1 Chronicles 3: The House of David

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The importance of this chapter should be obvious. At the time of the Babylonian exile, Judah had seen only two dynasties: Saul’s, which lasted for a mere two kings, one of whom was so politically weak that he’s barely considered in the public imagination, and the dynasty of David, which takes a good deal of the credit for shaping the culture and identity of the people who were then taken into exile.

For over four hundred years, David’s dynasty had been churning out propaganda in support of itself. That the kingdom of Judah could exist again without a ‘son of David’ on the throne must have been unthinkable.

This chapter, like the closing verses of 2 Kings (2 Kgs: 25:27-30), offers the hope that restoration is possible – that a true kingdom of Judah, complete with its Davidic king, can exist once again.

The Sons of David

The first section deals with David’s children. This seems to be largely lifted from 2 Sam. 3:2-5 and 2 Sam. 5:13-16. The kids are divided into two groups: those born in Hebron, while David still mostly ruled only over Judah, and those born after his conquest of Jerusalem, when he ostensibly had control of all the Israelite tribes.

The sons born in Hebron, while he ruled there for seven and a half years:

  1. Amnon, born to Ahinoam the Jezreelite
  2. Daniel, born to Abigail the Carmelite
  3. Absalom, born to Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur
  4. Adonijah, born to Haggith
  5. Shephatiah, born to Abital
  6. Ithream, born to Eglah

The Daniel mentioned here does not appear in the Samuel account. Rather, Abigail’s son is named Chileab in 2 Sam. 3:3. It’s possible that in this, and the other instances we will see, that the discrepancy is due to individuals being known by multiple names, including pet names. In this case, my New Bible Commentary indicates that ‘Chileab’ means “all the father,” so it may be a term of endearment.

James Pate points out an oddity: of all the mothers listed in this section, only Eglah is referred to as David’s “wife” (1 Chron. 3:3). The same thing occurs in 2 Sam. 3:5. Here, of course, it’s likely that the Chronicler just copied the reference from Samuel, but that doesn’t explain why she is the only one named “wife” originally.

To figure this out, Pate looks to her name: “Eglah” is the Hebrew word for “heifer.” In Judges 14:18, Samson refers to his bride as his “heifer,” suggesting that it might be a term of endearment (perhaps used sarcastically by Samson). In other words, Eglah might not have been the woman’s name at all (and Pate finds from Rashi that Eglah was understood to be Michal), but the pet name of a beloved. Hence, a woman who might be honoured in the record by having her wifely status emphasized.

The sons born in Jerusalem, while he ruled there for 33 years:

  1. Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon, born to Bathshua, daughter of Ammiel
  2. Ibhar
  3. Elishama (mentioned twice)
  4. Eliphelet (mentioned twice)
  5. Nogah
  6. Nepheg
  7. Japhia
  8. Eliada

These were the sons “besides the sons of the concubines” (1 Chron. 3:9). In addition, Tamar (who features in 2 Sam. 13) is the one daughter mentioned.

Statue of King David, outside the Tomb of King David, Jerusalem

Statue of King David, outside the Tomb of King David, Jerusalem

The first discrepancy that jumped out was Bathsheba’s name, here listed as Bathshua. According to Wikipedia, the name ‘Bathsheba’ is constructed from ‘bat’ (daughter) and ‘sheba’ (oath). Replacing ‘sheba’ with ‘shua’ (wealth) may mean as little as a reflection of her change in status, or an emphasizing of a different trait that her loved ones might have wanted for her.

In that same line, we have some other minor discrepancies: Shimea appears as Shammua in 2 Sam. 5:14, and Ammiel is Eliam in 2 Sam. 11:3.

The greater difficulty is with the way the names are presented. The implication (which I reflected in the above list) is that Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon were all Bathsheba’s sons. However, the text elsewhere lists sons according to their birth order, and Solomon is explicitly David and Bathsheba’s second son in 2 Sam. 12:24 (where he is the “comfort baby” following the death of their first, unnamed, son).

It seems likely, then, that Shimea, Shobab, and Nathan are not Bathsheba’s sons. Rather, that the Chronicler (or perhaps a later editor) added Bathsheba as Solomon’s mother in his spot in the list of sons whose mothers are otherwise unnamed.

This brings up a secondary point regarding which sons are being identified with their mothers. The mothers in Hebron are all named, yet only Bathsheba is named after coming to Jerusalem. It makes me think of the way the kings of Judah all have their mothers identified in Kings. Perhaps, the purposes of these two sections are different. For whatever reason, which son was born to which wife was important to the Hebron stage of David’s political career. But after coming to Jerusalem, the focus starts to shift off of David and onto a naming of the queen mothers. In this context, Bathsheba is the only mother worth mentioning in this list. It’s worth noting that, when the same lists appears in 2 Sam. 5:13-16 (which the Chronicler was likely copying), Bathsheba is not mentioned.

The next nine names give us some problems as well. The most obvious being that Elishama and Eliphelet both appear twice on the list.

The first name after Ibhar is Elishua in 2 Sam. 5:15, but is the first instance of an Elishama in 1 Chron. 3:6. To me, this suggest a simple error, perhaps due to a tired scribe working too late at night.

The first instance of Eliphelet, in 1 Chron. 3:6, is just as easy to explain, since the name appears later on in the 2 Sam. 5:13-16 passage. A tired scribe may have just begun on the wrong line and carried on, oblivious.

The presence of Nogah in 1 Chron. 3:7 is more difficult to explain. It could be that a corruption dropped the name from Samuel after the Chronicler had already copied from it, or perhaps the Chronicler knew of a tradition in which David had a son named Nogah, so he fit him into his own history.

Even more troubling is the conclusion in 1 Chron. 3:8, which explicitly states that there were nine sons. This count only works if we separate Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon from the rest of the list, and then keep all of the Chronicler’s variants. This counting up is absent from 2 Samuel 5:13-16.

The Reigning Sons

This list corresponds to the account in 1-2 Kings. I charted these figures during my reading of Kings.

  1. Rehoboam
  2. Abijah
  3. Asa
  4. Jehoshaphat
  5. Joram
  6. Ahaziah
  7. Joash
  8. Amaziah
  9. Azariah
  10. Jotham
  11. Ahaz
  12. Hezekiah
  13. Manasseh
  14. Amon
  15. Josiah

Up to this point, the records match pretty well with 1-2 Kings. There are a few variations. Abijah appears as Abijam in 1 Kgs 14:31 and 1 Kgs 15, for example, and Azariah is occasionally named Uzziah (such as in 2 Kgs 15:13).

The most obvious difference between this record and the chronology of the kings of Judah is the omission of Athaliah, who was of course a usurper and a break in the Davidic dynastic line.

The sons of Josiah:

  1. Johanan
  2. Jehoiakim
  3. Zedekiah
  4. Shallum

According to my New Bible Commentary mentions that the Johanan listed here is “not otherwise known” (p.372).

