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How Come Gath Is in the Hebrew Bible and Khirbet Qeiyafa Is Not?

By Gustave Doré - Doré's English Bible, Public Domain,

This blog is part of a series of posts about the ASOR and SBL conferences in November, 2018. They can be accessed at the IHARE website and will be posted to

One of the developments in the ASOR and SBL conferences was the increased archaeological data from the 11th and early 10th centuries BCE (Where Is the Tenth Century BCE?: The ASOR and SBL Conferences and The Tenth Century BCE and the SBL Conference). This development occurred even without any sessions on Khirbet Qeiyafa. One logical consequence to this development is the meaning for the biblical stories set in that exact time period. As previously reported, Mahri Leonard-Fleckman, begins her ASOR abstract “A Fresh Biblical Lens on the Iron Age Shephelah: Social Ambiguity versus Order in Judges-Samuel” with:

Textual studies of the Shephelah have yet to catch up with the archaeological portrait of identity ambiguity or “entanglement” in this Iron Age landscape of ancient Israel.

In her SBL presentation,  (“Boundary Crossing and Boundary Blurring in the Bible’s Tales of David and Gath,” S19-117 Historiography and the Hebrew Bible), she suggests the book Memory in a Time of Prose: Studies in Epistemology, Hebrew Scribalism, and the Biblical Past by Daniel Pioske (Oxford University Press, 2018) is of value in understanding this subject. I downloaded, printed, and read the book. Chapter 2: Gath of the Philistines (85-133) and Chapter 4: A Past No Longer Remembered: The Hebrew Bible and the Question of Absence (182-191 on Khirbet Qeiyafa) directly relate to the question raised here. What follows is a review of these two sections and some thoughts of my own on the topic.


Based on his presentations in the preceding chapters, Pioske begins here by stating that Gath flourished prior to the emergence of a mature Hebrew prose. The result of this interpretation is the need to bridge the gap between these two time periods: the 11th-10th and the 8th BCE.

He begins his analysis with a reference to the Epic of Gilgamesh. At the beginning of the Epic and at the end of Tablet XI, Gilgamesh walks the walls of Uruk. He deems these lines as part of a sophisticated framing technique drawing on the images of Uruk’s monumental fortifications.  The physical presence of the walls became part of the process through which the story of Gilgamesh was remembered. As he puts it:

…the historian must be sensitive to the possibility that memories from former times endured alongside the places to which they referred… (90).

Turning to the site in question here, Pioske observes:

There are nearly double the biblical references to this Philistine site, in fact, than to other settlements identified within the so-called Philistine pentapolis,,, (90).

These references to Gath in the Hebrew Bible are not mere data points or part of lists. Quite the contrary, the Gath occurrences are at key moments and play a significant role in the unfolding narrative. Pioske asserts that:

…it is unlikely that the scribes who made reference to Gath within their stories would have had access to first-hand, eyewitness information about the famed Philistine city…(91).

He concludes that:

…the biblical writers possessed knowledge about Gath that was reflective of the location’s early Iron Age past (91).

This observation leads Pioske to the crux of his investigation: how did scribes have access to material from decades if not centuries prior to the composition of the Gath stories.

To resolve this question, Pioske reviews the textual and archaeological information.

Philistine Gath in the Hebrew Bible (91-102)

What strikes Pioske’s attention is the military-basis for the Gath biblical mentions. Its battles occur in the heart of Benjamin/Judah/Israel. The Gittites are warriors. They are descendants of the Raphah which he compares to the Rephaim. In other words, the Gittites are part of a warrior cult of distinct martial abilities who are remembered for their prowess. David defeats them, is a vassal to them, and they serve as his mercenaries, quite a range of relationships one might add. Yet the reason for David’s attraction westward to Gath is never explained by the storyteller (97). Pioske concludes that “Gath likely functioned as a crucial gateway into the highland regions and the capital of Jerusalem” (101). Most important for the storytelling, there may even have been a time when Gath became part of Judah in the 8th century BCE just as Hebrew prose writing began to flourish (102).

Philistine Gath: The Archaeological Evidence (103-117)

In this section, Pioske describes the Gath landscape. He then turns to the Bronze Age archaeology noting Canaanite Gath’s contacts with Egypt such as in the Amarna letters.  Next he notes the arrival of the Philistines in Iron I. He posits that native Canaanite population from the rural areas of the Shephelah came to be relocated in the Philistine-controlled cities (109). Pioske has no explanation for how and why Gath developed as it did during this time.

Shortly afterwards, nearby Judean cities begin to be built/rebuilt as well. He specifically notes the border town of Beth-Shemesh. Pioske is struck by the rebuilt and refortified Judean town of Lachish in the early ninth century BCE given its Late Bronze Age rivalry with Gath. These constructions plus the evidence of trade leads Pioske to conclude that relationships between Gath and its eastern highland neighbors in the tenth and ninth centuries BCE was peaceful.

Gath and the Resilience of a Remembered Past (117-131)

Pioske begins by asserting that “biblical scribes had access to information that could have only descended from the early Iron Age period… (118). Furthermore, Gath is always regarded as a foreign city even though Judah temporarily had some sort of control over it during part of the eight century BCE. The geographical setting also dates to the Iron I period due to the presence of Ekron as a significant city.

…in the thousand years that passed from the Middle Bronze Age to the end of the Iron Age, there was one and only one moment when both locations were of some size and status at the same time: the Iron I period, or the era in which the biblical writings indicate the importance of both (119).

There is no biblical account of Gath having been conquered by Israel or Judah. In addition its rise in Iron IIA coincides with the founding and growth of the House of David (123).  All these developments are not by happenstance or coincidental.

Pioske now has to explain how this happened. He does not exclude the possibility of some older documents which mentioned Gath.  He sees oral story-telling as being crucial to the maintenance of these memories. Nonetheless he is forced to conclude that “how and why this Philistine city was remembered with such tenacity remains something of a mystery” (125). He refers to other biblical examples of such memories at Shiloh, Bethel, and Tirzah. He notes non-biblical examples such as Troy, Icelandic sagas, and Beowulf enduring for centuries before being written.

His overall conclusion is:

…a remembered past endures more readily when it is tethered to the physical environs of a place (131).

For a short time, Judah controlled Gath. The visible remains endured.

…old memories of the Philistine center may have found their way into Hebrew texts because traces of this remembered past were still preserved in the ruins familiar to those who began to write these stories down (131).

Gath was a “place of memory.” Due to its sheer size it left an impression on the local inhabitants. And just as the Epic of Gilgamesh begins and ends in Tablet XI with the walls of the immense city of Uruk, so Pioske begins and end his chapter on Gath with references to Gilgamesh at Uruk.

Khirbet Qeiyafa (182-191)

Pioske’s analysis of this site is quite different from that of Gath – it’s all archaeology, there are no texts. He describes the site through its uniqueness.

Indeed, at a time when the eastern Shephelah and highland regions consisted of mostly small, unwalled villages and a limited population, the fortifications of Kh. Qeiyafa offer an unanticipated testament to political will and human capital at this point along the Elah Valley. The sophisticated casemate wall construction of the settlement and its two monumental gates would have been a tremendous undertakings for this period in time…(186).

Nonetheless, this extraordinary site garners no biblical mention.

The lack of reference to this location is all the more mystifying considering that a number of events within Kh. Qeiyafa’s vicinity are recounted in the biblical narrative and are said to have occurred at that moment in the early Iron Age when Kh. Qeiyafa was most likely populated and functioning… (191).

How Come Gath Is in the Hebrew Bible and Khirbet Qeiyafa Is Not?

My explanation for this discrepancy is human agency, specifically that of Abiathar. To repeat the approach I have taken in Jerusalem Throne Games and in these blogs

1. Abiathar is the father of the alphabet prose narrative.
2. Saul’s desire to become king was the catalyst for his writing.
3. All his writing was political: not historical, not theological, not as literature.
4. He wrote throughout his life from the time of Saul to Solomon.
5. To identify and date his writings permits a better reconstruction of Israelite history and the development of the Hebrew Bible.
6. He had rivals, a successor, and a student.

