Spilt Water - Tales of David (2 Sam 23:13-17) and Alexander (Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander 6.26.1-3)
In 2 Sam 23, 13-17 there is a narrative which describes how David poured water on the ground which was obtained by his men at great risk. Form-critical comparison with comparable narratives concerning Alexander the Great, especially that of Arrian in Anabasis of Alexander 6.26.1-3, appears to indicate that the Greek tradition has influenced the emergence of 2 Sam 23, 13-17 in its present form. This implies that material in 2 Sam 21-24, an apparent appendix in the Deuteronomistic History, may have taken shape in the Hellenistic period, and this gives further credence for scholarly views which posit such later dates for much of the biblical text.
In world literature there are several folktales about the military leader who refuses water offered to him in time of distress because he wishes to affirm his solidarity with soldiers who share his distress. Though there apparently are not enough instances to merit a category of classification in the typology proposed by Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, nonetheless a number of years ago a folklorist, Eleanor Hull, provided a rudimentary discussion of some of these stories.1 A fuller list of examples include the narrative of David and his soldiers in 2 Sam 23:13-17 (1 Chron 11:15-19), the repetition of this story by Josephus in Ant 7.311-314,2 three accounts about Alexander the Great reported by Quintus Curtius Rufus (History of Alexander 7.5.9-12),3 Plutarch (Lives, Alexander 42.3-6),4and Arrian (Anabasis of Alexander 6.26.1-3),5 the account of Sir Philip Sidney at the Battle of Zutphen in 1585, and the legend of the Irish king Conaire the Great. Two of these accounts stand out from the others due to the remarkable similarities which they share: the story of David and Arrian's account of Alexander. An investigation of this phenomenon might provide some significant insights into the nature of biblical literature.
2 Sam 23:13-17 (1 Chron 11:15-19) contains a short heroic tale of David and his mighty warriors, wherein "three mighty men" broke through enemy lines to obtain water for David, which he then poured on the ground as an offering to the Lord. This short narrative has exercised the attention of commentators in regard to several questions. We shall mention some of these, because they will pertain to the narrative analysis of this text.
1) Why did the men risk their lives to penetrate enemy lines for water, when water might have been found elsewhere more easily? Usually commentators suggest that David wished for the water from Bethlehem for sentimental reasons, since that was his home,6 or that he longed for fresh water rather than stored water,7 or that it was simply an "idle remark" with little forethought on David's part.8 But all of these seem to be poor excuses by the commentators to explain the movement of the plot in this short story. Essentially, David's men sought water with no indication that they were in a situation of dire thirst. For this reason some commentators suspect that water shortage was indeed the problem.9 But if so, then an attack would have been logical at this time, and David's response would have been inappropriate.10 So we must assume that the soldiers' mad dash for water was not motivated by life-threatening thirst, as is the case with other related stories.
2) The text speaks of a well at Bethlehem, but later tradition and archaeology know of no such well there. Why does the text refer to such a well? Some commentators assume that perhaps such a well existed in David's day but disappeared in later years.11 This is plausible, but one becomes suspicious of this explanation since other ancient testimonies also question the existence of a well. The Qere reading in the MT for well is bôr, "pit," and the LXX translation also reads lavkkou, "pit." To this commentators respond that "pit" refers to a spring of living water rather than a well,12 or that the word "pit" was introduced into the story in later years when it was known that no well existed in Bethlehem.13 But these appear to be forced explanations. What if "pit" was actually the more original word, and well was introduced in later versions of the MT. Perhaps the word "pit" may be part of the evidence for the origin of the story.
3) Why did David actually pour the water on the ground as an offering to the Lord? Some suggest that David did this to affirm the courage of the soldiers while equally implying that their actions were foolhardy attempts to please him.14 If this is true, what did David mean by wishing for the water in the first place? If it was not sentimental longing or verbal indiscretion on his part, did David really wish for his troops to seize the city, and the three warriors simply misunderstand the subtle nuance of his statement?15 Either we are not told some necessary information, or there is a problem with this plot.