We know from 2 Kgs 23:30 that Josiah was succeeded by a son named Jehoahaz who was swiftly deposed by Pharaoh Neco, and who died in Egypt. Neco then installed Jehoahaz’s brother, Jehoiakim, as king.

It’s stranger that Jehoahaz is not on this list of Josiah’s sons. One possibility is that he is one of the other named sons on the list, and that either the name in 2 Kings 23 or the name here is a throne name. Since the sons are usually listed in birth order, and since we learn in 2 Kgs 23 that Jehoahaz was younger than Jehoiakim, we can assume that he is not the same person as Johanan (unless a dating error has snuck in somewhere). Branching out, we can deduce from Jeremiah 22:11 that he is the same person as the Shallum listed here.

The sons of Jehoiakim:

  1. Jeconiah
  2. Zedekiah

This Zedekiah is not the Zedekiah who had a turn under the crown (that one was named above as a son of Josiah).

The Jeconiah here is apparently the same as the Jehoiachin from from 2 Kgs 24:6, who was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar and taken captive to Babylon. Though his uncle, Zedekiah, was the final king of Judah, 2 Kings ends with Jehoiachin, as the bearer of the Davidic line in exile.

The Remnant

The final section is new for us, charting the deposed dynasty in Babylon, presumably in the hopes that this would enable the Hebrews to install a proper king once they return to Jerusalem. While he is known as Jehoiachin in 2 Kings, he is known as Jeconiah here.

Jeconiah had seven sons: Jeconiah: Shealtiel, Malchiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nadabiah.

In the next generation, Pedaiah had two sons: Zerubbabel and Shimei.

The, the sons of Zerubbabel are: Meshullam and Hananiah (plus a daughter, Shelumith). Listed separately, perhaps because they were born to different wife, we get Hashubah, Ohel, Berechiah, Hasadiah, and Jushabhesed.

Through Hananiah, we get: Pelatiah, Jeshaiah, Rephaiah, Arnan, Obadiah, and Shecaniah. Though the wording here is very odd, allowing for the possibility that this is a lineage (Pelatiah was the father of Jeshaiah, who was the father of Rephaiah, etc). Given the amount of time between the reign of Jeconiah and the return from exile, this seems unlikely.

Shecaniah had one son, Shemaiah.

Through Shemaiah, we get Hattush, Igal, Bariah, Neariah, and Shaphat. Though 1 Chron. 3:22 tells us that these are six names, my advanced mathematical skills allow me to understand that there are, in fact, only five names listed.

Through Neariah, we get Elioenai, Hiskiah, and Azrikam.

Through Elioenai, we get Hodaviah, Eliashib, Pelaiah, Akkub, Johanan, Delaiah, and Anani.

Frustratingly, given the importance of this lineage (both to us and to the people of the exile), the writing is very odd (even in translation) and has likely suffered corruption (or, perhaps, the Chronicler tried to fudge over his lack of knowledge by confusing the language).

Because of this problem, the list is practically useless in trying to date Chronicles. James Pate mentions one possible clue in the form of Anani:

He appears to be the last descendant of David who is mentioned in the genealogy.  According to Roddy Braun in his Word Bible Commentary about I Chronicles, there was an Aramaic letter dated to 407 B.C.E. that mentions an Anani, and Braun believes it is plausible that this is the same Anani as the one mentioned in I Chronicles 3:24.  That may give us an indication as to the date of I Chronicles.

The remainder of his post discusses Anani as a messianic figure, and how that might work if he is a historical figure.

With the important lineage of David established, the Chronicler will spend the next five chapters looking at each tribe in more detail, then finish up with a discussion of the families in Jerusalem after the exile. Only after that will the narrative begin again.

 

1 Chronicles 1-2: The Never-ending List

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They say it’s important to begin a story in media res, start with a bang, start with something that will grip your audience and leave them salivating for more.

The Chronicler took this advice and decided to do the precise opposite. And so we begin 1 Chronicles with what is little more than an incredibly tedious list of names. This isn’t even like Genesis, where at least “the begats” were interspersed with narrative. No, not here. Our very first paragraph is composed of thirteen names and one conjunction. It certainly does set a tone!

There are, of course, many theories as to why the Chronicler should choose to begin this way. My study Bible argues that the genealogies are provided to “make it clear that he [the Chronicler] was dealing with the true Chosen People.” Personally, I liked James Pate’s thought that:

I Chronicles may have genealogies as a way to affirm a societal structure in post-exilic Israel and to connect it with pre-exilic Israel, to tell Israel who she is, and to convey that God is preserving God’s people, notwithstanding the exile.  There were a lot of people-groups that became lost once they went into exile, but I Chronicles may be trying to demonstrate that Israel did not.

In the beginning…

To being our journey, the Chronicler condenses all of Genesis 5 into these names: “Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (1 Chronicles 1:1-4).

Here, Brant Clements notes that this is first mention of Adam that we’ve seen since Genesis 5:5, and that he will not be mentioned again in the Old Testament. “Adam actually featured more strongly in the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews didn’t put much emphasis on him at all.” It’s a very interesting observation, and clearly an indication of theological evolution. I hope that we get to find out some more about that when we finally reach the New Testament (in, oh, about five years).

Up until Noah, this is a list of generational patriarchs, a direct line from father to son to grandson, and so on. But abruptly, without any indication of change, it presents us with three brothers: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.

That’s because it’s with Noah’s sons that we see our first ethnic branching.

The sons of Japheth: According to my study Bible, the sons of Japheth represent Indo-European populations. The section is taken from Genesis 10, and the sons are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

In the next generation, the sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Diphath (who appears as Riphath in Gen. 10:3), and Togarmah. The sons of Javan are Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim (who appears as Dodanim in Gen. 10:4).

It’s worth noting that Javan (literally Ionia) represents the Greeks. According to James Pate, the discrepancy between Dodanim (Gen. 10:4) and Rodanim (1 Chron. 1:7) may be due simply to the fact that the “d” and “r” sounds are represented in Hebrew with letters that look similar and may have been confused at some point by some hapless copier. Pate goes on to propose another possibility:

Relying on Mefaresh’s interpretation, which is based on Genesis Rabbah 37:1, the Artscroll says that, when Israel sins, the people-group subjugates Israel and is called the Rodanim, from the Hebrew root r-d-h, which means ruling or oppressing.  If Israel controls the people-group, however, the people-group is called the Dodanim, for it is telling Israel that she is its friend, or dod.

Of course, this presents a number of problems, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition.

