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Biblical Archaeology and Literature

The Tenth Century BCE and the SBL Conference

David by Michelangelo (Wkipedia)

This blog continues the previous blog on the blog on the tenth century BCE at the ASOR conference. Due to the overlap between the two conferences, it does not include any SBL sessions from Saturday, November 17. The abstract of one paper does suggest an archaeological perspective:

Book of Samuel: Narrative, Theology and Interpretation
Theme: 1 Samuel 13-15

Sara Kipfer, Heidelberg University
Everybody Conquered Everybody: Envisioning Power in 1 Sam 14:47–52 and 2 Sam 8

The parallels between 1Sam 14:47-48.52 and 2Sam 8:11-12.15* have long been noted (e.g. Budde 1902). However, their relation is still debated: it has been argued, that the list of Saul’s wars was written in analogy to the wars of David (Stoebe 1973; Stolz 1981; Bezzel 2015) or vice versa, that the praise of Saul was later added to the story of David (Dietrich 2015). Finally it has been estimated, that both lists were the product of the same redactor (Klein 2002). This paper will reevaluate these complicated literary problems by taking into account its larger context: the similarities of 2Sam 8:3-5.7-11* (par. 1Chr 18:3-5.7-11*) with battle reports by Shalmaneser III fighting against a Syrian coalition in 849 BCE demonstrate that the text reflects the setting of the 9th century BCE. However it does not refer to a historical event, but should be understood as an ideological text ascribing the obviously exaggerated victory of Shalmaneser III over Adad-Idri to David fighting Hǎdad’ezer, king of Zoba. Notes about victories over other nations such as the Philistines (2Sam 8:1), Moab (2Sam 8:2) and Edom (2Sam 8:13-14*) where added later to this text. The phenomenon of envisioning the power of one king compared to another was still present in later times: The (dtr?) redactor emphasizes, that Saul successfully fought against all his enemies on every side (1Sam 14:47-48.52). Similarly a later note in 2Sam 8:11*.12.15 stresses the victory of David over Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zoba, the Philistines and Amalek.

For me this paper raises some intriguing questions:

1. Based on the similarities with 9th century BCE compositions, how much of the conquests attributed to David really were about the conquests of Omri especially in the Transjordan?
2. What was the relationship between the Omrides and the Davides? Did Omri who fought the Philistines and obtained power in coup legitimate himself by identifying with David? Did builder Ahab with a foreign-born wife legitimate himself by identifying with Solomon?
3. How would the prophets who had opposed Solomon and Rehoboam have responded to Ahab and sons?

Part of the Israelite historical reconstruction for the 9th century BCE requires understanding its perception of the 10th century BCE.

Turning to the SBL conference on Sunday, there were relevant sessions simultaneously that morning causing me to jump from an archaeology-based one to a literary one.

Archaeology of the Biblical World
Theme: Bronze and Iron Age

Kyle H. Keimer, Macquarie University
Ritual Action or Military Preparation? Interpreting Israel’s Muster at Mizpah in 1 Sam 7 (20 min)

According to 1 Sam 7:5-6 Samuel told all Israel to gather at Mizpah so he could judge them and intercede with YHWH for Israel. What is portrayed as a ritual event is interpreted by the Philistines in 7:7 as strategic military action. This paper offers an explanation for the Philistine response to Israel’s actions through consideration of the geographic reality of the Central Benjamin Plateau. In particular, I will address what it is about Mizpah, specifically, that prompts the Philistines to mobilize against Israel, and whether or not the identification of Tell en-Nasbeh as biblical Mizpah is appropriate. This latter matter will be informed by my work on the unpublished Iron Age I materials from Tell en-Nasbeh.

Keimer approached this story as being based on a real event. He noted the debate over the historicity and the date of composition. In his opinion, even though the text may be a composite one that does not mean it is not historical. It is possible to combine archaeology and text to posit an historical reconstruction. Keimer does so in his presentation. He sets the story in the geopolitical context of the late Iron I so it is before the tenth century BCE. It is included here for two reasons:

1. This real-world 11th century BCE confrontation between Israel and the Philistines in the Benjaminite Plateau is part of the context in which the Israelite monarchy under Saul emerges.
2. The archaeology of Tell en-Nasbeh dovetails with that of Tel Hesi presented at the ASOR conference and written about in my previous post.

Together these two sites document the physical or material background from which the historical Saul and David established their kingdoms and stories about those events were written. As it turns out, one of the presenters in this session asked the obvious question of how many people in the audience also had attended the ASOR conference. My estimate was about 2/3 of the people raised their hands. Combined these two presentations contribute to the effort to write a history of the 11th-10th century Israel and the emergence of the monarchy.

A different perspective was provided in the simultaneous session, a second session to the SBL one I had missed on Saturday:

Book of Samuel: Narrative, Theology and Interpretation

Carl S. Ehrlich, York University
David, Achish, and Their Place within the Historical Consciousness of Ancient Israel/Judah (30 min)

The Davidic narratives may be defined as the accounts of a series of interlocking interpersonal relationships pursued by David. Saul and Jonathan, Samuel and Nathan, Abigail and Bathsheba, Amnon and Absalom, all have their places and functions within the stories of David’s rise and fall. Among these multifarious relationships one stands out by virtue of its incongruity: David’s relationship with Achish, the Philistine king of Gath, whose vassal he becomes while on the run from Saul. While this narrative ultimately serves to absolve David of involvement in the deaths of his Saulide rivals for rule over the Israelites, the question arises to what extent it is reflective of a historical reality, whether of the time period of which it purports to tell or of a later one. This paper will address the form and function of the David and Achish narratives and examine the various possibilities for dating them within the historical and literary contexts of ancient Israel and Judah.

Ehrlich is not interested in the historical reality of the David/Achish and Israel/Gath story. He noted the frequency of the references to Achish as the king of Gath and to the anomaly of the mention of a Philistine king my individual name. While Gath was real in the tenth century BCE, Ehrlich has less confidence in Achish being the name of the king of that city. He cited the archaeological discovery of an inscription at Ekron in the seventh century BCE as the source of the name to the author of the Gath stories. His preference is to date the story to the monarchy of Josiah and his expansionist efforts but he acknowledged that his evidence for this interpretation is “slim.” Ehrlich did mention archaeological evidence in the course of his presentation. He accepts an historical David and an historical association between David and the Philistines that was remembered into the seventh century BCE although the details of that association cannot be known. This comment leaves open the issue of why Gath was used in the story given that its prominence dates to the 10th-9th centuries and not to the 7th, a question he was asked about in the Q&A. To be consistent, if an author uses the name Achish because of an inscription at Ekron, doesn’t it make more sense to use Ekron as the setting for the story instead using Gath and Gittities in the Davidic narrative? Ehrlich would have fewer hoops to jump through in his historical reconstruction if he followed the same approach at Gath with David that Keimer had done about Mizpah about 30 minutes earlier in a completely different session.

Sonya Cronin, Florida State University
David Taking Bathsheba as His Wife: A Righteous Deed; A Narrative Look At 2 Samuel 11-13 (30 min)

The story of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 is one of the most infamous tales in the Bible. The willful and premeditated transgression of David is clear in the text. He committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, and when she was found to be pregnant, he had Uriah killed in battle and took Bathsheba as his own. The sin of coveting and taking is stark; nobody doubts David’s guilt. Nathan’s word of the Lord emphasizes this even more, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife…” It is easy to take from this the implication that while there were severe consequences, in the end David got what he wanted, Bathsheba to be his wife. However, when paired with the connected story of Tamar and Amnon, it seems that David taking Bathsheba as his wife, might have been the only “righteous” thing he did in this entire episode (2 Samuel 11-12). In fact, it is arguable that taking Bathsheba as his wife is what saved his life. Using a narrative perspective, this paper will evaluate 2 Samuel 11-12 in light of 2 Samuel 13 to argue that with the nuance of David’s sin in regard to Bathsheba, taking her as his wife was actually a righteous deed.

Cronin approached this story strictly from a literary perspective. It may be that she considers all these people and events to be historical: it goes without saying so she didn’t say anything. It may be that she considers the story fictional. I really couldn’t tell from the presentation itself. I can say there was no reference to any historical context or archaeological evidence in it. Admittedly in a story about palace intrigue and sex, it is difficult to identify what would constitute proof. One can also ask what would the relevance of the story about David, Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite be to an audience that didn’t already know their names. The author wasn’t writing a script for major motion picture. Why would Hekeziah or Josiah create this story of their ancestors? None of these issues were addressed in what can be considered an ahistorical interpretation.

By coincidence, the next day, there was a presentation where Achish and Gath also were the subjects.

Historiography and the Hebrew Bible

Mahri Leonard-Fleckman, Providence College (Rhode Island)
Boundary Crossing and Boundary Blurring in the Bible’s Tales of David and Gath (30 min)

The Bible describes the Shephelah primarily through the adventures of two characters: Samson and David. These biblical protagonists engage continually in cross-boundary relations with non-Israelites in the lowlands of ancient Israel. In the case of David, the texts at times depict clear boundaries between Israel and non-Israelites, as when we encounter David fighting Goliath in 1 Sam 17. Elsewhere, however, texts portray a socially-ambiguous and un-bordered Shephelah, particularly in the sometimes-cooperative and loyal relations between David and Gittites that blur social boundaries and confuse the notion of antagonist relations between Israel and the Philistines (e.g. 1 Sam 27:1-7; 2 Sam 6:9-11). This paper explores conflicting tales of boundary construction and boundary blurring between David and the Gittites in conjunction with current debates in border studies and the arguable archaeological portrait of the Shephelah as an ambiguous or “liminal zone” in the tenth-seventh centuries BCE (Tappy 2008). The question is whether, or to what extent, distinct literary depictions of boundaries or lack thereof in biblical texts have historical value for understanding the Shephelah in the Iron II. Yet driving this talk are two broader questions: first, to use terminology from the field of secondary language acquisition, how do ancient texts and their audiences “language” society (Swain 2006; 2009; cf. Vygotsky 1987); in other words, how do texts externalize or construct a particular image of the social landscape that is internalized by and shapes the reader’s or audience’s perceptions (e.g. biblical scholars, archaeologists, politicians), and vice versa? Second, to what extent is it possible to distinguish between biblical depictions of society that are idealizations or fabrications, and those that have older tentacles, that connect to or derive from older traditions, or perhaps what was remembered in some sense?

In the previous post on her ASOR paper, I referred to Leonard-Fleckman as an SBL person. She informed me of the error of my ways as she is a member of both organizations. You will notice in the abstract how she is applying archaeology to the understanding of a story. She recognized the issue of the dating and layers of the biblical text, focusing in particular on I Sam. 27. Her approach was geographical based. She contrasted the “hard” borders in the Book of Joshua with the ambiguous porous borders in the Shephelah in the story of David and the Philistines. For Leonard-Fleckman, this blurring of boundaries reflected an older reality and she wondered why a later writer would have invented it.

In this regard, her analysis is distinctly different from Ehrlich’s (above). Gath is not a concern in Neo-Assyrian times so why set a story in it. Gath was dominant in the 10th-late 9th centuries and the stories involving Gath have value for understanding that time period. I Sam. 27 bears the mark of an older less-defined landscape. Leonard-Fleckman referred to the book by Daniel Pioske, Memory in the Time of Prose: Studies in Epistemology, Hebrew Scribalism, and the Biblical Past which has a chapter on Gath and which I have now downloaded.

The recognition of a 10th-9th centuries setting for the story then raised the question for her of who is the bearer of the old traditions. She did not answer this question but it would be nice if we could get these 10th century people together and try to resolve the issue.

In the meantime, the next blog will focus on the sessions involving Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman.

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