Saturday 25 May 2013

Who killed Goliath? (Part 5)

In my last post on this theme I answered the easy part of the conundrum of the 3½ versions of the story known as "David and Goliath". We saw there that the version in 1Chronicles 20:5 is a harmonisation of 2 accounts written earlier: the longest story, 1Samuel 17 and the shortest, 2Samuel 21:19. Moreover, the Chronicles account has simply lifted the 2Samuel account, slightly modified it, and "published" this new version, which rescues the chronicler's favourite hero, David, from embarrassment of an alternative claim to Goliath's head.
I had previously pointed out that the Hebrew text of 1Samuel 17 (the Old Greek text varies considerably) is a complex and composite text with many accretions which have ended up being contradictory (e.g. how does David have an initial meeting with Saul twice?) or anachronistic (e.g. Goliath's head is paraded in Jerusalem many years before Jerusalem has been captured).

Composite Texts - How are they Formed?
To help answer this question here's a slightly different example to show something of the process, which I'll put in the form of a little quiz:
Who are the participants in the following story, and whereabouts in the book of Genesis will you find it?
1. A husband and wife couple enter a new country.
2. They agree between themselves to promote a small deception with the settled population in that country: that the woman is the man's sister rather than his wife.
3. This deception is carried out to protect the man from being killed.
4. The ruler of the country is initially fooled by this ruse.
5. The ruler finds out the truth and challenges the man as to why he has carried out this deception.
6. The situation is corrected by the ruler, and all goes well with the couple.

Okay, have you:
reflected on it,
got the answer, and
checked where it is in the book of Genesis?
If so, read on.

If you know the book of Genesis well you should recognise this story because it's told not once but 3 times, each time with slightly different characters:
(1) Gen 12:11-20. Protagonists Abram and Sarai, ruler Egyption pharaoh.
(2) Gen 20:2-18. Protagonists same as above, but now called Abraham and Sarah, ruler Abimelech king of Gerar.
(3) Gen 26:6-11. Protagonists Isaac and Rebekah, ruler same as (2) above, Abimelech king of Gerar.

Note the different comparative lengths of these 3 versions of the same story, and consequently the amount of detail given in each one. The shortest version is the the one that appears last, Gen 26: 6-11.
In contrast, the longest one, with the most detailed story telling is the middle version, Gen 20:2-18. Here the king actually takes the wife as his own, and god comes to him in a dream to admonish him; there is the fullest conversation between the ruler and the male protagonist; the ruler compensates the couple; the man blesses and heals the ruler, the ruler's wife and his female servants. Quite a degree of accretions for the same story! It really should have made a considerable impact on Abimelech, but he seems to have completely forgotten by the time he makes the same mistake with Isaac and Rebekah!
Similarly, when Abraham entered Gerar he didn't say to his wife, "Look you know we've been through this before; let's not tell the same fib here as we did eight chapters ago - you know what we went through, we wouldn't want that again!".
One more thing to note about this long, elaborate version is that it is attributed to Abraham - arguably the most revered jewish ancestor (alongside Moses). If the simplest and shortest version of the story is attributed to Isaac and Rebekah, somewhat lesser heroes, it is perhaps an indication of the reverence for Abraham that he gets the most detailed form.

How Are Such Texts Composed?
It's easy to assume that when texts are composed there is one "compositional episode". What do I mean by "composition episode"? Imagine someone probably sitting down to write a short story; perhaps they do it in a morning, a day, or couple of days. Some of the New Testament documents were almost undoubtedly composed like this; for example Paul's letter to Philemon is so short that it can hardly be conceived that it was composed in any other way than in one go. Even when J.K Rowling wrote something like her first Harry Potter book, this would be done in a matter of weeks/months; perhaps there may have been drafts before a final version is created. nevertheless you can consider it one event.
Pictorially one might represent the text with various ideas coming in as:

Here the arrows indicate the author's various ideas and sources (oral) coming in to make up the compositional scroll.
However there are clear signs that some biblical texts were not composed in this "one compositional event" approach. Rather they grew up over time. Perhaps they started with one compisitional episode, but the text established in this way was revised and redacted with new material at some stage. The revision might happen several times. This might look pictorially like this:

Alternatively two stories composed originally independently might be combined later on to form a third, composite story, looking something like this:

Indeed these ways of stories evolving over time can themselves be combined to give a complex evolutionary development of texts we now have in front of us.

