Gary Greenberg's blog on biblical studies and related matters

God’s Footnotes

On many occasions, one or another of the books of the bible cites a so-far undiscovered written source as an authoritative proof that what the biblical author said was true. I like to think of these instances as God’s footnotes. So, here’s a theological question: If a biblical text cites a so-far undiscovered written text as an authoritative source for a claim in the bible, should that so-far undiscovered text be treated as an additional canonical biblical book?

One of the biblical books, Chronicles (existing in two parts,) probably cites more external sources than all the rest of the bible as a whole. A couple of these cites raise some interesting questions about the evolution of earlier biblical texts. Consider, for example, this passage from 1 Ch 29.29: “Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the records of the seer Samuel, and in the records of the prophet Nathan, and in the records of the seer Gad.” The author writes not only as if he knows these written sources, but suggests that his readers could have access to them also, as verification for what he says.

For all practical purposes, our primary extant pre-Chronicles source of biographical information about David comes from 1 and 2 Samuel and a few passages at the beginning of 1 Kings as David is about to die and a fight over succession brews. This Chronicles text, however, suggests that what was known about David, “from first to last,”  comes from three separate written sources, records connected to Samuel, Nathan, and Gad.

Samuel, Nathan and Gad are all characters in the Samuel texts. Samuel is, of course, the Judge for whom 1 and 2 Samuel is named, and David’ ally against Saul. Nathan was an advisor to King David, who accused the king of murdering Bathsheba’s husband, and who engineered Solomon’s usurpation of the throne from Adonijah, David’s oldest living son and the heir presumptive. Gad was a prophet who helped David avoid capture by Saul and later conveyed to David God’s punishment for the king’s ordering of a census of Israel.

The first Chronicle source mentioned above is called “Samuel the Seer.” The immediate question raised is whether this record of the seer Samuel constitutes what we know as 1 and 2 Samuel. Absent a copy of the text referred to, we don’t know. Depending on one’s answer, a subsidiary question is whether 1 and 2 Samuel was cobbled together from the three so-far undiscovered three sources mentioned in Chronicles. One might even ask if 1 and 2 Samuel even existed in anything like their present form at the time Chronicles was written. If Chronicles is scripture, shouldn’t the sources cited for all we know about David, “from first to last,” be considered the equivalent of scripture.

Continuing further, 2 Chronicles 9:29 says, “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, from first to last, are they not written in the history of the prophet Nathan, and in the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, and in the visions of the seer Iddo concerning Jeroboam son of Nebat?” Again, the author indicates that these three texts cited would be known to his readers, and available for examination.

Here we have at least two and perhaps three new sources. Is the written history of the prophet Nathan the same as the previously cited records of the prophet Nathan? Probably, but without both of the texts cited text, we can’t be sure. As mentioned above, Nathan was a key player in the reigns of both David and Solomon.

Ahijah the Shilonite, however, was an enemy of Solomon and encouraged Jeroboam to rebel against the king. After a failed attempt to lead a revolution, Jeroboam  fled to Egypt, but when Solomon died, Jeroboam returned  and successfully split the kingdom of Israel off from the kingdom of Judah. However, Jeroboam and Ahijah had a later falling out, and the prophet predicted that Jeroboam’s sick son would die as a punishment for falling away from God, after God gave him the kingdom of Israel. The child died.

Do these stories of Ahijah, which greatly contradict the image of Solomon as a wise and beloved king, come from a written source known as the “Prophesy of Ahijah the Shilonite? The same sort of questions asked about the above written sources apply here.

Iddo the Seer, on the other hand, is not mentioned as a character in the stories to which Chronicles attaches his name. But he is also cited a second time as a source about the events of that time. According to 2 Chronicles 13:22, “The rest of the acts of Abijah, his behavior and his deeds, are written in the story of the prophet Iddo.” Abijah was also the son of king Jeroboam, and his father’s successor.

In all of these instances, the Chronicler is writing as if he knows written versions of these various texts he cites and that the reader would have access to these texts if further proof was needed. So how much of the scriptural accounts of the United Monarchy and its aftermath can be traced back to these texts rather than 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. Given the scriptural endorsement of these texts as accurate accounts of Israel’s history, shouldn’t they also be considered canonical texts, even if we have no extant copies?


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