Tuesday 26 February 2013

Who Killed Goliath? (Part 3)

Sorry for the delay in getting this post up - I've been ill.

In my last post I gave an example of the difference between the Old Greek (OG) text of 1Samuel 17 and the Masoretic Text (MT). I pointed out that overall the OG is considerably shorter than the MT although, conversely, there are a few details that the OG has that are missing in the MT.

The example I gave (1Sam 17:49-51) is only a small example of the shortness of the OG text. So before moving on to examining some possible models for explaining how these differences arose, I'd like to look at one further example which is a much more major absence from the OG text.

Earlier on in 1Samuel 17 an entire section is absent from the OG, that is verses 12-31. In the MT this passage serves to:
  1. Introduce David again (cf. 1Sam 16:1-13) and some of his brothers,
  2. Situate David in Bethlehem and yet explain how David was in Bethlehem whereas he had been with Saul at the end of chapter 16 (1Sam 17:15),
  3. Provide an explanation of how David came to be at the battlefield, rendered necessary by placing him in Bethlehem,
  4. Explain how he heard the taunts of Goliath,
  5. Outline the reward of the hand in marriage of a daughter of Saul to the one who kills Goliath,
  6. Relate a small argument between Eliab and David, and
  7. Describe how David came to volunteer to enter the duel.

Okay so there's a lot there, and we've not yet looked at how the OG works without these elements (I'll address that below). Some of the elements here work well independently of the rest of the story.

For example, the small dispute between Eliab and David is only really referenced in this passage. Eliab's only other mention in Samuel is back in chapter 16, when he was the first son of Jesse to be presented to Samuel. So the dispute story here is nicely self-contained.

But not all the elements above are so neat. We're going to meet a considerable development of the offer of the hand in marriage of a daughter of Saul later on in the book, something which contains its ongoing confusions (just which daughter?).

However some of the elements listed above have to deal with tensions created within these verses themselves. Take the introduction of David; no-one who reads the work from start to finish can fail to be intrigued that David gets this second introduction. Let's have a look at the first verse (1Sam 17:12):

וְדָוִד בֶּן־אִישׁ אֶפְרָתִי הַזֶּה מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה וּשְׁמוֹ יִשַׁי וְלוֹ שְׁמֹנָה בָנִים וְהָאִישׁ בִּימֵי שָׁאוּל זָקֵן בָּא בַאֲנָשִׁים׃

And David was the son of that Ephrathite man from Bethlehem of Judah, his name was Jesse, and to him were eight sons; and the man, in the days of Saul, had come to be old amongst men.

There's a little problem at the end of this verse, and most translations modify the last word following the Lucianic recension, the Vorlage of which presumably read בַשָּׁנִים (or rather the same word without the vowel-pointing). This would make the ending "... had come to be old in years.".

As you read this verse there are some things which seem very familiar, even formulaic - well perhaps almost but not quite. Other things are a little odd about this verse. Starting with the oddities, who is the subject? David is right there as the first word (again in vss 14 and 15 - some significant prominence!), and yet the subject swiftly changes to Jesse. The subject stays with Jesse through vs 13 as other sons are (re-)introduced.

Verse 12 feels very reminiscent of the standard formula for introducing someone in the Hebrew bible. Let's take Judges 17:1 as a good example, but there are lots of others (Judg 13:2; 19:1; 1Sam 1:1; 9:1 etc.):

וַיְהִי־אִישׁ מֵהַר־אֶפְרָיִם וּשְׁמוֹ מִיכָיְהוּ׃
There was a man from the mountain of Ephraim, his name was Micah.

How close is our 1Sam re-introduction to this standard formula? It has often been pointed out that one would only need to replace וְדָוִד בֶּן by וַיְהִי and delete the word הַזֶּה and you'd get the standard formula, which would read:

וַיְהִי־אִישׁ אֶפְרָתִי מִבֵּית לֶחֶם יְהוּדָה וּשְׁמוֹ יִשַׁי וְלוֹ שְׁמֹנָה בָנִים וְהָאִישׁ בִּימֵי שָׁאוּל זָקֵן בָּא בַאֲנָשִׁים׃
There was an Ephrathite man from Bethlehem of Judah, his name was Jesse...

