Monday, October 20, 2008

1 Chronicles 10 - 29: The Return of 1 Samuel

More Grist for the Biblical Genealogist

I don't usually cover this much Biblical real estate at one go, but as with the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles, the remainder of the book is also primary genealogical. And hey, I love my Bible project, but I'm not so far gone that I'm going to start filling notebooks with family trees, just because I can. Others have done so, and good for them.

This section is kind of like the class yearbook for 1 Samuel. There are brief summaries of some of the events in Saul's and David's reigns, all of which we have read about before, but this time they are accompanied by long lists of the various leaders, musicians, warriors, and what-not involved. You can imagine excited Israelites picking out great-great-great-great-grandpa Jahath, son of Sholomoth, from the line-up of "other Levites." For the modern reader, however, they are a bit impenetrable, and when people suggest turning to the Bible for guidance, inspiration, or enlightenment, it seems a safe bet that this is not really the part of the Bible they are thinking about.

Dynastic Wrangling Revisited

The only difference in the Samuel narrative and the Chronicles narrative that jumps out at me is the difference in the way the succession of kingship is handled. As I mentioned in the section on 2 Samuel 1-6 the original story of David's succession from Saul was highly dodgy indeed. This is all glossed over in Chronicles, where we are just told that all Israel come together to David at Hebron (11, 1) and asked him to take charge, and he did.

In 1 Kings, similarly, Solomon's succession from David -- he is designated the heir behind closed doors, at his father's deathbed and by his mother's urging, while the son everybody expects to inherit the throne is holding his own coronation -- smells as fishy as it possibly could. It's a rather different story in 1 Chronicles 21-23 and 28-29, where we are shown David publically announcing Solomon as his heir, commanding the local leaders to accept and support Solomon as his heir, and working together with Solomon to design the Temple. Once is not enough; then they acknowledged Solomon son of David as king a second time, anointing him before the LORD to be ruler. (29:22) All of this, in this version, with David still lucid, upright, and able to preside over large assemblies.

The sequencing of the Bible, with the Samuel & Kings books coming before the Chronicle books, leaves the impression that we get the accurate version the first time around -- basically a coup d'etat engineered by Solomon and his mom against his older brother, with or without the knowledge or consent of the failing King David -- and that this second version is a sanitized gloss intended to shore up the legitimacy of the royal line. The story cleaned up for the yearbook, as it were.

I don't know (and haven't checked) that the two versions were actually written in that sequence, however, and it's not automatic that the Samuel/Kings version was written first, or that it's more accurate. Maybe this second story is the earlier and more accurate version, and the Samuel/Kings version is a smear job? Maybe neither of them are accurate? Maybe they are both semi-accurate, but represent two strands of an oral tradition after a few generations of independent evolution? Hard to say as an amateur reader. This is one of those occasional moments, though, where the Bible is not internally consistent on a simplistic factual level.


al said...

i enjoyed.

Michael5000 said...

@al: Thanks for reading! I enjoy the process.