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Nathan’s Oracle (2 Samuel 7) and Its Interpreters.
Bern u. a.: Lang 2005. XX, 230 S. 8° = Bible in History, 5. Kart. EUR 43,40. ISBN 3-03910-806-9.
William M. Schniedewind
This book is a revision of a doctoral dissertation at Bar-Ilan University in 2003. The book reviews inner-canonical interpretations of the Promise to David. 2 Samuel 7 has received much attention both among ancient interpreters as well as modern scholars. Indeed, the text has such a significant overlay of modern scholarship that A. briefly mentions (1–2), and it is a welcome addition to the literature on 2 Samuel 7.
The book’s methodology is greatly influenced by A.’s Doktorvater, Professor Garsiel (see 6). A. assumes an »author-oriented« approach that tries »to show that the allusions to Nathan’s oracle are consciously invoked by the author« (6). A. embraces the book of Samuel as an independent work (9). These assumptions explain A.’s interaction with certain types of scholarship, especially the model of redaction criticism that has been a focus of the Deuteronomistic History. They also beg the question about the canonical shape of Samuel and its relation to the other works of the Deuteronomistic History. These assumptions firmly place this book within an ahistorical literary approach.
The book is divided into three parts. A. begins with an analysis of »Nathan’s Oracle in the Book of Samuel« (13–70) that focuses on the topics of David’s Disqualification from Building the Temple, the Nature of the Dynastic Promise, the Relationship between the themes of Temple and Dynastic (that is, 2 Sam 7:1–7 and 8–16), David’s Prayer of Thanksgiving, and the Role of Nathan’s Oracle in the narrative of Samuel. The second section of the book turns to »Echos of Nathan’s Oracle in the Book of Kings« (71–120). Here A. begins to look at the reuse and reworking of the Dynastic Oracle in the developing historical narrative. These reuses of the Dynastic Oracle in the historical narrative are well known in previous secondary literature, but A. develops the literary links even further using a very inclusive and sensitive close literary reading. Some of the examples that he mentions are quite interesting such as 2 Sam 7:12, »When your days are fulfilled and you lie with your fathers«, and 1 Kgs 1:21, »When my lord the king sleeps with his fathers.« Such parallels are interesting, but it is difficult to demonstrate the authorial intent with such parallels. The third section of the book moves on to »Echoes of Nathan’s Oracle in the Book of Chronicles« (121–192). In this section A. deals with much the more direct uses, even exegetical reuses, of the Dynastic Oracle that have been touched on by many scholars.
In the first major section, A. also spends reflects on the near eastern parallels to the Dynastic Oracle. For example, he writes, »In my opinion, the rejection of David’s initiative [to build the temple] ought to be compared to the ancient Near Eastern documents, according to which a king was not entitled to build a temple for his god unless he had initially been given a divine command« (16). Of course, this begs the question: why is David presented in the narrative as one who did not receive a divine command to build a temple? A. himself admits that there is not one building inscription that served as a literary model, but rather argues that it reflects a borrowing of motifs. Yet, the parallels that he adduces range from the king of Lagash (3000 BCE) to Thutmose III (1500 BCE) to Esarhaddon (650 BCE) and Nabonidus (550 BCE). Given the wide-ranging motif of temple building in the near east, one may ask exactly what was borrowed, from who, and when? These seem to be important questions in assessing the nature and import of the borrowing. A. does not address these questions, but perhaps they are beyond our ability to answer. Indeed, the importance of a temple originating with a divine command and plan seems to be a ubiquitous motif in the near east – it almost went without saying. What authority could a humanly sponsored temple have especially in comparison with the venerable temples of the ancient near east? Yet, the biblical narrative casts David as someone unaware of this near eastern convention.
The summary of the book underscores the limited nature of the conclusions. While A. applies a new approach by trying to focus on authorial intent, this approach yields limited results. To begin with, authorial intent is difficult to know even when we have a text where we know who the author was and what the exact historical context of the book was. For Samuel we do not know who wrote the book, exactly when the book was written, and as a result the exact historical context. This same issue applies for Kings and Chronicles. A. tries to avoid this problem by beginning with the following assumption: »This study is tightly related to the so-called ›Deuteronomistic History‹ hypothesis« (9). He discusses none of the literature on the tradition history or redaction of these books, but rather accepts the Deuteronomistic History as one literary work claiming that previous scholars focusing on the redaction of these books »ignore the general literary character of these books« (9). This itself seems to be an overstatement, but the premise of the book worth considering if the conclusions were significant. It does not appear to this reviewer that the conclusions were generated by the specific approach, namely the focus on authorial intent. The use of close reading, however, has generated a many insights into the reuse of the Dynastic Oracle that will make this book a useful reference work for future scholars of the Dynastic Oracle. Moreover, A. has added many new texts to the corpus of intertextual allusions to the Dynastic Oracle and, in doing so, emphasizes again the importance of the Dynastic Oracle to the literary corpus both the Deuteronomistic History and the Hebrew Bible.