4) What did David mean when he subsequently spoke of the water being equivalent to the blood of the men who risked their lives? Commentators assume that David meant by this that the water obtained at such a great risk to human life was now too precious for him to drink, and thus it became sacred, like blood offered to Yahweh. So he performed a ritual action of pouring it upon the ground, for it now had become blood symbolically.16 Walter Brueggemann even speaks poetically of David engaging in an act of "sacramental imagination."17 The concrete message to the soldiers would be that in the future the men ought not undertake something so dangerous for a mere drink of water; David wished not to imperil the lives of his men for his own whims.18 These are fine explanations, but one still suspects that there is some imagery here that we do not quite understand. Pouring blood on the ground, even "symbolic blood," does not seem like an acceptable Jewish custom. How would this have been perceived by these soldiers, and how would they have gotten the point, if they already misunderstood David's initial statements about the water?
5) For whom was David performing this act? What response did he seek to inspire by this act? Commentators generally assume rather passively that the intended audience were the soldiers in his camp, and that the message was that they should not recklessly endanger their lives for their leader. But one still suspects that there are deeper reasons that we may be missing, which may be provided by comparative narrative analysis.
6) Who were the three men who performed this deed? Readers of the text would be tempted to assume that the three heros are those mentioned especially in 2 Sam 23:8-12, the narrative preceeding our account: Josheb-basshebeth, Eleazar son of Dodo, and Shammah son of Agee. However, many commentators suspect that originally these two accounts were separate oral traditions, and that the heros could refer to someone else, perhaps even other members of the select thirty warriors mentioned in 2 Sam 23:18-39, the material which follows our narrative. This would explain why the MT has a reference to the "thirty" while the majority of the translations refer only to the "three."19
7) Finally, the ritual of pouring a liquid, such as water or wine, into the ground as a libation sacrifice was common in the ancient world, though not too frequently practiced in the biblical tradition before the Rabbinic era.20 When the biblical text states that David poured out the water to the Lord, it makes it appear as though David engaged in a ritual activity. Commentators often point to passages where a parallel rite might be observed (Gen 35:14, 1 Sam 7:6, Hos 9:4, Jer 7:18, and Sir 50:15), and thereby they imply that such libations, though uncommon, were practiced among the Israelites and the post-exilic Jews.21
However, there are problems with these textual allusions. In Gen 35:14 Jacob pours out a drink offering and oil on a pillar at Bethel, which may be the memory of a pre-Israelite or Canaanite ritual. In 1 Sam 7:6 Israelites poured out water before the Lord and fasted prior to a battle. This is a penitential and purificatory rite which does not appear to be related to David's action.22 Nevertheless, it does seem to be the closest parallel. In Jer 7:18 Jeremiah says, "they pour out drink offerings to other gods," which refers to non-Yahwistic rituals. In Hos 9:4 the prophet declares, "they shall not pour drink offerings of wine to the Lord." Here, too, one suspects the prophet is condemning pagan customs which Israelites did in their worship of Yahweh. Sir 50:15 refers to Aaron pouring a "drink offering of the blood of the grape," which is obviously a late and very poetic allusion. Overall, one discovers no biblical legislation governing the practice of drink offerings, and the paucity of references suggests drink offerings were probably a form of non-Yahwistic piety. One then further suspects that David was not engaging in a legitimate form of Yahweh devotion, if indeed it was a ritual act at all. More likely the text portrays this action of David as a spontaneous symbolic action. But if it was not a well-known custom among Israelites either as a cultic act or a spontaneous gesture, how would it be understood by David's soldiers or the later Israelite and Jewish audience of the narrative?
The custom was basically uncommon in the biblical world, but such libations were frequent in the Greek world. The symbolic action by a Greek warrior would make more sense to his soldiers and the audience of the story. This last point is the significant detail which truly raises our suspicion about this account and sends us forth on a literary quest for a parallel account which might explain the anomalies in our biblical text.
