David, Saul, and God: Rediscovering an Ancient Story

David, Saul, and God: Rediscovering an Ancient Story

David, Saul, and God: Rediscovering an Ancient Story

David, Saul, and God: Rediscovering an Ancient Story

Synopsis

The biblical story of King David and his conflict with King Saul (1 and 2 Samuel) is one of the most colorful and perennially popular in the Hebrew Bible. In recent years this story has attracted a great deal of scholarly attention, much of it devoted to showing that David was a far less heroic character than appears on the surface. Indeed, more than one has painted David as a despicable tyrant. Paul Borgman provides a counter-reading to these studies, through an attentive reading of the narrative patterns of the text. He focuses on one of the key features of ancient Hebrew narrative poetics -- repeated patterns -- taking special note of even the small variations each time a pattern recurs. He argues that such 'hearing cues' would have alerted an ancient audience to the answers to such questions as 'Who is David?' and 'What is so wrong with Saul?' The narrative insists on such questions, says Borgman, slowly disclosing answers through patterns of repeated scenarios and dominant motifs that yield, finally, the supreme work of storytelling in ancient literature. Borgman concludes with a comparison with Homer's storytelling technique, demontrating that the David story is indeed a masterpiece and David (as Baruch Halpern has said) 'the first truly modern human.'

Excerpt

Rediscover the story of David? Surely the narrative in Samuel and 1 Kings 1–2 has been understood well enough, especially given the prodigious activity within the field of biblical studies over the past two centuries. The truth, however, is that the story of David has suffered from what Hans Frei has called “the eclipse of biblical narrative”—the overlooking of biblical texts as whole and coherent dramas. With rare exception, what has been lost is what Frei thinks of as essential in understanding any narrative creation, namely, an operating assumption that “meaning and narrative shape bear significantly on each other.” To rediscover David’s story is to retrieve meaning that would have emerged, for the ancient audience, from the narrative shape of a story informed in large measure by techniques of repetition appropriate to an oral age of storytelling. They heard the story. To gain access to this story, as readers, we will pay special attention to the broad patterns of repetition from which emerge the meaning of characters, action, and implicit moral vision.

Along the way, by way of footnotes, we will be carrying on a conversation with other readers representing various disciplines of inquiry.

The David story took final shape from within an oral culture whose techniques of repetition demanded from the audience a circling backward—a tracking of key echoes—as the plot unfolds. Rediscovery of this arguably greatest of all ancient stories, then, involves a recognition of a narrative shape peculiar to its storytelling manner.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.