One conversation: two versions

Harold R. Holmyard III hholmyard at
Mon Mar 5 21:27:25 EST 2001

Dear Bruce,

Thanks for responding to my posts. You write:

> Let me just, then, return to the point about 2 Samuel 24 and 1st
>Chronicles 21 (i.e. the price paid by David for 'something' from
>Ornan/Araunah the Jebusite). Here is a translation of the two accounts, in
>part. The altar/site differential is noted in the text, of course, and you
>write as if to show that out could be enough to settle the issue, but that
>is not the point:  It is this: they are variant accounts of the same event
>and the variations are significant. so that even if 'reconciled' they
>raise redactional issues.

I think that you prove this point in the comparisons that you make.

> This introduces a single event: David is to buy the threshing floor of
>Araunah/Ornan in order to set up an altar there. If you say the other
>account means he buys the site too, that is beyond what the Lord actually
>orders him to do, because Chronicles, at first, simply repeats the
>instruction of the 2nd Samuel version. It would be a convenient, but
>unconvincing interpretation to argue for two almost identical
>speech-events, and there seems little or no evidence - apart >from the
>discrepancies themselves - that it is not one occasion.

Nobody questions the singleness of the original event, I would think.

> 2]  Seeing the king:
                                 >2Sa 24:20 
                                  And Araunah looked, and saw the king and
his servants
                                  coming on toward him: and Araunah went
out, and
                                  bowed himself before the king on his face
upon the

>1Ch 21:20 

                                 >And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel;
and his four
                                  sons with him hid themselves. Now Ornan
was threshing

                         >1Ch 21:21 
                                  >And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked
and saw
                                  David, and went out of the
threshingfloor, and bowed
                                  himself to David with [his] face to the

>In both cases, the owner of the threshing-floor is in the floor itself.
>Chronicles tells us helpfully that he was engaged in using it for the
>purpose for which it was built.  Chronicles emphasises the angel for
>effect, but Araunah/Ornan's reaction to David is the same: as he comes
>out, he bows himself with face to the ground.

One thought I have about several details in the account is that 1 Samuel is
a record much closer to the events. It may be that there was a modesty or
some other reason for not recording some of the details of the story.
Perhaps other accounts were preserved, and the writer of Chronicles wanted
to include these other facts, like Araunah's sons hiding from the angel.

>                 3]  The Opening of The Transaction:
>                                 2Sa 24:21 
>                                  And Araunah said, Wherefore is my lord
>the king come
>                                  to his servant? And David said, To buy the
>                                  threshingfloor of thee, to build an
>altar unto the LORD,
>                                  that the plague may be stayed from the
>1Ch 21:22 
>                                 Then David said to Ornan, Grant me the
>place [maqom] of [this]
>                                  threshingfloor, that I may build an
>altar therein unto the
>                                  LORD: thou shalt grant it me for the
>full price: that the
>                                  plague may be stayed from the people.
> Here, the writer is quite awkward. He has to honour the source, and he
>cannot be cavalier in changing it, but he also wants to add to the
>dimension of the sale.  He omits the question of Araunah, perhaps since it
>seems to the Chronicler - having emphasised the angel  - that Ornan could
>not exactly ignore its presence,  nor therefore be in any doubt that the
>presence of the king might have soemthing to do with it, a factor which
>Samuel doesn't take into account: the presence of the angel is not so
>emphasised there. Or maybe he simply misses it out because he wishes to
>stress the pro-active authority of David the hero/victim. This last
>element is because Chronicles represents the event not as a work of God
>but of Satan (see both, v1).

How much the event was from God and how much from Satan is debatable. The

Samuel record was already known. So the Chronicler is not contradicting
Samuel but complementing him when he claims that Satan tempted David. The
deletion of Araunah's question is interesting, but not much can be
concluded on the basis of the omission.

> Introduction of the word maqom (place) enlarges the reference; maqom may
>also have a cultic implication, but still the specific request is to build
>an altar.  No reference is made here to any Temple-building vision or
>plans, because after all this is an emergency response to divine command,
>not to an evolved long-term policy. The agenda above is clearly to buy an
>altar, and the ambiguous maqom appears a subtle editorial modulation
>allowing the writer to build into a later version of events tradition(?)
>that Samuel doesn't have.

Right, I see this. Thank you.