There is a narrative in Greek literature which not only bears a basic plot similarity to our biblical text, but it also contains some of the same unusual details. In this narrative they do not arose the suspicion of the reader as they do in the story of David, for they make more sense in the context of this story. This hauntingly gives one the impression that the Greek account in some way in prior to the biblical narrative, and the narrative problems in the biblical text arose when it was "spun-off" of the more original Greek story. However, there is a serious problem with this assumption. The Greek story comes from an author in the second century C.E., Arrian, and it speaks of a great general from the fourth century B.C.E., Alexander the Great, both tremendously removed from the days of David or even the theoretic time when the Deuteronomistic History was generated in the sixth century B.C.E. Nonetheless, an evaluation of this narrative may prove fruitful. Arrian records the following heroic action of Alexander in the Anabasis of Alexander 6.26.1-3, which occurred as the Macedonian army was crossing the Gedrosian desert on its return from India, which was after Alexander's men had refused to conquer more countries23
"The army was marching through sand with the heat already burning,
since they were obliged to get to water at the end of the march, and
this was some distance ahead. Alexander himself was in the grip of
thirst, and it was with much difficulty that he persisted in leading the
way on foot, so that the rest of the troops should (as usually happens
in such a case) bear their sufferings more easily, with all sharing the
distress equally. At this moment some light-armed troops left the army
to look for water, and found some, collected in a shallow torrent-bed,
a poor and wretched water-hole; they easily collected it and hurried
to Alexander, feeling that they were bringing something of great value,
and, when they came near, poured the water into a helmet and offered
it to the king. He took it and thanked them, but then poured it out in the
sight of every one; and at this action the army was so much heartened
that you would have guessed that all had drunk what Alexander had
poured away. This deed of Alexander's I specially commend as proof
of his endurance and also of his generalship."
Classical scholars also point to parallel narratives in Quintus Curtius Rufus (History of Alexander 7.5.9-12) and Plutarch (Lives, Alexander 42.3-6), both of which are attributed to a much earlier time in Alexander's campaigns.
Quintus Curtius Rufus locates the time of Alexander's experience during his campaign in Sogdiana, which was prior to his invasion of India. His text reads as follows24
"The king, worried by such troubles, was surrounded by his friends, who begged him to remember that the greatness of his own courage
was the sole remedy for the weakness of the army; when two of those
who had gone ahead to choose a place for a camp met them, bringing
water in skins, in order to aid their sons who were in that same army
and whom they knew to be suffering severely from thirst. When they
met Alexander, one of them opened one of the skins, filled a cup which
he was carrying with him, and offered it to the king. He took it; then,
having asked for whom he was bringing the water, he learned that
he was bringing it for his sons. Thereupon, returning the full cup, just
as it had been offered to him, the king said: 'I cannot endure to drink
alone, and I cannot distribute so little among all; do you hasten and
give to your children what you have brought for them.'"
Plutarch (Lives, Alexander 42.3-6) places the event even earlier to a point in time when Alexander was pursuing Darius after the last major battle at Gaugamela. His account reads as follows 25
"In consequence of the pursuit of Dareius, which was long and
arduous (for in eleven days he rode thirty-three furlongs), most of his
horsemen gave out, and chiefly for lack of water. At this point some
Macedonians met him who were carrying water from the river in
skins upon their mules. And when they beheld Alexander, it being
now midday, in a wretched plight from thirst, they quickly filled a
helmet and brought it to him. To his enquiry for whom they were
carrying the water, they replied: 'For our own sons; but if thou livest,
we can get other sons, even if we lose these.' On hearing this he took
the helmet into his hands, but when he looked around and saw the
horsemen about him all stretching out their heads and gazing at the
water, he handed it back without drinking any, but with praises for
the men who had brought it; 'For,' said he, 'if I should drink of it alone,
these horsemen of mine will be out of heart.' But when they beheldhis self-control and loftiness of spirit, they shouted out to him to lead
them forward boldly, and began to goad their horses on, declaring
that they would not regard themselves as weary, or thirsty, or as
mortals at all, so long as they had such a king."
We may observe the striking similarities in all three Alexander accounts: 1) Alexander and his troops are threatened by thirst in a desert. 2) Water is brought to Alexander 3) in a helmet or cup 4) by soldiers, 5) who thus engage in a significant act of self-sacrifice (either of themselves, as in Arrian, or of their children, as in Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch). 6) Alexander refuses the water 7) in front of his troops 8) and thus inspires them in their arduous journey. Certainly, classical scholars have been correct in suggesting these three accounts are related.
