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.

Translation of 1 Kings 2:1-12 (MT)

1. And the days of David grew close to death, and he commanded his son Solomon, saying:
2.”I am going in the way of the whole earth, and you will be strong and will be a man.
3. “And you will guard the charge of Yhwh your God to go in his ways, to guard his statutes, his commandments, and his judgements, and his testimonies, just as are written in the Torah of Moses, so that you might prosper with all that you do and all that you turn there
4. “so that Yhwh will raise his word that he spoke about me, saying, ‘if your sons will guard their ways to walk before me in truth with their whole heart and with their whole life, saying “not will be cut off for you a man from upon the throne of Israel”‘
5. “and also, you, you know what Joab ben Zeruah did to me, what he did to two officers of the army of Israel, to Abner ben Ner, and to Amasa ben Jeter, and he killed them and he set the bloods of battle in peace at his hips and in his shoe that is on his feet.
6. “and you will do as your wisdom and not will he gray head descend in peace to Sheol.
7. “And to the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite you will do kindness and thy will be by those eating at your table. For, thus, they drew near to me in my fleeing from before Absalom your brother.
8. “And, dude! With you is Shimei ben Gera the Benjaminite from Bahurim and he cursed me a grievous curse on the day to call me (at) the Jordan and I swore to him by Yhwh, saying, ‘if I will cause you to die with the sword.’
9. “And now! You shall not acquit him, for a wise man are you. And you know what you should do to him and you will send his gray head down to Sheol in blood.”
10. And David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David.
11. And the days that David reigned over Israel were forty years: in Hebron he reigned seven years and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years.
12. And Solomon sat upon the throne of his father David and his kingdom was firmly established.

By Pieter de Grebber – King David in Prayer (ca. 1635-1640), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15144058

Comments on the Text

The opening of chapter two apparently begins the book anew. David (not “King David,” one notes) is old, yet still in power. This duplication of the end of David’s reign carries a much different tone than the preceding in some passages. The first twelve verses of the chapter can be divided into a few sections. Verses 1 and 10-12 are the narrated frame of David’s lengthy speech, which appears in 2-9. This speech can easily be divided into four unequal parts: 2-4 recount David’s admonishing Solomon to act according to biblical precepts; 5-6 announce David’s posthumous revenge on Joab; 7 express his favor to Barzillai and his sons; and 8-9 mandate Solomon’s avenging the dishonor of Shimei on his father David. The first part of the speech takes a decidedly different tone than the rest, with the possible exception of the referent to Barzillai. One notes that two revenge notices surround the one gracious notice, suggesting perhaps a compositional intention, but that is hardly provable.

The vernacular of this opening scene of chapter 2 is strongly reminiscent of Deuteronomistic theology, i.e., theology rooted in the tenets of the book of Deuteronomy. More specifically, this Deuteronomistic terminology and theology appears most prominently in verses 1-4 and is largely absent in the rest of the speech. David’s opening demand of Solomon is similar to God’s demand of Joshua in Joshua 1.

Two of the three elements provide the structure for the end of the chapter, at least as it is preserved in the Hebrew version. (The Greek version of this chapter is fundamentally different, but more on that in a later post.) The speeches against Joab and Shimei frame the speech favoring Barzillai. The end of the chapter, vv. 28-43a, report Solomon’s fulfilling these commands, albeit with no further mention of Barzillai, whether here or elsewhere in Kings. When I read these verses, they seem to be an interpolation between verse 4 and verse 10, introduced later to justify the subsequent executions (or murders, if you prefer). Conspicuously absent from David’s proclamation of vengeance is Adonijah, particularly since he is the focus of the two episodes surrounding David’s lengthy speech.

The conclusion of this section ends David’s life. The narrator informs the reader where David was buried and reminds the reader how long and where he reigned. Finally, the notice follows, this time from the narrator, that Solomon sat on David’s throne. After this notice the text takes a long detour about Solomon’s shoring up his position as king. At the end of chapter 2, there is another notice (2:43b) that Solomon had established the kingdom in his hand. Taken together, these pieces suggest to me, on a superficial level even, that someone added 2:13-43a, probably in stages, to chapter 2. These expansions could have been the reason for an even later insertion of vv. 5-9, which justify Solomon’s execution of the others. However, they could have been included at the same time. That issue still needs to be resolved.

