The Literature of the Old Testament (1913) [Chapter 10]

[Articles in the Summed Up series are intended to be summaries of chapters of selected theological books. The author(s) will be quoted verbatim for the purposes of ensuring accurate representation]



A) About the author of the chapter:

George Foot Moore “graduated from Yale College in 1872 and from Union Theological Seminary in 1877, in 1878 Moore was ordained in the Presbyterian ministry and until 1883 was pastor of the Putnam Presbyterian Church, Zanesville, Ohio.

He was Hitchcock professor of the Hebrew language and literature at Andover Theological Seminary, 1883–1902. In 1902 he became professor of theology and in 1904 professor of the history of religion at Harvard University.” [1]


B) Chapter Summary:

“First Samuel shows how the conquest and occupation of central Palestine by the Philistines led to the establishment of a national kingdom under Saul, a Benjamite; narrates the rise of his rival, the Judæan David, and the feud between them, down to the disastrous battle with the Philistines at Mt. Gilboa in which Saul and his gallant sons fell. Second Samuel is the history of David’s reign and the tragedy of his house, the conclusion of which, the intrigue which raised Solomon to the throne and the death of the aged king, is treated as the prelude to Solomon’s reign and carried over into 1 Kings.”[1]

“Chapter 9, in which Saul is a young man in his father’s house, does not tally with c. 14, where he has a grown-up son. The author of this narrative made it up from traditions of diverse origin, some of them more strictly historical, others embellished with legendary traits. In its main features, however, it gives us a trustworthy account of the establishment of the kingdom. In c. 13, the breach with Samuel, vs. 7b-15a (with x. 8 which prepares for it), are not part of the original narrative; c. 15 gives another account of the origin of this breach, which was evidently a standing feature of tradition. In the remaining chapters of 1 Samuel the central interest is the relations of David to Saul. Here also there are not only two main literary sources but evidence of variant traditions underlying the oldest narrative, and of the additions by later editors, sometimes of their conception, sometimes taken from old and good sources.”[2]

“It must suffice to say that the further on we go, the more the older and better of the histories predominates. In 2 Samuel almost the whole is from this source (c. 7 is a notable exception, in the spirit and manner of the seventh century). Abridgment and transposition have brought matters into disorder at some points; but 2 Sam. 9-20 is a well-preserved piece of continuous narrative, of which 1 Kings 1-2 is the sequel. 2 Sam. xxi. 1-14 and c. 24 are from the same source, but must originally have stood at an earlier point in the history; their present position is best explained by supposing that they were once omitted—which their contents make very natural—and subsequently restored from a completer copy, not in their proper connection but in an appendix.”[3]

“The history of Saul and David gave little invitation to a moralizing improvement such as we have found in Judges and shall find again in Kings. Whatever faults those heroes had, a propensity to the worship of heathen gods could not be laid to them. The national uprising against the Philistines was, in fact, a revival of religion. If in times of peace men sought the blessing of the gods of the soil (the Baals) upon their tillage, in war their only reliance was on Jehovah, the god of Israel. Nor was the worship of Jehovah at the village sanctuaries (high places) or upon altars erected for the nonce, illegitimate, even in deuteronomic theory, till God had taken up his sole abode in Solomon’s temple.”[4]

“Its historical value is also very high. The account of David’s later years in 2 Sam. 9-20; 2 Kings 1-2 bears all the marks of contemporary origin. It comes from one who not only knew the large political events of the reign, but was intimately informed about the life of the court, and the scandals, crimes, and intrigues in the king’s household which clouded the end of his glorious career. These things are narrated with an objectivity and impartiality which cannot fail to impress the reader. The author has a high admiration for David, but this does not lead him to gloze over his faults or even his grave sins, nor to disguise the weakness of his rule in his own house which was the cause of so much unhappiness.”[5]

The continuity is, however, only a narrative continuity; historically there are great gaps in it, or, more exactly, the traditions cluster about only a few points, such as the exodus and the invasion of Palestine, and these are embellished with a wealth of legendary and mythical circumstance beneath which the facts are effectually hidden. The nature of this material may be judged from the fact that between Joshua and Eli there are only the episodes of the judges, strung on a chronological string, generalized as experiences of all Israel, and put under a theological judgment—invaluable as pictures of civilization, but as a history of a couple of centuries (the chronology says four) evidently insufficient.”[6]

“This earliest book of history is commonly designated in the Pentateuch and Joshua by the symbol J. It is disputed whether the oldest history of the founding of the kingdom in Samuel should be regarded as a continuation of J. If it were meant thereby to affirm unity of authorship of this strand from Genesis to Samuel, that would be saying much more than the facts warrant; but there is through the whole so noteworthy a congruity of conception and sameness of excellence in style that it is not inappropriate to use for it the one symbol J in the sense of the oldest Judæan history.”[7]

[1] pp.91-92

[2] pp.93-94

[3] pp.94-95

[4] p.95

[5] p.96

[6] p.99

[7] pp.99-100


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