So now let’s apply the Abiathar template to the question of Gath and Khirbet Qeiyafa using the story of David and the Philistine warrior written in the time of Ishbaal and now in I Sam. 17.

1. The story originated as a standalone story. In the early part of his career, Abiathar had not yet mastered the skill to write continuous prose narratives.
2. Abiathar employed nameless individuals to represent a people. These anonymous people may be considered a diagnostic for his prose. In this case the Philistine warrior represents the Philistine people especially those warriors Pioske referred to.
3. Since the Philistine warrior is a symbol the story should not be taken as a physically literal encounter. Think of the story of “Ronnie and the Bear.” Ronnie goes hunting for a bear and at the end of story either is rocking on his bear skin rug and/or is sitting under his stuffed bear trophy. Older people will know that Ronald Reagan was a real person, the Soviet Union was real, and that “Ronnie and Bear” is about the United States winning the Cold War. They will not try to analyze the weapon Ronnie used or identify the species of bear he hunted. Younger people might be clueless and condemn Ronnie for killing an endangered species. “David and the Philistine Warrior” is not about a literal encounter; it is a political polemic by Abiathar about who has the right stuff to go into the arena and defeat the enemy.
4. Long before Thucydides put words in the mouth of Pericles, Abiathar put words in the mouth of David.
5. Khirbet Qeiyafa is not the only thing missing in the story, so are Jonathan and Ishbaal. Even if Saul did not confront the Philistine warrior, how come neither Jonathan nor Ishbaal did either? Abiathar is going for the kill. Saul, Jonathan, and Ishbaal all lacked the right stuff. At this time, Saul and Jonathan were dead and Ishbaal was weak. The story is an all-out humiliation of Benjamin and its leaders by the Philistines.
6. As I was thinking these points through, it suddenly occurred to me to ask where did Saul and Jonathan really die? The idea that the Philistines and Benjaminites squared off far to the north of where they both were located seems a little strange. It makes much more sense that the fight to the death occurred right where the two peoples faced in other: in the Elah Valley. Khirbet Qeiyafa was Saul’s pride and joy. The Philistines defeated Saul and destroyed his fortification. In other words, Abiathar located his political allegory at the site of Benjamin’s greatest humiliation.

When this thought flashed through my mind, it stunned me. To substantiate it will require analysis of other stories especially involving Jabesh-Gilead in Judges and Samuel. Still given the premise that stories are political allegories and not history, the showdown battle in the Elah Valley makes a lot of sense.

7. As much as Abiathar enjoyed mocking the Benjaminite warrior prowess, David was a wiser politician. He knew he could not have a kingdom with a hole in middle. He knew that Benjamin had to accept being part of the kingdom of Israel under the rule of David if it was going to work. It was probably at that point that Abiathar developed the David and Jonathan episodes. He now had learned how to write a continuous narrative of multiple episodes.
8. Biblical scholars have observed the similarities between the stories of Hector and Achilles and David and the Philistine warrior. They are deliberate. Why assume Israelites were the only intended audience? Abiathar’s story was for the Philistines too. When they heard the story they expected to be the winner. After all, they were like the Mycenaeans from across the waters and they had defeated the Benjaminites at Khirbet Qeiyafa. Naturally they would have expected the Achilles figure to be triumphant in Abiathar’s story.

Abiathar apparently deployed an old Israelite motif: take the defining story of you enemy and reverse it. In the Song of the Sea, the gift of the Nile is defeated by flooding waters. In the Song of Deborah, the wilderness woman smites Pharaoh Se-se III, a reversal of Pharaoh smites the male enemy. Now Abiathar had used the same technique against the Philistines.

This realization means the Philistines probably brought the story of Hector and Achilles with them when they arrived in Canaan after 1177 BCE. So how did Abiathar learn it? Obviously he did not go to Philistine scribal school. The most reasonable answer is through, Anson Rainey forgive me, the tribe of Dan.  Dan was the first Sea People to arrive. It joined the Israelite-led anti-Egyptian NATO alliance (see Deborah at the SBL Conference). It was inducted into the Israelite community. And it had stories of Hector, Achilles, and then Samson. Imagine that. The Hebrew Bible helps prove antiquity of portions of what became the Iliad!  That will drive the minimalists crazy.

The application of the Abiathar template provides a richer, fuller, more coherent account of early Israelite history and the development of the Hebrew Bible than possible with the present paradigms.  Plus it is a lot of fun. Abiathar’s first stories will be the subject of my presentation at the upcoming Mid-Atlantic SBL conference.

Judges 19 and Jamal Khashoggi: The Politics of Literature

Janet Leigh in "Psycho" (

Judges 19:26 And as morning appeared, the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, till it was light. 27 And her master rose up in the morning, and when he opened the doors of the house and went out to go on his way, behold, there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. 28 He said to her, “Get up, let us be going.” But there was no answer… 29 And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and laying hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. 30 And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

The story of the rape and dismembered concubine in Judges 19 has been deemed a text of terror.1 Indeed the brutal and horrific treatment of this woman is a story likely skipped over in Sunday School even as it is standard fare in many slasher movies. What is frequently overlooked is that as with the Hollywood movies, no person was hurt in the creation of this story. It was the response to the story that is the key to understanding it.

The story was supposed to be a text of terror. That was the intent of the author. Janet Leigh did not die in Psycho but the audience was supposed to be and was terrorized. Similarly her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis did not die in either versions of Halloween but the audiences were terrorized. So too in ancient times. While the biblical story was not written to be a box office smash, it was written to provoke a reaction by its audience. In some sense, it is related to the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi at the instigation of the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince. There is a political dimension to the story in ancient Israel just as there is to the actions today.

The approach taken to understanding the story is critical. The story is a political one. It is not history. It is not theology. It is not religion. It is politics. Mario Liverani addresses the close connection between the writing of history and the validation of political order and political action in the ancient Near East by targeting Judges 19-21 as a possibly pro-Davidic, anti-Benjaminite story from the time of Saul.2 Yairah Amit declares:

Literature has always been susceptible to involvement in political struggle, so the political mobilization of biblical literature should occasion no surprise….I have chosen to discuss…the anti-Saul polemic hidden in chs. 19-21 in the book of Judges.3

…the confrontation between the house of Saul, whose origin is in Gibeah, and the house of David, whose origin is in Bethlehem Judah, is in fact the core of the story.4

Marc Brettler echoes Amit’s statement in seeing the alphabet prose narrative story as an anti-Saul polemic in the use of literature as politics. He wonders why what is seemingly so obvious is rejected by scholars. How can a story which mentions the homes of Samuel, Saul, and David not be a political polemic?5 The story is “a world of unrelenting terror” because that is the message the author wished to deliver in his polemic. But the story is a text of terror mainly for the supporters of Saul because it is a call to arms against them.

Let’s look at the individual characters in the story and who they represent. First there is the anonymous female just as there was in the preceding story of Jephthah’s Daughter, another text of terror. For this author, the anonymous female does not represent a specific individual in history. Like Lady Liberty, she is a symbolic figure representing We the People or in this case the Israelite people. Her fate is the fate of the Israelite people unless something happens to prevent it.

The figure of the anonymous female automatically raises the question of who is responsible for the safety of the people. As we have just been reminded through some home grown terrorist actions in the United States, the president is the political leader responsible for the safety of the people. In ancient Israel, one might expect the figure to be the king or Saul in these polemical texts of terror. That was true in the Jephthah story. In that story, he fails in this duty despite his military success and the people pay the price. He fails because he has crossed the line: as a warrior he does not have the right to initiate military action. Under the Israelite system of checks and balances that power is reserved to Yahweh acting directly or through his priestly representative.

In the second story, the call to arms is initiated by a Levite priest. He has the authority and now the obligation to do so. In these stories one may observe the ancient equivalent of the American Federalist Papers in the political battle with the Anti-Federalists over the ratification of the Constitution. Still to this very day, the political battle continues over the power of the President versus We the People through the House of Representatives to initiate war. Ancient Israel had a similar debate when kingship arose but expressed points of view through the story form rather than the essay or op-ed.