Translation of 1 Kgs 1:41-53 (MT)

41. And Adonijahu heard (and all those who were summoned with him and they had finished eating). And Joab head the sound of the horn and said, “why is the city’s voice grumbling?”
42. While he was still speaking, dude! Jonathan ben Abiathar (the priest) came and Adonijahu said, “come, for a mighty man are you and good tidings you will bear!”
43. And Jonathan answered Adonijahu, “truly, our lord King David has made Solomon king.
44. “And the king sent with him Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet and Benaiahu ben Jehoiada and the Cherethites and the Pelethites and they had him ride upon the king’s mule.
45. “And they anointed him, Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, to (be) king at Gihon and they went up from there happily and agitated the city. This is the sound that you heard.
46. “And also Solomon sat on the throne of the kingdom.
47. “And also the servants of the king came to bless our lord King David, saying ‘may your God make the name of your son Solomon greater than your name and increase his throne more than your throne.’ And the king prostrated on his bed.
48. “And thus spoke the king, ‘blessed is Yhwh, Israel’s God, who gave today the one sitting on my throne and my eyes are seeing (it).'”
49. And they trembled and got up, all those who had been called to Adonijahu, and they went, each to his path.
50. And Adonijahu was afraid from before Solomon and he got up and went and grasped the horns of the altar.
51. And it was told to Solomon, saying, “dude! Adonijahu fears King Solomon and, dude! He has grasped the horns of the altar, saying, ‘King Solomon should swear to me just as today that he will not kill his servant with the sword.'”
52. And Solomon said, “if he will be to me a son of honor, nothing will fall from his hair to the ground. But if wickedness is found in him, he will die.”
53. And King Solomon sent and let him be brought down from on the altar and he came and did obeisance to King Solomon. And Solomon said to him, “go to your house!”

Cornelis de Vos. The Anointing of Solomon. Ca. 1630. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Public Domain. [Wikimedia Commons]

Comments on the Text

Verse 48 opens again with a singular verb and a plural subject, making the syntax somewhat awkward, particularly with the reference to their finishing eating. Why is that relevant? First Adonijahu hears, though it is not clear what. Then Joab hears, and here it is clear: he hears the sounds of horns and, based on his inquiry, the uproar in the city.

In response to this, suddenly and conveniently (from a narrative perspective) the son of the priest allied with Adonijahu arrives from off of the scene. Adonijahu presumes that he will provide an auspicious report of what is going on and inquires what is up.

His response is prompt and initially to the point: King David has made Solomon king. The description of King David as “our lord” can be understood in a variety of ways. Does this mean that Adonijahu never supposed himself a usurper? Is this comment to undercut his position? Is this reference to protect him from people who would want to accuse him of usurpation? No evidence is provided, but it is interesting that here King David is “our lord” to the people assembled around Adonijahu.

Verses 44-45 more or less describe the scene from 38-40. The real change comes in verse 46, which opens a whole passage of material that the reader has thus far heard nothing about other than in Nathan’s plan. This is the first time the reader hears of Solomon sitting on the king’s throne. The ductus of this new material continues in verses 47-48, which include new blessings and speeches from the people involved in Solomon’s accession. Suddenly the king is there and expresses his thanks that he lived to experience this event. After citing the king’s speech, Jonathan concludes his recitation of recent events.

The reaction to this speech is fear and abandonment in vv. 49-50. First Adonijahu is abandoned and then he flees to the altar. This altar probably refers to the one in 2 Sam 24, as no other altar has been mentioned thus far. Presumably Adonijahu thinks he will be safe in front of the altar. While it works in this case, this view is somewhat shortsighted, as will become clear in the next chapter.

The episode concludes with Solomon, now officially called the king (though not exclusively), reacting to Adonijahu in vv. 51-53. Solomon promises only to kill him if wickedness is found in him. The reader knows what this means and this expectation is fulfilled in the next chapter. With this, power has now officially transferred from David to Solomon. It should have been David as king who reacted to Adonijahu, but this task is left to Solomon. David never says anything about it in the biblical story before his death. He never mentions this episode with Adonijahu. David only does two more things in this recounting of his reign before Solomon ultimately takes over: 1) he admonishes Solomon and 2) dies.

Translation of 1 Kgs 1:38-40 (MT)

38. And Zadok the priest went down (and Nathan the prophet and Benaiahu ben Jehoiada and the Cherethites and the Pelethites), and they let Solomon ride on King David’s mule and they walked him up to Gihon.
39. And Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. And they blew into the horn. And the whole people said, “long live King Solomon!”
40. And the whole people went up behind him, and the people piped with pipes and were gladly greatly joyous. And the earth was cleft by their voice.

