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Saul: The King Who Should Have Never Been (The Kings of Chronicles)

27th February 2011

[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 [1995], 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:

  1. The death of Saul and His House (vv. 1-10). This is largely based on 1Sam 31.
  2. The good works of the people of Jabesh Gilead (vv. 11-12). Again, largely based on 1Sam 31.
  3. 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.

Select Bibliography

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.

Posted in 1Chronicles, Chronicles, Series, The Kings of Chronicles | 1 Comment »

2010 Ancient Historiography Seminar: Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography

6th May 2010

As chair of the CSBS Ancient Historiography Seminar / Groupe de Travail sur l’Historiographie Ancienne, I am pleased to present the schedule for this year’s meeting.

The theme for the 2010 Ancient Historiography Seminar is “The Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography.” We have an impressive collection of presenters this year, including Mark Boda, Louis Jonker, Isaac Kalimi, Gary Knoppers, John Wright, Ehud Ben Zvi, among others.

The schedule is as follows:

The Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography (Session 1)
Sunday 30 May 2010 – 8:45-12:00 (CL 215)
Chair / Président: Patricia Kirkpatrick (McGill University)

  • 8:45-9:15 – “Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography: State of the Question” by Tyler F. Williams (The King’s University College, Edmonton)
  • 9:15-9:45 – “To be, or not to be (King Saul), that is the question: Conjuring up the old problem of the Saul Narrative in Chronicles” by Peter Sabo (University of Alberta)
  • 9:45-10:15 – “Peering through the Cloud of Incense: Davidic Dynasty and Community in the Chronicler’s Perspective” by Mark J. Boda (McMaster Divinity College)

10:15-10:30 Break

  • 10:30-11:00 – “Of Jebus, Jerusalem and Benjamin: The Chronicler’s Sondergut in 1 Chronicles 21 against the background of the late Persian Era in Yehud” by Louis Jonker (Stellenbosch University)
  • 11:00-11:30 – “The Rise and Fall of King Solomon: Deuteronomistic versus Chronistic History” by Isaac Kalimi (East Carolina University)
  • 11:30-12:00 – “Divine Retribution in Herodotus and the Chronicler” by John Wright (Point Loma Nazarene University)

12:00-13:30 Lunch Break

The Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography (Session 2)

Sunday 30 May 2010 – 13:30-17:45 (CL 215)
Chair / Président: Tyler F. Williams (The King’s University College)

  • 13:30-14:00 – “‘Yhwh will raise up for you a prophet like me’: Prophecy and Prophetic Succession in Chronicles” by Gary N. Knoppers (The Pennsylvania State University)
  • 14:00-14:30 – “Capital Punishment: The Configuration of Ahaziah’s Last Hours in 2 Chronicles 22” by Keith Bodner (Atlantic Baptist University)
  • 14:30-15:00 – “To Besiege or Not to Besiege: The Chronicler’s Presentation of the Invasion of Sennacherib” by Paul Evans (McMaster Divinity School)

15:00-15:15 Break

  • 15:15-15:45 – “Implicit and Explicit Rhetoric in 2 Chronicles 35-36” by Mark Leuchter (Temple University Department of Religion)
  • 15:45-16:15 – “Exile in Chronicles” by Ehud Ben Zvi (University of Alberta)
  • 16:15-16:45 – “Historiography in Lament: A Case Study of Isaiah 63:7-64:11[12]” by Sonya Kostamo (University of Alberta)
  • 16:45-17:15 – “Hearing Darius in Ezra: A Bakhtinian Analysis of the Voice of Darius in Ezra 6” by James Bowick (McMaster Divinity College)
  • 17:15-17:45 – “Reflections on the Book of Chronicles and Early Second Temple Historiography” by Christine Mitchell (St. Andrew’s College)

The full schedule, including abstracts and download links for the papers, for this year’s session may be found at the seminar website.  The Ancient Historiography Seminar meets as part of the annual meeting of the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies, held at Concordia University, Montréal, PQ, May 29-31, 2010.

Posted in Ancient Historiography Seminar, Chronicles, CSBS | Comments Off

Commentaries on Chronicles Galore!

9th November 2007

There has been a resurgence of scholarly interest in Chronicles, which is evident in the number of commentaries recently published on this oft-neglected book. There is truly a wealth of resources in English for those interested in studying this theologically facinating book of the Bible. My division of the commentaries into those for “Scholars and Teachers” and “Pastors and Students” is admittedly somewhat artificial. Assiduious readers will glean much excellent information from most of the commentaries listed below.

