Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 19 (2019) - Review
The present volume is a well-organized and thorough interpretation of the Book of Samuel undertaken by a scholar who has made the book a focus of his study over several decades. It elaborates, updates, and makes accessible in English a great deal of the author’s previously published work that has appeared in Hebrew. It is the first of two volumes.
There are few scholars who know the text so well while also possessing a comprehensive knowledge of the topography, archaeology, tribal relations, and the art of warfare relevant to Samuel. Indeed, Garsiel offers “new multi-interdisciplinary research of the book’s composition, structure, historical contents, poetics, and messages in both synchronic and diachronic methods” (p. 3). Spicing the book are a number of black and white photographs of various sites discussed in the text.
The book’s introduction discusses the name and structure of the book (pp. 4–8) and surveys earlier interpretative approaches, from the Chronicler and Talmud to contemporary literary, canonical, and synchronic readings (pp. 8–26). Afterwards, Garsiel offers a new proposal for understanding the book’s compositional history. His primary thesis is that Samuel is the result of four compositional stages. The first focused on David, gave prominence to Nathan, and emphasized a theme of divine retribution. It did not contain the material we now find in 1 Samuel 1–16. Garsiel argues that the author was one of Nathan’s followers, and that he composed his text during the reign of Solomon, whose accession, divine dream, and trial of the two prostitutes he also recorded. The second phase took place roughly thirty years later at the hand of a scribe who expressed his disappointment with Solomon’s rule. With his subtle anti-monarchic sentiment, this scribe reworked the previous narrative, adding the stories of Eli, Samuel, and Saul, as well as the appendix units (2 Samuel 21–22). The second author also omitted the stories of David’s old age and death, and Solomon’s succession. Garsiel opines that this author probably took measures to keep his text from the eyes of the king’s agents, and thus likely produced very few copies. The third stage involved the coexistence and transmission of the different versions in small literate groups and via oral recitation and memorization, which accounts for some errors and duplication. In the fourth stage:
The author of the Book of Kings took from the earliest version of the first author the episodes of David’s old age and Solomon’s early reign and inserted it as an opening of his Book of Kings with Deuteronomistic alterations. While afterwards, the second version of the Book of Samuel was taken by the so-called Deuteronomistic editors to serve as a transitional period between the periods of the Judges and the Monarchy in the historiography of Israel from Joshua to Kings. (p. 41)
The Deuteronomistic editors also integrated a couple of Psalms and glosses, such as “until this day,” and the like. Thus, the book was essentially composed by two authors with different outlooks, copied later in various forms, and only minimally altered by the Deuteronomistic redactors (pp. 28–39). As Garsiel contends, the second author had no problems with positive assessments of David as long as they represented the period before he became king. The final book represents a reworking of David’s rule to support the notion that a theocracy is a better solution to military crises than a monarchy.
From here on the monograph moves from cycle to cycle and examines each from the perspectives of the two authors. While this leads to some redundancy in content, with stories retold several times from different perspectives and with different agendas, it also serves the book well as a reference work (there are no indices, but the headings are clear and well-organized). The main cycles are divided into the following seven chapters: (1) How David Kills Goliath and Becomes a High-Ranking Commander; (2) Vicissitudes in the Relationship between David and Saul; (3) Saul’s Demise and David’s Twisted Road to Power; (4) David Becomes King and Expands His Kingdom; (5) David’s Army: Its Formation, Art of Warfare and Main Wars; (6) David, Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab and Nathan—In Deep Crises; and (7) Family Disputes and National Revolts Undermining David’s House.
Those familiar with the author’s previous work will not be surprised to find numerous arguments against the so-called “minimalist school.” This is especially clear in his understanding of the date of the book of Samuel and treatment of the archaeological data:
Therefore, there is no scientific justification for a drastic negative approach calling to disregard the biblical historiography concerning the emergence of the Philistines, the Kingdom of David and Solomon, as well as the early stage of the Divided Kingdom. (p. 23)
Some notable treatments that are unique to Garsiel’s work include: he advocates replacing the absolute chronology based on ceramic ware with a relative or “pliable” chronology (pp. 36–39); he solves the problem of “who killed Goliath” by seeing El-hanan as David’s pre-monarchic name and its appearance in 2 Sam 21:18–19 as the work of the anti-monarchic second author who used it to emphasize that the success occurred before he was king (p. 52); he emends “at Gob” and El-hanan’s father’s name “Yaare-orgim” in the aforementioned passage to “in the ravine” (i.e., ba-Gayʾ) and “Jesse,” respectively (p. 53); he views the king as possessing the power and authority to abrogate law—annulling marriages (Michal) or granting otherwise forbidden marriages (implicit in the Amnon and Tamar story) (pp. 127–128); he sees the necromancer of En-dor as tempting Saul with food to make him break his vow (pp. 227–229); he understands ʾEshbaal son of Bʿda in the recent inscription of Khirbet Qeiyafa as the first commander of David’s elite military unit, Jashobeam son of Hachmoni (pp. 328–334); he offers a unique reconstruction of the chronology of David’s military engagements after becoming king (which differs slightly from his previously published works) (pp. 415–416); he does not see the reference to David getting up late and walking on the roof as ironic (2 Sam 11:2), because there is no reason for the author to be critical of David prior to the affair (p. 434); and he sees Bathsheba as a “tragic” literary figure and “rape victim” (pp. 441, 463).
My criticisms of the book are mostly minor and probably are best addressed to the book’s editor and publisher. There is some inconsistency in the treatment of Hebrew terms. Sometimes they are transliterated and elsewhere the Hebrew script is retained. There also are many typographical infelicities and a few words that occur so often that they stand out, especially “discrete,” “implied author,” “anyway,” and “debacle.” Also, while the idea to integrate black and white photographs of sites is most welcome, I appeal to the publisher of the second volume to consider making them consistently large; a number of them offer broad vistas in a frame measuring only a couple of inches, which renders them unhelpful. I might also suggest the inclusion of detailed maps of tribal territories, battle movements, and other relevant topics that demand an understanding of spatial relations.
These criticisms notwithstanding, this book rewards readers with numerous insights into many aspects of the book of Samuel that one seldom finds plumbed in scholarship. Throughout, Garsiel demonstrates the importance of recognizing tribal frictions, the role of geography, and the subtleties of family and state politics as factors contributing to the history of the nascent monarchy as portrayed in Samuel. The book especially excels in its literary analyses. In each of the chapters on the various cycles, Garsiel demonstrates a gift for espying the nuances of the text, including the author’s employment of polysemy and paronomasia, cases of alphabetic thinking, structural devices, dischronologized narrative, literary demonstrations of lex talionis, and thematic parallels between various biblical pericopes.
With regard to dischronologized narratives, one also should consult David A. Glatt, Chronological Displacement in Biblical and Related Literatures (SBL Dissertation Series, 139; Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1993).