Abstract

Modern biblical scholarship since at least Wilhelm Caspari (1909) has tended to oppose the literary quality of the Davidic Succession Narrative to its historical value: its enduring artistic success is assumed to be a result of radically transforming the events and attitudes it describes. But how would we know which of its enduring literary aspects were contemporary, driven by Iron Age ideologies? This article reconsiders the relationship between the literariness and the historicity of the Succession Narrative via new and underutilized evidence for the political audience of Absalom’s revolt (2 Sam 15–19). First, Absalom is depicted as using a highly distinctive type of political discourse in which granting audience and judgment to all community members is a condition of kingship. This set of tropes is specific to West Semitic literary cultures over at least a millennium and helps explain the plausibility and appeal of the story to an audience familiar with tribal political ideals. Scholars have tended to center such an audience in the northern kingdom of Israel, which would have disintegrated after 722 BCE. But, second, inscriptional evidence demonstrates that by the eighth century both northern and southern Hebrew writers shared scribal training, the foundation of a common literary culture. Data for their shared training are widely agreed on but often neglected in treatments of early Hebrew literature. Taken together, these factors suggest that the most plausible way to explain the vitality of “northern” political perspectives in Judahite stories like this one is connected to the early role of Hebrew narrative prose. It could circulate beyond any single narrow party to a public interested in imagining a shared if disturbing past. This account helps explain the story’s success as both literature and memory, how it spoke to an audience beyond any royal court.

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