor despite (or by means of?) punishment (p. 29). Finally, Mann points out the prevalence of speech in this narrative, which has been underscored by previous studies, and views it as justifying a SAT approach.
The third chapter provides a good overview of SAT. Drawing on Thiselton (Two Horizons), Pratt (Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse), and Searle (Expression and Meaning), it offers an apology for the application of SAT to narrative speech as opposed to oral discourse. Mann employs SAT to examine 2 Sam 1420, focussing both on what the narrator's and the characters' speech does. More specifically, Mann examines speech acts that contain theological propositions, which he defines as words used to denote God (p. 1). In the next six chapters Mann undertakes his reading of 2 Sam 1420, focusing on theological speech acts. Each section begins with a translation of the biblical text divided between speakers and corresponding speech acts. Mann then proceeds to analyse each passage, first at the story level, and then at the storyteller level; that is, the perspective of characters within the story, and then the perspective of the storyteller (p. 56). Mann's treatment of the story is quite engaging and contains many helpful insights.
For example, in the story of the Wise Woman of Tekoa in 2 Sam 14, Mann points out that the woman persuades David not through the ruse (David clearly discerns that Joab is behind it) or the fictional tale she tells, but through her theological speech act wherein she asserts that Yahweh is one who devises plans to bring exiles back (2 Sam 14:14). At the story level this speech act functions to persuade David to act similarly in regard to Absalom's case. At the storyteller level, Mann suggests the woman's theological speech act sets out three main themes that direct the story: (1) banishment, (2) return, and (3) persuasion (p. 68).
In his treatment of 2 Sam 15:122 Mann finds two speech acts with theological content, by Absalom and Ittai respectively. Both characters perform illocutionary acts to convince David to act in a certain way and both utilize theology to this end. At the storyteller level, Mann finds these speech acts continue the themes brought out in the previous chapter: exile, return and persuasion. The theological content of the speech acts emphasizes that the story is more concerned with David's faith than his departure from Jerusalem.
Mann finds that as the story continues (2 Sam 15:2337) David is the one who utilizes theology in his speech acts rather than his interlocutors. Mann finds that David's speech acts display his faith that Yahweh is one who brings exiles back. For example, in his speech to Zadok David urges the priest to return to Jerusalem but his speech act also performs a commissive showing him to be Yahweh's servant and worthy of restoration. In 2 Sam 15:2526 David says:
Return the ark of
God to the city. If I find grace in the eyes of Yhwh, he will bring me back and
let me see it and its habitation. But if thus he says, I do not delight in
you, here I am, let him do to me what is good in his eyes. (Mann's
translation; p. 89).
Here David commits himself to obey Yahweh and be a true servant of his will. Thus, his decision to leave Jerusalem is based on his faith in Yahweh as one who devises plans to bring exiles back. As Mann puts it, The decision to leave the city certainly was not a strategic military move but rather a strategic theological move (p. 91).
Throughout his study Mann underscores the rhetorical role of theological speech acts, showing that their theological aspects make them persuasive to their addressees (see, e.g., Mann's treatment of 2 Sam 16:119 in chapter 7). However, when he progresses to 2 Sam 16:2017:24 his method is somewhat frustrated in that there is no theological speech act contained therein, making an analysis at the story level difficult. Nonetheless, Mann proceeds to show that there is a theological aspect to the speech acts here at the storyteller level. The narrator performs theological assertives providing the reader/audience with a theological perspective. The first notes that David and Absalom consider the counsel of Ahithophel akin to the words of God (2 Sam 16:23). This, along with its placement alongside the mention of David's concubines, clearly connects it to Nathan's judgment in 2 Sam 12. However, the narrator's second theological assertive construes Hushai's actions in overcoming Ahithophel's counsel as the working of Yahweh (2 Sam 17:14). Therefore, once again, at the storyteller level at least, David's faith in Yahweh as one who restores those banished is brought to the fore.
The remainder of the story of David's departure and return (2 Sam 17:2520:25) exhibits an even greater dearth of theological speech acts, which makes Mann's approach less than ideal given that this is almost half of his chosen text. Nevertheless, Mann suggests that the scant number of theological speech acts may function to heighten the importance of theology (p. 134). I suppose this is a kind of a less is more approach. In the first half of the story, the many theological speech acts underscore the importance of theology for the story and storyteller, and here in the second half the lack of theological speech acts emphasizes the importance of the theological speech acts that do appear in the narrative. At the story level, Mann points to the theological speech acts that are present and shows how they continue to underscore Yahweh's intervention in the events and the way in which theology has a persuasive effect on David. At the storyteller level, the audience is invited to deem that the theology embedded in David's departure from Jerusalem continues to function for David during his return and thereafter (p. 134).
Mann's concluding chapter reflects on the story as both an illocutionary and perlocutionary act asserting that David's faith in Yahweh is displayed when the story is told. As a perlocutionary act, Mann notes that it may serve as such to any audience which simply listens to the story, but that it is most effectual if told to an audience that utilizes a hermeneutic of self-involvement (p. 158) which draws parallels between their world and the narrative world. Further, Mann notes that its effect on such an audience would be strongest if the audience identified with David and believed that Yahweh actually exists outside of the story. Such an audience would likely find encouragement in the story of David's departure and return. Specifically, Mann suggests that the exilic audience of the sixth century B.C.E. would have most benefited from this story and even might dare to hope that Yhwh will bring them back to Jerusalem and will bring them good, even after he has worked against him (p. 158).
In conclusion, Mann's work offers an insightful reading of the biblical text and effectively demonstrates the contribution of SAT and its potential for future studies of biblical narratives.
 Anthony C. Thiselton, The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980); Mary Louise Pratt, Toward a Speech Act Theory of Literary Discourse (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1977); John Rogers Searle, Expression and Meaning: Studies in the Theory of Speech Acts (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).