The versions told by Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch have particular details in them which distinguish them from the narratives in 2 Sam 23:13-17 and Arrian's account. 1) The soldiers are not directly with Alexander's own unit. 2) They found the water and brought it back in skins initially. 3) Their purpose was to bring the water to their children, not to their commander, 4) but they were willing to give the water to Alexander. 5) When Alexander discovered for whom the water was intended, and when he realized he could not share it with all his troops, 6) he returned the water to the men who found it. These unique details distinguish the two accounts from those versions of David and Arrian's Alexander.
Arrian's story of Alexander bears some remarkable similarities with the David account in 2 Sam 23:13-17, which it does not share with either Quintus Curtius Rufus' or Plutarch's version. These similarities include the following: 1) The soldiers come from the leader's own military unit. 2) They dangerously leave the unit with the 3) express purpose of finding water for the leader. 4) The source of the water is expressly described. 5) Upon locating the water they return heroically to the leader. 6) After refusing the water the leader pours the water into the ground in a dramatic gesture. 7) This gesture, in particular, is what inspires the men. The dramatic gesture is also the focal point of both stories, and that serves to unify them especially over against the other two Alexander versions. Obviously form-critical similarities unite all four accounts, but the truly dramatic images are those shared by the biblical account and Arrian's narrative.
A fuller form-critical assessment of 2 Sam 23:13-17 and the Anabasis of Alexander 6.26.1-3 will serve to highlight these similarities even more.
1) Dangerous Environment. Alexander's army was marching through the desert (AA 6.26.1), while David's army was facing an encampment of Philistines (2 Sam 23:13).
2) Leader Endangered. Alexander "was in the grip of thirst, and it was with much difficulty that he persisted in leading the way on foot" (AA 6.26.1). "David longed for water and said, 'O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!'" (2 Sam 23:15).
3) Valiant Soldiers Seek Water. "At this moment some light-armed troops left the army to look for water" for Alexander (AA 6.26.2). For David "three warriors broke through the camp of the Philistines" (2 Sam 23:16). In the accounts of Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch the soldiers were not under direct command of Alexander.
4) Water Located. Alexander's troops found water in a "shallow torrent bed, a poor and wretched water hole" (e[n tini caravdra/ ouj baqeiva/ ojlivghn kai; fauvlhn pivdaka) (AA 6.26.2). David's men "drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate" (2 Sam 23:16). Herein the reference to "pit" by both the Qere reading (bôr) in the MT and the translation of the LXX (AA 6.26.2). By contrast we are not told about the feelings of David's men, but we can assume that they believed they had accomplished a heroic deed. In the other Alexander narratives the men speak heroically about sacrificing their children, and that is quite different from these two accounts.
6) Water Container. We are told that Alexander's men brought the water in a helmet (AA 6.26.2) (also in Plutarch's version), but the biblical text provides no reference to the container. However, we could assume that soldiers on campaign might have used their helmets as the most logical device for a bucket.
7) Leader Receives the Water. Alexander took the water, thanked them and then poured it out (AA 6.26.3). David also "would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord" (2 Sam 23:16). This key dramatic act appears to unite the two accounts. Though Alexander's action is not described as a religious act, such libations were frequent enough in the Greek world to imply that the action of Alexander had the nuance of an offering to the gods. Arrian frequently mentions that Alexander performed such drink offerings because of it was part of his personal piety.26 David's act is described presumably as a religious action before Yahweh. Perhaps, it needed to be stated as such in the biblical text because libations were so uncommon in the Israelite/Jewish tradition. No such dramatic action is found in Quintus Curtius Rufus' or Plutarch's versions where Alexander merely gives the water back to the men.
8) Significance of the Gesture. Alexander poured the water out "in the sight of everyone" so as to affirm his own solidarity with his thirsty men (AA 6.26.3). Presumably, David poured the water out before his men, too, but we are not told this. Instead, we hear David's statements, "The Lord forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?" (2 Sam 23:17). This likewise stresses David's solidarity with his men, as well as other subtle messages. Alexander speaks dramatically in similar fashion before giving back the water in the accounts of Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch.
9) Result of Gesture. Alexander's army "was so much heartened that you would have guessed that all had drunk what Alexander poured away" (AA 6.26.3). No comparable statement occurs in the biblical account, though one would suspect a similar psychological impact was made upon David's soldiers. Plutarch describes how the horsemen were encouraged by Alexander's activity, but Quintus Curtius Rufus lacks any such reference.