The sons of Ham: Ham’s sons are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. In the next generation, the sons of Cush are Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama (here spelled without an ‘h’ at the end, though he has one later in the same verse, as well as in Gen. 10:7), and Sabteca. We are also told that Cush was the father of Nimrod, who “began to be a mighty one in the earth” (1 Chron. 1:10). In the generation after that, we have the sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Back up the line to Egypt, his sons were Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (whom the Chronicler tells us fathered the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Next comes Canaan, for whom the pretence of personification is dropped. Rather than naming his sons, we are told instead that he was the father of Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites.

The sons of Shem: The final son of Noah is the sire of the Semitic group, the population from which Abraham will emerge. The sons of Shem are Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech (who appears as Mash in Gen. 10:23). This is either an error or deviates quite a bit from the Genesis 10 version, in which Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash are the sons of Aram, and the grandsons of Shem.

In the next generation, Arpachshad was the father of Shelah, who in turn was the father of Eber. Eber had two sons: Peleg and Joktan. Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Ebal (given as Obal in Gen. 10:28), Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab.

Father of sand, father of stars

We move next to Abraham, who is descended from Shem by way of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah. This portion is lifted from Genesis 11:10-26. Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael.

The sons of Ishmael: This section is lifted from Gen. 25:12-16. I’ve always found it an interesting twist that Ishmael should be the first born, yet did not inherit divine attention. We see this motif a great deal in Genesis, of younger sons usurping their older brothers. It would be nice to have an explanation for this, though I suppose it could be as simple as inversion of expectation making for psychologically satisfying (and entertaining) stories. Ishmael, of course, sired the Arabic people.

Ishmael was the father of Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

A painting of Abraham's departure, by József Molnár 1849

A painting of Abraham’s departure, by József Molnár 1849

The sons of Keturah: Though 1 Chron. 1:28 implied that Abraham only had Ishmael and Isaac, we know from Gen. 25:1-4 that Abraham remarried after his wife Sarah’s death, a woman named Keturah. Here (1 Chron. 1:32), she is demoted to the status of concubine.

Through her, Abraham was the father of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. In the next generation, Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan (the same two sons given to Raamah in 1 Chron. 1:9). Jokshan’s brother, Midian, fathered Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

The sons of Isaac: We next move over to Abraham’s son by his first wife, Sarah. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Israel. Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites. Israel was born with the name of Jacob, but received the name Israel after an encounter with the Divine. While Genesis used the two names inconsistently, he is here referred to only as Israel.

Esau’s sons were: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. In the next generation, Eliphaz fathered Teman, Omar, Zephi (appears as Zepho in Gen. 36:11), Gatam, Kenaz, Timna, and Amalek. Reuel fathered Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are taken from Genesis 36:10-14, where Timna appears as a concubine of Eliphaz, not as his son, and she is the mother of Amalek.

The sons of Seir: We run into a difficulty here, since this is the first mention of a Seir. So where is he meant to fit? My study Bible notes that Seir is “another name for Edom”, referencing Gen. 36:8, and in Gen. 36:20, we learn of a Seir the Horite who lived in Edom. Yet none of this helps to explain how Seir is meant to fit into this genealogy.

In any case, Mystery Seir’s sons are Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. He also had a daughter, named as a full sister of Lotan, by the name of Timna.

In the next generation, Lotan fathered Hori and Homam (appearing as Hemam in Gen. 36:22). Shobal fathered Alian (appearing as Alvan in Gen. 36:23), Manahath, Ebal, Shephi (appearing as Shepho in Gen. 36:23), and Onam. Zibeon fathered Aiah and Anah (he either fathered a daughter by the same name, or there is some confusion – in Gen. 36:2, Zibeon had a daughter named Anah, who married Esau). Anah (Seir’s son, not Zibeon’s) fathered Dishon. And Dishon (again, Seir’s son) fathered Hamran (appearing as Hemdan in Gen. 36:26), Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. Ezer fathered Bilhan, Zaavan, and Jaakan (appearing as Akan in Gen. 36:27). Dishan fathered Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom: Before Israel had a king of its own, Edom had plenty. This record may be compared to Gen. 36:31-43. They begin with Bela son of Beor, who ruled from Dinhabah. When he did, Jobab son of Zerah, of Bozrah, took over. After him came Husham, of the lands of the Temanites. Then Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian and ruled from Avith. Then came Samlah of Masrekah. Then Shaul of Rehoboth. Then Baalhanan son of Achbor. Then another Hadad (appearing as Hadar in Gen. 36:39), whose city was Pai (which appears as Pau in Gen. 36:39) and whose wife was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

The chiefs of Edom were Timna, Aliah (appearing as Alvah in Gen. 36:40), Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram.

The sons of Israel: These are, of course, our twelve tribes. Israel fathered Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. This is, of course, parallel to Genesis 35:22-26.

Focus on Judah

The next few chapters cover will cover each individual tribe in excruciating detail. But we begin with Judah, who fathered Er, Onan, and Shelah, via Bathshua the Canaanite.

God killed Er for wickedness (and Onan, but not mentioned here), which leads to Judah impregnating Er’s wife, Tamar, himself. This produced two more sons: Perez and Zerah. This rather sordid story can be found in Genesis 38.

In the next generation, Perez fathered Hezron and Hamul (this corresponds to Gen. 46:12). His brother, Zerah, fathered Zimri (appearing as Zabdi in Jos. 7:1), Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara. If several of these names seem familiar, it might be because they appear in 1 Kings 4:31, as the men of great wisdom to which Solomon is favourably compared. Except, of course, that the version in Kings describes them as the sons of Mahol, not Zerah.

We then skip to a Carmi, who fathers Achar. Achar is described as “the troubler of Israel” (1 Chron. 2:7). Carmi’s link to the rest of the genealogy is omitted, and the description of Achar as “the troubler of Israel” suggests a story with which the reader ought to be familiar. One possibility is that Achar is the Achan from Joshua 7, who cursed the Hebrew army by keeping some of the spoils of war. He is identified in Jos. 7:1 as “the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah.” This would explain his inclusion here. Except, of course, that it completely screws up the timeline of the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt.

In very next verse, we return to the explicit relations with Ethan, who fathered Azariah.

The sons of Perez: Back over to the line of Perez, we move down through his son, Hezron, who fathered Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. Much later, we learn that Hezron, at the age of sixty, married the daughter of Machir (the father of Gilead). Through her, he had a final son named Segub, who fathered Jair. Jair controlled 23 cities in Gilead until Geshur and Aram conquered a bunch of them.

In the next generation, Ram fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon (described here as the “prince of the sons of Judah” – 1 Chron. 2:10). Through Nahshon, we get Salma (who appears as Salmon in Ruth 4:18-22), through whom we get Boaz (the love interest of the book of Ruth), and through him Obed. Then, through Obed, we get Jesse.

The sons of Jesse: Jesse fathered Eliab, Abinadab, Shimea, Nethanel, Raddai, Ozem, and David. Though only these seven sons are listed here, 1 Sam. 16:10-11 and 1 Sam. 17:12 both explicitly state that he had eight (of which David was the youngest).