Commentaries for Scholars and Teachers

With recent publications by Klein and Knoppers, there is no shortage of academic commentaries on Chronicles — especially 1 Chronicles. The academic heavyweights for 1 Chronicles are clearly Gary Knoppers‘s Anchor Bible volumes and Ralph Klein‘s Hermeneia commentary. Knoppers is second to none in terms of text-critical analysis, while Klein’s work is solidly academic, though also easily accessibly for pastors and students. I find Johnstone‘s analysis of the Masoretic text of Chronicles to be rather refreshing and original.

Other commentaries geared more for scholars and teachers include the excellent WBC volumes by Braun and Dillard (perhaps the best from an evangelical perspective) and De Vries, who is quite insightful in his analysis (but is limited by the format of the FOTL commentary series). Another commentary that is hampered by the format of the series, yet is invaluable for scholar and student alike, is Williamson‘s NCB commentary. Other scholarly volumes worthy of perusal include Jarick‘s interesting reading of Chronicles that “tunes out” other competing traditions, Dirksen‘s thorough historical critical study, as well as Curtis and Madsen‘s more traditional (albeit dated) philological commentary.

Finally, pride of place for academic commentaries on the book of Chronicles still has to go to Sarah Japhet‘s majesterial volume, not only because it covers both 1 and 2 Chronicles in one volume, but more importantly, it is both insightful and thorough in its exposition.

Commentaries for Teachers and Pastors

There have been a number of new commentaries published on Chronicles from a popular perspective in recent years. Selman‘s two volumes are quite good, as are the works by Thompson and Tuell. Pastors will find Allen‘s and Hill‘s commentaries quite useful, though I find Allen’s discussions of modern applications to be closer to the mark. Out of all of these more popular commentaries I would probably give the strongest recommendation to McKenzie‘s volume. I have used it for seminary and undergraduate classes and have found that it both represents the state of current scholarship and is theologically sensitive.

I would welcome your comments — what commentaries on Chronicles do you find most useful and why?

For more commentary recommendations, see my “Old Testament Commentary Survey.”

Posted in Chronicles, Commentary Survey, Old Testament | 2 Comments »

Knoppers et al on Kalimi’s An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler

17th March 2006

The latest edition of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures has an article edited by Gary N. Knoppers with contributions by Ehud Ben Zvi, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Gary N. Knoppers, Ralph W. Klein, Mark A. Throntveit with a response by Isaac Kalimi, entitled, “Chronicles and the Chronicler: A Response to I. Kalimi, An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler, his Time, Place and Writing,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 6/2 (2006).

This article began at a session of the Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah section of last year’s SBL devoted to Isaac Kalimi, An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler, His Time, Place, and Writing (Studia Semitica Neerlandica, 46; Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, 2005). After an introduction by Knoppers, each author presents an expanded review of Kalimi’s book, and then Kalimi responds.

While I am not going to repeat the contents of the article here, one criticism that a number of the authors noted was Kalimi’s characterization of the Chronicler as an ancient historian and the book of Chronicles as historiography. While most of the authors appear to be fine with classifying Chronicles as ancient historiography, they don’t like some of the implications that Kalimi draws from this assertion. First, when Kalimi calls the Chronicler a “historian” he means by implication that he isn’t a “midrashist” or a “theologian.” While I would agree that the Chronicler is a historian, I would characterize him as a theological historian who at times employs midrashic techniques.

Second, Kalimi appears to imply that because the Chronicler is a historian, this should influence our assessment of the reliability of the information contained within Chronicles and the book’s usefulness as a historical source for the history of monarchic Israel. Again, while I would agree with Kalimi’s characterization that the genre of Chronicles is ancient historiography, that does not mean that the book is necessarily reliable as a modern historical source. Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that Chronicles can’t be used to reconstruct this history of monarchic Israel or Persian Yehud. What I am saying is that Chronicles is an ancient history book and that the Chronicler has very different standards for writing history and very different literary and historiographic techniques than modern historians — and these differences have to be taken into consideration when evaluating the reliability of his accounts. In this regard, I quite liked Mark Throntveit’s comments:

Three of the designations (Exegete, Theologian, and Historian), at least in Kalimi’s critique of those who have proposed them as characterizing the Chronicler, are rather modern ideological constructs. The Chronicler was neither what we understand a modern exegete, theologian, or historian to be any more than he was a Democrat, Republican, or Green Party member. Proposing modern vocational conceptions as characteristic of the Chronicler’s work or activity seems to me to be akin to asking the question, “What would Jesus drive?� interesting, thought-provoking, edifying, perhaps, but essentially conjectural.

In his very thorough response, Kalimi further nuances his understanding of Chronicles as historiography in a way that I think would satisfy most scholars. At any rate, I encourage you to take a gander at this article — it’ll be well worth your time. In addition, I encourage you to pick up Kalimi’s work. He is one of the major scholars studying the book of Chronicles today.

Posted in Chronicles, Historiography, History of Ancient Israel, Reviews & Notices | 2 Comments »