Harmonization and Preservation of Texts
Returning to the Genesis husband-and-wife-enter-a-new-country story outlined above, it seems someone, somewhere came up with the basic schema of this story; it may have been retold several times. In the re-telling, perhaps some of the original details of the story were forgotten, whilst others were embellished. Perhaps some scribe was familiar with two of the three versions and, wanting to preserve them, combined them into one narrative. Now imagine a scribe who knows a third, slightly different form of the story who comes across this text with the two stories - what is he (I'm afraid it is unlikely to have been a "she" given the patriarchal nature of societies at that time) to do if he wishes to maintain his own version? 
Well the custom of the time seems to have been simply to add it in to the text. This "addition" of texts might feel a little odd to us these days; being familiar with the "harmonizations" of modern-day fundamentalism, we might have thought that scribes would want to change the text they had in front of them so that it corresponded more closely, or exactly, with the version of the story that the scribe knew.
Of course, sometimes this happened; but it seems that even more important than "harmonization" was to many ancient scribes, "preservation" of stories/traditions was de rigueur in many societies. If you don't believe me from the examples already given, have a read of the book of Judges, and ask why the story of each and every judge is very similar:
1. The Israelites did what was evil in Yahweh's sight.
2. They prostrated themselves to other gods.
3. Oppressors triumphed over the Israelites just as Yahweh had promised
4. Yahweh heard their suffering and raised up a leader (traditionally translated "a judge").
5. The leader was victorious over the oppressors.
6. The leader later died.
7. On the death of the leader, the Israelites turned and behaved more corruptly than their fathers.
It's the same story over and over again, with embellishments and minor variations.

How should we apply this to David and Goliath?
If you've been following closely the argument so far, you'll have remembered that I have previously mentioned that the story we now have in the Hebrew text of 1Sam 16-18 is a "composite" story. Here are some of the things that betray this feature:
1. David is introduced to the reader twice (1Sam 16:1-13 and 1Sam 17:12-14).
2. David is introduced to Saul twice (1Sam 16:14-23 and 1Sam 17:55-58)
3. David kills Goliath twice (1Sam 17:49-50 without a sword, and 1Sam 17:51 with a sword)
4. Saul promotes David twice to lead the troops (1Sam 18:5 and 1Sam 18:13)
5. Saul offers David to marry two of his daughters in quick succession (1Sam 18:17-19 and 1Sam 18:20-27), yet the first one is offered in gratitude for David's valiance, and the second one in order to bring about his death.
6. David brings Goliath's head to Jerusalem (1Sam 17:54) despite the fact that the story is set several years before Jerusalem's capture (2Sam 5:4-7).
7. In the same verse (1Sam 17:54) David also puts his (presumably Goliath's) weapons (כֵּלָיו) in "his own tent". The writer here has "forgotten" that David has just arrived on the scene as a shepherd boy and certainly doesn't have his own tent - the writer of this verse seems to think he is an army captain or higher!
So the composite nature of the Hebrew text here is quite clear. This is a text which is based on multiple sources built up over time. These sources contradict each other or contain elements which are now out of place in their current setting.

The Old Greek Version
One interesting aspect of these doublets and inconsistencies is that the Old Greek (OG) translation of 1Sam 16-18, which you might remember I mentioned previously is considerably shorter than the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), contains very few of them. For example, I have already mentioned that in the OG Goliath dies just the once, as opposed to twice in the MT. On the other hand, in the OG David still takes Goliath's head to Jerusalem and puts weapons in his tent. Nevertheless, the OG version is very much simpler (i.e. less composite) than the MT version.
There's an "obvious" possible solution to this, namely the OG represents an earlier form of the 1Sam 16-18 story than the MT; i.e. the OG was translated from a Hebrew vorlage which was at an earlier stage of evolution than the Hebrew text we now have.
And this "obvious" solution might have been the end of the matter, were it not for the fact that some scholars have thought that the OG is too good to be true, i.e. it's suspiciously simple and too "uncomposite". They have raised the question, just like the author(s) of the Chronicles version of the story we looked at last time, have the translators of the OG recognised the composite nature of the Hebrew text and set about "rectifying" it in their translation. Did the Hebrew text become complex over time, and then at some point the translators of the OG rendered it less complex again?
To sum up this point, what was the direction of travel in the evolution between the Hebrew and Old Greek versions of 1Sam 16-18? Which version represents the earlier text?
I'd like to do a separate post on this question. But in the meantime I'd like to note one more thing about a couple of the inconsistencies in both the Hebrew and Greek versions of the story.