He also had daughters: Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah gave birth to some rather plot critical characters: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, who play a fairly important part in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. Abigail married Jether the Ishmaelite (named Ithra the Israelite in 2 Sam. 17:25), and bore Amasa. It’s interesting that the children of David’s sisters should be worth mentioning, but not those of his brothers.

 

The sons of Jerahmeel: The narrative is jumping around quite a bit, making it difficult to follow. We now bounce back to Jerahmeel, Hezron’s eldest. Jerahmeel is a bit difficult, since he is listed specifically as being a member of the tribe of Judah here, yet 1 Sam. 27:10 and 1 Sam. 30:29 refer to the Jerahmeelites as if they were a separate, non-Israelite, group. To smooth this over, my New Bible Commentary argues that “it is much simpler to suppose that the descendants of Jerahmeel, who in any case were settled in the south of Judea, retained their nomadic habits longer, and so in the days of David were reckoned separately from the rest of Judah” (p.372).

Jerahmeel fathered Ram, Bunah, Oren, Ozem, and Ahijah. In the next generation, Ram fathered Maaz, Jamin, and Eker.

Jerahmeel also had a second wife, Atarah, who bore Onam. Onam fathered Shammai and Jada. Shammai fathered Nadab and Abishur. Abishur married a woman named Abihail, and they had Ahban and Molid. Nadab fathered Seled (who died childless) and Apparim, who fathered Ishi. Ishi fathered Sheshan, who fathered Ahlai.

Despite what I said just above, we are told that Sheshan had no sons (this isn’t necessarily a contradiction, as Ahlai might either have died young or been born after the events I am about to relate). To continue his line, he married his daughter to his Egyptian slave, Jarha, and they had Attai.

Brian Shwimmer (of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Anthropology) addresses this in the broader context of inheritance:

Inheritance by daughters imposed a particular difficulty, which is acknowledged in several biblical passages. After Moses first promulgates the rule (Numbers), he is confronted with a problem: if females inherit land from their fathers they will pass it on to their children and therefore into the patrimony of another tribe or lineage. His solution is to institute a parallel cousin marriage regulation. Thus a woman who inherits from her father is to marry her father’s brother’s son so that property will automatically be retained within the wider patriline. A second mechanism for maintaining the continuity of lineage holdings was to marry inheriting daughters to household slaves. Since these dependants had no partilineages of their own, their children were by default incorporated into their mothers’ lineages. The arrangement of marriages to slaves created a number of segments that originated with female rather than male founders (see I Chronicles 2:34-36 for an example.) This institution directly mirrors a solution to the reverse problem of a daughterless family among the Akan, a matrilineal people of West Africa.

The reference to Numbers, of course, relates to the daughters of Zelophehad, whose story can be found in Numbers 27 and Numbers 36.

Attai fathered Nathan, who fathered Zabad, who fathered Ephlal, who fathered Obed, who fathered Jehu, who fathered Azariah, who fathered Helez, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Sismai, who fathered Shallum, who fathered Jekamiah, who fathered Elishama.

After all that, we move back up the line to Onam’s second son, Jada, who fathered Jether (who died childless) and Jonathan. Jonathan fathered Peleth and Zaza.

A Tale of Two Calebs

I am moving the two sections about Calebs to the bottom for special treatment. The first originally began with 1 Chron. 2:18. The mention of a Caleb is rather odd. It appears to be yet another sui genesis dynasty. In looking for more information, I am finding that the consensus makes Caleb a variant spelling of Chelubai, making him the son of Hezron, grandson of Perez. Except that that Caleb will be mentioned later on, leaving this one still without explanation.

Whoever he is, this Caleb married a woman named Azubah. The verse (1 Chron. 2:18) is rather difficult to parse out, suggesting that Caleb had sons with both Azubah and Jerioth. My interpretation was that this might refer to an arrangement similar to the one used by Abraham in Genesis 16. My New Bible Commentary, however, argues that “either Jerioth was another name of Azubah, or there is a textual corruption” (p.372). The Commentary goes on to suggest that the original wording might have had Azubah give birth to a daughter, Jerioth, who in turn had the sons who will shortly be listed. In any case, Caleb had the following sons: Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. After Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath (later listed as Ephrathah, compare 1 Chron. 2:19 to 1 Chron. 2:24), who gave birth to Hur.

Caleb, who apparently lived up to his name (kelev means “dog”), impregnated his father’s wife, Ephrathah – though he at least waited until his father was dead. Through her, he fathered Ashhur, who fathered Tekoa. (There is no mention of either of them being put to death, which would be required by Leviticus 20:11.)

In the next generation, Hur fathered Uri, and Uri fathered Bezalel. This appears to be the same as Bezaleel, named in Exodus 31:2.

Further down (I’m putting it here for convenience), we will get another section headed: “The sons of Caleb the brother of Jerahmeel” (1 Chron. 2:42). The two genealogies are different, though my New Bible Commentary insists that the names here are meant to supplement the ones above. To me, this suggests that either Caleb was a quasi-mythic figure in a few different spots, each with their own traditions that had to be amalgamated, or there were a few different Calebs that somehow became conflated.

In any case, the Caleb specifically identified as the brother of Jerahmeel fathered Mareshah, who fathered Ziph and Hebron. Hebron fathered Korah, Tappuah, Tekem, and Shema. Shema fathered Raham, who fathered Jorekeam. While Rekem fathered Shammai. Shammai fathered Maon, who fathered Bethzur.

This Caleb also had a concubine named Ephah, who bore Haran, Moza, and Gazez. Haran also fathered a Gazez, though hopefully a different one.

There is another sui genesis patriarch listed among the descendants of Caleb: Jahdai. Jahdai fathered Regem, Jotham, Geshan, Pelet, Ephah, and Shaaph.

Caleb had yet another concubine, this one named Maacah. She bore Sheber and Tirhanah. We are told that she was also the mother of Shaaph (if the same as above, the implications are even more headache-inducing). Shaaph fathered Madmannah and Sheva. Sheva fathered Macbenah, and was the father of Gibea.

Finally, Caleb had a daughter, Achsah. It is on this basis this Caleb is identified with Caleb the Kenizzite, who appears, for example, in Joshua 14:6, and who also had a daughter by the same name (Jos. 15:17). The theory, if I understand it correctly, goes that he may have been an honorary Israelite, perhaps adopted into Hezron’s family.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that several of Caleb’s descendants are also the names of towns. So are we to understand that Caleb (and his lineage) founded those towns? Or that these individuals gave their names to the towns that they founded?

The sons of Hur: I am continuing this out of order, just to keep Hur in the same section as Caleb. Hur was the son of Ephrathah (called Ephrath in 1 Chron. 2:19), Caleb’s second wife. He fathered Shobal (who “fathered” Kiriath-jearim), Salma (who “fathered” Bethlehem), and Hareph (who “fathered” Beth-gader).