Comments on the Text

Verses 38-39 describe the undertaking of the king’s plan to install Solomon on his throne. The syntax of verse 38 is somewhat conspicuous, though not entirely without precedent in Hebrew: the first verb is recorded in the singular, suggesting that only Zadok descended in the first instance, with the other being added as an afterthought (or later interpolation). The other two men named are familiar to the reader of Kings thus far, but the Cherethites and Pelethites appeared for the last time previously 2 Sam 20:7, demonstrated the interconnectedness of these two texts. The second and third verbs now appear in the plural, affording the inclusion of the other parties attendant at Solomon’s anointing. By including all of these people and groups in the, for lack of a better word, “ceremony,” the author/editor of this passage covers several bases of Levantine culture in the Iron Age: the priest, the prophet, and the general. Perhaps we should understand a particular emphasis on the militant, with Benaijahu (an officer) and two groups of soldiers or mercenaries (Cherethites and Pelethites).

In verse 39 it is once again only Zadok who is acting, distinguishing this verse both from the preceding and from the king’s command in v. 34. After the anointing, the verbs change to the plural, presuming a connection to the end of the previous verse, even though no subjects are explicitly named in the case of “they blew” (it could be understood impersonally as “someone”). It is noteworthy that the Hebrew uses two distinct terms for the different horns: the first is qeren and the second is shofar, which can be used like a bugle. The first is a container and the second is a musical instrument. At the conclusion of his anointing, Solomon has now become king per acclamation. The phrase here, “the whole people,” could be understood as everyone generally, but the term “people,” particularly in Deuteronomic or Deuteronomistic contexts can refer to the army. With the references to the soldiers in the preceding verse, that seems to be the most apparent meaning here and in the opening of v. 40.

Now that Solomon has been acclaimed king by the military, they follow him, ascending to some unnamed point. At this point, apparently we hear about the populace more generally, here identified only as “the people” in contradistinction to the preceding “the whole people.” The normal people are envisioned as joining the procession and playing their pipes. Their enthusiastic music is loud enough to cause the earth to break open. Quite a remarkable feat, should one choose to understand it literally.

Translation of 1 Kings 1:28-37 (MT)

28. And the king, David, answered and said, “call for me to Bathsheba.” And she came before the king and stood before the king.

29. And the king swore and said, “as Yhwh lives, who ransomed my life from every adversity,

30. “yes, just as I had sworn to you by Yhwh, God of Israel, saying, ‘yes, Solomon, your son, will reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne in my stead’, yes, thus I will do this day.”

31. And Bathsheba knelt, nose [to the] ground and prostrated to the king and said, “may my lord, the king, David, live forever!”

32. And the king, David, said, “call for me to Zadok the priest, and to Nathan the prophet, and to Benaiahu ben Jehojada.” And they came before the king.

33. And the king said to them, “take with you the servants of your lord, and let Solomon, my son, ride on the mule that is mine. And bring him down to Gihon.

34. “And Zadok the priest (and Nathan the prophet) should anoint him there to king over Israel. And you should blow in the horn and say, ‘long live the king, Solomon!’

35. “And ascend after him and he will enter and sit upon my throne and he will reign in my stead, and him I will command to be a leader over Israel and over Judah.”

36. And Benaiahu ben Jehoiada answered the king and said, “so be it! Thus Yhwh, God of my lord, the king, has spoken!

37. “Just as Yhwh was with my lord, the king, so he will be with Solomon. And he will make his throne greater than the throne of my lord, the king, David.”

Commentary on the Text

At this point, the narrative flow really develops some issues. Primary among them are the relative locations of the characters. Bathsheba must apparently be summoned to the king, even though she has been in his presence since v. 15. Particularly as the text identifies the king as David here, this mismatch becomes more poignant. This unclear location and the identification with David certainly justify questioning how these pieces should fit together as a compositional unit. It is also worth noting how often the king is mentioned: three times in fourteen Hebrew words! Someone really wanted to emphasize who was in charge here…

The king now swears to do that he supposedly already swore to do. This occurs in vv. 29-30, the first of two speeches of the king in this passage. The speech begins with a expression of the king’s faith: that Yhwh has saved him from every adversity. This phrase appears precisely in this form in 2 Sam 4:9, a text that precedes David’s summarily executing two men. That could have some import in awakening expectations for the subsequent chapter, where something similar occurs. At the same time, the opening of the promise looks to the past, i.e., actions that Yhwh had already undertaken for the king. This temporal aspect continues in the next phrases of the speech, before it turns to the future: Solomon will sit on the king’s throne. Since the swearing the king describes had supposedly already occurred, I have chosen to translate the king’s statement in v. 30 as a pluperfect, though there is nothing inherent in the Hebrew to identify it as such (nor, to be fair, does such an unambiguous pluperfect form exist in biblical Hebrew). In terms of content and narrative context, this speech must be addressed to Bathsheba, since it implies that he is talking to one of Solomon’s parents (“your son”) and since the king is presumably the other (though that is nowhere expressly stated. Having covered the past and the future, the king’s promise concludes with the present: today the king will act.