> Araunah/Ornan's response is about the same, with elaborate courtesies
>seen also in buying the cave of Machpelah (Gen 23:11) where an owner
>pretends to give it away and a buyer insists on a fair price.  David's
>request, in both cases, focuses on an altar; the templar extension is
>prepared for by implication only. 

> This is done so that the Chronicler can adapt the text without wholesale
>changes to the sacred passage in view.  The writer is opening up the
>reference, to allow a later, Temple dimension to David's purchase, in the
>purchasing of a larger site than the narratives themselves require in
>either case, since it is the clear aim of the Chronicler to edit the story
>in order to form a bridge to the grandiose Davidic Temple plans of later. 
>It is notable here that 2 Samuel 24 ends the Books of Samuel, whereas, 1
>Chronicles 22-29 is a lengthy coda in which the son of david, Solomon, is
>made king in a smooth succession in which the fratricidal troubles of
>Samuel-Kings little intrude. Then again, David continues to organise the
>Temple with a robustness that is absent in 1 Kings 1 where he is a sad,
>regretful, pathetic old man pleading for revenge, and requiring the
>presence of a young woman, Abishag, to keep warm at nights. Kings contrast
>with the robust visionary of Chronicles could not be more obvious.  In the
>Chronicler, while the Temple is central the kingship has been
>rehabilitated too, so that David, weak and vicious at the end, and touchy
>Solomon too, are securely great.
>                 5] The Price:             
>                         2Sa 24:24 
>                                  And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but
>I will surely
>                                  buy [it] of thee at a price: neither
>will I offer burnt
>                                  offerings unto the LORD my God of that
>which doth
>                                  cost me nothing. So David bought the
>threshingfloor and
>                                  the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.
>                         1Ch 21:24-25 
>                                  And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I
>will verily buy
>                                  it for the full price: for I will not
>take [that] which [is]
>                                  thine for the LORD, nor offer burnt
>offerings without
>                                  cost.  So David gave to Ornan for the
>place six hundred
>                                  shekels of gold by weight.
> NOTE AGAIN: The point is that the one conversation has been changed in
>order to expand the reference for the editor's purpose. This is an obvious
>redaction, building on the ambiguity of the word maqom, place.


> The later price is intended to reflect the prestigious Babylonian number,
>600, in the context of gold, and the extension to the maqom built into the
>text gives the writer the excuse to introduce this higher value.

This is questionable. The actual price could have been six hundred shekels
of gold.

>Yet all this is done without any internal reason in the text for that
>extension, which seems to contradict the first instruction which was to
>build an altar.

This is not a highly significant objection, in my opinion. The reader is
told that the temple is built on the site. Probably this was common
knowledge in the nation if true. So Chronicles does not have to spell out
every detail and can add the full purchase price of the place as a sort of
historical condensation.

>In the Samuel version, David is not to build a Temple: all is to be left
>to his son after his death. The Chronicler wants an idealised David
>associated with the temple because he is going to elevate David so much in
>planning the Temple, Solomon will be reduced to a mere proxy.

Still, David does not build the temple, and Solomon builds it with skill
and dedication.

 >It is clever, but because the writer is so respectful of his source text
he dare not change it enough to hide what he is doing, which is giving
David a site for the Future Temple, with (as you say) the site preparation
one would expect for the building program. The problem is that this is an
invention of the Chronicler to give the building program an apparent
genesis in events in David's life, which Samuel contradicts (2 Sam 7:1-17).

2 Samuel 7 does not contradict the site having a genesis in David's life,
but only the idea that David would build the temple.

>In fact, even Chronicler's David is forced to refer (1 Chron 28:3) to this
>after a fulsome description of his role in creating the cultic life of
>Israel all while his son is ruling, apparently because he is young (1
>Chron 29:1).

There you go.

>                 6] The Result.
> The result of the transaction is tellingly in keeping with the source,
>not the extension of meaning, because when all is said and done the
>Chronicler wants to introduce maqom avoiding merely blatant contradiction.
>                         2Sa 24:25 
>                                  And David built there an altar unto the
>LORD, and
>                                  offered burnt offerings and peace
>offerings. So the
>                                  LORD was intreated for the land, and the
>plague was
>                                  stayed from Israel.
>                         1Ch 21:26 
>                                  And David built there an altar unto the
>LORD, and
>                                  offered burnt offerings and peace
>offerings, and called
>                                  upon the LORD; and he answered him from
>heaven by
>                                  fire upon the altar of burnt offering.
> In Chronicles, there is an added dimension which seems to confer priestly
>grandeur on David, linking the figure around whom Messianism grew, in
>literary terms, to a specifically religious vision. The fire coming from
>heaven is part of the new, elevated position that idealised kingship is to
>have in some later traditions.