Shobal’s sons were Haroeh, and half of Manuhoth. Yeah, I’m scratching my head as well.

The families of Kiriath-jearim were the Ithrites, the Puthites, the Shumathites, and the Mishraites. From these came the Zorathites and the Esthaolites. The families of Bethlehem were the Netophathites, Atrothbethjoab, the Zorites, and half of the Manahathites. The families of the scribes who lived in Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. These, we are told, were the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.

And now I think I need to go detox my brain for a while.

2 Samuel 15: Of spies and conspiracies

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Last chapter ended on a bit of a high note – Absalom and David reconciled, and it seemed to be an end to the troubles. But Nathan’s curse said: “I will raise up evil against you out of your own house” (2 Sam. 12:11). The troubles are far from over.

The kisses have hardly cooled before Absalom gets himself a chariot and horses, plus fifty men to run in front of him. This could be a personal body guard in case someone figures out what he’s up to, the start of a personal army, or perhaps a bit of glitter to help convince people that he’s a real contender.

He also got into the habit of rising early to stand by the gate, stopping the petitioners coming to see David for judgements. Like any good canvasser, he complains to them that David still hasn’t appointed underlings to hear petitions. I suppose the idea is that David has just exported the local judge model to the national monarchy without putting anything in place to accommodate the larger scale. I guess that the king who’d rather lazy about on his rooftop than lead a war campaign is similarly motivated to take care of administrative minutiae.

If only he were in charge, argues Absalom, everyone would have access to justice!

The complaint seems to have a good deal of traction because he manages to steal “the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6) on this strategy alone.

He carries on that way for four years (or perhaps forty, which is what most translations say but makes little sense in context – it’s more likely that the “four” recorded in the Syriac translation and Josephus was the original intention). Absalom is clearly a very patient person when setting fields on fire is off the table. He did wait two years to kill Amnon in 2 Sam. 12:23!

Having finally gathered enough support, Absalom asks David for permission to go to Hebron. He claims that he had made a vow while in Geshur that, should he and David ever be reconciled, he would go to Hebron to worship God. David might have wondered why Absalom decided to wait four (or forty!) years to fulfil his vow, but apparently it doesn’t occur to him.

Paul Davidson notes that the phrasing Absalom uses in Hebrew is “Yahweh of Hebron” (2 Sam. 15:7), implying a local deity, or perhaps a local variant of YHWH. This, and other passages, implies that “the worship of Yahweh was geographically restricted.” That would explain why it’s plausible for Absalom to claim that he promised the Hebron YHWH a worship, and therefore couldn’t fulfil the vow at home in Jerusalem.

David gives his permission and Absalom goes, taking with him two hundred guests who knew nothing of his plans. He also sent out secret messages to the tribes of Israel, telling them to shout “Absalom is now king in the North! (or, at least, Hebron!)” when they hear the sound of trumpets.

While offering his sacrifice in Hebron, Absalom sent for Ahithophel, David’s counsellor. Interestingly, it seems that he may have been Bathsheba’s grandfather (my study Bible finds the connection by comparing 2 Sam. 11:3 and 2 Sam. 23:34).

Being David’s counsellor and father-in-law, it seems strange that he would so readily defect. Unless, of course, David had raped Bathsheba. In that case, he may have been willing to join just about anyone who stood a chance of punishing David. Or, if we want a more patriarchy-friendly explanation, he could feel that David’s relationship with Bathsheba tarnished her relationship.

Absalom’s choice of Hebron is an interesting one, since it’s the city from which David challenged the remnant of Saul’s dynasty. One theory is that Hebron is resentful that they supported David when he needed an Israelite foothold, but were passed by when it came to choosing a capitol. It could also be a literary fabrication, having Absalom’s career mirror David’s. We’ll see more examples of this as we read on.

While in Hebron, Absalom’s conspiracy gains strength.

The flight

A messenger lets David know that Israel is siding with Absalom. For some reason, Absalom was able to gather nation-wide support over a period of four years, but at least David finds out now. Better late than never. He flees from Jerusalem.

It’s unclear why David chooses to leave Jerusalem. It could be that he felt he had a better chance fighting in the open field, or perhaps he was hoping to avoid fighting his son, or perhaps he wanted to spare the city a siege, or maybe he feared that the city could contain spies, or perhaps it’s just plot critical that he be out of the city and the author took a couple shortcuts to make it happen.

Absalom and Tamar, by Guercino

Absalom and Tamar, by Guercino

He takes the royal household along with him, all but ten concubines. These, he leaves behind because he’s a complete jerk who has demonstrated again and again that he doesn’t care much for the safety of the women around him – at least not since taking the crown. I mean, really, to “keep the house” (2 Sam. 15:16)? As if he didn’t know what would happen to them.

He brings along Cherethites, Pelethies, and all six hundred Gittites who had come with him from Gath. I found it rather surprising just how many Philistines David has kept around. It’s also interesting that, in 1 Sam. 28, the Philistine king Achish had an Israelite bodyguard, and now that that same Israelite is himself a king, he has a Philistine guard.

As his retinue leaves the city, David hangs back, presumably to see who is coming along or perhaps as some heroic “last man in” sort of thing. Ittai the Gittite comes marching by and David asks him he would come along rather than “stay with the king” (2 Sam. 15:19). Already, he seems to be acknowledging his son’s claim! Perhaps displaying his intention not to fight, or his concession that he deserves what’s coming to him.

Ittai is a foreigner, and he only arrived in Jerusalem the day before. David protests that he doesn’t want to drag him right back out again, especially since he doesn’t know where they will be going or what the conditions might be like. But Ittai refuses to stay, he will stand by David. Notice that, once again, David finds loyalty with the Philistines.

Abiathar and Zadok come out with all the Levites and the ark, but David sends them back into Jerusalem. This seems to be an expression of his remorse, since he says that he will return to the ark (and, therefore, to Jerusalem) if God favours him. In other words, he is showing himself willing to accept the punishment he has deserved. Or he’s being cocky, certain that he will win the conflict.

But there’s another motive. The priests each have a son (Jonathan is Abiathar’s, Ahimaaz is Zadok’s). Between the two priests and their sons, David sets up an impromptu spy network that keep him updated on Absalom’s doings.

The Mount of Olives

David and his retinue make their way up the Mount of Olives, weeping and barefoot, their heads covered. David finds out that Ahithophel has defected, and he prays that his counsel will become terrible. This is in contrast to the hints that he has resigned himself to Absalom’s rule (such as his calling Absalom “king” above).

When he reaches the summit, where there is apparently a shrine, Hushai the Archite meets up with David. His clothes are rent and there’s dirt on his head, symbols of mourning, and he asks to come along.

