Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Flight of the Fugitives: Rethinking the Relationship between Biblical Law (Exodus 21:12-14) and the Davidic Succession Narrative (1 Kings 1-2)

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Flight of the Fugitives: Rethinking the Relationship between Biblical Law (Exodus 21:12-14) and the Davidic Succession Narrative (1 Kings 1-2)

Article excerpt

The flight of the fugitives Adonijah and Joab to the "altar of the Lord"1 in 1 Kgs 1:50-53 and 2:28-34, respectively, presents something of a challenge to biblical scholars who have struggled to explain the relationship between this aspect of these events in 1 Kings 1-2 and the practice of asylum seeking at the "altar of the Lord" in Exod 21:12-14. This is reflected both in the lack of consensus on the subject and in the problematic nature of the positions that have so far been advanced.

A spectrum of views can be identified, as follows. At one end are scholars who see the narratives of Adonijah and Joab as straightforward applications of Exod 21:12-14 (including James K. Bruckner, Brevard S. Childs, John I. Durham, William H. C. Propp, Nahum M. Sarna, and Keith W. Whitelam).2 However, the Joab and Adonijah narratives could be straightforward examples of Exod 21:12-14 only if they dealt with fugitives who were "on the run" following a fresh killing, since this is the focus of the Exodus passage. Yet plainly this is not the case, either for Adonijah or for Joab. There is no indication that Adonijah has killed anyone (despite Nathan's warning to Bathsheba in 1 Kgs 1:12 and Bathsheba's own plea for protection in 1:21). And while the battle-weary Joab has plenty of blood on his hands, the deaths of Abner (2 Sam 3:27) and Amasa (2 Sam 20:10), which are presented as sources of blood-guilt by David and Solomon (1 Kgs 2:5-6, 31-33), are long past. As a result, it is inadequate to claim that the succession narrative simply illustrates Exod 21:12-14.

Moving on through the spectrum, we come to scholars who acknowledge the differences between Exod 21:12-14 and the succession narrative but who at the same time maintain that there is a connection, even though they are not too clear what it is (e.g., Martin Noth).3 Thus, Anthony Phillips blandly remarks that the only examples in the Hebrew Bible of persons seeking asylum "concern political refugees and not criminals,"4 a position that at least recognizes the disjuncture, even while glossing over it. Simon J. De Vries and J. W. Wesselius go further, characterizing the Adonijah and Joab stories as examples of the abuse of the custom of asylum, although there is not too much to choose between the claim that the stories are perverse examples of the application of Exod 21:12-14 and the claim that they are not illustrations of that passage at all.5 Percy S. F. van Keulen simply leaves the matter open, claiming that "[t]here is no clear indication that Exod. 21:14 is presupposed in the narrative, either in MT or in the LXX-version," while Bernard S. Jackson views the relationship between Exod 21:14 and the slaying of Joab as "not clear."6

From here it is only a short move further along the spectrum to scholars who deny any kind of relationship between the succession narrative and the biblical legal texts. Thus, Pamela Barmash and Martin J. Mulder (like Phillips) character- ize Adonijah and Joab as examples of "political asylum"; however, (unlike Phillips) they see this as evidence that these cases are completely unrelated to Exod 21:12- 14, a view shared by Åke Viberg and Jeffrey Stackert.7

In this article I would like to propose a new way forward. I shall argue that Exod 21:12-14 is both normative and operative in the stories of Adonijah and Joab. At the same time, however, I shall argue that this relationship is not straightforward. In doing so, I hope to provide an account of this relationship that not only acknowledges the continuity and disjuncture between Exod 21:12-14 and 1 Kings 1-2 but also explains it. Part of the reason why this has not previously been recognized is that our assumptions about the nature of biblical law have, very often, lagged behind the praxis of biblical law (that is, its accepted practices and customs), as reflected in the biblical texts. Jackson has argued, persuasively in my view, that biblical law is best understood in "narrative" rather than "semantic" terms (see section I below), an approach that, I believe, can be fruitfully applied to Exod 21:12- 14. …

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