Translation of 1 Kgs 2:28-35 (MT)

28. And the hearing came up to Joab, for Joab inclined after Adonijah, but after Absalom he had not inclined, and Joab fled to the tent of Yhwh and grasped the horns of the altar.
29. And it was told to King Solomon that Joab had fled to the tent of Yhwh and, dude! Beside the altar. And Solomon sent Benaiahu ben Jehoiada, saying, “go. Attack him.”
30. And Benaiahu came to the tent of Yhwh and said to him, “thus says the king: ‘exit!'” And he said, “No, for here I will die.” And Benaiahu brought back word to the king, saying, “Thus Joab has spoken and thus has he answered.”
31. And the king said to him, “do just as he said and attack him and bury him and you will remove the blood that Joab undeservedly shed from upon me and from upon the house of my father.
32. “And Yhwh will bring back his blood upon his head that he encountered two men, more righteous and better than him, and he killed them with the sword (and my father David did not know) Abner ben Ner, commander of Israel’s army, and Amasa ben Jeter, commander of Judah’s army.
33. “And their blood will return on Joab’s head and on the head of his seed for eternity. And for David and for his seed and for his house and for his throne there will be peace until eternity from with Yhwh.”
34. And Benaiahu ben Jehoiada went up and attacked him and caused his death, and he was buried in his house in the wilderness.
35. And the king gave Benaiahu ben Jehoiada in his stead over the army and Zadok, the priest, the king gave instead of Abiathar.

Comments on the Text

Verse 28 return the account to Joab, last mentioned when David demanded his death at Solomon’s hands (1 Kgs 2:5-6). The context is unclear as to what precisely Joab heard: this verse makes sense as the continuation of v. 27 or v. 26 or even v. 25. Honestly, v. 25 makes the most sense, since it ends with a a death, the same which Joab apparently also fears. The Masoretic Text notes that Joab stood with Adonijahu, whereas he had not stood with Absalom, David’s other son that revolted against him. The Greek version of this story notes that he stood with Adonijahu as opposed to Solomon, a simple (it’s two letters in Hebrew) yet substantial difference here. The reference to the tent is unclear in this context. Most likely it refers to the tent that David set up for the ark (cf. 2 Sam 6:17). If it’s supposed to be about the tabernacle, the last time it was mentioned was all the way back in 1 Sam 2:22, and the terminology is distinct there. As far as I see, this passage presents the only mention of the “tent of Yhwh” in the Bible.

Anyone unfamiliar with Iron Age religion in the Levant should ask what the “horns of the altar” are. Well, here you go:

Iron Age Altar. Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Image (c) 2019 Jonathan Miles Robker

Those four pieces on the corners: totally horns. So there you go.

Verse 29 reports that King Solomon heard of this before Solomon sent his enforcer Benaiahu to eliminate Joab. Benaiahu apparently followed through and brings back a message to the king, as reported in v. 30. As a reaction to this, actually two reactions if we take the text seriously, the king twice demands that Joab be killed. The second case, the clarifying vv. 32-33 looks back to David’s dying request in 2:5-6. Joab must die for his bloodguilt.

Benaiahu goes through with the king’s request. He departs and kills Joab. The phrasing in this verse is really unusual: the Hebrew does not say that he kills Joab, but that he causes him to die, i.e., uses the causative stem of the intransitive verb “die.” Very weird. At least terminologically it fits with Joab’s statement in v. 30 that he will die there. At the same time, killing him at the altar raises questions about whether the altar was then desecrated. Contact with human remains is otherwise described in the Hebrew Bible as a way of desecrating illegitimate (at least in the eyes of those placing the remains on them) altars; cf. 2 Kgs 23:15-16 and its proclamation in 1 Kgs 13:1-2. The end of the verse is also totally unclear. Syntactically, it remains possible that Joab was buried in his own house or, much more creepily, was buried in Benaiahu’s house. Make of that what you will.

This episode concludes with two notes. First, it notes that the king made Benaiahu the head of the military. Secondly, it mentions that the king replaced Abiathar, presumably after his exile in v. 26, with the priest Zadok. Thus, this verse combines those two episodes into a logical whole. Otherwise, the notice that Zadok became high priest makes little sense here. When taken together, though, the incorporation of these two episodes combines an element that David did not demand on his deathbed with one that he did. In this way, this verse serves a bridging function, compiling two otherwise not really directly related incidents. King Solomon has now established his power over the military and the priesthood with a new commander and the concentration of priestly power in the hands of one priest. The social order is increasingly in his grasp.

It is worth noting here that at this point in the narrative, the Septuagint has a rather lengthy plus when contrasted with the Hebrew text. (I use the term “plus” here rather than “addition” quite intentionally, since “addition” implies an evaluation of the longer material as a later interpolation, whereas “plus” is more neutral.) Most of the material in that plus appears elsewhere in the Hebrew version of Kings and even as a duplication within the Greek version. It’s a difficult issue that I feel that I have solved, but that is a post for another time.

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3 Comments

  1. I’ve always wondered what the horns looked like. Also, I’ve always tried to imagine Job’s death, since it’s left so unclear as to exactly how he met his end. For whatever reason, I’ve always visualized it as similar to what happens in this scene from Kurosawa’s Ran:

    Reply

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