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.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

April Biblical Studies Carnival

Over at the blog ἐνθύμησις is the Biblical Studies Carnival for the month of April. Jacob Cerone has been kind enough to mention this ABC blog.
For those of you who read Hebrew (and Greek) his blog is quite fascinating. Ἐνθύμησις  means "the process of considering someth., thought, reflection, idea" (BDAG) and is found in Mat. 9:4; 12:25; Acts 17:29 and Heb. 4:12. 
Currently Cerone is going through the book of Jonah which, if you're like me, you remember as one of your first set texts in Hebrew class, which gives it a special place at least in my affection (at my university first year Hebrew alternated either setting Jonah or Ruth - I had Jonah). Cerone is looking in particular at how the Old Greek renders the text, something with which I'm not at all familiar, and has some very interesting results. Well worth a look!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Change of Blog Style

Many thanks to a devoted reader who has done an awful lot of art work to improve the image of this blog. I think it looks a lot more attractive and less stark than before.

I've also been adding in links on my side bar (right) to other blogs which might be of interest to people who come here, and I'll carry on doing this.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Who Killed Goliath? (Part 4)

It's about time I got back to the theme I promised to continue. This is part 4, and if you haven't read them yet, first you really need to read parts one to three which you can find here:

A Résumé of the Argument So Far.
The Hebrew text of the bible has 3 stories of how Goliath met his end (1Sam 17; 2Sam 21:19; 1Chr 20:5), although the 3rd one whilst clearly linked to the first two, now has Goliath's brother Lahmi - a "literary" creation out of the consonants for Bethlehem - that dies.
The briefest and simplest story is the one in 2 Sam 21:19 where Elhanan kills Goliath. The most detailed version is the 1Sam 17 story, which itself has two different versions, the Hebrew version found in the Masoretic text, and the Greek version found in the Old Greek texts. The Greek form of the 1Sam 17 story is significantly shorter than the Hebrew, and it seems rather more coherent as well, although from time to time it contains a small detail not found in the Hebrew version.

Making Sense of the Data - 1Chronicles 20:5
The easiest part to explain in the evolution of the 3½ versions (as I have called them) of the Goliath story is how the 1Chr 20:5 account was written. Chronicles is a comparatively late work which is well known for having used the books of Samuel and Kings, amongst others, as its sources. Its knowledge of the 2 stories of Goliath's death in Samuel is therefore unquestionable.
Indeed the consonantal text of 1Chr 20 5 is almost identical with that of 2Sam 21:19, showing only minor changes. Remember that prior to the Masoretes the text only contained the consonants, not the vowel points. Here are the two consonantal texts, colour-coded as follows:
Black - these consonants are identical in the other text.
Blue - these consonants have an equivalent in the other text, but they have been altered or repeated.
Red - these consonants have no equivalent in the other text.

2Sam ותהי־עוד המלחמה בגוב עם־פלשׁתים ויך אלחנן בן־יערי ארגים בית הלחמי את גלית הגתי ועץ חניתו כמנור ארגים׃
ותהי־עוד מלחמה את־פלשׁתים ויך אלחנן בן־יעיר את־לחמי אחי גלית הגתי ועץ חניתו כמנור ארגים׃
2Samuel- And there was again the war in Gob with the Philistines, and Elhanan son of Jaare Oregim [a weaver] a Bethlehemite smote Goliath the Gittite and the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam.
1Chronicles- And there was again war with the Philistines and Elhanan son of Jair smote Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, and the shaft of his spear was like a weaver's beam.
You can see the enormous overlap of the two texts. The red consonants consist of only one significant piece of information - Gob (the location of the battle). The only remaining red consonant is the definite article.
The blue consonants consist of:
A different preposition used for "with"
The spelling of the name Jair/Jaare.
Dittography of Oregim/weaver.
Conversion of "Bethlehemite" to direct definite object marker + Lahmi.
Conversion of definite direct object marker to "brother of".
Everything else is identical between the two verses. Thus it is easy to spot dependency of one on the other.

Other Aspects of of the Book of Chronicles
There are a few more qualities of the book of Chronicles that come into play here. Firstly we should recognise the unwavering support for King David in the book of Chronicles. Compare this with Deuteronomistic History (DH - a term denoting the "historical" overall narrative of the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings) which gives quite a 3 dimensional picture of David - a sort of "warts and all" approach. In contrast, Chronicles gives a thoroughgoing positive appraisal of David omitting, for example, most of his rise to power (where he only gradually gained ascendency over Saul), his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. Thus, the elimination from Chronicles of the competing story, of someone other than David killing Goliath, fits well with the chronicler's aims.
Secondly, the chronicler tends to "iron out" difficulties he finds in his sources. For example, both 1Chr 16:39 and 2Chr 1:3 have the tent of Yahweh at Gibeon for Solomon's encounter with god, thus eliminating the implicit meeting of god at a forbidden "high place" in 1Kings 3.
I'm going to give below a second example of this "ironing-out of difficulties" approach of the chronicler, as is shows up an issue that you might easily miss if you don't read Hebrew and only read the bible in translation.

An Excursus. Chronicles' Harmonisation - What does בָּשַׁל mean?
Those readers who do know classical Hebrew probably remember learning this word with the gloss of "to boil", and it is most often used for boiling meat. Although this is by far its most common meaning, top marks if you have also remembered there are two instances (or 3 if you include 1QPsalmsa) where it refers to "ripening" of fruit or the harvest. As a verb it occurs 28 times in the Masoretic Text (MT) and a further 2 occasions in the form of the associated adjective בָּשֵׁל - "boiled".

