As an interesting example of multiple traditions edited together within the Biblical manuscripts, consider the famous stories of King David, and in particular the story of David and Goliath. Few other legends are so well known, or read so often, and and yet remain so poorly understood. Mythology is the language of religion, but in the Judeo-Christian tradition this has been lost, submerged under the doctrine of inerrant history. Myth is drained of meaning and then Christian apologists struggle to prove that myth is inerrant as history. In this way the Bible, and stories such as that of David and Goliath, which is mythological and legendary in nature, are drained of meaning. Futhermore, it can be demonstrated that the ancient Levitical scribes and priests had no sense of legend and did not understand the language of myth, as is demonstrated in their editing and redaction in the book of Samuel in the Bible, a clear attempt to hide the mythological nature of the stories in the book, and attempt instead to present these myths as history in the Bible. The Bible is left open to constant ridicule, and the church is left poorer, being that one religion with no spiritual connection to the language of myth.
Saul had an evil spirit tormenting him 'sent by God'. (1 Samuel 16:14)Someone recommended David to play the harp, calling him,"a brave warrior, a mighty man of war." (1 Samuel 16:18) . "David came to Saul and entered his service."Saul took a liking to David and told his father,
(1 Samuel 16:21)
"'allow David to enter my service,' for, 'he loved him dearly.' " (1 Samuel 16:21)
The second version of their meeting is found at the end of 1 Samuel Chapter 17 . David spoke of killing Goliath, and his words were reported to Saul. (1 Samuel 17:31) Saul did not want to let David fight Goliath, for David was not a trained warrior. David was just a lad and out tending sheep, and his job was to deliver lunch to the soldiers. (1 Samuel 17:18)Saul relented, and
"You are not able to go to war against the Philistines. You (David) are just a boy, and Goliath is a man of war."
(1 Samuel 17:33)
"clothed David with his armor and said, 'go! May God be with you.'" (1 Samuel 17:37)
David killed Goliath. David took Goliath's head to Jerusalem, but he kept his sword in his tent. (1 Samuel 17:54) Jerusalem was not captured from the Jebusites until after David became King (or was it?) and the sword we are told (in another variant) was kept in a temple at Nob. (1 Samuel 21:1) No sooner had David cut off Goliath's head than Saul asked,"who is that young man?" (1 Samuel 17:55)David was introduced to Saul
"with the Philistines head still in his hand,"and Saul asked,
(1 Samuel 17:57)
"who are you?" and David replied, "the son of Jesse."Rather than a harp player the young adolescent boy was made
(1 Samuel 17:58) "That same day Saul kept David and would not let him return to his father's house."
(1 Samuel 18:1)
"commander of the fighting forces," (1 Samuel 18:5)an act which pleased everyone, including Saul and his officials.
A few verses later an editorial comment is inserted in a futile attempt to harmonize the compounding contradictions and multiple inconsistencies."David played the harp for Saul, as he had done before," (1 Samuel 18:10)for an evil spirit was tormenting Saul. In this variant David was removed from Saul's household and
"made a commander" (1 Samuel 18:13) because, "Saul was afraid of David for he saw that God was with him." (1 Samuel 18:12)
Note that David was living at home and tending sheep just before killing Goliath, and was not living with Saul, and 'playing the harp for him as he did before', as this weak editorial excuse would try to suggest. When David killed Goliath, they do not know each other. 'That same day' David entered the service of Saul. It then follows that David could not have 'played the harp for Saul, as he did before.' The comment was inserted by an editor well aware of the inconsistencies between the two stories, in a futile attempt to reconcile the multiple versions of events and fuse them into one (pseudo- consistent) manuscript.Also note that another editorial comment was included for the same purpose.
"David occasionally left Saul's house (where he was the resident harp player) to feed his father's sheep in Bethlehem." (1 Samuel 17:15)
This futile excuse is intended to explain why David was not 'living with Saul' and 'playing the harp for him as before' but rather living at home with his father and tending sheep just before killing Goliath.
Note that David is both a 'skilled warrior' and 'a young boy, untrained for war.' David is both 'living at home' and 'living with Saul'. Saul knows David, as his personal harp player, even outfitting him to battle Goliath. Saul does not know who David is, and must be introduced to David after he kills Goliath ("who is that young man?') David enters Saul's service as a harp player, and as 'commander of the fighting forces', on two different occasions.
