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Politics and Covenant in the Divine Davidic Kinship: A Diachronic Approach to Covenant in the Book of Samuel



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Johnson, Sophia 


Since the Covenant Centrality movement of the late 20th century, Hebrew Bible scholarship has obsessed over categorising different covenants by their formal features, such as conditional and unconditional or unilateral and bilateral. However, these classifications assume that function follows form and thus carry an inherently static conception of covenant. A diachronic approach to the study of covenant in the Hebrew Bible that remains sensitive to the narrative at each editorial level offers a dynamic understanding of the concept as it changes not only over time but between different literary settings. This thesis critiques and advances studies of covenant by presenting a new model for interpreting “berith” both as a literary device and as a textual component, specifically a legal formulation with ongoing consequences, with a view to better interpret the biblical texts as changing historical documents. The book of Samuel, and particularly covenants with David, offer a prime case study, due to their complex composition and innerbiblical reception history. Redaction criticism of narratives describing covenants between David and Jonathan, Abner, and the elders of Israel demonstrates the development of the concept of covenant from a simple bond to an oath of political loyalty or allegiance. These various individual covenants build up to the vision of an undisputed Davidic dynasty cast in 2 Sam 7. Jonathan’s pledge of loyalty in 1 Sam 20 takes away any future Saulide claim to the throne by submitting his descendants to David’s. Abner’s disavowal of Ish-bosheth and covenant rendering service to David in 2 Sam 3 facilitates the administrative transition from within the standing leadership, keeping David from charge of sedition. Finally, the covenant with the elders of Israel accompanying David’s anointment at Hebron in 2 Sam 5 brings all the tribes together under the monarchy, thus linking the ideal united kingdom of Israel with the Davidic kingship. Together they form a legal schema that ungirds a Deuteronomistic ideal of Davidic kingship over a united Israel, grounded in the idealised history of the early Israelite monarchy but looking toward a future restoration. Similar to Neo-Assyrian vassal treaties, the Deuteronomistic writers emphasise the legitimacy and authority of the covenants, which lend explanation, censure, and hope for the future of the people of Israel. I argue that the Deuteronomistic editors adapted covenant to the form of loyalty oaths employed by their imperial neighbours to make claims on those they considered to fall under “United Israel” in anticipation of the re-establishment of Israel’s royal dynasty following the exile. This thesis therefore aims to redirect scholarship on covenant by investigating the purpose and functions of legal forms within the covenant texts of Samuel, elucidating the political significance of these texts in their ancient Near Eastern landscape, and contextualising the stories of Samuel in the historiographical narratives of the early Israelite monarchy as they are presented in the wider Deuteronomistic History.





MacDonald, Nathan


Ancient Israel, covenant, I-II Samuel, King David, Redaction Criticism


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture