Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Composition of Nathan's Oracle to David (2 Samuel 7:1-17) as a Reflection of Royal Judahite Ideology

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Composition of Nathan's Oracle to David (2 Samuel 7:1-17) as a Reflection of Royal Judahite Ideology

Article excerpt

In loving memory of my father,

Reuben Sergi

Nathan's oracle in 2 Sam 7:1-17 incorporates two main themes: Yahweh's central sanctuary in Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty.1 Scholars have disputed the origin of these themes and consequently the extent of the Deuteronomistic redaction of the oracle. Some scholars attribute the entire oracle to the Deuteronomistic author/editor of the book of Samuel.2 Others assume that the two main themes of the oracle are pre-Deuteronomistic, and they therefore ascribe only several editorial verses to the Deuteronomist.3 A third approach argues that at least one of the two main themes should be attributed to the preexilic Deuteronomist, and the other to a pre-Deuteronomistic scribe or to an exilic Deuteronomistic editor.4

In any case, setting the royal dynasty and the temple at the heart of royal ideology was common practice in ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. In light of this and since the temple and the Davidic monarchy seem to occupy a major role in biblical historiography, as well as in the prophetic literature and in biblical poetry, we may assume that the role of the temple and the dynasty in the royal Judahite ideology was not only a Deuteronomistic issue but was addressed also by pre- and even post-Deuteronomistic scribes.

In this article I will demonstrate that Nathan's oracle to David underwent three redactions, each representing the worldview of the Judahite elite in a different period. This observation enables us to assess the evolution of the royal ideology in Judah throughout Judean history.


The narrative introduction to the oracle (vv. 1-3) raises the temple issue in a manner that is wholly positive, causing the negativity of vv. 4-7 to come as a surprise. This is the basic argument for implementing a diachronic reading of the text by attributing the positive and the negative attitudes toward David's initiative to different authors. Scholars who favor a synchronic reading rely on v. 4 to argue that Nathan's positive reply was just a human error; they emphasize the total dependence of the prophet on God and recall other prophets who acted without clear instructions from God (e.g., Samuel in 1 Sam 16:6-7).5 On the other hand, v. 4 may be seen as an editorial insertion meant to transform the positive attitude of an earlier layer in the oracle into a negative rejection, by stressing that the prophet is just a mediator of God's word and does not act independently.6 Further support for this argument may be found in v. 11.

The awkward shift from the use of direct speech in the first person in v. 11a to indirect speech in the third person in v. 11b is frequently noted. This sudden shift cuts off Yahweh's long speech in the first person, which starts in v. 4. The only other reference to Yahweh in the third person appears in v. 3. It may be argued, therefore, that v. 11b originally continued v. 3.7 On this account, the original form of the oracle has been reconstructed as comprising vv. 1-3 (excluding v. 1b, which will be discussed below) and v. 11b.8 In light of this, the whole of the original oracle was positive: the king, sitting in his house, expresses his intention (implicitly) to build a house (= temple) for Yahweh (vv. 1a, 2). He is encouraged by Nathan, who goes on to declare that Yahweh will build a house (= dynasty) for David (vv. 3, 11b). It is likely that the original oracle to David was positive in character and included the symmetry between God and David, corresponding to the close links between temple projects and dynastic promises in the ancient Near East.9 In this case the negativity of vv. 4-7 can be explained as a result of a redaction.

There is often a disagreement concerning the origin of the earliest form of the oracle in the pre-Deuteronomistic sources of the book of Samuel,10 since it could fit well into both the History of David's Rise (1 Samuel 16-2 Samuel 5 or 7) and the Succession Narrative (2 Samuel 7-20 and 1 Kings 1-2). …

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