Jonathan's use of _wl)_

David Stabnow dstabno at
Tue Apr 24 10:29:23 EDT 2001

In 1 Samuel chapter 20 Jonathan seems to use _wl)_ quite freely.  Seldom
does it ultimately have negative meaning.  Scholars have suggested that
some are unmarked rhetorical questions, which should read _hl)_; or
mis-pointed subjunctives, which should read _wlw_ (LXX and Syr read 3
subjunctives in v. 14); or an asseverative lamed, which should be prefixed
on the next word.  In vv. 9 and 12 he says, "surely I would tell you."  In
vv. 14-15 there are five clauses in a row with _wl)_, and perhaps only two
are negative.

It occurred to me that this conversation between Jonathan and David is
socially unique.  It involves the apparent heir to the throne speaking with
the probable usurper, but they are speaking as friends who have entered
into a solemn covenant.  David is insisting that the king is out to get
him, while Jonathan considers the threat doubtful but is willing to
investigate it.

Is it possible that in this unique situation Jonathan is using language in
an unusual way?  Is the writer of Samuel recording some kind of idiomatic
usage or a dialect, or even sarcasm?  How could we determine if this is the
case?  Does modern Hebrew shed any light on it?

Dave Stabnow

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