Bathsheba responds to the king’s promise in v. 31. Now her interaction with the king more explicitly matches that of Nathan, her prostrating with her nose to the ground (cf. v. 23). That suggests that there might be a link between these two passages. She expresses her wish that the king, David, might live forever. That is a favorable expression for the currently reigning king, but it would necessarily imply that her son would never gain the crown, were it to be understood literally.

In v. 32 we find a similar problem to that in v. 28: as far as the reader knows, Nathan is already standing in front of the king (cf. v. 23). Now, however, he is included in a group of three men who become important for the rest of the chapter and, at least some of them, for chapter two. The most similar list to this one is in v. 8, but here no warriors are mentioned, for whatever reason. These men arrive and await David’s instructions, as they appear in the next speech.

Verses 33-35 lay out the king’s plan as it unfurls in the next passage. A few features are worth mentioning about this speech. Other than in passages about where Solomon was anointed, the only other reference to Gihon is in Gen 2:13. I.e., Solomon should be anointed at one of the well-springs of paradise, intimately associated with the creation of humanity. We have never been informed thus far that David had such a mule, certainly not with the term supplied here. In v. 31 it appears initially as if Zadok should anoint Solomon alone: the verse is singular. Nathan appears almost as an afterthought, though it is more often, though not exclusively (cf. 2 Sam 2 and 5; 2 Kgs 11 and 23), prophets who anoint kings in Samuel (1 Sam 9; 15; 16) and Kings (1 Kgs 19; 2 Kgs 9). They should bring Solomon before the king, after Solomon has been anointed, placing him on the king’s throne. There, apparently, the king will instruct him to be a “leader” over Israel. The last time that this term appeared, it was part of the dynastic promise to David, delivered by Nathan, in 2 Sam 7. That is probably not an accident. The reference to his instructing the new ruler probably anticipates David’s speech to Solomon in 1 Kgs 2:1-4. One aspect seems to distinguish this term from the more general “king” in Samuel and Kings: the term ruler or leader seems to carry a conditional, almost ephemeral aspect. One who is the ruler may not remain that way (cf. 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 13:14; and 1 Kgs 14:7 and 16:2). This demonstrates somewhat of distinction between vv. 34 and 35: whereas Solomon become king of Israel in v. 34, he is (only) the ruler of Israel and Judah in v. 35. That is, where 34 either reckons with him as king of only the north or the whole people under the rubric of “Israel,” perhaps even with a religious connotation, verse 35 regards Israel and Judah as distinct entities or constituent elements of a larger kingdom that could be dissolved (cf. 1 Kgs 12).

This passages, at least as I have chosen to divide it here, concludes in vv. 36-37 with Benaiahu’s desire for the continuation of Yhwh’s chosen dynasty under Solomon. He proclaims that this is all occurring with the will of Yhwh. It is conspicuous that the text ascribes these words to the military man of the group, and not to the priest or the prophet, i.e., those who should presumably have better access to the will of God. Chapter two certainly makes Benaiahu appear as a zealot, whether for Yhwh or for Solomon. The text makes a first explicit implication here in that direction. With this final emphatic theological impulse from the military operative, the stage is set for Solomon to take over his father’s throne.

Translation of 1 Kings 1:22-27 (MT)

22. But, dude! Still she was speaking with the king, and Nathan the prophet entered.

23. And they declared to the king, saying, “dude! Nathan the prophet.” And he entered before the king and prostrated to the king, upon his nose, to the ground.

24. And Nathan said, “my lord, o king, you, you have said, ‘Adonijahu will reign after me, and he will sit upon my throne’?!

25. “For he went down today and sacrificed steer and fattened calves and sheep for the many, and he called to all of the king’s sons and to the military officers and to Abiathar the priest. And, dude! They are eating and drinking before him, and they said, ‘long live Adonijahu, the king!’

26. “But to me (I am your servant) and to Zadok the priest and to Benaiahu ben Jehoiada and to Solomon, your servant, he did not call.

27. “If [this is] from my lord, the king, [then] let this thing be done. But you have not let your servants know who should sit upon the throne of my lord, the king, after him.”