The stakes had ratcheted up since the Jephthah story. In that story, one individual was held accountable. Now it would be all then men of the city just as it would be in story in Gen. 19 with Sodom replacing Gibeah. Whereas in the story of Jephthah, his own family had disavowed him, in the sequel, all the men bear the responsibility for the crime which occurred. Now it was incumbent on the Levite to right the wrong which had occurred by the Benjamin violation of the Israelite people. To do so, he exercised his authority to call Israel to battle just as Deborah had done. However, it is one thing to call for the tribes to assemble for war, in the end there still needs to be a leader. Who would be the Barak?

The author is not subtle in who he had in mind. He did not need to designate the city of the concubine. He did not need to make that city Bethlehem. But just as Gibeah meant Saul so Bethlehem meant David. The author of this story was reaching out to David to be the leader to restore the order Saul and his Benjaminites had disturbed. David now had a responsibility to do so. Why did the author choose David? Why did he place Israel’s future in David’s hands? Why did he think David would accept this calling from the Levite?

Forget about hindsight. Forgot about people looking back at the establishment of the Davidic dynasty from Persian times. At the time when David emerged in history, no one knew that there would be a Davidic dynasty. This story is a call to action in the hope that David would accept that call. There was no certainty that he would. There was no certainty that if he did accept the call that he would succeed. To some extent, the story functions as a “Hail Mary” by the author if I may mix my metaphors. Then again, he was desperate.

What does that Levite call to David tell us about the Israel in the time before David became king?

First, it tells us that David was an Israelite. David’s ties to Bethlehem do not mean he was born a Judahite. Bethlehem and Ephratah are different names for the same location (Gen. 35:19 and 48:7).  Mark Leuchter suggests that אפרתי in I Sam. 1:1 usually translated as “Ephraim” is better translated as “Ephrati” meaning a man of Ephratah. The pilgrimage of Elkanah and Hannah of Ephratah to Shiloh leading to the birth of Samuel therefore indicates a strong connection between the religious circles of Ephratah-Bethlehem and Shiloh.6 Sara Japhet suggests that David, the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah (see I Sam. 17:12), belonged to an Ephraimite clan that had migrated south. There it came in contact with Calebites such as Nabal and his wife Abigail whom David later married (I Sam. 25) when he was creating the kingdom of Judah.7

These suggestions help tie together various biblical strands. Nadav Na’aman concurs with this identification. He furthermore suggests members of this Ephraimite clan may have migrated to Gilead across the Jordan River as well. He raises the issue of the connection between the ark and Ephratah (Ps. 132:6) and David’s connection to the priests of Shiloh and their most sacred object. He focuses on Rachel, the eponymous ancestress of the tribe of Ephraim and the clan of Ephrathites. She dies from hard labor when giving birth to Benjamin and is buried by what becomes David’s birthplace in what is known as Rachel’s tomb. Na’aman claims the memory of her death dates to the early Iron Age.8 Albright earlier had suggested that a colony of Ephrathites had established a settlement in the Bethlehem district and had subsequently built Rachel=s Tomb.9 Rachel=s prominent appearance in the third cycle of Genesis stories may be traced back to her importance to David’s Ephrathite clan in the Bethlehem district which had migrated from Ephraim where the Shiloh priesthood was based.

Second, David was an Israelite of some prominence. Whether he had made a name for himself though military exploits against the Amalekites, the Philistines, or both is not the issue here. I accept that he had acquired sufficient stature to warrant marriage to a daughter of the king. What is important is that he was not some unknown person who appeared out of nowhere. Quite the contrary, he already was a successful Israelite warrior with religious ties to Shiloh. The author of this text of terror felt quite comfortable reaching out to him in this time of need.

Third, the author of the story had reason to believe that David felt shortchanged by Saul in some way. Or if not by Saul himself, then certainly by the Benjaminites after Saul’s death who supported Ishbaal as the successor rather than the militarily superior David. In the real world, Saul undoubtedly expected Jonathan to be his successor as did David and there was no provision for both father and son dying in the same battle. Why support the weak surviving son and not the vibrant son in-law…other than the fact that he was Benjaminite and blood? The presence of David was less a threat to Saul as king than to Saul as dynasty founder. A successful story of David’s rise to power would need to show that David never had been such a threat.

We may never know that precise details of the political machinations which occurred at that time. What we do have are the texts of terror, Abiathar, the father of the alphabet prose narrative, wrote during the early part of his career when he first reached out to David.



1.The phrase comes from Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary‑Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984).
2. Mario Liverani, Myth and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), 160-192.
3. Yairah Amit, “Literature in the Service of Politics: Studies in Judges 19-21,” in Henning Graf Reventlow, Yair Hoffman, and Benjamin Uffenheimer, ed., Politics and Theopolitics in the Bible and Postbiblical Literature (JSOT Sup Series 171; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 28-40, here 28.
4. Yairah Amit, “The Use of Analogy in the Study of the Book of Judges,” in Matthias Augustin and Klaus Dietrich Schunck, ed., Wünschet Jerusalem Frieden: Collected Communications to the XIIth Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, Jerusalem 1986 (Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1988), 387-394, here 391.
5. Marc Z. Brettler, “The Book of Judges: Literature as Politics,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 1989: 395–418, here 402.
6. Mark Leuchter, “Jeroboam the Ephraite,” Journal of Biblical Liteature 125 2006:51-72, here 60-61.
7. Sara Japhet, “Was David a Judahite or an Ephraimite? Light from the Genealogies,” in Iain Provan and Mark Boda, ed., Let us Go up to Zion: Essays in Honour of H. G. M. Williamson on the Occasion of his Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 297-306.
8. Nadav Na’aman, “The Settlement of the Ephraites in Bethlehem and the Location of Rachel’s Tomb,” Revue Biblique 121 2014:516-539.
9. William F. Albright, “Appendix II Ramah of Samuel,” AASOR 4 1922-1923:112-123, here 118-119n.6.

The J Documentary Hypothesis

The current biblical paradigms are inadequate to reconstruct the history of early Israel and the origin of the Hebrew Bible.  In a series of recent posts, three significant developments not part of current biblical scholarship were identified related to this issue. Individually and collectively, they indicate a revision to the current paradigms is necessary. On the other hand, I may just be a crackpot with some weird ideas that are out of touch with the real world. You be the judge.

Below are the three items with links to the original posts that explain them in more detail.

Paradigm Change Item #1: The Levites Were Hyksos

Let’s start at the very beginning a very good place to start and take it one step at a time. In the beginning, Hyksos Levites were the leaders of the people who left Egypt against the will of Ramses II and became Israel. The recognition of this historical reality enables one to create a coherent straightforward historical narrative consistent with natural law that encompasses the most facts, dots the most “I’s,” and crosses the most “t’s.” It permits a real world understanding of the event that is the basis for the Israelite identity.

Egyptologists will have a comparatively easy time accepting this proposition. They are not threatened by it any way. Egyptologists already are familiar with the concept of a Hyksos-Exodus connection of some kind. The Levites as Hyksos will enable Egyptologists to develop a fuller understanding of the Hyksos, 19th Dynasty history, and Egyptian-Canaan relations (see 400 Years a Slave).

The biblically-interested general public like the BAR readers also will have a comparatively easy time accepting the proposition. Instead of having to deal with a below-the-radar departure by a few obscure people or Israel didn’t leave Egypt, Egypt left the land of Canaan, they will have a real-world above-the-fold front page departure with educated leaders familiar with the world stage as it existed then. True, the special effects will be missing, but in exchange there is a story that is compatible with history standards in public schools.

These developments are part of what made Israel different from its neighbors.

Paradigm Change Item #2: Hyksos-Levite Abiathar Is the Father of the Politically-Initiated Alphabet Prose Narrative 

Saul was the catalyst for the development of the alphabet prose narrative. Israel did not invent the alphabet prose narrative and Israel did not invent the political polemic. It did bring from Egypt the concept of political polemics, stories that are set in the past (or among the gods) but which are really about the current political situation. Abiathar developed the alphabet prose narrative in response to Saul’s efforts to become king of Israel and usurp the position of the Levite priests of Shiloh. These stories were secular in nature and not communicated during a feast or sacred occasion although it is quite possible the threshing floor was the site of the story telling.

