Review of Robert Rezetko, Source and Revision in the Narratives of David’s Transfer of the Ark
Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review

Robert Rezetko, Source and Revision in the Narratives of David’s Transfer of the Ark: Text, Language, and Story in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13, 15-16 (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies, 470; New York/London: T & T Clark, 2007). Pp. xiv + 418. Hardcover, US$180.00. ISBN 978-0-567-02612-5.


This book is a revised version of an Edinburgh dissertation under the supervision of Graeme Auld. As one might therefore expect, it is a high quality work of careful scholarship, with a bold hypothesis that runs counter to the prevailing consensus. The texts in question involve the conclusion to the “ark narrative,” with conventional thinking being that the Chronicler (in 1 Chronicles 13-16) draws on the antecedent Samuel material (in 2 Samuel 6). Rezetko argues for an inversion: “Samuel’s editors in the period of the Second Temple considerably reshaped an earlier version of the story of David’s ark transfer. Consequently, many textual and linguistic details attested in MT 2 Sam 6 are secondary and often later than details in the parallel texts of MT 1 Chron 13, 15-16” (p. 3, emphasis his).  

After a short introduction that outlines the direction of the book, the first two chapters set the stage for Rezetko’s argument. In chapter 1 (“Contexts: Books, Stories, Versions”) he establishes a framework for his study by surveying research done in three different areas: overall composition (including discussion of the issues of sources and trends in scholarship), a brief comparison of the transfer of the ark stories in Samuel and Chronicles, and the various versions of this account in terms of textual differences. In line with his overall thesis, a key point for Rezetko is that the textual disarray (often labeled as corruptions or mechanical errors) in Samuel are not a result of scribal carelessness but rather have been caused by systematic revisions (p. 41). His discussion includes the MT and LXX traditions, as well as the 4QSama material. In chapter 2 (“Approaches: Synchronic, Diachronic, Textual-Exegetical”) Rezetko guides the reader in the methodology deployed, and begins with a survey of both synchronic and diachronic approaches. In his opinion there is an impasse (he uses the term “standoff” a few times) resulting in the need for a fresh appraisal. Consequently, Rezetko offers something of a hybrid methodology that merges literary criticism with text-critical controls: the “textual-exegetical approach.” He states that a host of details in 2 Sam 6 actually reflect later stages in the editorial history of the text, and enhance a pro-David and anti-Saul polemic. According to Rezetko’s hypothesis, the Samuel tradents understood David as the paragon, and so sought to enhance his image by inserting anti-Saul sound bytes at various places in the story. By extension, this pro-David agenda also enhances the divine image, as Rezetko explains: “…many specific readings in MT 2 Sam 6 are united in their affirmation of several related revisionary targets, namely, apology of Davidic kingship and apology of Davidic and Yahwistic character” (p. 68). 

The next four chapters then delve into highly detailed analysis, often word by word, with vigilant comparisons of the relevant texts in Samuel and Chronicles that sequentially moves through the stories. Chapter 3 (“Exposition of the Plot: 2 Samuel 6:1-5//1 Chronicles 13:5-8”) explores both the similarities and differences in the two narratives, and examines questions about the different numbers of participants involved in the transfer of the ark, different geographical descriptions, and possible reasons for the absence of Kiriath-jearim in MT Samuel. Chapter 4 (“Incitement, Complication, Rising Action I: 2 Samuel 6:6-10//1 Chronicles 13:9-13”) presents a fascinating exploration of questions arising in the next segment of the story, including the mysterious death of Uzzah, the location of the threshing floor (with the various names: Nacon in Samuel and Chidon in Chronicles), the place name Perez-Uzzah and the reasons for David’s anger, as well the identity of Obed-Edom the Gittite (as it turns out, a timely discussion; cf. Nancy Tan, “The Chronicler’s ‘Obed-Edom’: A Foreigner and/or a Levite?” [JSOT 32.2, 2007]).

Chapter 5 (Rising Action II, Climax, Resolution: 2 Samuel 6:11-15, 17-20a//1 Chronicles 13:14; 15:25-28; 16:1-3, 43) investigates the surprising blessing bestowed on the house of Obed-edom, with the subsequent response of David and the second attempt to transfer the ark. A highlight of this chapter is Rezetko’s discussion of David’s response to the blessing. Further, Rezetko discusses David’s slightly different apparel in Samuel and Chronicles, and the theories around the “linen ephod.” Throughout this chapter, Rezetko’s sobriety is evident: he discusses the various proposals about David’s role in this chapter as a priestly king (etc.) but is hesitant to force the material into conformity with (alleged) ANE parallels. Chapter 6 (“Michal the Daughter of Saul: 2 Samuel 6:16//1 Chronicles 15:29 and 2 Samuel 6:20b-23”) turns to the material about David’s first wife, Michal. For this reviewer, Chapter 6 is a riveting read, and Rezetko’s analysis will surely prove to be an indispensable resource for research on this chapter. The heart of the discussion concerns the Samuel “additions”–the dialogue between David and Michal is only represented in 2 Sam 6, not Chronicles–but why then does the Chronicler include the tantalizing reference to Michal looking down out of a window? Either the Samuel material is a later editorial addition, or the Chronicler is only including a portion of the Michal tradition. Rezetko’s book ends with a helpful conclusion (summarizing his findings) and a lengthy appendix (with parallel aligned Hebrew and Greek texts of both Samuel and Chronicles, as attested in MT, LXXABL, and 4QSama).

I fear that my short summary of Rezetko’s book is an inadequate tribute to the enormity of his research. He provides a fine synthesis of scholarship and excellent bibliography (with meticulous documentation from start to finish). A great positive is that one does not necessarily have to agree with Rezetko’s results in order to profit from his study. For instance, I suspect that many scholars will resist the conclusion that the majority of differences between 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13, 15-16 are a byproduct of later editorial activity to further a particular agenda (and defense of the major protagonists of the story). Yet Rezetko’s cataloging of opinions from commentators and researchers is judicious and highly serviceable for anyone working with these texts. Moreover, even after reading Rezetko’s book scholars still may be inclined to read the Samuel text as more ambivalent toward David’s efforts of ark-retrieval than Rezekto’s aggressively pro-David interpretation would allow. Still, he is arguing a bold hypothesis and does so with vigor and erudition. Likewise, many readers will continue to believe that the Samuel author is actually quite sympathetic toward Michal, and that David’s treatment of women (in general) and Michal (in particular) certainly leaves something to be desired. Yet as a compendium of research on the topic, this is a valuable study, and in fairness, Rezetko does allow for a slight possibility of Davidic critique here in this stretch of narrative. Overall, anyone undertaking serious study of these passages will have to reckon with Rezetko’s analysis, and those interested in the broader questions of text-critical controls as a means for determining earlier and later stages in a text’s editorial history will need to consult this very readable book.

Keith Bodner
Atlantic Baptist University