Commentary on the Text

From a narrative perspective, v. 22 ends Bathsheba’s speech to the king without mentioning that she is done talking. In fact, the verse’s opening suggests that the prophet interrupts her speech, fulfilling precisely that which he proposed (v. 14). The mention of Nathan’s office places him on a distinct footing when contrasted with Bathsheba, whose identity the text does not further elucidate in v. 15, as is done here with Nathan.

The distinction between these two characters becomes yet more marked in v. 23. Three matters seem to elevate Nathan above Bathsheba in this verse. First, Nathan is announced by some unnamed group of people, presumably a court or something. Nothing similar is reported for Bathsheba. Second, his title is again reiterated in the announcement of his arrival, again in contradistinction to Bathsheba. Third, there is strong emphasis placed on his obeisance to the king. It reiterates that he not only prostrated, as Bathsheba had while kneeling, but even put his nose to the ground. The prophet appears to be laying it on thick, and this verse certainly lends him a more political air than that afforded the (hopefully) more personally relevant Bathsheba.

However, vis-à-vis the king, Nathan takes a more forward approach than Bathsheba had. Whereas the king inquires what Bathsheba wants (v. 16), Nathan simply interjects his issue. I presume that this implies social bias against Bathsheba in the text: the woman should only speak when addressed and it merits no comment when her speech is interrupted first by the court and then by the announced guest. David has thus far not reacted to her concern, whether legitimate or not. Perhaps the text is making a statement about Nathan’s power-relation to the king as well. Nathan more or less exclaims what the king has previously said. It could be understood as a question, but the Hebrew by no means makes it explicit. For this reason, I have chosen to translate it here as a surprised interjection. He asks not what the king has said; he states that the king said such while simultaneously expressing his surprise and dissatisfaction. It’s an effective rhetorical strategy for the subsequent speech: the prophet lists some facts that led him to the conclusion he states in his speech’s opening. At the same time, Nathan’s manner of addressing the king here could be understood as reinforcing the narrator’s intimation from v. 4 that the king has become and is impotent.

Verse 25 presents Nathan’s nuanced version of the same information Bathsheba recounted in v. 19. The language is quite similar, but the distinctions are perhaps noteworthy in that they make the scenario appear somewhat more dangerous for David than Bathsheba. Nathan’s versions moves the military to the second position in the list of persons affiliated with Adonijahu and expands their number from merely “Joab” to “the officers.” Only then does he add “the priest Abiathar.” Finally, he notes that they are banqueting with Adonijahu and have proclaimed him king. While Bathsheba suggests that Adonijahu is already starting to rule without the king’s knowledge (v. 18), she then notes that this will only have real consequences once the king has died (v. 21). Nathan intimates that these people already regard Adonijahu as king. That puts, certainly implicitly at least, the current occupant of the throne in precarious circumstances.

Again in v. 26 Nathan provides details more in line with his station than those emphasized by Bathsheba in vv. 19 and 21. He mentions, while reiterating his loyalty to the king, that he and Zadok the priest and one particular officer (presumably loyal and certainly without Joab’s baggage) were not invited. And this, in addition to Solomon. Bathsheba, understandably and in line with her personal relationship to the king, only noted the lack of an invitation for her son.

Nathan’s speech concludes with a few excellent rhetorical features. His first phrase in this verse shows him now, for this first time in this passage, deferent to the king. That makes his position perhaps more appealing to the sitting monarch. And rather than conclude that the king must demonstrate his plan for succession to “all Israel,” as Bathsheba suggests (v. 20), Nathan states that the king must only inform his “servants” who will succeed him. Allowing for an appropriate amount of suspicion, what the conclusion of this speech really demands is that the king tell Nathan and Solomon, the two people who are described as the king’s servants in this speech, who should reign after him and sit on his throne. This anticipates the answer they hope the king will provide, perhaps again implying the king’s impotence. Again, it should be noted here that the narrator has nowhere suggested this is the divine will that the prophet is espousing. Yet, tellingly, the king does almost exactly what the prophet demands, showing that Nathan’s plan worked. And the king suspects nothing.

Translation of 1 Kings 1:15-21 (MT)

15. And Bathsheaba went to the king, to the room. And the king was very old. And Abishag the Shunamite was serving the king.

16. And Bathsheba knelt and prostrated to the king. And the king said, “What do you require?”

17. And she said to him, “my lord, you swore by Yhwh, your God, to your maidservant, ‘yes, Solomon, your son, will reign after me and sit on my throne.’

