Prose Writing in an Age of Orality: A Study of 2 Sam 5:6-9

In: Vetus Testamentum
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  • 1 Georgia Southern University

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The brief, cryptic account of Jerusalem’s takeover by David in 2 Sam 5:6-9 has elicited a considerable number of historical investigations into what events may have transpired according to this story. But what has received less historical attention is the scribal culture responsible for this text’s composition. With this concern in mind, the aim of this study is to approach 2 Sam 5:6-9 as a scribal artifact in an effort to examine how this text took form and what cultural expectations guided its production. What comes to light through this manner of inquiry, I contend, is a text deeply shaped by an oral storytelling tradition. The results of this analysis are then brought to bear on certain interpretive questions connected to how one reads ancient prose accounts rendered by scribes who lived in a world of oral, living speech.

  • 4

    On this point, see Susan Niditch, Oral World and Written Word (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 1-36; Raymond Person, “The Israelite Scribe as Performer,” jbl 117.4 (1998): 601-09; David Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 3-16; Van der Toorn, Scribal Culture, 1-26; Robert Miller, Oral Tradition in Ancient Israel (Eugene: Cascade Books, 2011), 40-58.

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  • 9

    Julius Wellhausen, Die Composition des Hexateuchs (4th ed.; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1963), 254.

  • 11

    Wellhausen, Composition des Hexateuchs, 254; Driver, Notes, 263; McCarter, ii Samuel, 157-60; Oeming, “Die Eroberung Jerusalems,” 407-08.

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  • 14

    Leonhard Rost, The Succession to the Throne of David (trans. M. Rutter and D. Gunn; Sheffield: Almond Press, 1982), 8-9; Grønbaek, Die Geschichte vom Aufstieg Davids, 31-36, 246-258.

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  • 15

    Grønbaek, Die Geschichte vom Aufstieg Davids, 246-48, 254-58; McCarter, ii Samuel, 142-43; Rolf Rendtorff, “Beobachtungen zur altisraelitischen Geschichtsschreibung anhand der Geschichte vom Aufstieg Davids” in Probleme biblischer Theologie (ed. H. Wolff; München: Chr. Kaiser, 1971), 435-36; Hans Joachim Stoebe, Das Zweite Buch Samuelis (kat viii 2; Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlag, 1994), 156-57.

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  • 18

    Stoebe, Das Zweite Buch Samuelis, 161-62; Alexander Fischer, Von Hebron nach Jerusalem: Eine redaktionsgeschichtliche Studie zur Erzählung von König David in ii Sam 1-5 (bzaw 335; Berlin: de Grutyer, 2004), 223, 227-243.

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  • 23

    Stoebe, Das Zweite Buch Samuelis, 169; McCarter, ii Samuel, 137; Rendtorff, “Beobachtungen,” 435-36; Oeming, “Die Eroberung Jerusalems,” 415.

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  • 24

    Nadav Na’aman, “Sources and Composition in the History of David,” in The Origins of Ancient Israelite States (eds. V. Fritz and P. Davies; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 170-73; and Walter Dietrich, The Early Monarchy in Israel: The Tenth Century bce (trans. J. Vette; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007) 191-92, 265-66.

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  • 26

    Ibid., 146-58. On this point, see also idem., Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (2nd ed.; London: Routledge, 2002), 94-98; and idem., “Orality, Literacy, and Medieval Texualization,” New Literary History 16.1 (1984): 1-12.

  • 29

    Ong, Orality and Literacy, 10, 26-27, 34-35; Ruth Finnegan, Oral Literature in Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 389-425. On the decreasing attestations of proverbs over time within vernacular literature as literacy increased in pre-industrial Europe see, for example, James Obelkevitch, “Proverbs and Social History,” in The Social History of Language (eds. P. Burke and R. Porter; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 43-72.

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  • 30

    Ong, Orality and Literacy, 39-40; Paul Zumthor and Marilyn Engelhardt, “The Text and the Voice,” New Literary History 16.1 (1984): 84.

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  • 31

    Ong, Orality and Literacy, 43-45; Zumthor and Engelhardt, “The Text and the Voice,” 76-77.

  • 32

    Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 65. Alter goes on to write: “the primacy of dialogue is so pronounced that many pieces of third-person narration prove on inspection to be dialogue-bound, verbally mirroring elements of dialogue which precede them or which they introduce. Narration is thus often relegated to the role of confirming assertions made in dialogue. . . .” (p. 65).

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  • 33

    Alter, Art of Biblical Narrative, 65-73.

  • 34

    Ibid., 66.

  • 35

    John Miles Foley, The Singer of Tales in Performance (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 83-85.

  • 39

    A.N. Doane, “The Ethnography of Scribal Writing and Anglo-Saxon Poetry: Scribe as Performer,” Oral Tradition 9.2 (1994): 423.

  • 41

    Polak, “The Oral and the Written,” 59-105.

  • 42

    Polak, “The Oral and the Written,” 75-76. For a similar argument regarding the syntactical complexity of written prose in relationship to oral storytelling, see Jack Goody, The Interface Between the Written and Oral (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 262-72.

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  • 43

    On this point, see John Miles Foley, “Signs, Texts, and Oral Tradition,” Journal of Folklore Research 33.1 (1996): 25-28; Niditch, Oral World, 4-6, 11-13; Person, “Ancient Israelite Scribe,” 601-02; Carr, Writing on the Tablet of the Heart, 4-8.

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  • 52

    Doane, “Ethnography,” 420.

  • 53

    Zumthor and Engelhardt, “The Text and the Voice,” 70.

  • 55

    Jeffrey Kittay and Wlad Godzich, The Emergence of Prose: An Essay in Prosaics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), ix-xx.

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  • 56

    Mark S. Smith, “Biblical Narrative Between Ugaritic and Akkadian Literature. Part I: Ugarit and the Bible: Consideration of Comparative Research,” Revue Biblique 114.1 (2007): 22-29.

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  • 57

    Simon Goldhill, The Invention of Prose (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Jonas Grethlein, “The Rise of Greek Historiography and the Invention of Prose,” in The Oxford History of Historical Writing: Volume I, Beginnings to ad 600 (eds. A. Feldherr and G. Hardy; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 148-70.

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  • 58

    Kittay and Godzich, The Emergence of Prose, 7.

  • 60

    For a similar critique, see Person, “Ancient Israelite Scribe,” 608-09.

  • 62

    For a summary, see Susan Niditch, “The Challenge of Israelite Epic,” in A Companion to Ancient Epic (ed. J. Foley; Malden, ma: Blackwell, 2005), 277-88.

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