Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Posts Tagged ‘Making sense of repetition in the bible

The Joseph Cycle and the Tamar story in 2 Samuel
Joseph, Ford Madox Brown
‘Have every man go out from me.’

Genesis 45:1
Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried , Cause every man to go out from me.
הוציאו כל־איש מעלי

2 Samuel 13:9
Amnon said, “Send every man out from me.”
ויאמר אמנון הוציאו כל־איש מעלי

The recurrence of this phrase alerts us to the possibility of a single authorial hand, in the Joseph narrative and in the narrative of David’s declining years. It is therefore interesting to find that a coat of many colours, mentioned only twice in Tanakh, occurs within these stories.

Genesis 37:3
Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

ועשה לו כּתנת פּסּים

2 Samuel 13:18
[Tamar] had a garment of diverse colours upon her: for with such robes were the king’s daughters that were virgins apparelled.

ועליה כּתנת פּסּים

In the case of Tamar, as in the case of Joseph, the tunic is ruined, in a way which represents the harm done to them by one or more siblings.

Genesis 37:23
And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him.

2 Samuel 13:19
Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of diverse colours that was on her.

Avenging brothers and emasculated fathers

Staying with late Genesis and 2 Samuel, there are further similarities.

Genesis 34:25
And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore , that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.

2 Samuel 13:28
Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying , Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him.

Genesis 35:22
Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it.

2 Samuel 16:22
Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

The latter part of the David narrative discredits and dispatches the sons of David one by one, Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah, so that the last man standing is the youngest, Solomon, who succeeds to the throne and perhaps commissions a court history.

Solomon had good relations with Egypt, the evidence being that he traded with Egypt and had an Egyptian wife. The Joseph story is sympathetic to Egypt, to the extent that the author of Exodus, hostile to Egypt, explains that trouble ensued when there arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.

Daughters deceiving their fathers to protect their husbands

Genesis 31:19-20
Laban went to shear his sheep: and Rachel had stolen the images that were her father’s. And Jacob stole away unawares to Laban the Syrian, in that he told him not that he fled.

ותּגנב רחל את התּרפים אשר לאביה

1 Samuel 19:12-13
Michal let David down through a window: and he went , and fled , and escaped . And Michal took an image, and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goats’ hair for his bolster, and covered it with a cloth.

ותּקּח מיכל את־התּרפים ותּשם אל־המּטּה

Other correspondences between these two stories are that Michal has an elder sister Merab, whom Saul offers in marriage to David but Merab is then married to another – perhaps Saul reneges on his offer. However David marries the younger sister, Michal, who loves him. Obviously Jacob loves and is loved by the younger sister Rachel, and although he does indeed marry the older sister Leah, he is tricked by a slippery, untrustworthy father-in-law.

Angels, rapists and hospitality

Genesis 19
1 The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth 2 and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” 3 But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. 5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”

Judges 19
[A Levite, his concubine and his servant] went in [to Gibeah]and sat down in the open square of the city, for no one took them into his house to spend the night. 16 And behold, an old man was coming from his work in the field at evening. The man was from the hill country of Ephraim, and he was sojourning in Gibeah. The men of the place were Benjaminites. 17 And he lifted up his eyes and saw the traveler in the open square of the city. And the old man said, “Where are you going? And where do you come from?” 18 And he said to him, “We are passing from Bethlehem in Judah to the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, from which I come. I went to Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to the house of the Lord,but no one has taken me into his house. 19 We have straw and feed for our donkeys, with bread and wine for me and your female servant and the young man with your servants. There is no lack of anything.” 20 And the old man said, “Peace be to you; I will care for all your wants. Only, do not spend the night in the square.” 21 So he brought him into his house and gave the donkeys feed. And they washed their feet, and ate and drank.

22 As they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, worthless fellows, surrounded the house, beating on the door. And they said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house, that we may know him.” 23 And the man, the master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly; since this man has come into my house, do not do this vile thing. 24 Behold, here are my virgin daughter and his [the man’s] concubine. Let me bring them out now. Violate them and do with them what seems good to you, but against this man do not do this outrageous thing.” 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man seized his concubine and made her go out to them.

Annunciations and resurrections

Genesis 18:10-12
He said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’ And Sarah was listening at the tent door behind him.
Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?”

Judges 13:2-3
[Manoah’s] wife was barren and had no children.
And the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Behold, you are barren and have not borne children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.’

2 Kings 4:16-17
And [Elisha] said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.”
But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.

Abraham and Sarah are visited by three men, who appear to be angelic especially as God speaks directly to Abraham in verse 13. Samson’s parents are visited by an angel and we are not told the name of Samson’s mother. The Shunamite woman is visited by a prophet, not an angel; we are told neither her name nor the name of her son.

There are other barren women who become pregnant, but without the feature of supernatural annunciation. In the case of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, Eli does not prophesy but says ‘Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.’ Rebecca becomes pregnant after Isaac’s prayer is answered and is told by God that she is expecting twins when she worries about her unusual pregnancy. Rachel becomes pregnant when God remembers her and heeds her prayers.

1 Kings 17-24
After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. And he cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the LORD listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.” And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is truth.”

2 Kings 4:32-37
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD. Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.

Like Abraham and Sarah, these mothers seem to be in danger of losing their sons, their only sons, whom they love, and like Isaac, the boys are spared.

The chariots and horsemen of Israel

2 Kings 2:8-14

Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.”
And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.”
And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.
Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

2 Kings 13:14
Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash king of Israel went down to him and wept before him, crying, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”

Someone better

1 Samuel 15:28
And Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbour of yours, who is better than you.

קרע יי את־ממלכות ישראל מעליך היום ונתנה לרעך הטּוב ממּךּ

Esther 1:19
Let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.

ומלכותהּ יתּן המּלך לרעותהּ הטּובה ממּנּה

In Esther, royalty is restored to the tribe of Benjamin, represented by Queen Esther, while in 1 Samuel, it is torn away from Saul the Benjaminite, and given to David, of Judah. The repetition of the phrase ‘…give it to his/her neighbour who is better than him/her’ seems more than coincidence.

The relationship between Samuel and Esther, or Samuel/Kings and Chronicles perhaps resembles the relationship between scripture and midrash. The later text is a discrete narrative entity; it has its own agenda and sitz im leben and is much more than a commentary, but it yields most when read in conjunction with the text which inspired it.

Non-Hebrew traditions

David Damrosch suggests that biblical narrative fuses the genres of poetic epic and historical chronicle, applying older epic traditions to historical persons and situations. Thus the story of David includes themes from epic poetry: the giant slaying, being chosen for kingship, the rebellious son. In medieval Europe, these themes show up in Arthurian legends.

Certain themes recur in myths and legends of all cultures: the Creation, fratricide, floods, killing monsters, babies who are abandoned, rescued and go on to great things; adultery, people ascending, like Elijah, directly to heaven; James Frazer in the Golden Bough shows the ubiquity of the scapegoat, and the story of Job appears in several versions of the Ancient Near East, including the Canaanite tale of King Keret, excavated at Ras Shamra.

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