18. “But now, dude! Adonijah rules! And now my lord the king does not know it!

19. “And he has sacrificed steer and fattened calves and sheep for the many and, he called to all of the king’s sons and to Abiathar the priest and to Joab, the army commander; but to your servant Solomon he did not call.

20. “And you, my lord, the king, the eyes of all Israel are upon you to explain to them who will sit upon the throne of my lord the king after him.

21. “And it will be: when my lord, the king, sleeps with his ancestors, I and my son Solomon will be interlopers.”

Comments on the Text

Verse 15 initially and promptly continues the preceding narrative, with Bathsheba apparently undertaking Nathan’s proposed plan. At least there is no reason at the outset to doubt that this is what she is doing. Curiously, the first phrase contains two objectives of Bathsheba’s travel: to the king (without calling him David) and to the chamber, though not specifically the king’s chamber. The appended definite article, i.e., “the chamber,” suggests that the reader should know what chamber this is, though none has been mentioned in Kings thus far. (The last appearance of this term was in 2 Sam 13:10, a poignant text that describes Tamar innocently going to visit her brother Amnon who is about to rape her. Should this imply untoward activity in the verse at hand?) After this initial continuation of the preceding, the text takes a turn back to the chapter’s opening, mentioning both David’s advanced age and young woman Abishag, who is serving him. This is the last time that Abishag appears in the Bible other than in a conversation between other characters. Her presence here makes me wonder what purpose she is supposed to serve. Should she be a witness to this event? Perhaps an oblique source for the story as told here? The narrator never intimates these details.

Bathsheba casts herself down before the unnamed king in verse 16. The anonymous king responds to this act by asking what she requires. The Hebrew literally says only “what [is] for you.”

The beginning of Bathsheba’s speech to the king in v. 17 picks up the language from v. 13, having her fulfill precisely that which Nathan commanded her. Again, the referenced “swearing” here appears nowhere else in biblical literature.

The continuation, in verse 18, of Bathsheba’s speech to the king picks up Nathan’s language from v. 11b, the opening of the prophet’s speech and proposition to Bathsheba. She is no longer doing what Nathan said, but still borrowing from his language.

The pinnacle of Bathsheba’s speech in v. 19 places the narrator’s words in Bathsheba’s mouth. She now references material about which she should have no knowledge, at least nothing that Nathan mentioned, though the narrator had in vv. 7a, 9, and 10b.

Verse 20 moves the speech beyond the personal level between Bathsheba and the king. She invokes the need for the king to take a public stance in naming his successor. The king’s hand is somewhat forced, in that “the eyes of all Israel” are upon him to see his decision. Bathsheba’s language echoes back to vv. 12 and 17, mentioning both “who will reign” and “the king’s throne.”

The conclusion of Bathsheba’s speech in v. 21 looks back to verse 19, making verse 20 look a little like an interpolation. After mentioning the king’s public announcement of his successor, there should be no need for Bathsheba to fear that she and her son will be regarded as a danger to the new king. Rather, in sum, her son should be the new king. Bathsheba relies on a distinct rhetorical tactic in this verse: now she no longer references some injustice that has been done to her son, rather describes the threat to his life apparently to awaken the king’s fear for the lives of his wife and son.

Translation of 1 Kings 1:11-14 (MT)

11. And Nathan spoke to Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, saying, “have you not heard that Adonijahu ben Haggith reigns and our lord David does not know it?

12. “And now, come, let me counsel you (with) counsel. And let your life and the life of your son Solomon escape (= save yourself and your son).

13. “Go and come to the king, David, and you will say to him, ‘you, my lord, the king, did you not swear to your maidservant, saying “yes, Solomon, your son, will reign after me, and he will sit on my throne.” So why does Adonijahu reign?’

14. “Dude! You will still be speaking there with the king and I, I will come in after you and will fill your words.”

Comments on the Text

At first glance, v. 11 is overloaded with personal identifiers, particularly since the reader is familiar with all of these characters. The mention of Bathsheba as “Solomon’s mother” and Adonijahu as “son of Haggith” are somewhat superfluous in context. The opening of Nathan’s speech in this verse is only the third time that the name “David” appears in the book. It is the first time that it remains unqualified, bearing neither the title “the king” nor the reference to his soldiers. While from a literary standpoint, this episode clearly continues from the preceding, it is conspicuous that Nathan, and not Solomon, is suddenly Adonijah/u’s alternate as the head of one of the opposing parties.

