II Samuel 12:31

Robert Vining rvining at log.on.ca
Wed Dec 15 15:22:28 EST 1999

On Dec. 14/99, Solomon Landers writes-

The text of II Samuel 12:31 is open to a number of possibilities, yet
the parallel
account at I Chronicles 20:3 is potentially more ominous.  Whereas the
former could be
translated as "David set them ["wayasem"] to work at," ..."and he made
them work at
["wehe'evir"] " since the word translated "brick-kiln" ["malken"] is
better rendered
"brick mold" and could refer to brick making rather than being
incinerated  (Cohen,
"Soncino Books of the Bible" ), the Chronicles text begins with "he
sawed them
["yasar"]."  Or, at least so it was understood by Rashi and other
classical Jewish
commentators.  However, "yasar" might also mean "he consigned them
[to],"  in the
sense of  putting them to work. (Kohlenberger; New International

Nearly everyone marks the text as problematic.  But if brick making is
involved, the
people would have to be alive.  JPS (1985) reads: "He...set them to work
with saws,
iron threshing boards, and iron axes, or assigned them to brickmaking."

Solomon Landers
Memra Institute for Biblical Research


Why is the text so problematic?  Has anyone ever done a research paper
on the correlation of apparently tampered texts with ideas unpalatable
to later text handlers?

Yes, the I Chronicles 20:3 parallel is more ominous.  "He (David) led
out the people who lived there, and he hacked them with saws and iron
threshing boards and axes; David did thus to all the towns of Ammon."
(JPS ‘85).  This redaction is noteworthy since the Chronicler usually
whitewashs  rather than blackens the Court Narrator's David.  The need
to completely omit the whatever brick allusion, suggests he saw the more
offensive  "brickkiln", than the more benign "brickmaking".

A later Jewish historian, Josephus, reports plainly that, "as for the
men, he (David) tormented them; and then destroyed them: and when he had
taken the other cities of the Ammonites by force, he treated them after
the same manner."  Antiquities 7.7.5   Although following the Chronicler
closely,  he departs by  including  the unpalatable destruction.
Josephus' erstwhile translator/commentator, Wm  Whiston, while balking
at this brutal picture, reluctantly acknowledges it "most probable"
that it was true to the copy used by Josephus. (n. to 7.7.5)

A still later Jewish commentator shows no reluctance whatsoever in
accepting that the ancient author intended to portray David as a
sadistic torturer and incinerator.  Avi Erlich, in, "Ancient Zionism",
in a chapter significantly entitled, "Brickkiln and Winepress",
translates the problematic passage, thus, "And he brought forth the
people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of
iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brickkiln:
and thus did he to all the cities of the children of Ammon". (p. 115) He
then comments, "What are we to make of David's harshness?  The chilling
execution of a captive population is made all the more horrible by the
twisted pressing into service of peacetime tools, and by the
matter-of-fact tone which ushers civilians into the fiery brickkiln".

Well, what are we to make of this? Did David commit the sadistic torture
of the Rabbahites  before incinerating them in the brickkilns? It is as
likely, as it is that he
re-slew the already slain eponymic  Philistine adversary, Goliath, and
carried his severed head around for a while before presenting his trophy

to Saul. (Elhanan, whoever heard of him?, had already slain Goliath, but

it was the fate of earlier, lesser, heroes to have to relinquish their
exploits to later, greater heroes). Did David kill everyone, men and
women in Geshur, Girzi, and Amalek, so that they could not go back and
squeal on him to Achish, as to what he and his men had really done? As
likely, as it is that he went out and slew 200 Philistines, cut off
their foreskins, and  made a second bloody presentation to Saul,
counting out all 200  in a grand flourish to Saul as a bride payment for

his daughter Michal..In David's own words, and consistent with Saul's
request, the agreement was for 100 foreskins. Is the ballooning to 200
just macho embellishment occurring in the retelling process around the
ancient campfires, or, is it the handiwork of our canny author?.Did
David after defeating the Moabites, make them all lie down on the
ground, and arbitrarily kill two out of every three? Is it likely that,
"The man after God's own heart", did this? Is it likely that the one who

would become known as the "sweet singer of Israel" would have ordered
his soldiers to kill Rechab and Baannah,  and cut off their hands and
to be hung up for public display  near the pool in Hebron? As likely as
it is that he killed lions and bears with his bare hands.

All is fair in love and war, and polemics.  Did the ancients authors
exercise the prerogative of painting black, or aggrandizing,  those they
will, so that demonizings and glorifyings are to be taken with a grain
of salt.  Such a way of looking at it leaves David looking less
despicable albeit more elusive.

Robert Vining, Owen Sound, Ontario      rvining at log.on.ca


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