Review of J. Hutton, The Transjordanian Palimpsest

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Hutton, Jeremy, The Transjordanian Palimpsest: The Overwritten Texts of Personal Exile and Transformation in the Deuteronomistic History (BZAW, 396; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2009). Pp. xvii + 449. Hardback. €110.00. $167.00. ISBN 978-3-11-021276-1.

In this thoroughly argued monograph (377 pages; plus bibliography and index of scriptural citations), J. Hutton puts the results of major recent exegeses of smaller textual units of Samuel into a perspective within an overarching pre-Dtr redaction theory. While in current controversies about Deuteronomism in 1 Sam 9–1 Kgs 2 most pieces of the tradition are dated increasingly later, Hutton hypothesizes three pre-Dtr stages of Sam–Kings. First, tenth-century primary core units; then, at the end of the tenth century a combination and elaboration of those documents; and, finally, a late ninth, early eighth-century “Prophetic Record” that ultimately wandered south. Hutton attempts to trace five strands of traditions back into a pre-Dtr, tenth-century literary stage: two distinct forms of narratives about Saul's rise (a deliverer-type narrative in 1 Sam 11:1–15; cf. Judg 3, 8, 11 and see p. 31; and another Narrative of Saul's Rise), the Ark Narrative, the First History of David's Rise, the Second History of David's Rise, and a Report of a Battle against Absalom. Second, Hutton suggests a phase of combination in the pre-Dtr edition of Samuel shortly after the traditions have been written, no later than the end of the tenth century. In this phase the various exiles in the Transjordan take on ambivalent meanings. First, different from the stories of the Judges, Transjordanian exile is transformative: It is an “incubation [that] is illusory at best” (p. 373) for Ishbosheth in Mahanaim, 2 Sam 2:8–9 (cf. for Mephibosheth in Lo-Debar 9:3–5; geographically different is Sheba in 20:7, 13–22 in Abel Beth-Maacah; Absalom in Geshur 13:38); while for David, the Transjordanian exile is a renewal and a foundation for a “lasting political legitimacy” (p. 373). For David, the Transjordan is a pragmatic place to flee that, notwithstanding this, has at the same time a truly incubative aspect to it. Third, Hutton assumes a central hub of prophetic redaction in the ninth/early eighth century b.c.e. that added individual legends (p. 374). This pre-Deuteronomistic prophetic redaction of the late ninth or early eighth century, is “one of the three major systems of representation of the Transjordanian landscape” (p. 371). Hutton relates the three pre-Dtr editions of the entirety of Sam–Kings to a number of redactional theories on Samuel and Kings (among others, Weippert, Barrick, Campbell, Lemaire; Birch, McCarter, Mayes, O'Brien; the prophetic tradition especially with Dietrich, Vermeylen, Campbell, M. C. White; pp. 79–156). The sources of the ninth /early eighth-century Prophetic Record serve as a “medial node” (p. 155) within a network of three major tradition complexes of the Dtr History: a Narrative of Saul's Rise in 1 Sam 7–15*, a History of David's Rise in 1 Sam 15–2 Sam 5* and, the Succession Narrative in 2 Sam 2–1 Kgs 2*.

For the sake of clarity, the main results are rendered separately for 1 and 2 Samuel. A central methodological insight of Hutton's detailed discussions of the source-critical models of 2 Samuel is the rejection of Rost's source critical conclusions of the Succession Narrative with a pro-Solomonic bias (Tendenz). The Succession Narrative in its current form is the product of the development of 2 Samuel in 5 stages (pp. 177–221; summary p. 222):

  1. A concise battle report 13:1–29, 34a, 37aβ, 38b–39; 14:33aβγb; 15:1–16:13; 18:1–2a, 4b, 6–9, 15b–18bα.
  2. The Transjordanian exile traditions 15:1–37*; 16:15–19:16*; 20*.
  3. The Solomonic apology 11:1–27* and 12:15b–25*; 1 Kgs 1–2*.
  4. The Benjaminite episodes 2 Sam 2–4*; 9*; 16:1–14*, and 19:17–41*, but not including 2 Sam 21.
  5. The prophetic addition in 2 Sam 12:1–15a*, the Jonathan narratives in 1 Samuel, the anti-Joab insertions and, possibly, passages about YHWH's anointed 2 Sam 1:10–11a; 4:10–11a; 1 Kgs 1:29b; 2:31b–33.

In a similar way, pre-Dtr units form the core of 1 Samuel, which Hutton shows in detail in the independent source-critical patchwork of the History of David's Rise (p. 78). Hutton rejects ideas of a single, reworked source of HDR (contra Weiser, Grønbaek, Nuebel); a 3-level-model of redactional development (contra Humphreys: old Saul tradition within 1 Sam 9–15* with a threefold reworking by a northern prophetic school, a Judahite pro-Davidic group, especially in 1 Sam 16–31 and a seventh-century anti-monarchic Dtr; p. 233); pre-Dtr redactional bridges built between earlier Saul-traditions in 1 Sam 1–14* in passages like 1 Sam 14:52; 16:14–23+18:17–27+19:9–10,11–12+21–31 etc. (contra Kratz, and others); as well as a composite Court History 2 Sam 11–1 Kgs 2* that was later taken up and supplemented by Dtr (p. 234). Instead, Hutton adopts a classical model of two independent sources of 1 Samuel combined by a redactor. In discussion with other explanations of the doublets in the HDR (Halpern, Langlamet, Willi-Plein, Kaiser) all of whom assume a basic layer that was combined with a second layer. Hutton suggests a “more historical” HDR 1 who presents shorter and earlier traditions and whose author was familiar with many persons at Saul's court. On the backdrop of HDR 1 he carves out a “more intentionally sculpted form” of a HDR 2 (p. 228) that was combined and integrated into the present account by a redactor. Main characteristics of the respective plots are also the family lines, namely the two children Michal (HDR 1) and Jonathan (HDR 2, pp. 269–73), who both function as vehicles to transfer the Israelite kingdom and bring it into Judaean rule.