In verse 12, Nathan’s first command to Bathsheba is not literally to “come,” but rather to “go.” Biblical Hebrew uses this similarly to “come now” or “come on” in contemporary English. In the continuation of his speech, Nathan presumes that Adonijah/u will kill both Bathsheba and Solomon, though such has been intimated at no point thus far in the narrative. He expresses this as an imperative with the verb “escape,” used here as a transitive with the objects “your/your son’s breath/life/soul.” First Nathan expresses why Bathsheba should act, before stating how in the next verse.

Nathan tells Bathsheba what to do in vv. 13-14 and informs her how his plan will develop. She should go to the David, once again, described here as “the king” and tell him of a promise he made to her, to make her son king after him. I initially started to write “remind” instead of “tell” in the previous sentence, but David has never made such a promise–to Bathsheba or anyone else–anywhere in the Bible. This is the first time that it has been expressed that Solomon should succeed David on the throne. Nathan suggests she should mention both that Solomon should reign and that he should sit on David’s throne, essentially a duplication that we find variously in the next chapters of Kings. Again, Nathan refers to Adonijahu, not Adonijah. This whole plan sounds suspicious from the outset. Perhaps the previous identification of Nathan as “the prophet” in vv. 8 and 10 should let the reader imagine that this whole idea stems from God, but the narrator has at no point either explicitly stated such nor obliquely implied it.

Nathan’s instructing Bathsheba concludes with he noting his part in the whole plan: he will come in and confirm what Bathsheba has said. That being said, he does not enumerate specifically what he will confirm, other than Bathsheba’s words generally. That is, which part of all of this will he affirm: Adonijahu’s attempting to reign (a fact that the narrator has imparted to the reader) or “the king’s” presumed promise to Bathsheba (to which the narrator remains silent)? This conclusion to the speech again raises eyebrows and leaves the reader somewhat suspicious.

Translation of 1 Kgs 1:5-10 (MT)

5. And Andonijah ben Haggith raised himself, saying, “I, I will be king.” And he made for himself chariotry and horses and fifty men running before him.
6. And his father had not upset him from his days, saying, “to what end did you do thus?” And also he was of very good form. And him she bore after Absalom.
7. And his words were with Joab ben Zeruiah and with Abiathar the priest, and they helped behind [i.e., they supported] Adoniah.
8. And Zadok the priest and Benaiahu ben Jehoiada and Nathan the prophet and Shimei and Rei and the warriors who belonged to David, they were not with Adoniahu.
9. And Adoniahu sacrificed sheep and cattle and fattened calves with [= “at”?] the stone of Zoheleth [“Slithering Stone”] that was by the Rogel well. And he called all his brothers–the sons of the king–and to all of the men of Judah–the servants of the king.
10. And Nathan the prophet and Benaiahu and the warriors and Solomon, his brother, he did not call.

Comments on the Text

Verse five has, at first glance, nothing to do with the preceding material. The text reintroduces a character, namely Adoniah, the son of Haggith (and David, who is not named here). The last time he appeared was in a list of David’s sons in 2 Sam 3:4. The same is true of his mother. Adoniah is said to “raise himself,” an unusual reflexive form of a common verb, and proclaim his ascendency to the throne. Both verbal forms used for Adoniah here are unique in the Hebrew Bible. The remainder of the verse serves to cast Adoniah in a suspicious light, in that it strongly echoes the description of Absalom, David’s son. Second Samuel 15:1 reports the beginning of Absalom’s revolt against his father. Though the terms for chariotry and horses differ in these cases, the intention seems to be clear: Adoniah is revolting against his father, just as his brother previously had. So, while the first half of the verse recounts something distinct, the latter half sounds distinctly familiar to anyone who knows the stories of the book of Samuel.

Verse six relates Adoniah to his father, who is not named nor is his office mentioned. The verb “upset” has not appeared in the Hebrew Bible since 2 Sam 19:3, where it describes the king’s (David’s) mourning for his son Absalom (incidentally, it is also the term used for the pain of a woman in childbirth in Gen 3:16, if that matters). That is, the connection here points back to the Absalom story, just as the preceding material. The mention of Adoniah’s appearance might seem unusual initially, but it relates his both the David and Absalom (cf. 1 Sam 16:12, 18; and 2 Sam 14:25). Unusually, the final phrase in this verse returns back to Adoniah’s mother, mentioned in v. 5. At least, the subject is feminine. However, the phrase would suggest that Haggith was also the mother of Absalom, which was not the case according to 2 Sam 3:3-4, which notes that different mothers bore Absalom and Adoniah.

