The poetics and politics of revolt in 2 Samuel 15-19
Just submitted an article building on the arguments of The Invention of Hebrew:
Since at least Caspari (1909), the literary quality and historical value of the Succession Narrative have been seen as existing in tension. This paper reconsiders the relationship between literariness and historicity by examining two kinds of evidence for the political audience of the story of Absalom’s revolt (2 Sam 15-19): West Semitic rhetoric and the distribution of the standardized Hebrew script. First, the narrative of Absalom’s stand employs a culturally distinctive type of political rhetoric. This vocabulary and set of tropes, specific to West Semitic literary cultures over at least a millennium, help explain the plausibility and appeal of the story’s events to an audience familiar with its ideals. Second, inscriptional evidence demonstrates that by the eighth century northern and southern Hebrew scribes shared the foundations of a common literary culture, being trained to write in precisely the same way. The data for this shared training are widely agreed on but still neglected in treatments of early Hebrew literature and historiography. Taken together, these factors suggest that the most plausible explanation of “northern” perspectives in this Judahite story is connected with the early role of Hebrew narrative prose: to circulate beyond any one narrow party to a public interested in imagining a shared, if fascinatingly disturbing past. This account also helps explain the story’s success as both literature and memory, how it found an audience beyond royal courts.