This also has the advantage of eliminating the multiple subjects problem. David would now be introduced in verse 14.

So what are we saying here? Well there are two introductions to David, the first in 1Sam 16:1-13 and the second here in 1Sam 17:12-15. In particular, 1Sam 17:12 seems a very formulaic introduction with just the amendment of a couple of words. The fact that the OG doesn't have this second introduction (amongst other things) serves to enhance its coherence.

If you add it to this mix other elements from the list of elements to 1Sam17:12-31 I started with above, such as getting David to be back with Saul when he was already with him according to chapter 16, it looks like this passage has a history independent from the main 1Sam 17 text, or at least we may have independent strands that have been woven together.

This is further borne out when one looks at how the text works in the OG, or how it would work in the MT without the verses 17:12-31. If you remember from chapter 16, David has become Saul's "music-therapist" (a bit of a tongue-in-cheek term I know, but an easy way to remember that David was always present for Saul when needed). In chapter 17 Saul leads the Israelites to meet in battle the Philistines who have encroached its borders. If it weren't for verses 12-31 it would be reasonable to assume David was still with them (for verses 12-31 David has unexpectedly returned to Bethlehem - verse 15 is a harmonizing verse which tries to explain this). In the confrontation, Goliath issues taunts against the Israelites. In verse 11 we get the reaction of the Israelites and Saul:

וַיִּשְׁמַע שָׁאוּל וְכָל־יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶת־דִּבְרֵי הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי הָאֵלֶּה וַיֵּחַתּוּ וַיִּרְאוּ מְאֹד׃
Saul and all of Israel heard these words of the Philistine; they were dismayed and were very afraid.

In the OG the next verse gives David's response to this fear. Here it is from the MT (17:32):

וַיֹּאמֶר דָּוִד אֶל־שָׁאוּל אַל־יִפֹּל לֵב־אָדָם עָלָיו עַבְדְּךָ יֵלֵךְ וְנִלְחַם עִם־הַפְּלִשְׁתִּי הַזֶּה׃
And David said to Saul, "Do not let the heart of a man fall upon him; your servant will go and will fight with this Philistine."

In the OG of this verse, instead of "a man" we read τοῦ κυρίου μου presumably meaning Saul. Both versions of this verse follow nicely on from verse 11 with David telling Saul that he (or no man) need fear - David will deal with the situation. So the OG makes very good sense without the intervening verses in the MT.

What are we to make of all this? Well the OG is very much shorter than the MT. Yet it is a remarkably coherent text which, indeed, does not contain a good many of the difficulties that are found in the MT (and more examples of such difficulties could be given). It sometimes gives a few details missing from the MT. Nevertheless, some of the details given only in the MT seem to foreshadow later themes (e.g. the promise of the hand in marriage of a daughter of Saul).

We seem to have two forms of the story with significant differences from each other, both of which have been cherished enough to have been preserved and passed down to us. The obvious question is, which form of the story is earlier? Indeed, what can we say about the evolution of this story?

For my next post on this theme I want to have a look at some of the models that have been proposed to address these questions. I'm going to see if I can get this blogger software to allow me to do some diagrams, so this may take some time.

In the meantime, I'm tempted to alternate some of my Goliath posts with other material, particularly something about the New Testament, as I want to establish this blog as addressing a wide range of biblical literature. Also, I haven't really finished on the Goodacre - Stavrakopoulou issue. For those that are here simply for Goliath, have no fear - I will continue with this theme; there really is much, much more to say.


  1. This new post is very interesting. I can't wait for the next one. Keep on publishing!

  2. Many thanks, Apsara, for your encouragement. I will indeed persevere.