Abiathar provides a unique opportunity to understand the development of writing in ancient Israel. Like modern biblical scholars, Abiathar did not write only once during his lifetime. Just as American historians may write over the course of multiple presidents, so Abiathar wrote over the reign of multiple kings – Saul, David, and Solomon. By excavating his writings it is possible to gain insight into the history of each of these three kings as well as to witness how Abiathar developed his writing skill over time (see also Archaeologists Confirm Ancient Famine: Déjà Vu Joseph All Over Again and Historical David and Goliath: Lessons from the Utah Senate Race).

Once one realizes that Hyksos-Levite Abiathar wrote throughout his life, it becomes possible to identify other writers as well. One would expect a Benjaminite (Aaronid) writer to respond to the writings of the Abiathar by amending (supplementing) his stories, by writing a new story, or both. Similarly one would expect a Jebusite (Zadokite) writer to join the mix of writing once Jerusalem became the capital of the Israelite kingdom but with a distinctly Canaanite perspective. One might also realize that once the Shiloh priests were out of power that the tone of the writing might change as well. Whereas Abiathar was closely associated with David, his successor Ahijah had no such relationship with any king. One may see here the origin of the prophet narrative.  This process is what I call the J Documentary Hypothesis. I apply it my book Jerusalem Throne Games: The Battle of Biblical Stories after the Death of David to six stories from Gen. 2-11 that supplemented the original royal narrative.

These developments are part of what made Israel different from its neighbors.

Paradigm Change Item #3: The Israelite Royal Narrative Was Performed (Possibly only Once) over the Seven-Day Fall New Year Festival 

(see also Processions and the Performance of the Israelite Royal Narrative)

Israelite kings had the same right to strut their stuff as Mesopotamian or Egyptians kings…especially the first one who ruled all the land of Canaan from his new capital city of Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar I who returned the statue of Marduk, commissioned Enuma Elish, built a ziggurat, and celebrated the akitu, was a model.

I call this Israelite royal narrative the King David Bible (KDB). It was performed over the seven days of the fall New Year festival. It was not part of the Baal grape festival. It probably was performed only once since no king after David had the charisma and power to succeed in it. It probably was recited a few times under Solomon before being consigned to the archives not to be taken out until northern prophets brought their version with them to Jerusalem after Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom.

The KDB differs from the current paradigms in other ways.

1. There was no primitive worship of an anthropomorphic deity – a human (Abiathar) performed in the role and as the voice of the deity (see Is Morgan Freeman God? What Do Biblical Scholars Think?).

2. Garden to Zion was a single story spread over seven days. Normally stories were limited in time. The expansion of the story to encompass garden to Zion was a conceptual breakthrough that transformed that state of the art information system of its time. Undoubtedly this same mental prowess contributed to David’s political and military success. It enabled him to see in time. He was playing four-dimensional chess while others struggled at checkers.

This conceptual temporal development meant everything was connected, an intricacy in the biblical narrative biblical scholars can become well aware of even when trying to understand the shortest of pericopes. An attempt to understand a story limited to literary techniques misses too much. Think of what is being missed when the analysis is restricted to the literary:

– who was performing in the role?
– in what other roles did the person perform?
– what was the physical setting?

Without this knowledge, one’s understanding of a scene from the KDB is severely curtailed.

The KDB was a work of genius that changed the course of human history…although it took centuries to do so and did in a way beyond the awareness of its creator. Without the KDB there would be no peoples of the Book. While much would be added to the KDB, it provided the undergirding to what became the ennead, the narrative from Genesis to Kings.

These developments are part of what made Israel different from its neighbors.

Imagine you wanted to compare the DNA of human beings to chimpanzees or orangutans. Now imagine that you were unaware of or ignored the DNA that differentiated human beings from our “cousins.” The result would be the conclusion that human beings are just another form of chimpanzee or orangutans. This is the present state of biblical scholarship. It ignores or is unaware of what differentiates Israelites from Canaanites. Too often too many biblical scholars conclude there is no difference, Israelites are just Canaanites who for reasons unknown, by abilities never previously exhibited by anybody, as a powerless people of minimal social infrastructure concocted a very long narrative that has no counterpart in the ancient Near East and found an audience who would accept it as gospel for some reason in Persian times.

There is no place for individual genius in biblical scholarship. By contrast, American history abounds in the biographies of giants in every domain of human life. Perhaps there is some unconscious screening process at work. If you love to write about great individuals in human history, you turn to American history. Don’t become a biblical scholar.

To illustrate the issues raised in these posts, I leave you with an easy yet important question: why did Abiathar write the story of Samson and Bathsheba when the temple was built?

Enjoy the summer.

Historical David and Goliath: Lessons from the Utah Senate Race

David Slaying Goliath by Peter Paul Rubens (The Norton Simon Foundation )

What can we learn about the story of David and Goliath from the Utah Senate race? Since the original story was political in nature, biblical scholars should not limit themselves to archaeology or literature when investigating the story but should examine the application of the story in the political arena as well. As it turns out recent events in the Utah Senate race shed light on the purposes of the composition of the original story of David and Goliath in the first place.

The incident occurred on April 21, 2018, at the Republican state convention. The purpose of the convention was to select a nominee to replace retiring Senator Orin Hatch. Under the rules, a candidate needed to secure 60% of the vote to eliminate the need for a primary. The prohibitive favorite was former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a savior of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in Utah.

In the first round, none of the 12 candidates received the necessary 60%. In the second round, two candidates exceeded the lower 40& threshold. Romney received 49.12% of the vote. But he trailed Congressional Representative Mike Kennedy who emerged in the lead with 50.88%. As a result there will be a primary on June 26.

Kennedy has framed the race as a David vs. Goliath contest. He is familiar enough with the story to know that in a David and Goliath contest it is better to be David than Goliath. It is interesting to observe how often users of the metaphor view themselves as losers to the big guy, not realizing that Goliath had his head handed to him.

Both candidates referred to the David and Goliath metaphor. As reported in the New York Times:

Romney rejected the notion that he was Goliath. “I’m not Goliath, Washington DC is Goliath,” Romney said, introducing himself to the 4,000 delegates as a “neighbor,” a person of faith, and someone who helped rescue the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games.

Kennedy, who also is a physician and an attorney, also invoked David and Goliath in his nominating speech. “I started with David and Goliath, but not for the reason you might think,” he said, alluding to Romney. “In this battle you are David, firm in your fight for liberty. Goliath is Washington DC — intimidating but beatable. And I, I am your stone ready to be flung at the foes of liberty who seek to oppress us,” he said, to cheers. “Working together we will defeat the Goliaths in Washington and restore our government where it belongs.”

I am not sure if anyone ever identified with the stone before. Regardless, both contestants used the David and Goliath metaphor in their political battle for power.

Putting aside the merit of these claims, I suggest the usage today exactly matches that of the original story three thousand years ago. “David and Goliath” in its inception was not meant as literal history. Nor was it derived from folk or mythic traditions. Instead it was written as a political story where there were two contestants in the battle for power and only one would emerge victorious.

Who were the contestants? What was the battle? And who composed the story?

To begin with, the story is not about biological and historical Goliath. That individual had been killed by one of David’s men.

2 Samuel 21:19 And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, the Bethlehemite, slew Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.

Even though Dwight D. Eisenhower did not kill any Nazis on D-Day, American historians recognize that he was the commanding officer and he gets overall credit. Similarly, in ancient times, David garnered the credit for triumphs over Philistine warriors even when one of his warriors did the actual killing.

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Goliath was even mentioned by name in the original story. He appears only two times in that story: I Sam. 17:4 and 23. He also is mentioned by name in connection with the sword war trophy in a later incident: I Sam. 21:9 and 22:10. By contrast on 17 occasions, the narrator, David, and Saul in I Sam. 17 refer to David’s opponent as the/this Philistine sometimes with the added the pejorative “uncircumcised.” It is reasonable to conclude that the unnamed Philistine warrior was named in some editorial process and originally he was unnamed.

