Scratchpad: Intertextually speaking…

Psalm 121
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You know the drill:

The Question:

Read the essay by Vivian L. Johnson and discuss elements that an intertextual reading brings into the Samuel narrative.

The pseudo-attempt at a rough draft at an answer which may or may not in fact be the actual posted answer:


I must admit that it is difficult to step out of the notion that the bylines we see ascribed to the Psalms may in fact be of a later date and ‘in the name of’, as indeed, many of the Psalms are without our modern notions of fiction coming into play; however, in doing so, we are able to gain a much more fuller picture by understanding the notion of Scripture arguing with Scripture. We see this exemplified with the pro-Davidic author(s) of the Chronicles as opposed to the anti-Davidic author(s) (Deuteronomists?) of the four books of Kings. We also see this implied in Ruth versus Ezra-Nehemiah as well, in which the xenophobic Prophet/Scribe is taken to task for expelling interracial couples when David himself is the product of a union between a Moabitess and a Judge of Israel. Scripture is not merely arguing within itself, but is enjoying a process of filling itself up with the conversation started by YHWH of what it means to be His people or perhaps His king.

The need to read David’s rise as King and his subsequent attempt to do everything humanly possible to displease God as found in the anti-Davidic works must be read alongside those works which seek to show that while David was human, he did everything divinely possible to be the person whom God had chosen him to be. Indeed, he failed many times, but for Christians, we must remember that in the end, his line was chosen as the royal line which would give the world the blessing of Abraham. By reading intertextually the historical psalms of David, a sometimes different, more humble person emerges from ancient Israelite tradition than what appears in either the Kings or the Chronicles. David is spiritual, weak, human and almost non-kingly. He isn’t politicized, but simply shown as what the receptive community held him to be. He was a prophet and a man made low by his own sins so he was able to show the exiled community hope while they sat by the rivers of Babylon.

For instance, Psalm 139, which is a personal favorite of mine, shows David seeking God’s presence and acknowledging YHWH’s active hand in every aspect of David’s life. Yet, in the Kings (the two books of Samuel and the two books of Kings in the English bible), David is seen as contemptuously brash and almost arrogant to God until God for some reason or another steps in to correct David. The Psalmist (of) David instead lives humbly before God who mediates upon the will of God in what is almost offensive to our modern sensibilities in that in everything God is there. The Royal David is presented as a wicked, deceitful, murderous man; the Psalmist (of) David in this Psalm comes through as one who is seeking constant reconciliation with God (139.23-24).

I note Psalm 51 which is mentioned in Dr. Johnson’s essay as a remedy for the brevity of David’s response to the prophetic rebuke (Johnson:2) . But in that psalm we find a connection to 1st Samuel 25 as well in which Abigail expressly states that her goal (1st Samuel 25.31) is to ensure David’s spotless record free from vengeance and bloodshed leaving David with a clean conscience. It would seem that Psalm 51 is connected, textually, to Abigail’s desire for her future husband – if only she had truly been her future husband’s desire. Mark Biddle notes while Abigail is among the few women noted for their physical beauty in Scripture, it wasn’t this which attracted David unlike Bathsheba (noted for her physical appearance). In my opinion, Psalm 51 should be read between Abigail who prevented David’s bloodguilt and Bathsheba who caused it. If we don’t take the various texts as an independent’s view point which may in fact either be opposed to another Scriptural author or perhaps serves to expand the narrative, we may miss important textual clues and indeed, miss what the expanded passage is trying to communicate.

Biddle, Ancetral Motif’s in 1 Samuel 25: Intertextuality and Characterization, JBL, vol 121, No 4, 2002, p617-638

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