Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

The Accounts of the Death of King Saul

The Accounts of the Death of King Saul

Account One

1Sa 31:1-13

Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and many fell on Mount Gilboa. (2) The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, the sons of Saul. (3) The battle pressed hard upon Saul; the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by them. (4) Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and thrust me through, and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling; for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. (5) When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. (6) So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together on the same day. (7) When the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they forsook their towns and fled; and the Philistines came and occupied them. (8) The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his three sons fallen on Mount Gilboa. (9) They cut off his head, stripped off his armor, and sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to carry the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people. (10) They put his armor in the temple of Astarte; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan. (11) But when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, (12) all the valiant men set out, traveled all night long, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan. They came to Jabesh and burned them there. (13) Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days.

-NRSV

Account Two

2Sa 1:1-27

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. (2) On the third day, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and did obeisance. (3) David said to him, “Where have you come from?” He said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” (4) David said to him, “How did things go? Tell me!” He answered, “The army fled from the battle, but also many of the army fell and died; and Saul and his son Jonathan also died.” (5) Then David asked the young man who was reporting to him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan died?” (6) The young man reporting to him said, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa; and there was Saul leaning on his spear, while the chariots and the horsemen drew close to him. (7) When he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. I answered, “Here sir.’ (8) And he said to me, “Who are you?’ I answered him, “I am an Amalekite.’ (9) He said to me, “Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ (10) So I stood over him, and killed him, for I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.” (11) Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. (12) They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. (13) David said to the young man who had reported to him, “Where do you come from?” He answered, “I am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.” (14) David said to him, “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” (15) Then David called one of the young men and said, “Come here and strike him down.” So he struck him down and he died. (16) David said to him, “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, “I have killed the Lord’s anointed.

-NRSV

Above we have two accounts of the death of Saul. It is of interest that we have two accounts of the death of a King in the Old Testament. There are several theories scholars give to justify and resolve this issue. This is just one instance of the interesting complexity of the Old Testament.

One theory could be that there were two or more writers weaving the accounts of I and II Samuel. The second account above may have been written by he same writer of I Samuel 15. The writer of this text may have still been punishing Saul for not destroying the Amalekites, and by a twist of ordained punishment the same writer, in II Samuel chapter one, has Saul beheaded by an Amalekite.

Another theory is that II Samuel 1: 6-10 and 13-16 were of a later document which started the development of a second version where David puts the barer of bad new to death. David is justified by doing this by the writer making the man a foreigner instead of a messenger from the defeated Israeli army. Also, By the time this account developed more fully the Philistine army were using chariots and cavalry in mountainous regions, and the story changed from archers in I Samuel 31:3, to the chariots and the horsemen, in II Samuel 1:6.

Still another theory would be that the Amalekite was simply lying to David to gain favor. The man may have come upon the body of Saul and he stripped the body and took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm. He may have known about the conflict between David and Saul and thought David would be happy by his embellished account. Possibly he may have wanted to form and alliance with the now most powerful man of Israel considering David just had come back from defeating the Amalekites for burning Ziklag. This guy was defiantly in hot water. Unfortunately, for the Amalekite, this assumption proved wrong.

Examples like these above go to show the complex rendering of the Israeli history. Writers from both the Northern and Southern parts of the nation contributed to the making and accounting of history as they seen it. It is in these literary compositions that we see the uniqueness and struggles that occurred within the making of a nation. It is within this tapestry that the political struggles, wars, and the Yahweh religion, found its home.

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, NJ 1990

McCarter, P.Kyle. The Anchor Bible. II Samuel. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, NY 1984

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. IL. 2000.

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