Translation of 1 Kgs 2:13-25 (MT)

13. And Adonijahu ben Haggith came to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, and she said, “Is your coming peaceful?” And he said, “peace.”
14. And he said, “a word for me to you.” And she said, “speak.”
15. And he said, “you, you know that for me was the kingdom and upon me turned all Israel, their faces, to reign. And the kingdom surrounded and was for my bother, for from Yhwh was it for him.
16. “And now, one request I ask from with you. Do not turn back my face.” And she said to him, “speak.”
17. And he said, “please talk to Solomon, the king, for not will he turn back your face and he can give me Abishag the Shunammite for a wife.”
18. And Bathsheba said, “good. I, I will speak on your (behalf) to the king.”
19. And Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him on Adonijahu’s (behalf). And the king arose to encounter her and he prostrated to her and he sat upon his throne and he set a throne for king’s mother and she sat to his right.
20. And she said, “one small request I am asking from with you. Do not turn my face back.” And the king said to her, “ask, my mother, for not will I turn back your face.”
21. And she said, “let Abishag the Shunammite be given to Adonijahu, your brother, for a wife.”
22. And King Solomon answered and said to his mother, “and why are you requesting Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijahu? Rather ask for him the kingdom, for he is my older brother and for him and for Abiathar the priest and for Joab ben Zeruiah.”
23. And King Solomon swore by Yhwh, saying, “thus may God do to me and thus more, for with his life Adonijahu has spoken this word.
24. “And now, as Yhwh lives, who prepared me and set me upon my father David’s throne and who made for me a house, just as he had said, for today Adonijahu should be put to death.”
25. And King Solomon sent by the hand of Benaiahu ben Jehoiada and he attacked him and he died.

Comments on the Text

For context: David’s dead and Solomon rules. Time for the exemplary reign of a wise king, right? That’s what the reception of the texts about Solomon tell us. You don’t even have to leave the Bible to find the first literary assessment of Solomon in this light: Chronicles emphasizes his wisdom and completely removes the rest of the chapter from its recounting of Solomon’s life. So, Solomon the wise? Not yet. First there’s still plenty of blood to spill.

Much of chapter one has built up to this episode. Strangely enough, David’s speech to Solomon before his death does not touch on this issue at all. The open question from chapter one is still: what is going to happen to Adonijahu? Now we find out.

Verses 13-17 open a larger story with a dialogue between Adonijahu and Bathsheba. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the narrator explicates who both of these characters are in verse 13, describing them as “son of Haggith” and “Solomon’s mother” respectively. It’s almost like the reader has to be reminded. It’s worth noting at this point, that the Greek textual traditions of this chapter suggest that the book of Kings originally began with 2:12, meaning this story would be the first story in the book. More on that some other time (unless you want to leave a burning question about it in the comments). The reintroduction of these characters could, in my opinion be further evidence of this originally being the beginning of Kings. After chapter 1, the reader should be quite familiar with both Adonijahu and Bathsheba.

Adonijahu approaches the queen-mother, Bathsheba, and it is she who opens the dialogue. After the two actors parley briefly about Adonijahu’s peaceful intent and his desire to speak, he admits three things to the queen before making a request: 1) the kingdom should have been his; 2) the kingdom was granted to his brother; and 3) his reign was ordained by Yhwh. This is a pretty inconsistent series of statements, since number one does not match numbers two and three. It seems unlikely that this whole speech originally belonged to Adonijahu. Nonetheless, after these statements, he requests that Bathsheba ask King Solomon to give him Abishag, David’s attendant, as a wife. It took no fewer than three exchanges in their dialogue for Adonijahu to finally reach this point and make his request (13, 14, 15-16). Bathsheba seems to express no real opinion on this matter, one way or the other, but agrees to take his request to King Solomon. One must really wonder what she, as a character, is supposed to be thinking here. Unfortunately, the narrator provides no insight.

Bathsheba goes to see King Solomon, and here the reader is granted some interesting details in v. 19 about Bathsheba and her relationship with the king. The king prostrates to his mother and has a throne set beside her for her to sit on. These notices seem to indicate that the queen mother is not merely some courtly accessory, but should be regarded as a person of some import in the eyes of the king. She does not, in turn, prostrate herself to the king, as she had done to King David before. To me, this scene suggests a remarkable turnaround for the character Bathsheba: she has transformed from the victim of sexual assault and rape, widowed in the name of the king’s lust, to sitting to the right of that king’s successor on her own throne.

From this position she makes Adonijahu’s request, even borrowing his phraseology. Again, the reader wonders what Bathsheba’s attitude to all of this is, but we have no way of gleaning that from the text. The king agrees to hear and oblige her request. She asked that Abishag be given to Adonijahu as a wife, and this causes King Solomon to react in anger. He questions her motives. He identifies this marriage as an affront, literally as the transfer of the kingdom to his brother. For unclear reasons, he drags Joab and Abiathar into the mix, as well. (This is probably an editorial gloss to make this story better match its immediate context, which focuses on these two.)

“What’s the big deal?” you may be wondering. That’s an important question, to which there may not be a satisfactory answer. Adonijahu’s objective in all of this is not clear, whether through words placed in his mouth or anything that the narrator describes. Perhaps the reader should be reminded of Absalom, who is said to have avowed himself of his father’s harem as part of his revolt. However, the text is quite explicit that Abishag was not part of David’s harem. He never had sex with her according to the narrator. This makes King Solomon’s anger somewhat curious. Both he and the narrator just assume that Adonijahu’s request means that he is up to no good. At the same time, it is worth noting that none of these characters seem interested in what Abishag thinks of this whole thing. For that matter, the reader is told nothing more of her in this story or any that follows. She is simply elided from the story of Solomon’s reign from this point onward. The same is also true of Bathsheba, who disappears entirely after Solomon’s brusque answer to her. (That Solomon had a poor attitude toward women, particularly when he is described as King Solomon, will come up repeatedly over the course of this book.)

After rebuffing his mother (apparently for all eternity), King Solomon swears (twice!) that Adonijahu will die for this “crime.” Then he sends Benaiahu to kill him. His enforcer (for that is what Benaiahu becomes) does just that, striking him down and killing him.

So, after David’s lengthy injunction to Solomon, he kills basically the only person in the story thus far that David did not explicitly tell him to kill, and that on grounds that don’t entirely make sense. What a great start to his reign! The first thing that we learn about King Solomon as a ruler is that he is brutal. That particularly characteristic of his continues for the remainder of the chapter, particularly in the Hebrew version.

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