I suggest that this unnamed figure is due to the metaphorical use of the character. Such unnamed figures appear periodically in biblical stories like Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11), the Bethlehemite concubine (Judges 19), and Poipthar’s or the master’s wife (Genesis 39). These characters both male and female should be viewed symbolically. They are not historical individuals but are representatives of a people much like Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty. So whereas these modern figures represent We the People, in ancient Israelite storytelling they might represent the Israelite people themselves or a foreign foe like the Philistines. The story of David and Goliath is not about a specific battle, it is about David’s prowess as a warrior against the Philistines…in contrast to whom?

The storyteller reveals his hand in the very choice of David as the champion of Israel against the Philistines. Couldn’t a story have been told about Saul as the hero? Not if he already had died during a battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa (I Sam. 31:6). Couldn’t a story have been told about Jonathan as the hero against the Philistines as he had been in the story of the battle at Michmash (I Sam. 14)? Not if he already had died along with his father in the same battle (I Sam. 31:2). Couldn’t a story have been told about Ishbaal/Ishbosheth, the surviving son of Saul, as the hero? That would be as believable as a story of Lot triumphing over the kings from East instead of the warrior of Hebron being the one who triumphed.

The author discloses his anti-Benjaminite bias in other ways. For example, David famously dispatches the Philistine warrior with his sling and some smooth stones.

1 Samuel 17:49 And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. 50 So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine, and killed him; there was no sword in the hand of David.

According to the author, David’s prowess was with a weapon attributed to the tribe of Benjamin.

1 Chronicles 12:2 They were bowmen, and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right or the left hand; they were Benjaminites, Saul’s kinsmen.

Judges 20:14 And the Benjaminites came together out of the cities to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the people of Israel. 15 And the Benjaminites mustered out of their cities on that day twenty-six thousand men that drew the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah, who mustered seven hundred picked men. 16 Among all these were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss.

So not only was a Benjaminite not the hero against the Philistines while Saul the Benjaminite was king, the hero appropriated a Benjaminite weapon to affect his victory. While today we focus on the iconic theme of the young lad vanquishing his larger-than-life and heavily armored foe with mere stones and his faith in the Lord, we overlook that he is doing what a Benjaminite warrior should have been doing and doing so with Benjaminite weapon. Were there really no Benjaminites present who knew how to use the sling? The story is doubly insulting to Benjamin.  Plus the storyteller in the name of David gets to proclaim before his audience:

1 Samuel 17:45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

This story is great theater.

The anti-Benjamin bias isn’t done yet. The story is set a site that should be a symbol of Benjamin excellence and success. The story occurs in the Valley of Elah. A recent archaeological discovery has revealed a massive and short-lived fortification at precisely that location dated to precisely the time of the Saul/David transition. The site of Khirbet Qeiyafa even has an inscription with the name Ishbaal, the rival of David who ended up being murdered in his sleep but still was alternate choice to David at the time of this story.

The exact date and builder of Khirbet Qeiyafa remains disputed. The original story of David and Goliath contributes to the discussion to determine the chronology. The deliberate omission in the story of the fortification at the site where the story takes place is a deliberate slight to Saul and its Benjaminite builders and Ishbaal. The audience knew what was missing from the story: a Benjaminite hero at a Benjaminite fortress deploying a Benjaminite weapon. The audience knew what message the author delivered. Long before the phrases of having the right stuff to go into the arena had become part of the American cultural heritage, a political storyteller had employed those exact images to assert that one person, David, had the right stuff to go into the arena and be commander in chief of the covenant people. The story is true in that the author genuinely believed its message. The story is true in that David was superior to choice to Ishbaal. And the story delivered the same message to the Philistines as to its Israelite audience that is was morning in Israel. A new day had dawned.

For readers of the previous posts, it should be no surprise that massacre-survivor Abiathar now was having his revenge on the Saulides and the Benjaminites in the composition and proclaiming of this story throughout the land. The father of the alphabet prose narrative expertly wielded this new weapon in the battle for power after the Philistine victory at Mount Gilboa. Three thousand years before the Utah Senate hopefuls deployed the David and Goliath imagery in their quest for power, Abiathar had done so in behalf of David’s rise to power. Turns out, he was a pretty good storyteller.

The J Documentary Hypothesis offers another interpretation of Israelite history and the composition of the Hebrew Bible than do the Documentary Hypothesis and the scribal school Persian-fixated interpretations. It provides a fuller historical reconstruction than do the other approaches, one that is more accurate, more vibrant, more accessible, more relevant, more entertaining, and more exciting. Tenth century BCE Israel is the best documented century of the ancient Near East for the quantity of writing, quality of writing, and diversity of views. David and Goliath is another example of that writing.


Massacre Survivor David Hogg and the Origin of Biblical Prose Narrative Writing

Archaeologists Confirm Ancient Famine: Déjà Vu Joseph All Over Again

Were the Levites Hyksos? – No! That Would Mean Having to Take the Exodus Seriously as a Secular Event in History

Archaeologists Confirm Ancient Famine: Déjà Vu Joseph All Over Again

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife by Guido Reni (Wikipedia)

On Easter Sunday, April 1, “Faced with Drought, the Pharaohs Tried (and Failed) to Adapt” appeared in the news section of the New York Times (the online version was posted March 30). According to the article, the famine among the Hittites in modern Turkey was so bad, the Queen was forced to reach out to longtime former enemy Egypt for grain.

The article reports that the Egyptians had anticipated the crisis and planned ahead unlike the now-starving Hittites desperate for food. The reporter’s source for this information was a study published in this year’s edition of the journal Egypt and the Levant [note -actually vol. 27, 2017]. The study cited research at Tel Aviv University conducted by Israel Finkelstein and his colleagues. They determined through archaeological evidence that Egypt had foreseen and planned for the drought that lasted from 1250 to 1100 B.C. covering from the middle of the reign of Ramses II until a few decades after the Egyptians had withdrawn from its empire in the land of Canaan.

According to the newspaper article, the Egyptians had:

1. Ordered increased grain production in the greener parts [of its Canaanite empire]
2. Crossbred cattle to produce a heat-resistant plow animal.

In addition tthe archaeologists discovered at Megiddo:

1. Sickle blades used for harvesting grain
2. An unusually high frequency of cattle bones suggesting animals that had been used for plowing and not food.

By putting the pieces together, the archaeological team concluded that Egypt had prepared for the drought while the Hittites had not.

I confess that I was not familiar with this unnamed article. However I was able to locate and download the article in the volume noted above. Its title is “Egyptian Imperial Economy in Canaan: Reaction to the Climate Crisis at the End of the Late Bronze Age” by Israel Finkelstein, Dafna Langgut, Meirav and Lidar Sapir-Hen. I hesitated before printing and reading it because it seemed familiar as if I read it before. So I went to my Late Bronze Age folder and found an article “Climate and the Late Bronze Collapse: New Evidence from the Southern Levant,” by Dafna Langgut, Israel Finkelstein, and Thomas Litt (Tel Aviv 40 2013:149-175). So a related article by some of the same authors had appeared four years earlier (which does not mean I had read it four years ago).

For me, the words Egypt, drought, and food, call to mind the story of Joseph. In that story, Pharaoh has a dream:

Genesis 41:1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows sleek and fat, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, gaunt and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the gaunt and thin cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. And Pharaoh awoke. 5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.

As the story plays out, Joseph ,who is providentially in Egypt at that time, turns out to be the one and only person capable of explaining the meaning of the dreams to Pharaoh. But he doesn’t merely explain the dreams, he provides a solution. He informs Pharaoh what must be done to mitigate the pending disaster:

Genesis 41:33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take the fifth part of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine which are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

So let it be written; so let it be done. Pharaoh wisely selects the dream-interpreter to be the solution-implementer as well and everything come to fruition as predicted and planned for.

