Tag Archives: John Van Seters

The Bathsheba Affair — Was It Only Persian Era Gossip?

David and Bathsheba

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John Van Seters is of the view that the Biblical narrative of David is a composite of two narrative strands: one by a “Deuteronomistic Historian” (Dtr) who in essence has little but good to say about David — he is God’s faithful servant, etc. — and a later thread by one writing in the period of the Persian empire. This latter author had a much more cynical view of David, or at least opted to portray David as a typical exemplar of all that Samuel forewarned would go wrong with Israel if they chose a king to replace God (via the judges like Samuel himself) as their leader. Here I outline his discussion of The Bathsheba Affair in The Biblical Saga of King David. It is more than about dating the narrative to the Persian empire period, though. Van Seters makes some interesting observations about the intent of the author to undermine any respect for David as an ideal king.

Context: War with the Ammonites

This war against the Ammonites stands out from all the other foreign wars of David by the way in which it pays attention to particular details. First, it deals with the casus belli for the war in [2 Sam] 10:1-5, something that in Dtr’s treatment of foreign wars needs no such explanation. (p. 287)

For Van Seters the Deuteronomist historian (Dtr) always portrays David as going to war in the service of God. They are holy wars against God’s enemies and need no other explanation. So note the difference with this one:

1 In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun succeeded him as king. 2 David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, 3 the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” 4 So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.

5 When David was told about this, he sent messengers to meet the men, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.”

Dtr would never have approved of David having a solemn friendship understanding with the pagan king Nahash. But apart from this it is quite anomalous to suggest here that David did have such a friendship at all since in the days of Saul Nahash and his Ammonites were the most bitter enemies of Israel (1 Samuel 11; 31:11-13).

So what is this author trying to achieve by introducing an unlikely friendship between David and Nahash? read more »

All King David’s men — official records or literary fictions?

The following points about the biblical narrative of David are taken from The Biblical Saga of King David (2009) by the eminent scholar John Van Seters. Not that this post reflects the purpose or theme of Van Seters’ study. I am focusing on a small segment in a much larger study that analyses both the archaeological research relating to the Davidic period and the Davidic literature. Van Seters believes the evidence points to the Saga of King David being composed in the Persian period. But I leave those arguments aside for now.

2 Samuel lists dozens of named officials, military officers and sons that to the average modern reader are so boring they have to be genuinely official records!

Van Seters references Nadav Na’aman (1996) who thinks the following lists must be derived from authentic written records. (“No-one would make them up”):

  1. Lists of officials (2 Sam 8:16-18; 20:23-26)
  2. Lists of wives and sons (2 Sam 3:2-5; 5:13-16)
  3. List of military officers and heroes (2 Sam 23:8-39)

The Court Officials

2 Samuel 8:16-18

Joab son of Zeruiah was head of the army;

Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was clerk;

Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were priests;

Seraiah was secretary;

Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Kerethites and Pelethites;

And David’s sons were priests.

2 Samuel 20:23-26

Now Joab was over all the host of Israel;

and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and over the Pelethites;

and Adoram was over the men subject to taskwork;

and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder;

and Sheva was scribe;

and Zadok and Abiathar were priests

and also Ira the Jairite was chief minister unto David.

Don’t we have every right to give such details a presumption of authenticity?

Van Seters is not convinced for four reasons: read more »

Who wrote the Bible? Rise of the Documentary Hypothesis

This post looks at the rise of the dominant scholarly hypothesis that the Old Testament came together through the efforts of various editors over time collating and editing a range of earlier sources. The structure and bulk of the contents of the post is taken from Philippe Wajdenbaum’s discussion of the Documentary Hypothesis.

The complete set of these posts either outlining or being based on Philippe Wajdenbaum’s Argonauts of the Desert: Structural Analysis of the Hebrew Bible, are archived here.

Before the Documentary Hypothesis there was Spinoza.

Spinoza

Let us conclude, therefore, that all the books which we have just passed under review are apographs — works written ages after the things they relate had passed away. And when we regard the argument and connection of these books severally, we readily gather that they were all written by one and the same person, who had the purpose of compiling a system of Jewish antiquities, from the origin of the nation to the first destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The several books are so connected one with another, that from this alone we discover that they comprise the continuous narrative of a single historian. . . . .

The whole of these books, therefore, lead to one end, viz. to enforce the sayings and edicts of Moses, and, from the course of events, to demonstrate their sacredness. From these three points taken together, then, viz. the unity and simplicity of the argument of all the books, their connection or sequence, and their apographic character, they having been written many ages after the events they record, we conclude, as has just been said, that they were all written by one historiographer.

So Spinoza was led to conclude (from the common style, language and purpose) that there was a single author (albeit one who used earlier source documents) and he opted for that author being Ezra.

Debt to Homeric Criticism – and left in the dust of Homeric criticism

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