This could be another tradition that the Chronicler included from his other

> Thus, the result of the transaction is not a Temple, of course, but an
>altar. The end of both accounts is to fulfil the agenda set earlier, which
>includes no mention of a site for anything else. All is the introduction
>of the Chronicler, grafting onto his source a subtle hook on which to hang
>his next set of chapters, without changing the structure of the story as
>he found it in his source, only alteringa detail in midrashic style, as a
>prelude to what - to me - is an obvious midrash on the relationship
>between ideals of Kingship and Temple.

All the Chronicler does not do is distinguish between an original purchase
and a later one. Since his purpose is to look ahead to the temple's
construction, he might condense things.

> Contradiction?  Not exactly. Revision.

Redaction can imply inclusion of new materials, reordering of materials,
and so forth. There is not necessarily revision of history.

> Revision which tries to affirm the past but move on from limitations that
>past traditions impose.  Of course, looking at the versions of David's
>end, as with the two versions of Solomon's (the wise and the foolish) both
>ethical and literary arguments can be used to reconcile then. It is the
>nature of life itself that human beings are weak and contradictory, and
>the Christian tradition regards such conflicts as part of its theological
>bread and butter. So, no. It's not difficult to get round it, especially
>as the HB/OT itself was plainly, to some extent, a unified tradition which
>accepted these different inputs.

Now you are talking. Human beings are a mixture of strength and weakness. I
know this too well of myself. I do not find it psychologically impossible
for David to be both what Samuel/Kings and Chronicles describe him as
being. Some of the details are open to various perspectives. The benefit of
Abishag was a physical one as presented in the text. It does not
necessarily mean that David was completely feeble, but Abishag did make
David's sleep easier. The commands about Shimei and Joab are matters beyond
my judgment. I do not think I should condemn David for them necessarily but
rather reserve judgment. Joab was a murderer, and Shimei could have
preserved his life.

> But that is quite a different thing from a scholar closing his eyes to
>the obvious. And I suppose, when I think of you, Harold, and Dan, with
>your reasonableness and sane comment, the one question which I have is:
>are you capable of concluding that there is ever a ripple in the text,
>ever an editorial hand and a different theological perspective? The fact
>that you might not ever be, well, that's what I find disturbing, because
>it means that you are theologically fortified only to deny that which must
>be denied, rather than prepared to look at the evidence as you would if it
>were any other book than the Bible which is before you, because - to me -
>if a person enters in a debate with a counter-analytical agenda, he is an
>apologist but not a true scholar.

What do you want me to affirm, that I might concede that there is
historical fabrication by an editor? These sorts of things are highly
debatable and capable of a multitude of resolutions. To say that I ever
have to conclude that the Bible is not telling historical truth on such
grounds as redaction seems questionable. The compilers of Chronicles could
have been led by the Spirit to include certain new things and take out old
things from the record in Samuel and Kings. That does not trouble me in

>He has a prior agenda, of which others might well approve, but which
>betrays honest sight, and evangelicals have become expert in inventing
>pseudo-scholarship to prove what they already believe.

Nobody is advocating pseudo-scholarship, but I'd rather affirm God's word
too strongly than deny its truth. I have come to believe that the Bible is
from God. It says that it is, and I sense that it is. There are many
difficult things about it. There are numerous passages where we just do not
seem to know what it means. I can live with these tensions, because I
understand the length of time that it has passed through copying, and our
distance from the original culture and events.

But some people want to create more problems that there really are. I am
happy to become aware of any problems with the text, because it helps me
think more clearly about it. I do not want to paper over the problems,
really. I just have solved enough of them to my satisfaction that I am
confident about the Bible's reliability.

It is observant people like you that open doors to real solutions where
jerry-built solutions have been the only thing available in the past. We
should welcome all light. But due to my conviction that the Bible is deeply
true, I may tend to err on the side of the easy solution.

				Harold Holmyard
				Dallas, TX

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