It is remarkable that a story such as that of 'David and Goliath' could be so famous and so little understood. Another excellent example of the same sort of thing is the story of Moses and the Ten Commandments, or the story of the Exodus from Egypt both stories also famous and also composed of contradictory strands of material woven together in a similar way. So it is correct to state that the David stories are contradictory, but of greater interest is to make note of the obviously awkward attempt made at concealment. The editorial revision did not succeed by harmonizing the inconsistent accounts, but instead demonstrates that there was an obvious attempt made to 'harmonize' two stories, that, in their original form, were completely contradictory. Apparently allowing the two variants to exist side by side was out of the question, and we can deduce from this that there were minds at work that could not tolerate contradiction or allow for diversity or uncertainty. So we can note that even during the process of creating the Bible an attempt was being made to support future claims that the book was ‘infallible' as history.
The Bible was obviously composed from different source materials, and it is obvious that the editors made a (foolish) attempt to try to disguise this fact. They worked on the Biblical manuscripts, with an agenda of harmonizing source materials, and yet source material seems to have been preserved. Thus we see a very curious dynamic at work. Certain passages could not be ‘harmonized' and instead were preserved, and, it would seem, then simply ignored.Or, then again, perhaps such obviously troublesome passages could simply be rewritten at a later date.
"With stone and sling shot David slew Goliath of Gath." (1st Samuel 17:50) "Elhanan son of Jair of Bethlehem killed Goliath of Gath, whose spear had a shaft like a weaver's beam." (2nd Samuel 21:19)
"Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi, brother of Goliath of Gath, whose spear had a shaft like a weaver's beam."
(1 Chronicles 20:5)
As another example of Biblical contradictions, consider the Jewish Testament passage which describes how David took Jerusalem from the Jebusites. The Jebusites, we are told, had made Jerusalem into an impregnable fortress, surrounded by high, thick walls. From their position safe on their wall they mocked David, crying out,"you'll never get in here. Even the blind and the lame could keep you out." (2 Samuel 5:6)
As the story continues, it turns out that the Jebusites neglected something in their great zeal for wall building. There was a tunnel under the wall of Jerusalem which delivered water to the center of the city. David and his troops poured through this gap in the Jebusite defense and conquered Jerusalem. One must wonder just how foolish those Jebusites must have been to have wasted so much time and energy constructing that useless wall, while remaining blind to such an obvious breach in their defenses.
The Bible is full of conflicting accounts of how various events took place. Even such famous stories of the reception of the Ten Commandments or the Exodus from Egypt are told in multiple, conflicting versions. (See The Golden Calf and the 'historical' chronicles for more details). The story of this water tunnel is no exception. In one version, it was the Jebusites who dug the water tunnel, and then foolishly forgot to defend the hole under their wall. Instead, like some characters from a Monty Python movie, they spent all their time on the wall, hurling insults at David. Then again we are told (2nd Kings 20:20) that it was King Hezekiah of Judah who dug the water tunnel to bring water into the heart of Jerusalem. Full details of the construction work involved were recorded, we are told, in the Book of the Kings of Judah. Wouldn't it be interesting to dig that book out of the ground someday?
One must keep in mind that David was the second king, Hezekiah was an hereditary monarch in the line of David, and he reigned centuries later. This leaves us with the little problem of explaining how David could have invaded Jerusalem via a water gate that would not be constructed until several centuries later. (Perhaps he morphed through solid rock). This is also brings up interesting questions about the dating of some of these fabulous David stories. Some of these David fables appear to have been invented many, many centuries after the times they purport to describe. This is fine, if we understand that we are dealing with fables, and only becomes a problem when people start insisting that such fables are 'history,' and 'infallibly inerrant history' at that.
The stories about David are rife with these sorts of internal inconsistencies and conflicts, often within a single paragraph. Analyzing these stories reveals something of the editorial process involved in manufacturing the Bible. It was obviously spun together like a woven clothe from many different colors of thread.
To illustrate this point I will bring to your attention a couple of very interesting passages from the books of Samuel which tell of 'the history of King David,' of Samuel and King Saul.
"The Philistines were subdued and no longer invaded Israel as long as Samuel lived for the hand of YAHWEH was against them...peace was maintained." (1 Samuel 7:13) In chapter 13, "The Philistines gathered together to fight against Israel." (1 Samuel 13:5) "Samuel left Gilgal and went his way" (1 Samuel 13:15) . "The Philistines gathered for war at Micmash." (1 Samuel 13:11) "No blacksmith was to be found in all Israel, for the Philistines were determined to prevent the Hebrews from making spears and swords." (1 Sam. 13:19) "When war broke out the army had neither sword or spear." (1 Samuel 13:22) "There was bitter war with the Philistines throughout Saul's reign." (1 Samuel 14:52)
Samuel was criticizing the conduct of King Saul and thus still alive. Samuel anointed David as King, and David killed Goliath during the Philistine war. (1 Samuel Chapters 15 and 17) Furthermore, as you can tell by reading the complete account, their was bitter war with the Philistines right up until the day that Samuel died.
I find this particular collection of contradictory stories to be especially revealing, thus particularly useful as instructional material. The conflicts in the stories of the prophet Samuel involve ideological and theological differences, an important lesson to keep in mind, for it has broad applications in understanding and interpreting every other book in the Bible. In one version of events, Samuel is so powerful that he stops all wars and subdues the mighty Philistines simply because he was so godly. Samuel is also presented as a prophetic, religious character much to be preferred as ruling judge and superior to the rule of monarchy. Political and religious commentary is being made here.
The conflicts in the David stories concern factual historical detail and are also political in nature. Was David a harp player or a giant killer? How did David get his start in life? Who killed Goliath? Perhaps it was someone else. Remember that the Judean royal family was an hereditary monarchy descended from David, and you can easily understand how any attack on David was a political attack on the Judean political establishment.
Also interesting to note is the bizarre editorial process, which does not resemble anything that we would call 'editing' or 'error checking' or 'proof-texting' today. Once again, the reason for the unusual editing can be understood when we consider that the documents were edited and assembled by priests, to serve as religious documents, and they worked with an obvious agenda.
There are variant versions of the key events in David's life. If we are looking for factual historical truth in this collection of theological polemics, religious myths, fables, and political propaganda we will be sadly disappointed. The Bible is a religious document, and as such it is a book of myth and legend, and in its time it was also a political document, religion and politics having always been intertwined in human history, and so the Bible is also a book of political propaganda, and not simply a straightforward accurate, objective history of events. Even the book of Kings, which is more historical than the book of Samuel, is a book of theology, and not simply a direct retelling of history. There may indeed have once lived a dog named Spot. Someone may indeed dig up Spot's dog collar and his leash. However Spot cannot be both a purebred Dalmatian and a purebred Bulldog. Either he has spots or he does not. Either he was a Dalmatian or a Bulldog, or, as seems likely when considering these Bible stories, he could have been a purebred Poodle, and neither a Dalmatian or a Bulldog. Whatever the truth may turn out to be you won't simply discover it by 'looking it up in the Bible.'
The story I employed which described David's conquest of Jerusalem was a fable, and probably also a piece of ancient political propaganda, but what a story! Who, after all, can resist these tall tales from the Bible? Never let it be said that the myth makers of the Bible could not keep up with those Greeks and Romans when it came to spinning a yarn. Just how old was that magnificent political hero, David, when he killed Goliath and became a five star general? Twelve? Thirteen? Just how old was Hercules when he rassled his first rhinoceros? We know that just before killing Goliath, David was not allowed to be with the fighting men for he was to young. His job was to deliver their lunch, but such are the magnificent twists and turns of fate in the lives of such incredible heros in antiquity. Lunch boy at noon, five star general by suppertime, appointed to the position to the great acclaim of all the fighting forces, the yarn spinner assures us. In the story of David and Goliath, David complains that Saul's armour is to cramped and uncomfortable. He would prefer to fight Goliath just wearing his shorts an a T-shirt. The story is charming, and it is a justifiably famous fable, but that is all it is, a fable, and just one of so many examples of the same sort of thing in the Bible.
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