[Chronicles is another one of my research areas. This post was originally uploaded 10/2009]
King Saul is a tragic figure in the biblical narrative. According to the Deuteronomistic History (his reign is recorded in 1Samuel 9-31), it seems as soon as Saul is chosen by Yahweh as the first king of Israel (and yes, Saul is chosen by Yahweh, not the people; see 1Sam 9:16-17; 10:1-8, 23; 11:6-14; etc.), the monarchy is taken away because of his lack of obedience (see 1Sam 13 and 15). King Saul isn’t even afforded a proper regnal formula in 1Sam 13:1! (While some consider this a mere textual issue to be corrected through text criticism, I wonder if it is purposeful considering the abortive nature of Saul’s reign).
When we turn to the book of Chronicles, Saul’s fate is even worse! All that is left of Saul’s reign is a couple geneological notes (1Chron 8:33; 9:39) and a short chapter detailing his death on Mount Gilboa (1Chron 10:1-14). Furthermore, while Saul enjoyed some victories and blessing by Yahweh in 1Samuel, in Chronicles his entire reign is written off and his death is understood as the direct intervention of Yahweh (1Chron 10:13-14).
Transition to David: The Death of Saul and His House (1 Chron 10:1-14)
The genealogy of Jerusalem’s inhabitants in chapter nine of 1Chronicles ends with the list of Saul’s descendants. Chapter ten only provides a very brief summary of the demise of Saul and his dynasty, though it seems to presuppose knowledge of other events in the life of Saul. Most significantly, the Chronicler provides his own theological assessment of Saul’s reign in the two verses at the end of the chapter.
Since this chapter is only fourteen verses long, let’s display the text as a whole (with the parallel text from 1Samuel; I have marked significant differences in the Hebrew texts in italics):
|1 Chronicles 10:1-14
||1 Samuel 31:1-13
|(1) Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa.
||(1) Now the Philistines were fighting against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa
|(2) The Philistines pursued closely (דבק) after Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.
||(2) The Philistines overtook (דבק) Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul.
|(3) The battle pressed hard upon Saul; and the archers found him, and he was wounded by the archers.
||(3) The battle pressed hard on Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers.
| (4) Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling, for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.
||(4) Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it.
|(5) When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon the sword and died.
||(5) When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him.
|(6) So Saul died; he and his three sons, and all his house, together they died.
||(6) So Saul died; he and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, also all his men on that day together.
|(7) When all the men of Israel who were in the valley saw that they had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned the towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them.
||(7) When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them.
|(8) The next day when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his sons fallen on Mount Gilboa.
||(8) The next day when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa.
|(9) They stripped him and took his head and his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to their idols and to the people.
||(9) They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people.
|(10) They put his armor in the temple of their gods, and fastened his head in the temple of Dagon.
||(10) They put his armor in the temple of Astarte; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan.
|(11) But when all Jabesh-gilead heard all what the Philistines had done to Saul,
||(11) But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul,
|(12) all the valiant warriors got up and took up the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons, and brought them to Jabesh. Then they buried their bones under the oak in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
||(12) all the valiant men got up and traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan. They came to Jabesh and burned them there. (13) Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
|(13) So Saul died for his unfaithfulness; he was unfaithful to Yahweh in that he did not keep the word of Yahweh; moreover, he had consulted a medium, seeking guidance,
|(14) and did not seek guidance from Yahweh. Therefore Yahweh put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.
Notes on the Text(s)
As can be seen from the table above, the material of this chapter is derived from 1 Samuel 31, though a number of scholars have argued that it is based on a shorter text than MT Samuel (see especially, Craig Y.S. Ho, “Conjectures and Refutations: Is 1 Samuel xxxi 1-13 Really the Source of 1 Chronicles x 1-12?” VT 45 , 85-106). While it is clear that the Chronicler’s text of Samuel and Kings is not identical with the MT, without textual evidence it is very difficult to determine where the Chronicler’s Vorlage may have been different. Each case needs to be evaluated on its own merit, and clear indications of the theological tendenz of the Chronicler may help us in this process.
The Chronicler’s account of Saul’s reign is divided into three main sections:
- The death of Saul and His House (vv. 1-10). This is largely based on 1Sam 31.
- The good works of the people of Jabesh Gilead (vv. 11-12). Again, largely based on 1Sam 31.
- Theological commentary on Saul’s reign and death (vv. 13-14). This is unique to the Chronicler; although it assumes knowledge of Saul’s inquiry of a medium in 1Sam 28.
1. The Death of Saul and his House (vv. 1-10)
1 There is no historical context provided for the battle with the Philistines (their only previous mention is found in 1Chr 1:12). The change from a participle (“were fighting” (1Sam 31:1) to a suffix verb form (“fought”) serves to disconnect the narrative from its larger context in 1Samuel. Indeed, in the context of the Chronicler, the “Philistines” may be best understood as representing the “heathen” in general.
2 Saul’s sons are previously mentioned in 1Chr 8:33 and 9:39, where his fourth son, Esh-Baal, is also noted. The abortive two-year reign of Esh-Baal, and his subsequent death, is not mentioned by the Chronicler (see 2 Sam 2:8-4:12).
4 It is interesting to note that Saul’s suicide probably did not have any negative moral connotations in the ancient Near East (see Knoppers), but would have been seen as honourable.
