1 Samuel: Forms of the Old Testament Literature

Antony F. Campbell Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids June 6, 2003
Purchase

Campbell, professor of Old Testament at Jesuit Theological College, Melbourne, Australia, has written a detailed form-critical commentary that is essential reading for all who are interested in the critical study and exegesis of 1 Samuel. For each literary unit he provides an outline of the text’s structure, notes on selected text-critical issues, commentary (under the heading “discussion”), form-critical analyses of genre and setting, and a summary of the text’s meaning.

For Campbell the biblical narrative is “more theology than history” (p. 14). He writes, “The practice of the Bible is generally to amalgamate competing traditions rather than to adjudicate between them. History as a rendering of account about the past tends to adjudicate rather than amalgamate; amalgamation without evaluation is an abdication of the historian’s role. If the books of Samuel were adjudged to be ancient historiography—which I do not believe they are—the criteria employed are such that the texts could be used by modern historians only very carefully and obliquely” (pp. 13–14). To support this assertion he points to three characteristics of the narrative: “the existence of significant and unacknowledged leaps,” “the presence of divine intervention, both highly visible and scarcely visible,” and “the frequent practice in the biblical text of amalgamating conflicting evidence rather than offering any assessment of it” (p. 14).

In light of this assessment of the text’s historical dimension it is not surprising that Campbell sees within 1 Samuel 7–12 competing traditions (one “royal,” the other “national”) about the origin of Israelite kingship. He considers these six chapters “a classic example of complex and controverted text.” “It a classic specimen of Israel’s theological processes, expressing critical reflection in story, juxtaposing differing traditions, drawing on new material to update views, and often blending the whole into a final text of remarkable artistry and elegance” (p. 128).

Campbell is to be commended for recognizing the text’s literary “artistry,” but unfortunately his appreciation for the text’s rhetorical features ultimately succumbs to his commitment to diachronic criticism and its presuppositions. His treatment of the David and Goliath story illustrates this. He marshals all the usual arguments for seeing two competing traditions (pp. 173–74), and he is perplexed that many readers still insist on seeing 1 Samuel 16–18 as a “single story” (pp. 187–88). But all his arguments can be countered adequately when examined by a close reading that is sensitive to the text’s discourse features.

For example Campbell states, “David is twice reported killing the Philistine.” “In 17:50 he kills him and there was no sword in David’s hand; with sling and stone he struck the Philistine and killed him. In 17:51, he kills him and the Philistine’s sword was in David’s hand; he drew the Philistine’s sword, killed him, and cut off his head” (p. 173). However, the alleged “double killing” can be explained reasonably when one takes a close look at the text. In verse 50 a hiphil form of tWm, “die” (Wht@ym!y+w^, “he killed him”) is collocated with EY^w^, “he struck down,” while in verse 51 a polel form of tWm, “die” (Wht@t=moy+w^) is used to describe how David killed the Philistine with the sword. The collocation of verbs in verse 50 has the nuance, “dealt a mortal blow.” The polel of tWm (v. 51) is used in eight other passages in the Old Testament. In three poetic texts it means simply, “kill, put to death” (Pss. 34:21; 109:16; Jer. 20:17). But in narrative texts (all in Judges-Samuel) it has a specialized shade of meaning, referring to finishing off someone who is already mortally wounded (Judg. 9:54; 1 Sam. 14:13; 2 Sam. 1:9–10, 16). Abimelech’s statement (Judg. 9:54) is particularly instructive—he asked the armor bearer to kill him (polel of tWm) because otherwise people would say that a woman killed him (the verb here is gr^h*, “kill”). So who killed Abimelech? Two answers are possible and both are correct—the woman (she delivered a mortal blow that made death certain) and the armor bearer (he delivered the death blow in the technical sense; thus the polel of tWm).

How then did David kill the Philistine? Again two answers are possible and both are correct—with a sling stone (David delivered a mortal blow with the sling that made death certain) and with the Philistine’s sword, which he used to deliver the deathblow in a technical sense (the polel of tWm). (See Joe Arthur, “Giving David His Due” [Ph.D. diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 2005], 83–85.)

Another option for explaining the “double killing” emerges when one considers the discourse structure of 1 Samuel 17:49–51. Verse 49 uses six wayyiqtol clauses to describe how David struck down the Philistine with a sling stone. He reached into the bag, took a stone, and slung it. The stone struck the Philistine and penetrated deep into his forehead, causing him to topple to the ground. The three wayyiqtol clauses in verse 50a summarize David’s victory: he triumphed over the Philistine with just a sling and a stone, struck him down, and killed him. However, there is more to the story than this. Verses 50b–51 provide a more detailed account of how David actually finished off the Philistine, who was probably unconscious from the blow to his head. The disjunctive clause in verse 50b refers back to where verse 49 left off; it states that David had no sword in his hand at the point when the giant fell. (In the Hebrew text the statement “without a sword in his hand” comes at the end of the verse, after “he struck down the Philistine and killed him.”) Verse 51, using a series of wayyiqtol clauses, then states that David ran and stood over the Philistine, took the giant’s sword, and finished him off by decapitating him. The summary statement of verse 50a looks both backward and forward. The statements “So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone” and “he struck down the Philistine” summarize verse 49, while the statement “and killed him” is filled out in detail in verses 50b–51.

Though Campbell places too much faith in diachronic criticism, the volume contains much valuable information (for example the concise survey of different views on the relationship between the Masoretic text and the much shorter Septuagintal version of 1 Samuel 17–18) and penetrating insights. A fine example of the latter is his analysis of the theological significance of David’s victory over the Philistine champion. After pointing out that David has been traditionally viewed as small and defenseless, he convincingly argues that neither is true. On the contrary, by exercising “lateral thinking” David gained the advantage over his enemy. “David’s sling is the perfect military answer. Using a sling leaves David out of range of the Philistine’s sword or spear or javelin. Using a sling leaves the unshielded Philistine fatally vulnerable. David is not defenseless” (p. 189). If Campbell is correct, then this is not a story “of how the powerless bring the mighty low by the help of God,” but rather “an example of how faith in God can enable people to do what they can do but may be afraid to” (p. 189). 

—Robert B. Chisholm Jr.

July 1, 2006
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2006 vol. 163 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

Subscribe Today