As to the traditions about Saul in 1 Samuel, Hutton suggests a similar, twofold development on two independent documents: first, for the Saulide traditions, a combination of two originally independent “Narratives of Saul's Rise”: a “deliverer narrative” (p. 364), called NSR A, 1 Sam 11:1–11* (pp. 322, 364) developed in the predominantly oral, text-supported milieu of the early to mid-tenth century b.c.e., which was augmented by NSR B, a complete literary unit, comprising the folktale of 1 Sam 9:1–10:16 that ended in Saul's and his naʿar taking over a Philistine garrison in Gibeah 14:6–16 (p. 328). The reference to Saul's uncle in 14:51 concluded this fairytale like story (pp. 342–49).

Furthermore, Hutton suggests a comparable development for a Shiloh-related Ark narrative that originated in its basic scope during the tenth century b.c.e. and can be called the core of 1 Sam 4:1–7:1*. Likewise, an old report of the battle against Absalom existed (2 Sam [13:1–29, 34a, 37ab, 38b–39; 14:33aβγb; 15:1–6,13]; 18:1–2a, 4b, 6–9, 15b–18) that had initially contained a battle in Cisjordan, on which soon after a Transjordanian location was imposed (2 Sam 15:7–12*, 14–37*+16:15–17:29* + 18:19–19:16*). These earliest stages of narratives were combined: NSR A and B already merged with HDR 1 in the late tenth century, the report of the battle against Absalom underwent a series of revisions and of reframing; the apology of Solomon (SA) was added, comprising 2 Sam 11:1–27*; 12:(15b–23), 24–25*; 1 Kgs 1–2* which transformed an already pro-Davidic Court History (CH) into a political document that supported Solomon (p. 367). The Benjaminite episodes (2 Sam 2–4*; 9*; 16:1–14*; 19:17–41*) were introduced at this second stage of the combination of the earliest sources in the late tenth century and became a part of an authentic Court History that continued to grow around the Apology of Solomon, among others 2 Sam 13–14*, which provide further cause for revolution, and Sheba's ending 2 Sam 20*. Borrowing from C. Levi-Strauss' terminology, Hutton refers to the pre-Deuteronomistic editors/writers as bricoleurs who reuse traditions for their own purposes. The Transjordanian landscape is understood as a palimpsest (p. 371) that features three distinct systems of the representation of the Transjordan in the narratives: the individual deliverer narratives, the Court History, and Transjordan individual prophetic records (pp. 371–76).

Hutton's contribution synthesizes a broad range of detailed source-critical investigations of Samuel, and he offers for many parts an interesting outline of its development. As with all composition-critical work, any relative dating of the layers can be agreed upon easier than absolute dates. As a consequence, Hutton's support of early source-critical material and the ninth-century “prophetic” circles who combined early and late tenth-century sources requires careful evaluation, which cannot be given here. Among the relative dates, the reconstructions of the Narrative of Saul's Rise is probably the most hypothetical passage: following form-critical insights on the development of traditions of a hero's youth, histories of origins in biographic settings are likely to be projections into the past rather than source-based narratives from the oldest parts of a biography. The reconstruction of a tenth-century folktale layer of a narrative of Saul's Rise that existed independently from the narrative of David's Rise seems, for that matter, relatively daring. In the narratives about his rise, Saul seems to be—to a large extent—a foil to the successful David.

Another remark concerns the doubled and tripled episodes of 1 Samuel in which Hutton's analysis similarly begs the methodological question of whether the repetitions in 1 Samuel indeed reflect separate, secondarily combined sources. Generally speaking, the parallels of the episodes in HDR 2 likewise could possibly have emerged from a reworking of a strand of HDR 1. The motifs of the History of David's Rise, such as the escape stories in 1 Sam 26 and 1 Sam 24, are strikingly similar. It seems equally plausible to assume that one of the versions was (at least partly) rewritten on the basis of an older one (Fortschreibung). Naturally, a documentary hypothesis of two independent sources as suggested by Hutton explains the similarities between both strands with two different origins of the same traditions.

The main emphasis of this monograph is on the literary-historical discussion, and some other theoretical assumptions seem to be of rather tangential relevance for Hutton's overall result. The framing theory about the Transjordan is loosely attached to Hutton's core concerns. Reading the “ritualistic aspects” of the final text of the Absalom revolt (p. 7) on the backdrop of van Gennep's ritual theory leads Hutton to an “incubational” understanding (pp. 14, 374) of the transition from the West Jordan to the East Jordan in 2 Sam 15:37b–16:13 and the retreat from there in 19:41a. David's geographical journey in chs. 15–19 (p. 16) provides, from Hutton's point of view, essential structuring moments in the arrangement of the Absalom revolt. In the application of the ritual theory of rites de passage on the physical transition of place (p. 13), Hutton explains elements of van Gennep's model of the rites of passage in the separation from the community (p. 17). The understanding even of short episodes of the narratives on the backdrop of a rite of passage within the movements of “disenfranchisement and re-empowerment” (p. 19) seems as application of ritual aspects in only a relatively loose manner, and this experimental heuristic model bears less explanatory potential for the literary-historical reconstruction of the Absalom revolt than possibly for the understanding of the characters of the narratives, which may require further investigation. The suggestion of a ritual reading and Hutton's main contributions to the literary development of Samuel will certainly be discussed and reflected in future scholarly contributions.

Klaus-Peter Adam, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago