Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 10 (2010) - Review

Auld, Graeme A. and Erik Eynikel, Erik (eds.), For and Against David: Story and History in the Books of Samuel (BETL, 232; Leuven: Brill, 2010). Pp. X+397. Softcover, €76.00. ISBN 978-90-429-2284-6.

This volume offers papers delivered at a conference in Nijmegen, in 2006, on “Story and History in the Books of Samuel” as well as at a Seminar “The Books of Samuel: For and Against David” held during the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature at the University of Edinburgh in the same year. The “Introduction,” written by Erik Eynikel discusses four current definitions of historiography and history-writing in biblical studies—J. van Seters, T. Thompson, M. Brettler and B. Halpern. Even this brief discussion reveals how controversial the debate about the historicity of the Bible actually is and sketches some of the complexity of this project. Eynikel comes to the conclusion that “[o]bviously, not all the questions about history in the books of Samuel or about the historical David are solved in this volume” (p. 13).

The first article “The Samuel Composition as a Book of Life and Death,” written by Jan P. Fokkelman, gives a good overview of the composition and the literary references in the books of Samuel. However, it remains rather difficult to understand without having carefully read Fokkelman's Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel before, and fails to provide a clearly structured argumentation, especially in terms of how the positions advanced here incorporate the insights from oeuvre of Paul Ricoeur Temps et récit particulalry in terms of the phenomenology of time and the theories of history writing and narrative art, to which the author refers as his theoretical foundation. The essay by Shimon Bar-Efrat “From History to Story: The Development of the Figure of David in Biblical and Post-Biblical Literature” does not focus on the history in the books of Samuel either, but gives an impressive—though unidirectional—overview of the history of the biblical texts and their reception during the first centuries ce. Erik Eynikel in his “Das Lied der Hanna (1 Sam 2,1–11) und das Lied Davids (2 Sam 22)” explains similarities and differences between the song of Hanna and the Song of David as due to different perspectives within the books of Samuel.

Christa Schäfer-Lichtenberger's essay, “Ella, Ares und die Samuelüberlieferung,” presents a redaction-critical interpretation of 1 Sam 1–7. This is followed by the narrative analysis by Johannes Klein “Für und wider das Königtum (1 Sam 8–15): Figurenperspektiven und Erzählsystem,” in which he shows that 1 Sam 8–15 witnesses the collapse of the northern kingdom in the eighth–seventh centuries bce. Baruch Halpern takes up the topic of 1 Sam 7–15 and argues in “The Historiography of Samuel” that two distinct narrative sources were combined into one text sometime in the vicinity of 700(–600) bce. Klaus-Peter Adam's “Saul as a Tragic Hero: Greek Drama and Its Influence on Hebrew Scripture in 1 Samuel 14,24–46 (10,8; 13,1–13a; 10,17–27)” postulates an influence of Greek culture on the biblical narrative. It impresses not only because of his very exact dating (“first half of the third century,” p. 167) but also by his massive linguistic and thematic comparison with Qoheleth, Proverbs, Aristotle's Poetics, and last but not least his detailed presentation of archaeological (p. 172) and iconographic finds (pp. 173–75), as well as his discussion of historical events (p. 178). However, it remains open whether the material culture of Greek art in fourth century Palestine has something to do with 1 Sam 14:24–46, and most of his observations do not necessarily fit with the argument.

The debatable character of the literary figure of David (see the title of the volume, “For and Against David”) only really begins in Georg Hentschel's “Die Verantwortung für den Mord an den Priestern von Nob.” Hentschel disentangles the question of who is responsible for the murder of the priests of Nob. Calum Carmichael (“David at the Nob Sanctuary”) looks at the same text from the perspective of the law (Lev 22:10–16).