As a result, we now have two incidents of people preparing for food shortages – the story of Joseph and archaeology in Canaan – just as we had two 400-year stories – the Hyksos and the brethren of Joseph in Egypt until Pharaoh forgot Joseph for having saved Egypt. Previously I suggested that the two 400-year stories were related and part of the secular reality that the Levites were Hyksos (Were the Levites Hyksos? – No! That Would Mean Having to Take the Exodus Seriously as a Secular Event in History).  Now, what if anything does the Joseph story have to do with the archaeologically-confirmed time of plenty in the land of Canaan? We are all used to the reverse condition of a food shortage in Canaan necessitating sojourning to Egypt for food. In fact, that exact situation occurs later in the Joseph story.

Genesis 41:57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.
Genesis 42:1 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” 2 And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live, and not die.”

Perhaps, the story and the archaeology refer to two different time periods. Perhaps not.

The first consideration is to recognize the cultural memory of the Israelites. That memory included events that were not part of the direct Israelite experience as Israelites but were memories that subsequently became part of the Israelite heritage. I can think of five such examples:

1. Middle Bronze Age destruction of Sodom (Lot cycle)
2. Middle Bronze Age Amorite settlement in Haran (patriarchal stories)
3. Late Bronze Age onset of Egyptian empire in the Land of Canaan by Thutmose III at Megiddo (Song of Deborah and prose story)
4. Late Bronze Age 400-Year Stela by Ramses II of the Hyksos in Egypt (Exodus)
5. Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age famine in the eastern Mediterranean (Joseph)

I suggest that each of these oral memories became part of the written tradition of Israel. It happened not necessarily at the same time or for the same reason. In each instance it is necessary to determine what the trigger was that caused the written narrative to come to be.

In this instance, the New York Times article serves as an excellent case study for what happened in ancient times. The reporter does not appear to have an archaeological background. Nor was the article written as history. Some research into previous articles by the reporter indicates stories about climate change and global warming. Indeed, a close reading of the text, the NYT article, reveals that the article is really about climate change. Consider the following passages by the reporter:

[T]he study shows how recognizing and preparing for climate disaster can make societies more resilient.

The lesson for our own civilization — which is likely to face increasingly severe droughts as humans change the climate far faster than nature has ever done — is to plan ahead, Dr. Finkelstein said. “This collapse of the Late Bronze Age is not just a matter of ancient history that has no relevance to us,” said Eric H. Cline….Just as drought was among the “stressors” leading to famine and war during the Bronze Age, Dr. Cline said, today’s drought could amplify existing problems.

Slightly over three of the six columns of the printed article are devoted to climate change and the leadership failure to address this looming crisis to human civilization. The article ends with Cline warning us that we may be no better the Hittites. How exactly the NYT reporter became aware of this academic journal article and its connection to climate change is not specified although I can make a guess.

By the way with all the focus on Assad, Islamic terrorism, and geo-politics with Russia and Iran, we tend to forget or overlook the drought in Syria that helped generate the Arab Spring revolt there in the first place.

The bottom line is that an article with an archaeological headline and data really is a political polemic against the failure of political leadership to deal with a crisis. The article gives the appearance of one thing at first glance but turns out to be quite another once one examines it. I suggest the exact same thing happened with the original story of Joseph. It was not written as a history of the Israelite people in Egypt or even an explanation for the background to the Exodus. We need to put aside the additions to the original story about the political relationships among the tribes of Israel, within the tribe of Joseph, the Hyksos, and the Exodus. Instead we should focus on the original core story of an individual advising the person in power of the course of action to take in the present.

Seen in this light, the original story is not about what happened in Egypt; it is about what is happening in Israel at the time it was written. So why set the story in Egypt? Why use well-known Egyptian motifs? What adapt an Egyptian story? Who in the Israelite audience would even recognize the Egyptian allusions? Who in the Israelite audience in a position of power would even recognize the Egyptian allusions? To recognize the story as a political polemic necessitates an audience who would understand it. Who was that audience?

Pharaoh’s daughter, queen of Israel, that’s who. The answer to the questions is the woman behind the throne who was the real power after Bathsheba died. Pharaoh’s daughter recognized the Egyptian allusions (and she was not the Potiphar’s wife character). Solomon lacked the wisdom and leadership skills to act in the way envisioned of the king by the Joseph story. But the Egyptian woman could help steer the action just as Rebekah did with the patriarch who could not see.

The suggestion that Pharaoh’s daughter actually was queen of Israel naturally is rejected in biblical scholarship since there is no archaeological evidence for it. Once upon time 400 years earlier, a Pharaoh had said no intermarriage for Egyptian daughters of the king. Presumably the idea of an Egyptian queen reaching out for a Hittite prince to marry or an Egyptian king marrying a Hittite princess once must have seem equally farfetched as well although both then did in fact happen. Pharaoh’s daughter marrying Solomon doesn’t violate the laws of science; it violates the idea that Solomon didn’t exist and didn’t have a wealthy kingdom, the preferred idea in biblical scholarship. That’s a preference not a proof and I prefer a different interpretation.

I am not suggesting that there was famine in the land at the time of the writing of the original Joseph story. I am suggesting that someone had the foresight to know that no matter how good things were today there would come a time when there would be famine in the land:

1 Kings 18:2 So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab. Now the famine was severe in Samaria.

As prophecies go, the prediction in the mid-10th century BCE that there would be a famine a century later is a bit of a stretch. People tend to want their prophecies to be about something that is going to happen now or in the immediate future and not a century or more away. Be that as it may, the call for preparing for the future instead of simply waiting for it to occur generally is sound advice.

The questions then arise who would author such a political polemic and for what purpose. In my previous blog (Massacre Survivor David Hogg and the Origin of Biblical Prose Narrative Writing)  I suggested that Saul was catalyst for the development of the alphabet prose narrative. I then suggested that Abiathar was the ancient David Hogg, massacre survivor, who became the father of the alphabet prose narrative with his political polemics against Saul. I went on to say that he wrote throughout his life on multiple occasions in the time of Saul, David, and Solomon. I stated there is an opportunity to study and trace the writings of a single individual over time, a rare if not impossible act for the ancient world. Here we have an example of writing towards the end of his life in the time of Solomon.

In the original Joseph story, we can see how Abiathar, a Hyksos Levite in exile sought to return to power. He used the figure of the falsely-accused-and-imprisoned Joseph to represent himself. Joseph could see the truth of what was best for the kingdom. The king’s advisors (Zadokites and Aaronids) who opposed Abiathar could not. Abiathar wrote the original story of Joseph to plea for an end to his exile and to be restored to the good graces of the crown. He claimed he saw something which needed to be done for the long-term best interests of the kingdom. He drew on the memory of events two centuries earlier. He hoped Pharaoh’s daughter would be wise enough to see that truth and welcome him back to the capital. The effort failed just as Adonijah’s had with Bathsheba. Abiathar remained in exile until he died and the glory days of the united monarchy were soon over. Rehoboam wasn’t any good at taking sound advice either.

I will conclude with the same sentiments I expressed at the conclusion of the previous blog. 10th century Israel is the best documented century in the ancient Near East for the quantity of writing, quality of writing, and diversity of views expressed. Just as American historians can analyze the writings of Hamilton and Jefferson to reconstruct American history, so biblical scholars have the opportunity to analyze the writings of Abiathar, his rivals, and his successor to reconstruct the history of 10th century Israel.

Massacre Survivor David Hogg and the Origin of Biblical Prose Narrative Writing

Now Talking about Changing the World (NYT 3/30/18, image by Erin Schaff)

Massacre survivor David Hogg, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior in Parkland, Florida, offers a different model or paradigm for the understanding of the origin of biblical prose narrative writing than customarily used today. Typically biblical scholars retroject themselves to the presumed biblical writers of millennia ago.

Biblical scholars attend graduate schools. Biblical writers attended scribal schools.
Biblical scholars study canonical texts. Biblical writers studied “canonical” texts.
Biblical scholars write learned esoteric articles and books intended for each other and not the general public. Biblical writers wrote for each other and not the general public.
Biblical scholars’ writings are politically irrelevant. There is no press coverage of the annual SBL conference and what is said there has no political import. By contrast biblical writers may have some political significance but it isn’t always easy to determine who took their writing seriously.

