Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Elaborated Evidence for the Priority of 1 Samuel 26

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Elaborated Evidence for the Priority of 1 Samuel 26

Article excerpt

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The two stories about David's declined opportunities to kill Saul in 1 Samuel 24 and 26 constitute a long-standing crux interpretum for biblical scholars.1 No one, to my knowledge, doubts that the stories are related in some way, but the nature of their relationship is a matter of considerable disagreement.2 Beginning with Julius Wellhausen, many scholars have seen the version in ch. 26 as the older of the two.3 But perhaps just as many have pointed to ch. 24 as the older account.4 The arguments on both sides are often impressionistic or laced with assumptions rather than appealing to specific features of the respective texts. Thus, Wellhausen asserted that ch. 26 was older because it was shorter and more pointed, and Hans Joachim Stoebe disagreed with Klaus Koch about which of the two chapters preserves the traces of a genuine hero saga that would have been passed on orally by David's men. A third approach, popularized by Koch's influential treatment, assumes that the two stories derive from oral variants of an original, single episode.5

An exception to this general neglect of specific features was a well-crafted 1998 article by Cynthia Edenburg.6 The article laid out five categories of evidence for what Edenburg termed "author devised interrelations" and then argued from those categories that the story in ch. 24 was dependent on ch. 26 rather than both stemming from a single older tradition. She concluded, however, that both stories were written by the same author, who used them to highlight the keystone tale of David's encounter with Abigail (ch. 25), which anticipates the dynastic promise (2 Samuel 7) and ties it to refraining from wrongful bloodshed. In this brief article, I wish (1) to elaborate one of Edenburg's key arguments and thereby to affirm her basic conclusion about the direction of dependence from ch. 26 to ch. 24; (2) to offer a text-critical explanation for an observation she makes about the narrative of ch. 24 that further supports her view of the direction of dependence; and (3) to demur from her conclusion regarding common authorship of the two chapters and to propose a slightly different explanation for their function individually and together in the larger narrative.


In ch. 26, after taking Saul's spear and water jug, David retreats to the opposite hilltop, which, the text informs, is far away (...), leaving a great distance between them ... [v. 13]). From there, he calls out (...) to Saul's army and to Abner, who does not recognize his voice and asks who is calling (again ...). David's scolding of Abner leads Saul to recognize the voice so that he asks, "Is this your voice, my son David?" (v. 17). David answers in the affirmative. Then, in the course of his speech to Saul, David employs a pun on the word for calling, alluding to himself as "the calling bird in the mountains" (... [v. 20]). Thus, the verb ... in ch. 26 serves to bring out elements that are crucial to the story-the distance between David and Saul, Saul's effort to recognize David, and even David's harmlessness to Saul as a bird in the mountains.

In ch. 24, David also calls out (...) to Saul after he emerges from the cave (v. 9). But here there is no real need for him to do so, since there is no indication of any great distance between the two men. This "ungrammatical" (see below) use of ... becomes more apparent as one realizes that the entire scene in ch. 24 assumes that David and Saul are in close proximity. David bows down and lies prostrate while speaking to Saul (vv. 10-16), showing that the two are quite close to each other. In addition, the story demands that the missing garment piece be small, since Saul does not notice that it is missing until David points this out. Hence, David's display of the garment piece to Saul (v. 12) in turn requires that the two of them be close. Furthermore, David goes on to deliver a lengthy speech calling Saul his "father" (v. …

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