David sends him back, however, telling him that he would be a burden if he came along. Presumably, Hushai is meant to be very old, or perhaps disabled in some way. David has found a use for him, however. Hushai is to pretend to defect, and to volunteer his services as counsellor to Absalom. By giving bad advice, he will counteract Ahithophel’s good advice, evening the playing field. Plus, once he has wormed his way into Absalom’s inner circle, he’ll be able to play the spy and report information to Zadok and Abiathar.

Hushai agrees, and he returns to Jerusalem just as Absalom arrives.

2 Samuel 14: Anger management issues

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When we last left our favourite dysfunctional family, Absalom had murdered his brother, Amnon, for the rape of their sister, Tamar, then fled to his grandfather in Geshur.

Joab makes a reappearance, this time perceiving that David is pining for Absalom. He devises a plan to trick David into realizing that it’s time to bring his son home, out of exile.

He finds a woman in Tekoa and has her pretend to be in mourning. Under his instruction, she comes to David with a sob story about being a widow. In her story, her two sons fought each other and one killed the other. Because of the traditions of blood redeemers, the extended family has demanded that the “widow” give up her remaining son for execution. Since he is all she has left, the heir to her husband’s name, she wants David to intervene and protect him.

If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a thinly veiled retelling of Absalom’s murder of Amnon from 2 Sam. 13.

The reconciliation of David and Absalom, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

The reconciliation of David and Absalom, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642

He pledges to protect the widow’s son, and tells her to send anyone who tries nasty business straight to him for a reprimand. As in 2 Sam. 12, there’s the sudden reveal: Surprise! The story was about David all along!

There’s an interesting note here about blood feuds, and how that kind of tribe-based justice undermines monarchic efforts to establish a common law. David, here, is very much a king when he sides with a murderer against those who would seek vengeance.

The widow’s emphasis on her fictitious murderous son being an heir could lend weight to the argument that Absalom was, now that his older brothers were all out of the picture, David’s presumed heir. It leaves open the possibility that his actions were not, or perhaps not entirely, motivated by vengeance for Tamar.

We aren’t told how, but David figures out that Joab was behind the ruse. He sends his nephew to Geshur to fetch Absalom and bring him home, though he is still to live in his own house and not to come into David’s presence.

Father and son lived like this – in the same city but never meeting – for two years. Finally, Absalom has had enough, so he summons Joab to help him orchestrate a reunion.

Except that Joab ignores his summons. He tries again, but again Joab doesn’t respond.

So Absalom, being an entirely reasonable fellow, does what any reasonable fellow would do in such a situation. He sets Joab’s barley field on fire.

Say what you will about Absalom’s methods, he gets the job done. Joab comes right quick, asking why his lovely barley field is now a flame field. Absalom says that he just wanted Joab to get him an audience with David, and the burned field business is dropped. Apparently, it’s the equivalent of a door knock for this family.

Absalom sends Joab with a message, in which he says that David can kill him if there is any guilt in him. It’s a rather silly thing to say because, of course, Absalom is guilty. The word is clearly not being used in a recognizable way. Perhaps he means that he may be executed if he murdered his brother for bad reasons rather than to avenge Tamar. Or maybe he’s using guilt to mean some kind of tarnish, something that can fade away over time.

Joab passes the message on, and father and son finally reconcile.

Absalom’s hot bod

In the middle of all this, the narrator pauses to tell us about how beautiful Absalom was, not to mention how blemish-free! Not only that, but he had just the most gorgeous hair you’ve ever seen. It was so long and luxurious that the clippings from Absalom’s annual hair cut weighed 200 shekels by the king’s weight. Various sources give me different translates for this, but we’re looking at at least 3lbs, and probably something closer to 5lbs. That’s the weight of a small newborn baby right there, just in hair cuttings.

We’re also given a little genealogical information. In a startling break from tradition, we’re told that Absalom had a daughter, who was named Tamar (presumably after her aunt), as well as three unnamed sons. I’d like to say that it’s refreshing to see a little reversal in which gender gets to have names, but I suspect that the lack of names for the boys implies that they died young. In any case, Tamar, like her father and namesake, was also very beautiful.

2 Samuel 13: The rape of Tamar

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The following chapter is a rather horrible story of the royal family, and comes with a major content note for rape and incest.

Since familial relationships are important, here’s a refreshment from 2 Sam. 3:2-3: David’s eldest son is Amnon, born of his wife Ahinoam. We aren’t given any information about Ahinoam, except that she is from Jezreel. His next son is Chileab, born to Abigail. Since he doesn’t come up again, it seems likely that he died at some point prior to the events in this chapter (perhaps as an infant). His third son is Absalom, born to Maacah. Maacah is the daughter of Talmai, the king of Geshur. Tamar, who was not listed in 2 Sam. 3 but features prominently in this chapter, is also the daughter of Maacah.

Assuming that Ahinoam, Abigail, and Maacah are all full legal wives (as opposed to concubines), the assumed succession would place Amnon first in line, followed by Chileab, then Absalom. Since Chileab is never mentioned and presumed deceased, that leaves Amnon and Absalom poised to take Israel’s crown if David dies. There’s a little more information on what might have been the inheritance practice in Deut. 21:15-17, though that doesn’t seem directed at the monarchy.

According to a somewhat plausible timeline ( I say “somewhat plausible” because I can see at least one spot where two years magically disappear), Amnon and Absalom are somewhere on the short side of 20 years old during the events of this chapter. Tamar is presumably around the same age, though she could be older since only the births of David’s sons are recorded. It’s possible that she was born while David was still or the lam or during his time with the Philistines, whereas her brothers weren’t born until David’s stay in Hebron. Of course, she could also be younger.

The sham illness

The text tells us that Amnon falls in love with his half-sister, Tamar. “Love,” I assume, is being used euphemistically. But he laments that, because she is a virgin, “it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her” (2 Sam. 13:2). Note that he wants to do something “to” her. That’s not love.

It’s possible that, when he says that it is “impossible” to do anything to his sister, he is referencing prohibitions like Lev. 18:11 or Deut. 27:22. Of course, little seems to have been made of Sarah’s marriage to her half-brother, Abraham, in Genesis, so it could be that the prohibition came later, or that it was an acknowledged practice that certain religious authorities were trying to curb.

But that assumes that his feeling really is love, and that his intention is marriage. I don’t think that’s the case. Rather, I suspect that he is referring to how secluded or protected David’s virgin daughters are. They may be kept away from men, and perhaps are rarely alone. In other words, I think his complaint has more to do with his lack of access, rather than social mores standing in the way between him and the object of his “love.”

He complains about this to his cousin, Jonadab (who is the son of David’s brother, Shimeah, named in 1 Sam. 17:13). Jonadab has a reputation for being a “very crafty man” (2 Sam. 13:3), and he comes up with a plan: Amnon is to take to his bed and feign sickness, then request that he be cared for by Tamar.

As per Jonadab’s instructions, Amnon takes to his bed. When David comes to check in on him, he asks that Tamar be sent to cook for him and feed him. Tamar is sent, and Amnon watches her make cakes. He then sends all of his servants out, and tells Tamar to come close to hand feed him. When she does, he grabs her.

There are two injustices at play in the story. The first is, of course, that Amnon clearly intends to rape Tamar. The second is that Tamar is well aware of the fact that she will lose all status and social support if she attacked by Amnon. In Tamar’s mind, at least, the second is the greater injustice. When she begs for Amnon to stop, she implores him to ask David for permission to marry (a rapist with a wedding band is still a rapist, but at least he would not be taking everything else from her as well). As above, it’s unclear whether marriage to half-siblings was permitted at this time, or if she was trying to convince Amnon that David would grant a special dispensation.

Whether Amnon is uninterested in marriage or doesn’t believe that David would allow the union, he ignores her. “Being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her” (2 Sam. 13:14).

Depiction of the rape, by Eustache Le Sueur, c.1640

Depiction of the rape, by Eustache Le Sueur, c.1640

The text tells us that when Amnon is done, his love turns into an even greater hate. It could be that he is projecting his own self-hate for his actions or, I think more likely, his previous “love” was just a form of hate. He hated Tamar for being simultaneously desirable and unavailable. This king of love/hate is a social problem we are still very much dealing with today.

Having taken from her what he wanted, Amnon orders Tamar to leave. She begs him to at least mitigate the damage of his actions, because “this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other which you did to me” (2 Sam. 13:16). Once again, we see here the interplay between the two injustices – the personal and the social. By sending her away, Amnon is refusing to marry her (which would be required as per Deut. 22:28-29). He is using social morality to further victimize her – not just humiliating and violating her, but crushing her entirely as a person of worth in her society. And it is his society that gave him this power by diminishing/removing her value for his actions.

Rather than hear her protests, Amnon has his servants throw her out of his house and bolt the door behind her.

Tamar rends her clothes and puts ashes on her head, symbols of mourning. I’ve read some describe this seen as a mourning for her virginity, but I don’t think that’s quite right. Since Tamar is now considered “damaged goods” and, unless Amnon changes is mind, is now ineligible for marriage, she is effectively dead in a social way. She cannot marry, she cannot have children, she has been cut off from normal social participation. It is that life, and the lives of the family she will never have and that will never be born, that she is mourning. Take away all the loss implied by her lack of virginity and she would have nothing to mourn. She could focus on healing from her attack and then, in time, resume her life. But it is her society, its fetishizing of virginity, and its lack of recognition of women as people worthy of respect in their own right that gives her a tangible construct to mourn. I really can’t harp on this enough – evil as Amnon is, how much more evil is the social context that has given him so much power to destroy Tamar!

Tamar doesn’t go to David, and no reason is given for this. Perhaps she knew what his reaction would be, or perhaps she was too ashamed. Instead, she goes to her brother Absalom’s house. When he hears what happened, Absalom tells his sister, “Now hold your peace, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart” (2 Sam. 13:20). To me, this response just sounds incredibly callous. In light of his later actions, some apparently take his words as comfort and reassurance that something will be done, but that’s not how it struck me. In fact, Absalom’s response is eerily similar to what friends have heard in the aftermath of their rapes – men, relatives and friends, telling them not to make sure a big deal of it. After all, it was “only” their boyfriend, husband, doctor, and it was “only” sex/touching.

David’s reaction appears to be even worse. In my version, the text merely tells us that he was angry, nothing else. It doesn’t seem that he actually does anything, either to protect Tamar or to punish Amnon. The Hebrew Masoretic text leaves it there, but the LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls tell us explicitly that David decided not to punish Amnon “because he loved him, for he was his firstborn” (2 Sam. 13:21). In other words, he is choosing to shelter a rapist because of his own personal feelings for him – another behaviour for which we have plenty of modern examples (and, as an atheist, I’d say this is a pretty good parallel to what has been happening regarding Michael Shermer’s rape of a drunk woman and his subsequent protection by many of the most powerful and influential men in the atheist movement, including James Randi and Richard Dawkins). At no point does David express his love or sympathy for his daughter, Tamar. In fact, at no point is she referred to as David’s daughter, merely Absalom and Amnon’s sister.

It’s notable how similar Amnon’s crime is to David’s. Amnon’s attack on Tamar was unambiguously rape, but I think that there’s a fairly strong case to be made that David’s relationship with Bathsheba began as rape as well (including the sending her away so that she had to contact him by messenger to notify him of her pregnancy). This makes David’s refusal to punish Amnon and protect Tamar even more pointed.

For his own part, Absalom is outraged, but he bides his time.

Revenge

Two years pass.

Absalom’s sheepshearers are apparently having a festival, presumably something like Nabal’s sheepshearing festival in 1 Sam. 25:4-8. He invites David and all of his brothers to come, but David refuses, expressing concern that it would be “burdensome” to have so many of them there. He could suspect what Absalom has in mind, or perhaps he is nervous at the idea of having so much of the royal family in one place that is not as well fortified as Jerusalem. If David won’t come, says Absalom, couldn’t Amnon at least make it? David agrees.

At the festival, Absalom gets Amnon nice and drunk, then commands his servants to kill him, finally avenging Tamar. Though I am sure the fact that Amnon’s death puts Absalom first in line for Israel’s crown didn’t escape him.

David’s other sons mount their mules and flee, though they apparently do so quite slowly. Word reaches David that Absalom has started killing his brothers before any of those brothers make it home, so David believes that Absalom has murdered them all. He rends his clothes and lies on the ground, but Jonadab, clever as always, seems to guess at what is really going on. He explains to David that only Amnon has been murdered, killed for his rape of Tamar. He is proven right when David’s other sons come riding home.

Absalom flees to his maternal grandfather, Talmai, the king of Geshur, and remains there for three years. The final verse is a little confusing, but the meaning I drew from it is that David grieved for Amnon (or perhaps for his rift with Absalom), but eventually longed to be reunited with his son. David, once again, is inhumanely practical – quickly forgetting about his dead children (and ignoring the female children entirely).

I mentioned that Tamar’s rape could have been seen by Absalom as an excuse to move against his older brother. There could also be a class issue at play: Absalom and Tamar’s mother was a princess, so they are royalty through both parents. Amnon’s mother, by contrast, was merely from Jezreel. It could be that the recourse of murder was motivated not just by Amnon’s crime, but also Absalom’s own feelings that Amnon was heir to the throne and had forced himself on a woman who would, almost certainly, have otherwise been married to a king.

2 Samuel 3: An embarrassing situation

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Despite the resolution in the last chapter, we’re told that the house of David and the house of Saul are caught up in a lengthy war. As time wears on, David’s side gains strength while Ishbosheth weakens.

