Friday, September 21, 2007

Halpern and the Beerothites

I've been reading, with great enjoyment, Baruch Halpern's David's Secret Demons. There is much of value in the book, as well as much with which I would vigorously disagree. Nevertheless, it is certainly a tour de force. (Interesting how calling something a tour de force can be either a compliment or a criticism.)

One point of disagreement I would spotlight here is Halpern's statement that the Gibeonites were responsible for the murder of Ishbaal, Saul's son and heir:
Two non-Israelites, from the Gibeonite town Beeroth, assassinated Ishbaal and rushed his head to Hebron — presenting it to David on a plate. ... It is no coincidence that Ishbaal's assassins were Gibeonites, from the town of Beeroth. Saul, the text states, had expelled the population of that town. Although David avenged the killing — of his enemy and rival — it was not much later that he allowed the Gibeonites the joy of avenging themselves on the House of Saul (2 Sam. 21). (Halpern, pp. 308, 310, see also pp. 31, 81)
The text Halpern refers to is 2 Sam 4:2-3:
Saul’s son had two captains of raiding bands; the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab. They were sons of Rimmon a Benjaminite from Beeroth—for Beeroth is considered to belong to Benjamin. (Now the people of Beeroth had fled to Gittaim and are there as resident aliens to this day). [NRSV]
These verses are not quoted by Halpern, et pour cause, for they say, rather plainly, that Ishbaal's killers were not Gibeonites, but Benjaminites, i.e., Israelites, from the same tribe as Ishbaal himself. True (says the writer), they were from Beeroth, a town of Gibeon, but at this time, Beeroth belonged to Benjamin, the natives having fled to Gittaim. (The text also does not say that Saul expelled the natives, although it is a reasonable guess.)

This is not an insignificant detail, because Halpern builds up an elaborate theory that David himself was a Gibeonite, or a Gibeonite sympathizer, and in fact colluded with these men to have Ishbaal killed. If the killers were not native to Beeroth, however, a major prop of this theory falls to the ground. Halpern has to deal somewhere with the clear statement of this text — but he never does.

Judging from the book as a whole, I think Halpern would probably claim that the assassins were in fact Gibeonites, and that the assertion that they were Benjaminites was a falsehood concocted by David's apologists to counter the idea that David was complicit in the slaying. But he never says this outright, and winds up giving a false impression of the story.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Baruch Halpern, David's Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001.

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