6 The Chroniclers appears to have modified the description of the death of Saul to include “all his house.” How to understand this reference is unclear. Ho argues that the shorter text in 1Chron 10:6 (and the reference to “all his house”) may in fact be a better reading, since 1Sam 14:49-51 presents Saul as only having three sons, and thus his “house” did die that fateful day on Mount Gilboa (Ho 86-87). While Ho may have a point, I tend to side with those scholars who understand the changes in the Chronicler’s text as a theological judgement about the end of Saul’s dynasty, despite the tension it creates with the Saulide genealogies in 1Chron 8:33-40 and 9:39-44. Either way, it is crystal clear that Saul’s royal dynasty ended on Mount Gilboa for the Chronicler, and there is no further mention of Saul’s descendants in Chronicles (e.g., no mention of David’s dealing with Mephibosheth in 2Sam 9:1-13 or the death of Saul’s descendants in 2Sam 21:1-14). The verse itself reflects a chiastic structure: Died (a) – Saul (b) – three sons and his whole house (b) – died (a)
9-10 The Chronicler’s lack of interest in Saul’s corpse is interesting (see Ho for a textual solution for the differences between the texts). Saul’s head and armour are sent throughout Philistine territory and end up displayed in their temples. Perhaps there is a parallel with David’s beheading of Goliath (1Sam 17:51) and his depositing of his head in Jerusalem (1Sam 17:54), which could either display the complete defeat of Israel (Williamson), or could be taken as a further polemic against Saul in that he himself is treated in the same manner as David treated the Philistine Goliath. (Ackroyd also suggests that the differences between the accounts should not be pressed as they may only indicate differing traditions surrounding the death of Saul.)
2. The Good Works of the People of Jabesh Gilead (vv. 11-12)
11-12 The kinds acts of the people of Jabesh-Gilead are repeated with minor alteration in Chronicles. The backstory to this verse is found in 1Sam 11, where Saul delivers the people of Jabesh-Gilead from Nahash the Ammonite (In addition, Saul’s descendants include those from Jabesh-Gilead, according to Judges 21).
3. Theological Commentary on Saul’s Reign and Death (vv. 13-14)
The Chronicler provides his own assessment of Saul’s reign and death in which he levels four charges against Saul: he was “unfaithful” (ma’al), he failed to keep “the word of Yahweh,” he sought a medium, and failed to seek Yahweh. Stylistically, the verses are organized in a nice chiasm:
A. Saul died (MT) because of his ma’al
B. He was ma’al and did not keep the word of Yahweh
B.’ He sought (drsh) a Medium (1 Sam 28) but did not seek (drsh) Yahweh
A.’ Saul was killed (MT) by Yahweh
He died because of his unfaithfulness (ma’al), which is one of the Chronicler’s favourite terms (see 2:7, etc.). Not keeping “the word of Yahweh” is likely a specific allusion to 1 Sam 13 and 16. The Chronicler makes it clear that Saul died because of his unfaithfulness and that Yahweh turned His kingdom over to David.
The Purpose of the Chronicler’s Accout of Saul
As a whole, this chapter in Chronicles functions as a transition from the global focus of the genealogical section of Chronicles to the narrative account of the history the monarchy of Israel. The transition is made by a brief account of Saul’s reign; an account that focuses solely on his death and the end of his dynasty. This account in Chronicles is remarkable for its brevity; there is no mention of the events of Saul’s reign or the stories of his remaining heirs – only his death is important for the Chronicler, since it provides the bridge to the reign of the house of David. In this way, the account of the death of Israel’s first king, serves to place David in Israel’s history. “David is not a beginning ex nihilo but rather represents the continuation of a preexisting monarchy” (Trotter 300).
Furthermore, as Zalewski demonstrates, the account exonerates David from any complicity in Saul’s death and clearly establishes Yahweh as the one who removes Saul from the throne and gives it to David (1 Chron 10:14). Moreover, it is not only Saul’s reign that is cut short by Yahweh; Saul and “his entire house” (1Chron 10:6) died that fateful day on Mount Gilboa (see discussion below). David did not usurp Saul’s throne or end his dynasty; God himself orchestrated David’s rise to power. Significantly, this is the only place in the Chronicler’s history that Yahweh directly intervenes and deposes on monarch and replaces him with another (De Vries 119).
Rather than serving merely as a transition or foil to the reign of David, a number of scholars also see the reign of Saul as paradigmatic of the exilic situation (Ackroyd 3-9; Williamson 92-93; relying on Mosis). Mosis, for instance, sees “Saul as the embodiment of many of the key flaws that brought disaster on Israel, and indeed he embodies the disaster himself” (Trotter 302). This understanding is reinforced by the typically Chronistic ways Saul’s death is described: he died for his unfaithfulness (מעל; ma’al) and did not seek (דרש; darash) Yahweh. This understanding of Saul’s reign as typifying judgment and exile is then complemented, in Mosis’s scheme, by David’s reign as a preparation for Solomon’s idealized reign standing for Israel’s eschatological future. While Saul’s reign may or may not be a prototype of the exile (I am not convinced by Mosis), he does serve as a warning to the unfaithful who do not seek Yahweh.
Simon John De Vries, 1 and 2 Chronicles (FOTL 11; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989); Raymond B. Dillard, 2 Chronicles (WBC 15; Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987); Gary Knoppers, I Chronicles 10-29 (AB; Doubleday, 2004); Craig Y. S. Ho, “Conjectures and Refutations: Is 1 Samuel Xxxi 1-13 Really the Source of 1 Chronicles X 1-12?” VT 45 (1995): 82-106; Sara Japhet, I & II Chronicles: A Commentary (OTL; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993); Ralph W. Klein, 1 Chronicles (Hermeneia; Fortress, 2006); Martin J. Selman, 2 Chronicles: A Commentary (TOTC; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994); James M. Trotter, “Reading, Readers and Reading Readers Reading the Account of Saul’s Death in 1 Chronicles 10,” in Chronicler as Author (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 294-310; H. G. M. Williamson, 1 and 2 Chronicles (NCBC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982); Saul Zalewski, “The Purpose of the Story of the Death of Saul in 1 Chronicles 10,” VT 39 (1989): 449-67.