Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 15 (2015) - Review

Frisch, Amos, Torn Asunder: The Division of the Kingdom Narrative in the Book of Kings (Beer Sheva: Ben Gurion University Press, 2014). Pp. xiv + 310 pp. Hardcover. US$27.13. ISBN 978-9-655-36119-3. [Hebrew]

In contradistinction to studies which read 1 Kgs 12:1–24 as a segment of the Jeroboam narrative (1 Kgs 11–14), Amos Frisch has presented a fresh reading of the chapter which first examines the narrative in its own right, and subsequently as a central text in the larger structure of the book of Kings. This is primarily a literary study, employing the techniques of close reading and intertextuality to shed light on the dynamics of the text, as well as examining resonances of the story elsewhere in the Bible. Written in an engaging Hebrew style, the book is organized into nine chapters. The first briefly treats the historical background of the story, analyzing the factors leading up to the split of the kingdom. The second offers a discussion of the basic structure of the story with attention to the division between the description of the split in 12:1–20 and the different temporal focus of vv. 21–24. The third chapter examines how binary opposites in the story—Shechem and Jerusalem, Rehoboam and Solomon, the elders and the “children”—are contrasted to underscore its central themes and ideas. The fourth chapter, by far the longest, offers a careful literary analysis, while the fifth balances this synchronic reading with a diachronic discussion of the development of the story. The sixth chapter deals briefly with conceptual and ideational issues in the narrative, while the seventh addresses the form-critical question of genre. The last two chapters explore the place of the story in its wider literary contexts, first within the book of Kings, and then with regard to other biblical treatments of the split of the kingdom, including the long addition to the story found in the LXX.

The structure of the book serves the author's purpose admirably, as his intention is to examine broader questions about the significance of the story within the larger perspective of biblical thought. Thus the discussion of historical issues related to the division of the kingdom highlights the ways in which the story itself ignores these factors in favor of theological issues. In like manner the contrast of binary pairs paves the way for the discussion of Rehoboam in relation to Solomon and to Jeroboam. The literary reading of the story sets the stage for Frisch's discussion of how the story came together in his fifth chapter. The final sections of the book examine different contexts for the story and complete the author's argument about its central focus.

This focus extends beyond the detailed literary reading of the narrative which Frisch provides in his fourth chapter, as he sets out to challenge a number of consensus views about the meaning of the story. In place of the commonly held view that sees in Rehoboam the embodiment of foolish leadership, Frisch attempts to show how the Judean king acts with caution and political acumen. Where it is commonly held that the narrative is political in its orientation, with an admixture of wisdom concerns, he argues that the story should be read as a tale emphasizing divine providence and the principle of measure-for-measure punishment. And in contrast to the scholarly consensus that the narrative is an early composition with a few later additions (most noticeably 12:15 and 12:21–24), Frisch maintains that the entire narrative is an organic whole which was composed sometime in the late seventh or early sixth century. While it does allude to some earlier material, the narrative as we have it does not discuss the actual political issues of the time of the split, but rather offers a meditation on divine causality and the fate of Israel's monarchy.

Frisch's capable literary reading brings out a number of excellent points about the ways in which the narrative fits together. The central role of the verbs שוב and שמע focus the question of obedience/disobedience and underline the reversal which is at the center of the narrative. The Janus parallelism of the verb ענה, indicating both response and affliction, highlights the failed response of Rehoboam and his identification with his father's harsh policies. But the most interesting and original part of this study is in the fifth chapter, where Frisch shows how his theological reading gives shape to the story as a whole. Disputing the idea of a Dtr editor who imposed a theological justification for the split of the kingdom upon an earlier narrative, Frisch, as already mentioned above, argues that vv. 15, 21–24 are not later additions but are integral to the narrative, as indicated by their complete integration into the story. He demonstrates this persuasively with close attention to language and thematic connection, showing how the theological bias can be seen in the surrounding narrative as well. Further, by emphasizing the placement of the story as a continuation of the Solomon narrative, Frisch attempts to show that the idea of the split as punishment for Solomon's actions is not a later overlay but is part and parcel of the basic story. This position is bolstered by Frisch's analysis of the place of the story within Kings, and by his comparison of the story with other narratives of political discontent, such as Absalom's revolt and the conflict between David and Ishboshet. In these cases as well one can see a clear theological bias which reflects the idea of dual causality common to these stories of political rebellion.

Not all of Frisch's points are equally convincing. The substantial difference in style between vv. 15, 21–24 and the rest of the narrative is still apparent despite the verbal links which Frisch develops. The successful integration of these verses into the larger chapter might be indicative of the initial intent of the narrative, or it may be the result of careful editing at a later stage. Despite Frisch's efforts to portray Rehoboam as a thoughtful leader who carefully seeks out the advice of different groups before making his decision, Rehoboam nonetheless comes off as foolish. While he may have the common sense not to repeat the younger advisors' testosterone-heavy remark comparing his own potency to that of his father, these words clearly speak to him and have a decisive role in convincing him to follow their harsh advice. Dispatching Adoram (12:18) to collect the duty he demands from the northern tribes (there is no indication that he is sent to engage in negotiations) only pours salt on the wounded egos of the North, adding to the negative portrait of Rehoboam as a successor to the throne who is unfit to rule.

But beyond these disagreements about specific details of the story, the importance of Frisch's study is in its attempt to frame the narrative in a different way. He offers a reading which challenges accepted conclusions about Dtr editing of an earlier story. The evidence for seeing 1 Kgs 12:1–24 as a unified text is both cogent and largely persuasive. This is a welcome study which enriches our appreciation of narrative art in the Bible while demanding that the reader reexamine accepted dogmas about the composition of Kings.

George Savran, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem