- The House of David: Between Political Formation and Literary Revision by Mahri Leonard-Fleckman
Leonard-Fleckman’s monograph on the “House of David” offers a significant contribution to both biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies. Her treatment of David’s “house” com bines biblical studies with Assyriology and ancient history in a two-part sequence: (1) historical investigation of the Syrian “House of X” terminology (chaps. 1–3); and (2) literary-historical and historical-critical analysis of the biblical evidence for David’s “house” (chaps. 4–7).
Part 1 especially examines evidence from early first-millennium b.c.e. Assyrian royal annals regarding the Syrian “House of X” terminology, freshly concluding that “bīt X polities center on a specific leader rather than on a particular geographical area or [royal or central] town,” and are “[d]epicted as multicentered systems with often-decentralized populations,” from which the polities’ rulers emerge (pp. 16–17). The early Assyrian evidence indicates that the term bīt X primarily refers to a population attached to a particular ancestor or leader; only in later Assyrian sources does the expression become identified with a royal town ruled by a single leader.
Part 2 centers on three biblical texts that use the term “House of David” but anomalously do not equate this entity with Judah or the Judahite dynasty in Jerusalem, as elsewhere in biblical writing: (1) the Absalom and Sheba rebellions in 2 Samuel 15–20, wherein David’s “house” leaves Jerusalem for the Transjordan (2 Sam 15:16a; chap. 4); (2) David’s elevation as Israel’s king in 2 Sam 2:1–5:3, in which David’s “house” competes against Saul’s “house” for rule of Israel (2 Sam 3:1; chap. 5); and (3) Rehoboam and the Shechem assembly in 1 Kgs 12:1–20, where Judah follows David’s “house” after Israel rejects David’s heir Rehoboam (chap. 6).
The book’s core issue is historical: the relationship of David, David’s “house,” Israel, and Judah during the early monarchy. Methodologically, L.-F. engages in what she dubs a “historian’s literary history,” which emphasizes major narrative changes coupled with broad shifts in political perspective to utilize the biblical materials for purposes of historical reconstruction. L.-F. thereby seeks to disentangle older, independent lore in the David story [End Page 121] (e.g., 2 Sam 2:13b-28a; 15:1–16a; 18:1–19:9bα; 20:14–22) from later phases of editorial organization, structuring, and revision. In light of current literary-historical scholarship on the David story prioritizing David’s rule of Judah without Israel, L.-F.’s primary literary-historical conclusion is bold: the David narrative’s major compositional phase (much of 2 Sam 2:1–5:3; 15:17–17:29; 19:16a, 18b-40) connects David’s rule with Israel, not Judah. Politically, this compositional phase (and its earlier “building blocks”) conceives of Israel as a collective, mobile political body, and its narrative geography restricts Israel to the central highlands and Transjordan, without clear geographical distinction between later Israel and Judah. Whereas the David story’s earliest “building blocks” may potentially go back to the tenth century, L.-F. situates the David story’s primary compositional phase in Judah during the period of the two kingdoms.
During a second compositional phase, Judahite tradents reoriented the David narrative to emphasize David’s rule of Judah and Israel (with Judah primary) by adding references to Judah (2 Sam 2:4a; 19:9bβ-15, 16b-18a; 19:41–20:13). Literarily, L.-F. observes that Judah as a political entity (1) rarely appears in the David story, to the point that, “[i]f the Judah material were indeed primary to the David story, the story would collapse from lack of self-standing, independent lore” (p. 4); and (2) is not deeply integrated into the David narrative, typically occurring in editorial revisions around the narrative margins. L.-F. concludes that this second compositional phase occurred by the time of the Samuel–Kings combination, as part of...