It's the verb used in the often quoted commandment (Exo 23:19; 34:26; Deu 14:21):

 לֹא־תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ
Do not boil a kid in the milk of its mother.

which is even today used to justify the kosher practice of never eating dairy products with meat (a little stretch of the command!).
When it comes to the passover meal, the verb features again, this time in 2 different passages which have a tension between them. Here's Exodus 12:8-9:

8 וְאָכְלוּ אֶת־הַבָּשָׂר בַּלַּיְלָה הַזֶּה צְלִי־אֵשׁ וּמַצּוֹת עַל־מְרֹרִים יֹאכְלֻהוּ 
9 אַל־תֹּאכְלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ נָא וּבָשֵׁל מְבֻשָּׁל בַּמָּיִם כִּי אִם־צְלִי־אֵשׁ רֹאשׁוֹ עַל־כְּרָעָיו וְעַל־קִרְבּוֹ
8 And they will eat the flesh in that night, roasted with fire, and they will eat unleavened bread with bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, rather roasted in fire its head upon its legs upon its entrails.

Note the tautological adjective-verb/participle clause וּבָשֵׁל מְבֻשָּׁל - difficult to capture in English; perhaps like an infinitive absolute, "certainly not boiled!"; I've only been able to find Lev 26:10 with a similar structure (ישׁן repeated in adjectival and verbal/participle form) - if you can find any more, please let me know. Anyway, the message is clear - you must certainly not boil this meat!
So that makes Deu 16:7 rather difficult when it too describes how to cook the Passover sacrifice:
 וּבִשַּׁלְתָּ וְאָכַלְתָּ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בּוֹ
And you shall boil [it] and eat [it] in the place which Yahweh your god will choose.
Many translations of the bible into English get over this discrepancy by translating the verb "cook" here instead of "boil"; but if you can read Hebrew you can see it's the same verb in both cases. Even the Tanakh of the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) does this kind of harmonisation, and marvelously it's own commentary corrects it thus:
Cook: more accurately, “boil,” like other standard sacrifices (Exod. 29:1; Lev. 6:21; 8:31; Num. 6:19; 1 Sam. 2:13, 15; Zech. 14:21). This prescription is at odds with the earlier stipulation that the paschal offering be “roasted by fire,” not “boiled in water” (Exod. 12:8–9; Hebrew). The Passover is now being treated as a standard sacrifice.
I've cut short the quotation from the commentary as it goes on to "steal my thunder" (see below).
The chronicler has also spotted the contradiction in the two earlier texts, and he didn't have the option open to him of mistranslation to resolve the difficulty; so instead he went about it it in a different way here in 2Chronicles 35:13 where Josiah celebrates the Passover in regal fashion:

 וַיְבַשְּׁלוּ הַפֶּסַח בָּאֵשׁ כַּמִּשְׁפָּט וְהַקֳּדָשִׁים בִּשְּׁלוּ בַּסִּירוֹת וּבַדְּוָדִים וּבַצֵּלָחוֹת וַיָּרִיצוּ לְכָל־בְּנֵי הָעָם

They boiled the Passover sacrifice in the fire according to the ordinance, and they boiled the holy food in the pots, the pans and the dishes, and hurried it to all the sons of the people.
Here we have two instances of בָּשַׁל "boiled". The one I've highlighted in red no longer makes sense because the chronicler has added "in the fire" two words later; it's clearly an attempt to make בָּשַׁל mean "roasted" - you can't "boil in the fire". All translations of the bible will thus use "roasted", "cooked" or something similar here, because that's clearly the sense the chronicler intended; he has just changed the meaning of the word "boil" in order to iron out the contradiction between the Exodus and Deuteronomy stipulations - a harmonisation worthy of any modern-day fundamentalist!
I can now finish the quote I gave from the JPS commentary above:
These two mutually inconsistent laws are harmonized at 2 Chron. 35:13, where the Hebrew paradoxically reads: “They boiled the Passover offering by fire, according to the law.”

Summary of Characteristics of the Book of Chronicles
So thus we see some characteristics of the book of Chronicles:
Use of and reliance on earlier sources
Promotion of positive view of King David
Resolution of difficulties in earlier texts

Chronicles' account of David and Goliath (Elhanan and Lahmi)
All of these go to explain how the story of Elhanan killing Goliath's brother Lahmi in 1Chr 20:5 arose:

1. The chronicler was aware of the two different stories in 1Sam 17 and 2Sam 21:19.
2. He wanted to protect the story of his hero, David, killing Goliath.
3. He found a way of mildly adjusting the Hebrew text of 2Sam 21:19 thus creating a brother of Goliath, Lahmi, for Elhanan to kill.
4. A resolution of the contradictions between 2 earlier texts is achieved!

Thus the account in Chronicles is a late harmonisation. It is entirely dependent on the two earlier accounts, and adds little that is useful in determining how earlier accounts arose. All we can say from Chronicles is that the 2Sam 21:19 account must have existed already pretty much verbatim with what we have there now by the time the chronicler adapted it. Also, there must have been, by this time, a story of David killing Goliath, probably a form of the story in 1Sam 17; but in what was the earliest form of this story?

Tune in to the next episode of "Who Killed Goliath?"...

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Biblical Studies Carnival

Over at Reading Acts Phillip Long has the latest monthly digest of biblical blogs, with a passing mention of ABC's series on Matthew's jewishness - much obliged!

Check out the Carnival!