During this time, Abner’s power and influence grows. It seems that in the process, he grew a little big for his britches and may (or may not) have had a dalliance with one of Saul’s concubines, Rizpah daughter of Aiah. Notice that she is named (as is her parentage!) when so many side characters are not.

Ishbosheth confronts Abner about this. After all, since Rizpah was Saul’s concubine, having sex with her would be something like a servant “just trying on” the king’s crown. It implies ambitions that are utterly unsuitable – especially from the perspective of a king with such a tenuous grasp of his crown as Ishbosheth.

Abner is absolutely indignant. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think that Abner is a liar here, or if we’re supposed to see Ishbosheth as going a little paranoid.

Either way, it’s the only time we see Ishbosheth nay-saying Abner, and it’s clear how Abner feels about this. He reminds Ishbosheth that it is Abner who brought him to Mahanaim instead of simply delivering him into David’s hands. If Ishbosheth has a crown at all now, it is only through Abner’s benevolence.

He is saying this, I remind you, to a 40 year old man (2 Sam. 2:11).

To avenge the insult to his honour, Abner promises to be the hand by which God makes David king of Israel. Ishbosheth is too afraid to respond to this.

In his speech, Abner asks Ishbosheth, “am I a dog’s head of Judah?” (2 Sam. 3:8). Dogs are unclean animals, so that’s insult enough. Adding “of Judah” seems to imply that his defection has already occurred, even though in the narrative, it is this incident that prompts it. That said, “of Judah” does not appear in the Septuagint, suggesting that it may have been an editorial addition.

Defection

Upset with his king, Abner decides to try another. He goes to David and pledges loyalty in exchange for covenant (which I assume means that he is trying to ensure his personal safety and, possibly, his position). David agrees, but only if Abner brings him his first wife, Michal, who had been remarried to Paltiel (or Palti) son of Laish in 1 Sam. 25:44, and whom David claims to have paid a hundred Philistine foreskins for (though he’s shortchanging himself since the figure in 1 Sam. 18:20-27 was two hundred).

Abner agrees and runs off to collect her. Meanwhile, David sends a messenger to Ishbosheth asking for Michal to be returned to him. Since he has already commanded Abner to bring her, it’s unclear what his reasoning was, though it ends up working out as Ishbosheth agrees and charges Abner with delivering her. (Though why he would entrust Abner with anything after his stated plan to defect is also unclear. In fact, why he would agree to release Michal knowing that it would greatly solidify David’s claim on his throne is also rather unclear.)

We are told that Michal’s husband, Paltiel, followed her weeping all the way to Bahurim. Finally, Abner tells him to buzz off and, afraid to challenge someone so powerful, he does. Though Michal’s feelings are never revealed, Paltiel’s actions suggest that David has just broken up a happy marriage for his own political gain. (Being Saul’s son-in-law lends his claim to the Israelite crown far more legitimacy, as it becomes arguably a hereditary succession rather than a straight up usurpation.)

On his way, Abner rouses the elders of Israel and Benjamin against Ishbosheth, so he goes to David with their support. The separate mention of Benjamin here is particularly significant because that is Saul’s own tribe turning away from Saul’s son. They are the most likely to support Ishbosheth’s claim, yet they are supporting David. It could be that with Ishbosheth trapped on the east side of the Jordan, they figure that David is their best chance for protection against the Philistines.

Abner arrives with Michal and twenty soldiers, and David throws them a feast (though his reunion with Michal is conspicuously absent). The feasting done, Abner heads out to gather the Israelites for a covenant ceremony to swear David in as the new king of Israel.

2 Samuel 3But just then, Joab (and apparently his brother Abishai as well, though his name isn’t added to the story until 2 Sam. 3:30) returns from a raid (despite being the king of Judah, David is still, apparently, a bandit leader) and finds out that Abner, his mortal enemy, had been there. To avenge Asahel’s death, he sends out some men to capture Abner and bring him back, then murders him.

This is technically a legal killing since Joab is a relative of the killed Asahel and Abner is not currently in one of the cities of refuge (as stipulated in Deut. 19 and Num. 35). Even so, it’s not exactly politically convenient for David, since it makes it look an awful lot like he’s murdering his way to the crown.

To distance himself from the murder, David curses Joab, makes a big public show of mourning Abner, writes a lament (which he is apparently doing for all of his Totally Not Murdered Nemeses), and fasts for a day despite being begged not to. He even announces publicly that he and his kingdom are innocent in the matter. The people are apparently convinced by David’s fervent campaigning and all is forgiven, though you’ll note that all talk of crowning him king of Israel is dropped for the time being.

It seems that he cannot simply execute Joab and Abishai as he did the Amalekite in 2 Sam. 1 because they have too much political clout. Instead, he asks that God to the punishing for him, cursing Joab and his descendants: “may the house of Joab never be without one who has a discharge, or who is leprous, or who holds a spindle, or who is slain by the sword, or who lacks bread” (2 Sam. 3:29). Spindles, by the way, are women’s tools. Strictly speaking, I’d say that few houses go for very many generations without at least one daughter, but in this context I think he is merely cursing Joab with effeminate children.

This whole episode stinks of propaganda. As with David being sent home at the last minute so that he is conveniently not on the battlefield where Saul gets killed (1 Sam. 29), this story exonerates him from Abner’s murder. But here, the cover story is far more clumsy.

A possible alternative story would simply have Joab murdering Abner, either on David’s direct command or in the hopes that David would be pleased by it after-the-fact. The backstory of a blood feud provides a little cover for Joab, making his actions legal (and reducing the classicism in David’s lack of punishment). Having Abner defect to David’s side first eliminates David’s gain from his death – after all, Abner had sworn to deliver the crown of Israel into David’s hands, and that process is delayed by his death.

Yet the fact remains that David’s competition keeps dying, and that’s more than a little suspicious.

David’s family life

In the middle of all this, we got a little insert about the sons born to David during his stay in Hebron. While ostensibly about his sons, it also provides an updated list of his wives as well.

As we learned in 2 Sam. 2:11, David was only in Hebron for seven and a half years. That means that he was having an average of almost one son per year during his stay (and that’s only sons, since daughters are not listed!), albeit all from different women. In order of birth, those sons are:

  1. Amnon of Ahinoam
  2. Chileab of Abigail
  3. Absalom of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur
  4. Adonijah of Haggith
  5. Shephatiah of Abital
  6. Ithream of Elgah

Notice Maacah’s parentage. The fact that David is marrying princesses at this early stage suggests that he’s already amassed a good deal of political clout. It also suggests that he has forged an alliance with Geshur, which would be located to Ishbosheth’s north. With David and the Philistines to his west, poor Ishbosheth’s position is looking rather dire.