The next three articles deal with the transition between the so-called “Aufstiegsgeschichte Davids” and “Thronnachfolge-Erzählung”: Ina Willi-Plein's “Keine Eroberung Jerusalems: Zur Stellung und Bedeutung von 2 Sam 5 in der Davidshausgeschichte der Samuelbücher,” Walter Dietrich's “Die Überführung der Lade nach Jerusalem (2 Sam 6): Geschichten und Geschichte,” and Robert Rezetko's “David over Saul in MT 2 Samuel 6,1–5.” The third uses textual and literary criticism in order to discuss intentional adjustments to the text meant to improve the image of David. The discussion about literary tendencies “for and against David” continues in the contributions of Thilo Alexander Rudnig, “‘Ausser in der Sache mit Uria, dem Hetiter’ (1 Reg 15,5),” Siegfried Kreuzer, “Literarkritik—Tendenzkritik—Theodizeebearbeitung,” and Steven L. McKenzie, “Ledavid (for David)!” The judgment oracles against Davidides is the research topic of David T. Lamb's essay “The ‘Eternal’ Curse.”

Clearly consensus seems beyond reach on the matter of “for and against David” in Samuel. To illustrate, while Shimon Bar-Efrat points to the “many-faceted” figure of David (p. 49, see also Steven McKenzie's contribution), Robert Rezetko claims that on the surface the books of 1 and 2 Samuel are overall pro-Davidic (p. 256). Likewise, Antony F. Campbell (“2 Samuel 21–24: The Enigma Factor”) argues that 2 Sam 21–24 brings a critical edge to the picture of David, A. Graeme Auld (in his response “A Factored Response to an Enigma”) proposes that 2 Sam 21–24 should be read as a “concluding statement of David's role between his God and his people” (p. 365).

Jacques Vermeylen (“La révolte d'Absalom comme événement historique”) investigates the historicity in 2 Sam 11–19 and concludes, even if with caution, that Absalom's revolt is a historical fact. He is one among several authors (see for example, Walter Dietrich) who attempts to find ways to trace the history of a biblical text beyond the stages of the “final” formation of the biblical text. Nonetheless, most authors seem to be convinced that it is “difficult to determine to what extent the biblical stories about David are historically true” (Shimon Bar-Efrat, p. 48) and that “the question of where history begins lies at many levels” (Baruch Halpern, p. 121). This collection of twenty essays (in English, German and French) makes quite clear that distinctions between facts and fiction may not always be possible and cannot be the only aim of further research since “the texts have to be understood in their own way” (Calum Carmichael, p. 211). However, it is disappointing that the volume shows no progress in linking the biblical texts with historical circumstances and social-political situations. Most of the articles lack the essential balance between text and context, synchrony and diachrony, and between traditional influences on a text and its subsequent impact, because they unfortunately do not go beyond literary criticism and narrative analysis. This becomes especially obvious in the essay of Christa Schäfer-Lichtenberger, who dates parts of the text of 1 Sam 1–7 (“exilische[n] Zeit,” p. 81; “alte Überlieferung aus dem Nordreich,” p. 82; “nicht vor dem 9.Jh.,” p. 85) with practically no argument for the dating. The articles of Johannes Klein, Jacques Vermeylen, and a few others are exceptions since their aim is “die historische Einordnung des Textes” (p. 93).

Although half of the contributions address blocks of chapters throughout the text by way of proposal and response and start some enriching debates, the opportunity for a creative dialogue in general was missed (positive examples are the responses by Siegfried Kreuzer and A. Graeme Auld). The lack of dialogue is carried to extremes when one and the same word is understood and contextualized in very different ways as the discussion on לכד shows: Klaus-Peter Adams suggests two different meanings of לכד. According to him the meaning of the nip‘al form is “being hit” (1 Sam 14:41–42) and can be associated with fourth-century Greek culture as opposed to genuine Judean prophetic divinatory practice (pp. 137–40). In contrast Ina Willi-Plein (pp. 222–23) argues that there were “nur scheinbar” differences in meaning. She understands the word in 1 Sam 14:41–42 as “schrittweise positive Einengung” and argues on the basis of 1 Sam 14:47 that the term in 2 Sam 5:7 should be understood as “Besetzung, die mit dem Anspruch einer Verfügungsgewalt einhergeht” (p. 223) in her ninth-century Davidhausgeschichte. The actual situation finds some methodological reflections and helpful impetus in the comments by Siegfried Kreuzer (pp. 301–305), but unfortunately he does not provide any examples. Altogether this volume proves that there is no clear-cut consensus in research on the story and history in the books of Samuel. However, it is a welcome addition to the discussion of the nature and role of “story and history,” illustrating how different approaches may cast light on the historiography of the biblical texts.

Sara Kipfer, University of Bern, Switzerland