The general exception today is for biblical archaeologists. Over 90 years ago, William Foxwell Albright went on an over 100-stop national tour in the United States. Hershel Shanks and BAR demonstrate a continued interest in biblical archaeology in the public. The findings of biblical archaeologists today still may command attention and press coverage especially if they involve Jerusalem. For textual authors, the story is quite different.

Budding journalist and writer David Hogg presents a different scenario. His words and actions have commanded extensive media coverage. He is able to disseminate his message to the general public aided by new technologies. In ancient times, one would have to go from town to town to spread the word much as the way movies used to open or the Declaration on Independence was communicated in 1776 (leading to the famous Hazor-like tumbling of the new statue to King George III in Manhattan when word arrived a few days later). Massacre survivor David Hogg is now very politically active. His targets are the NRA and its minions. Did something like this happen three millennia ago?

Origins of Biblical Alphabet Prose Writing

When the Hyksos Levites became part of Israel, they brought with them the Egyptian scribal tradition. Amorite Benjaminites were Mesopotamian oriented. They looked to Sargon the Great, Nebuchadnezzar I and his Enuma Elish story, and to Gilgamesh flood stories. The Levites looked to Egypt with its Horus birth story, Sinuhe wilderness story, Pharaoh smiting the enemy, and to the rejection of that very Egyptian cultural construct. They would have known about the Mernepath Stele claiming they had been destroyed. They would have known that the Quarrel Story of Seqenenre and Apophis was about Hyksos in the present and not the past. Therefore they would have known of the literary technique of using historical figures as well as mythical figures to comment on the present.

For centuries, this expertise and knowledge did the Levites little good. They lived in the boonies with no institutional apparatus or need for such political commentary. Yes, there were songs in the Book of the Wars of Yahweh (against Egypt) and celebrations at Mount Ebal and Shiloh. Long before the 9th century Assyrian monuments in northern Syria, people in the land of Canaan would have been familiar with Egyptian monuments and writing, too. But as for writing alphabet prose narratives, there was nothing in the Iron I period to suggest they existed. Something had to happen to trigger that development.


I suggest that Saul was the catalyst for the development of the alphabet prose narrative in ancient Israel. For centuries Israel had lived without a human king, a capital city, a temple, a palace, taxes, or forced labor. The maintenance of an Israelite identity from Merneptah to monarchy in and of itself was an extraordinary achievement. Now a significant change had been proposed. An individual human being wanted to be king. A non-Levite human being wanted to be able to call men to battle just as Deborah once had done. Saul was the change agent and alphabet prose stories was the response.

The debates among Mesopotamians when kingship first descended from heaven and among Egyptians when the king first ascended the throne have been lost to history assuming they ever even existed in written form in the first place. Part of the uniqueness of Israel, is that we do have the ancient equivalent of the opposite writings of the Patriots and the Loyalists from the American Revolution about King George III and that both became part of a single cultural tradition. Did the Israelite tradition also include pro and con stories when kingship emerged and who would have written them?

One can find in the biblical narrative the idea of kingship was a rejection of Yahweh:

I Samuel 10:17 Now Samuel called the people together to Yahweh at Mizpah; 18 and he said to the people of Israel, “Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19 But you have this day rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses; and you have said, ‘No! but set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Yahweh by your tribes and by your thousands.”

The battle over kingship was engaged and responsibility for the Exodus was a battlefield.

Volkmar Fritz suggests Jotham’s Fable (Judges 9:8-15) as another example of an anti-monarchic diatribe with no ancient Near East parallel.

Judges 9:8 The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them; and they said to the olive tree, `Reign over us.’ 9 But the olive tree said to them, `Shall I leave my fatness, by which gods and men are honored, and go to sway over the trees?’ 10 And the trees said to the fig tree, `Come you, and reign over us.’ 11 But the fig tree said to them, `Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over the trees?’ 12 And the trees said to the vine, `Come you, and reign over us.’ 13 But the vine said to them, `Shall I leave my wine which cheers gods and men, and go to sway over the trees?’ 14 Then all the trees said to the bramble, `Come you, and reign over us.’ 15 And the bramble said to the trees, `If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

He delicately deems it a mocking, scathing, sarcastic denunciation of the office of king. Fritz posits that it “originated at the earliest in the early monarchic period when the new form of government must have been asserted against contrary opinions.”1 Saul’s quest for the kingship initiated a war of words that continued long after he was dead.2

There is a story to be told about Saul becoming the first king of Israel and Israel told it, both pro and con. This claim presumes the historical existence of Saul as king of Israel consistent with the geographic boundaries delineated in II Sam. 2:9 when his son Ishbaal succeeded him:

and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel. 3

It is reasonable to conclude that Saul would have his supporters (non-Levite Benjaminite priests) who could tell his side of the story stressing his successes and legitimacies.

Scholarly opinions on Saul vary. A non-inclusive sample of scholarly deliberations reveal a range of opinions about him as an individual and the writings about him found in I Sam.4

J. Maxwell Miller’s analysis of the Saul narrative reveals a deliberate linking of the stories of Saul and David’s rises to power.

Diana Edelman focuses on how the Deuteronomist in the 7th century BCE would tell the story of Saul’s rise to power while recognizing that Saul did not emerge in history as a character at that time.

Joseph Blenkinsopp despairs that “access to usable historical information about Saul and his reign has been rendered extraordinarily difficult by politically and theologically inspired polemic” which he traces back to a pro-Samuel Ephraimite prophetic source without identifying when it originated or naming an individual.5

In his Anchor Bible Commentaries on I and II Samuel, McCarter identifies a “Saul Cycle” containing precisely such stories praising him in the savior style of a hero from the Book of Judges. Yet for some reason he dates the cycle to the 9th century and the northern kingdom of Israel provenance even though Benjamin at the that time was part of the southern kingdom of Judah. By contrast, he dates the biblical story of David’s rise to power to the time of David himself.

Marsha White more vigorously advocates for the composition of a “History of Saul’s Rise” contemporaneous with that rise and serving as a base text for the story of David’s rise to power.

Drawing on White, Mark Leuchter posits pro-Samuel and Saul factions at Shiloh (and Benjamin) dating to the 11th century BCE which continued on afterwards. He proposes a four-level composition process beginning with anti-Saul polemics in Judges to pro-Saul stories based on Samson elements extending to Josianic-era shapings in the 7th century BCE. In this process Shiloh regrouped with the support of David but lost power during the Davidic dynasty. His proposition adds a dimension to polemical writings whereby stories are not necessarily about the person named in the story but someone in the present.

Nadav Na’aman’s casual reference to “the author of the Saul story-cycle” along with “the author of the Jacob story-cycle” recognizes that actual individual authors are involved. However, he is constrained because he rejects the possibility of the existence of such writers in 10th century BCE Jerusalem regardless of the political turmoil at that time. Only centuries later could they write about it due to a “genuine antiquarian literary interest.” On the other hand, he also states “that scribal activity was introduced in the court of Jerusalem no later than the time of Solomon, and possibly already in David’s time….(which) must have been confined to a small group of scribes in the court of Jerusalem and was mainly used for administrative and diplomatic exchange [why not political as well?].” Na’aman’s positions echo those of David Carr who suggests the possibility “that the shared script tradition in Judah and Israel is an indicator of a shared scribal system that emerged already in the 10th century, when biblical traditions depict both kingdoms as being ruled from Jerusalem by David and Solomon.” His view runs counter to recent trends in biblical scholarship against there being a distinctly Hebrew scribal system in the 10th century BCE or there being a united monarchy.6

Scholars also have proposed various stories through which the Saulide debate unfolded. Consider for example, one prominent anti-Saul text of terror story using the alphabet pose narrative alluded to by Leuchter: the rape in Gibeah, Saul’s home and capital of his kingdom, of a Bethlemite woman, from the home of David, who was with a Levite from Ephraim where the priests of Shiloh were based (Judges 19). Mario Liverani addresses the close connection between the writing of history and the validation of political order and political action in the ancient Near East targeting Judges 19-21 as a possibly pro-Davidic, anti-Benjaminite story from the time of Saul.7 Yairah Amit declares:

Literature has always been susceptible to involvement in political struggle, so the political mobilization of biblical literature should occasion no surprise….I have chosen to discuss…the anti-Saul polemic hidden in chs. 19-21 in the book of Judges.8

…the confrontation between the house of Saul, whose origin is in Gibeah, and the house of David, whose origin is in Bethlehem Judah, is in fact the core of the story.9

Marc Brettler echoes Amit’s statement in seeing the alphabet prose narrative story as an anti-Saul polemic in the use of literature as politics. He wonders why what is seemingly so obvious is rejected by scholars. How can a story which mentions the homes of Samuel, Saul, and David not be a political polemic? Of critical importance as well is to recognize that the unnamed female figure also exists by the creation of the author as part of the polemic. Like Lady Liberty, she symbolizes the people. The story is “a world of unrelenting terror” because that is the message the author wished to deliver in his polemic.10


So who wrote it? Who would have had written anti-Saul polemics using the alphabet prose narrative? Let’s name names. Or at least one name. Who was the massacre survivor who had the motive, means, and opportunity to transform early poetics of heroes to prose narratives of heroes and villains in a political context?