Verse seven turns to Adoniah’s supporters, namely Joab and Abiathar. Both of them play important roles in Samuel. Joab killed the usurper Absalom (2 Sam 18:14), and Abiathar supported David in his quests against Saul and Absalom. Both of these men are mentioned to prepare for the resolutions of their stories in chapter 2 and their supporting Adoniah anticipates what that resolution will be.

The next verse, v. 8, establishes a second group against Adoniah, who now suddenly has a differently spelled name, “Adoniahu.” All of the men mentioned here served David (who is also mentioned here for the first time since v. 1) in some capacity or another. Again, with the exception of Shimei and Rei, the names mentioned anticipate what happens in chapter 2 and the rest of chapter 1. Here it becomes conspicuous that Adoniah/u did not have prophetic support. The formulation is also unclear: did Adoniah/u not seek to work with these men? Or why were they not with him?

The division of the groups continues in vv. 9-10. Verse 9 reports that Adoniahu essentially throws a grill party and invites the important people in the kingdom, particularly the (once again nameless) king’s sons and servants. Should this be understood as Adoniah/u’s attempt to lull them to his side? A note on the locations: En Rogel should apparently be understood as some kind of boundary location between Judah and Benjamin (cf. Jos 15:7 and 18:16); the Slithering Stone does not appear elsewhere in the Bible.

The episode here concludes here by mentioning whom Adoniah/u did not invite to the party. With the exception of Solomon, this repeats data already noted in v. 8 (though now without the priest). Conspicuously, Solomon is described as Adoniah/u’s brother, but obviously was not included among the “sons of the king” in v. 9. Is that a jab at Solomon, perhaps questioning his parentage or offering a different background for him than that reported in 2 Sam 12?

Translation of 1 Kings 1:1-4 (Masoretic Text)

  1. And the King, David, was old. He came in the days. And they covered him with the blankets, but it was never warm for him.
  2. And his servants said to him, “let them seek for my lord, the king, a young woman, a virgin, so that she can stand before the king, and she can be for him an official and lay in your lap and it will be warm for my lord, the king.”
  3. And they sought a beautiful young woman in the whole territory of Israel, and they found Abishag the Shunamite, and they brought her to the king.
  4. And the young woman was beautiful, even greatly so. And she became for the king an official and she served him, but the king did not know her.

Comments on the Text

Two observations merit mention in verse 1. First, syntactically, it appears as if David was added as an afterthought. The subject “the king David” is unwieldy and probably the product of editing. One notes in this vein, that David essentially vanishes from the text after this verse, which consistently refers to “the king” without mentioning a name. Second, the final phrase regarding the king’s inability to be warm appears in the imperfect, suggesting that it should be understood as an iterative. It is not that he is not warm only once; rather, he is never warm.

The woman the king’s servants propose to seek should fulfill two functions: she should serve him as an official (the term is otherwise used for someone like a chancellor in Isa 22:15) and also lay in his lap. That’s an exceptional combination of distinct services, to say the least. Only the latter has to do with verse 1.

The woman they eventually find in verse 3 is said to come from the territory of Shunem, known otherwise in the Bible as a town in the north of Israel and ascribed to the tribe of Issachar. This town may be mentioned in Egyptian correspondence from the Amarna period. Any identification of the site is currently insecure. Interesting here is that the king’s servants seek a woman for him in the north of Israel. If this is about David, who should be from the south, we see perhaps something of an imperialistic tendency, perhaps even an implied overreach, suggested in this action. More importantly: Abishag is found and brought to David. It is never suggested that she came willingly, at best, only passively.

Verse 4 initially focuses on Abishag’s appearance and notes that she is especially attractive. That could only have merit for one of her supposed functions for the king. The text does not even mention her name here, describing her only as “the young woman”; older translations preserve readings like “maid.” The verse continues, noting that she serves the king in some official capacity. Nonetheless, she never speaks in the Bible. Finally, the verse (and this brief passage) conclude with the notice that the king did not know her, i.e., he did not have sex with her. Two (perhaps not entirely mutually exclusive) options bear consideration here. Is the text trying to preserve the dignity of the king or the woman by stating that there was no physical intimacy between them? Or is the text mocking the king, saying he was impotent (in every sense of the word)? This second option is especially poignant, if the text was always about David, who had a somewhat voracious appetite for women (though not as ludicrous as that of his son and successor Solomon).

  • Welcome to my blog!

    I hope you find the material here both entertaining and informative. Or at least one of those two. Or neither. Welcome to my blog!
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Follow Jonathan Robker: Exegete, Critic, Cook on WordPress.com
  • Archive

  • Twitter Timeline