The Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) held their annual conferences in San Diego the week before Thanksgiving. The Protestant Evangelical Institute of Biblical Research and the American Academy of Religion also met then. Nothing the approximately 10,000 in attendance said or did made the news.
The religious event which made the news was the Gospel according to Rick Perry as revealed through Fox News host Ed Henry to the world.
God’s used imperfect people all through history. King David wasn’t perfect, Saul wasn’t perfect, Solomon wasn’t perfect….And I actually gave the president a little one-pager on those Old Testament kings, about a month ago. And I shared it with him, I said, “Mr. President, I know there are people that say, y’know, ‘You said you were the chosen one.’” And, I said: “You were.” I said, “If you’re a believing Christian, you understand God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet and our government.”
These words echo those of other Trumpicans:
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale: “only God could deliver such a savior to our nation.”
Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: [God] “wanted Trump to become president.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responding to interviewer Chris Mitchell’s query “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace?” said: “As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible.”
So the Gospel according to Perry is not out of line with the core beliefs of his fellow worshipers.
By coincidence, my own paper during these conferences was “Political Texts of Terror in the Book of Judges.” The paper is about Saul and David and I mention Solomon once. Since Thanksgiving I have been asked by the editor of online The Bible and Interpretation to write an essay of 2,000-3,500 words on my paper for the general public.
With that background in mind, let’s turn to the kings mentioned by Perry.
As I am sure Perry knows, Saul was the first person in Israel to be designated a “messiah” or anointed one.
Saul was a warrior; he was not a bonespur boy. He did not pick on women or children or people smaller than him. True he died in battle against the Philistines, but the point here was that fought in the real world against foes who could fight back.
Saul’s Deep State was the Levites represented by the prophet Samuel. He was there to present the law. While not exactly the Constitution, it did provide one key item: only the Levites, priests of Moses, could call Israel to war. Saul did not have the right to initiate a military confrontation without the blessing of Samuel. Scholars debate the historical relationship between the king and the prophet in ancient Israel. One should recognize, as surely Rick Perry does, that in ancient Israel there was a battle of over whether the king was constrained by the law or not. According to the pro-Samuel writers, Saul was bound by the law; according to the pro-Saul writers, Saul did nothing wrong when he acted on his own in the absence of Samuel. Who knew they had Fox and MSNBC in ancient times.
David, too, was a warrior in the real world unlike Bonespur Boy. Unlike Saul, David remained successful at it throughout his life although he did have some close calls.
David also could write. He actually was a far greater writer than he is given credit for. He certainly was a far superior writer to the juvenile tweets and 3rd grade letter to Erdogan of Perry’s Lord and Savior, the Chosen One, Blessed Be His Name.
David had to deal with his own famous confrontation with the law. The incident in question is the Bathsheba one. During the incident, the prophet Nathan, from a different priesthood/political-faction than Samuel, said after telling a parable:
THOU ART THE MAN! (II Sam. 12:7 or Two Samuel if you are the chosen one).
Consider now what David did not say in response.
David did not say: “Fake News.”
David did not call Nathan a disloyal traitor.
David did not call Nathan human scum and an enemy of the people.
David did no disparage Nathan as “Little Nathan.”
David did not call Nathan a maniac and deranged human being.
David did not claim Nathan grew up with a complex for lots of reasons that are obvious.
David did denigrate Nathan as a very sick man who lies.
Note: Is it coincidence that Little Donne Waney himself fits his description of Schiff except for the size?
Quite the contrary, David replied that he had sinned before the Lord.
Hard to imagine Perry’s Lord and Savior, the Chosen One, Blessed Be His Name responding as David did.
Solomon, of course, was not a warrior and is remembered as a builder of the temple among other things. Perhaps the most famous story about him occurs when two women claim to be the mother of the same child. Solomon famously adjudicates the dilemma with the following wisdom:
Kings 3:23 Then the king said, “The one says, `This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, `No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.'” 24 And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.”
It’s not exactly Charlottesville with good people on both sides but it is close enough. The difference is that in the biblical story, Solomon’s pronouncement is a ruse to expose the fraudulent claim while in Charlottesville, the assertion was meant to be taken on face value.
It would be interesting to hear Rick Perry expound on his theological musings. What are the imperfections of Saul, David, and Solomon that he refers to? What did the three kings do in the face of these imperfections? What has Perry’s Chosen One done? I do not have the power to ask Rick Perry to comment. Perhaps someone reading this blog can inquire of him for me.
So which biblical figure is most like our current President? Back on March 19, 2018, I wrote
Is Donald Trump Our Rehoboam? – A Bible Penis Story. If you are interested in my opinion, check out that blog.
In the meantime, it is important to note the ancient Israelite tradition of truth to power even involving the king. There certainly was nothing like that in ancient Egypt. The only person who called Pharaoh to task was Moses and he had to leave Egypt after he did so. But that spirit came to define Israel.
There was nothing like that in ancient Mesopotamia either. There the prophets knew their place and to tell the king what he wanted to hear. Ancient Israel followed the Mesopotamian tradition up to a point. But in the end, Israel was different. Before going into battle even the king needed permission as Saul had not done.
1 Kings 22:5 And Jehoshaphat [the king of Judah] said to the king of Israel, “Inquire first for the word of the LORD.” 6 Then the king of Israel gathered the prophets together, about four hundred men, and said to them, “Shall I go to battle against Ramothgilead, or shall I forbear?” And they said, “Go up; for the Lord will give it into the hand of the king.” 7 But Jehoshaphat said, “Is there not here another prophet of the LORD of whom we may inquire?” 8 And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, “There is yet one man by whom we may inquire of the LORD, Micaiah the son of Imlah; but I hate him, for he never prophesies good concerning me, but evil.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Let not the king say so.” 9 Then the king of Israel summoned an officer and said, “Bring quickly Micaiah the son of Imlah.”
In ancient Israel, they knew to trust not the yesmen who told the king what he wanted to hear but the one who did not. You need to have some adults in the White House!
That spirit of Moses lived on the creation of the United States. The Declaration of Independence was an impeachment of King George III. It is a legal document that indicted the king on multiple counts of an abuse of power. It was written by people who were disloyal traitors to the king and who compounded their disobedience by voting with their guns to remove King George III from power over them. Now we are engaged in battle to determine if the rule of law or a would-be King George will prevail. Where are Moses and David when you need them?
Judges 19:26And 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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