The Anachronisms
I've noted above 2 matters which are anachronistic in the text, and this time they are both in the Hebrew and Greek texts:
1. David taking the head of Goliath to Jerusalem, despite Jerusalem not being captured for many years to come.
2. David placing weapons in his tent, despite him being the lowly of lowly in this story.
These features seem to come from a version of the story where Jerusalem has already been captured and is considered a major city for the Israelites. Moreover, they must also come from a version where the hero is of sufficient stature to have his own tent on the battlefield*.
Well, perhaps it is coincidence, but we have just such a version of the story available. When Elhanan killed Goliath in 2Sam 21:19 (poor Goliath, it's the third time he's had to die!) David had already captured Jerusalem, built his palace and made it his capital. And although the text doesn't say who Elhanan was, it does mention that David was no longer going out to battle himself, presumably relying on warriors/captains to do his fighting for him. Elhanan seems to have been one such character, so it would be no stretch to say it was likely he had his own tent on the battlefield.
Thus, did the story of Goliath's head being taken to Jerusalem and weapons being place in a hero's tent originate with an Elhanan version of the story? Such a theory could never be proved (unless we one day happen felicitously on more ancient manuscripts!), but certainly such elements of the story fit much better with the Elhanan version than the Davidic version. Perhaps they have become transplaced, honouring a more famous hero.

The Hebrew text of 1Sam 17 is a composite text which now shows a number of internal inconsistencies due to the way different, contradictory strands have been combined. There remains the question of whether the OG version, which is less composite, represents and earlier stage of evolution of the story, or has been deliberately redacted from a composite version such as the Hebrew text found today, thus making it more internally more coherent.

*The problem of David having his own tent is admittedly less acute in the OG version, as in this version David is by now consistently part of Saul's court, so conceivably might be considered quite important. In the MT version David is simply a visitor to the battlefield. Personally I am not convinced that even such a person with the OG's elevated position would have his own tent on the battlefield, nevertheless I'm no expert on ancient warfare as I've already admitted. To me, it does seem more reasonable that individual tents would be reserved for only the most senior officers, which hardly fits the bill in either version for David.

Saturday 11 May 2013

Geza Vermes (1924 - 2013)

I don't want this blog to become a place for obituaries. Nevertheless, I'm going to make an small exception for the recent death of Geza Vermes - a truly exceptional scholar.
Some of the readership here will be very familiar with his scholarship, and others have probably never heard of him. There is an obituary in The Times, but on their website it is behind the paywall. There are various other obituaries around the blogsphere.
Vermes was born to a Hungarian jewish family in 1924. In a rising tide of anti-semitism his family converted to Roman Catholicism when he was only 6 years old, and he attended a Roman Catholic seminary from 1939. His family's pragmatic conversion to christianity did not unfortunately save his parents from the holocaust.
Geza Vermes himself became an RC priest, moved to Belgium following the war and was awarded a doctorate by the Catholic University of Louvain. His religious journey did not end there - although I can't claim him for atheism. He left the priesthood and christianity, "reconverting" to judaism in 1957. Though subsequently strongly identifying with with judaism, he seems not to have been very active in synagogue life. He moved to Britain, teaching first at Newcastle University and then at Oxford University.
He was incredibly famous in the biblical critical world for two areas of research:

1) The Dead Sea Scrolls.
He studied the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) from very early on, and produced the most widely used translation of them into English (The [Complete] Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin, 1966 - original version, 2004 - "Complete" version), a heavily thumbed copy of which sits on practically every biblical critic's bookshelf. He was enormously influential in the early studies of the DSS, combining his extensive knowledge of early jewish texts with the discoveries coming to light from the DSS.

2) The jewishness of Jesus
In 1973 he published Jesus the Jew (Fortress Press) a truly ground-breaking work which showed how the Jesus of the earliest gospels was a product of his time and the jewish religion(s) of his day. Again here he was able to show, thanks to the same extensive knowledge of early jewish texts mentioned above (a familiarity that other New Testament scholars simply didn't possess) that what the earliest gospels were portraying was a Jesus who was not as transcending or paradigm-shifting as earlier scholars had thought.

Although NT scholars today like to refer to Vermes' work, and claim their reconstructions of Jesus and early christianity are "thoroughly jewish", there is still a tendency to make out that Jesus surpassed the judaism(s) of his day - Vermes' lesson has not been well learnt by the profession!
I think that one of the greatest achievements of Vermes was to show that whatever a scholar's personal background and current beliefs, he or she can do a great deal to counter his/her own inherent bias, if he/she is prepared to try - a theme I touched on over at the Deity Schmeity blog.