1 Samuel 22:18 Then the king said to Doeg, “You turn and fall upon the priests.” And Doeg the Edomite turned and fell upon the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod. 19 And Nob, the city of the priests, he put to the sword; both men and women, children and sucklings, oxen, asses and sheep, he put to the sword. 20 But one of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David. 21 And Abiathar told David that Saul had killed the priests of the LORD. 22 And David said to Abiathar, “I knew on that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father’s house. 23 Stay with me, fear not; for he that seeks my life seeks your life; with me you shall be in safekeeping.”

I suggest the person was Abiathar, priest of Shiloh, priest of Moses, Levite. I suggest that Abiathar is the father of the alphabet prose narrative. I suggest Abiathar wrote throughout his life in the time of Saul, David, and Solomon. I suggest that it is possible to trace his development as a writer from his revisions of early poetry to his prose narrative masterpieces. I suggest it is possible to identify his Benjaminite and Jebusite rivals. I suggest it is possible to identify his successor. Finally, I suggest that 10th century BCE Israel is the best documented century in the ANE for the amount of writing, quality of the writing, and the diversity of the writing. Writers were passionate, angry, and relevant, not faceless acronyms. Let massacre survivor David Hogg guide us to the origin of biblical prose writing and recognize that Saul was Abiathar’s NRA.

“I wanted to make a difference through storytelling and political activism,
but I am already doing that now.” David Hogg (NYT 3/30/18)


1. Volkmar Fritz, The Emergence of Israel in the Twelfth and Eleventh Centuries B.C.E. (Biblical Encyclopedia 2; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2011), 221-223, quotation from 222.

2. The situation at the birth of the United States was quite different from the birth of kingship in Egypt or Mesopotamia. The pro- and anti-Constitution opinions of the American people during its creation and the extended ratification process were written down and are studied to this very day. The possession of multiple and contradicting opinions in the ancient Near East where the king tended to monopolize the information system is less frequent. Perhaps the most famous non-biblical example of differing opinions occurred after the battle of Kadesh when the participating Egyptian and Hittite kings remembered the confrontation differently. In biblical traditions, there are the competing biblical and archaeological versions of the actions of Shoshenq, Mesha, Hazael, and Sennacherib to name a few. All these examples are cross-cultural not intracultural as exist in the biblical narrative starting with Saul.

3. Israel Finkelstein, “The Last Labayu: King Saul and the Expansion of the First North Israelite Territorial Entity,” in Yairah Amit and Nadav Na’aman, ed., Essays on Ancient Israel in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 171-187. By contrast, Na’aman considers it a retrojected attempt at historical reality (“The Kingdom of Ishbaal,” BN 84 1990:33-37; Nadav Na’aman, “Saul, Benjamin and the Emergence of >Biblical Israel (continued, Part 2),” ZAW121:335-349, here 347.

4. For Saul see, Joseph Blenkinsopp, “The Quest for the Historical Saul,” in James W. Flanagan and Anita Weisboro Robinson, ed., No Famine in the Land: Studies in Honor of John L. McKenzie (Claremont: Scholars Press for The Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, 1975), 75-99; Diana Edelman, “The Deuteronomist’s Story of King Saul: Narrative Art or Editorial Policy,” in C. Brekelmans and J. Lust, ed., Pentateuchal and Deuteronomistic Studies: Papers Read at the XIIIth IOSOT Congress, Leuven 1989 (BETL 94; Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1990), 207-220; Diana Edelman, King Saul in the Historiography of Judah (JSOT Sup Series 121; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991); Israel Finkelstein, “The Last Labayu: King Saul and the Expansion of the First North Israelite Territorial Entity,” in Yairah Amit and Nadav Na’aman, ed., Essays on Ancient Israel in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 171-187; Mark Leuchter, “‘Now There Was a [Certain] Man’: Compositional Chronology in Judges-1 Samuel,” CBQ 69 2007:429-439; P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., I Samuel (AB 8; Garden City: Doubleday, 1980), 26-27, 29; P Kyle McCarter, Jr., “The Apology of David,” JBL 99 1980:489-504; J. Maxwell Miller, “Saul’s Rise to Power: Some Observations Concerning I Sam. 9:1-10:16; 10:26-11:15 and 13:2-14:46,” CBQ 36 1974:157-174; Nadav Na’aman, “The Kingdom of Ishbaal,” BN 84 1990:33-37; Marsha C. White, “The ‘History of Saul’s Rise’ and the Compositional History of I Samuel 1-14,” paper presented at the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, November 20, 2000, Nashville; Marsha C. White, “‘The History of Saul’s Rise’: Saulide State Propaganda in 1 Samuel 1-14,” in Saul M. Olyan and Robert C. Culley, “A Wise and Discerning Mind”: Essays in Honor of Burke O. Long (BJS 325; Providence, RI: Brown Judaic Studies, 2000), 271-292.

5. Blenkinsopp, “The Quest for the Historical Saul,” 82.

6. David M. Carr, “The Tel Zayit Abecedary in (Social) Context,” in Ron E. Tappy and P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., ed., Literate Culture and Tenth-Century: The Tel Zayit Abcedary in Context (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 113-129, here 121 and 122; Nadav Na’aman, “Saul, Benjamin and the Emergence of ‘Biblical Israel (continued, Part 2),” ZAW 121:335-349, here 342-345, quotation 345; Nadav Na’aman, “The Settlement of the Ephraites in Bethlehem and the Location of Rachel’s Tomb,” RB 121 2014:516-539, here 527; Nadav Na’aman, “Sources and Composition in the History of David,” in Volkmar Fritz and Philip R. Davies, ed., The Origin of the Ancient Israelite States (JSOT Sup Series 228; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 173-186, here 172-173; see also Nadav Na’aman, “The Conquest of Canaan in the Book of Joshua and in History,” in Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na’aman, ed., From Nomadism to Monarchy: Archaeological and Historical Aspects of Early Israel (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994), 218-281, here 218).

7. Mario Liverani, Myth and Politics in Ancient Near Eastern Historiography, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), 160-192.

8. Yairah Amit, “Literature in the Service of Politics: Studies in Judges 19-21,” in Henning Graf Reventlow, Yair Hoffman, and Benjamin Uffenheimer, ed., Politics and Theopolitics in the Bible and Postbiblical Literature (JSOT Sup Series 171; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994), 28-40, here 28.

9. Yairah Amit, “The Use of Analogy in the Study of the Book of Judges,” in Matthias Augustin and Klaus Dietrich Schunck, ed., Wünschet Jerusalem Frieden: Collected Communications to the XIIth Congress of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, Jerusalem 1986 (Frankfurt am Main: P. Lang, 1988), 387-394, here 391.

10. Marc Brettler, “The Book of Judges: Literature as Politics,” JBL 108 1989: 395–418, here 412-413; Phyllis Trible, Texts of Terror: Literary‑Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 65. For an American example, see the ending of the movie version of the French book The Planet of the Apes where only the torch of Lady Liberty is visible from the ground.

Portions excerpted from my book Jerusalem Throne Games: The Battle of Bible Stories after the Death of David