10) Editorial Comment. Arrian declares that this story demonstrates the "endurance" and "generalship" of Alexander (AA 6.26.3), and such an observation was in keeping with Arrian's characterization of Alexander.27 The biblical author also provides an editorial comment, but it concerns the three heros, "The three warriors did these things" (2 Sam 23:17). Editorial comment is lacking in the other Alexander narratives.
In this author's opinion the similarities between Arrian's account of Alexander and the biblical narrative about David are significant enough to suggest the two stories are related. But how are they connected to each other? Three possible options emerge: 1) They derive from a common source, an older narrative about a third unknown military leader. 2) The biblical account influenced Arrian's version of the Alexander tradition. 3) Arrian's account in an older oral form influenced the biblical account.
Since so few stories exist in this genre (the leader who refuses precious water), one would be reluctant to suggest that an older variant exists which could lie behind both the biblical and the three Greek versions. Suggesting the existence of material as of yet undiscovered is more of an excuse than an explanation.
Given the apparent historical priority of the David traditions, one would be most inclined to suggest that Arrian was influenced somehow by the biblical narrative. Indeed, this author must admit that to be the most probable explanation. But then one must explain how Arrian would come to use the biblical text, and why he would choose to use it. Or an explanation must be given as to how the biblical tradition might have influenced one of Arrian's sources, either written or oral. By his own testimony Arrian has considered the sources behind this tradition (AA 6.26.1), so we would suspect that he would be leary of using a tradition without sufficient certainty of its origin. Classical scholars generally consider Arrian to be a meticulous and judicious historian in the use of his sources.28
It could be suggested that perhaps Arrian or the Alexander traditions were influenced by Josephus' version of the biblical story in Ant 7.311-314. But a consideration of Josephus' account of the incident indicates that his version departs sufficiently from the biblical narrative for it to be an intermediary between the biblical account and Arrian's story of Alexander. In fact, there are differences which distinguish the account in Ant 7.311-314 from both the biblical narrative and Arrian's version: In Josephus' rendition of David's experience the three valiant warriors 1) go a much longer distance, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and 2) they are explicitly sent by David. 3) The question of David's thirst, which remains an ambiguous possibility in the biblical text and thus keeps the biblical text somewhat parallel to the Alexander narrative, is completely missing in Josephus' account. 4) David further speaks of how he would desire the water of Bethlehem more than a great sum of money. 5) Reference also is made to how the audacity of the three warriors caused the Philistines to remain motionless as the Israelites passed through their camp. With these differences the account of Josephus could not have been the source of inspiration by which a biblical narrative influenced Arrian, for the biblical account and Arrian's account simply agree in certain ways with each other against the Josephan narrative. In fact, the Josephan account departs from drastically from all three Alexander traditions.
Ultimately, there are three traditions which asociate the story with Alexander the Great, and those accounts fall into two narrative formats. With only one biblical account, we would be pressed hard to maintain the priority of that one account, especially when it parallels only one of the Alexander traditions. It would appear that the Alexander tradition is prior, especially the versions of Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch, while the David account and Arrian's version of Alexander are later. These latter two stories seem to be later due to their heightened dramatic narrative, especially the gesture and statements by the leader. For this scenario to be plausible, these stories had to have originated well before the time of the historians Quintus Curtius Rufus, Plutarch, and Arrian. This would imply obviously that all the traditions concerning Alexander must have originated shortly after his lifetime. Only then could they have exerted some influence upon a developing biblical tradition.
Hence, we are led to consider the third possiblity--that the biblical account might have been influenced by the Alexander tradition. A close narrative reading of both stories might suggest that this third possibility indeed deserves consideration. As a story Arrian's version of Alexander's experience is consistent and makes sense. However, the David story has some interesting problems in terms of the coherence or logic of the plot. A narrative reading which peers through the Davidic account to the Alexander narrative would provide greater clarity to the biblical version.
When one considers the two narratives, the Alexander account has a greater sense of narrative consistency. The desert setting makes more sense as a situation in which the leader is thirsty and soldiers are willing to risk their lives. The libation of the water makes more sense in a Greek setting where such a practice was more commonplace. We can return to the questions which were asked of the biblical account at the beginning of this article, and if we ask them of Arrian's Alexander narrative, logical answers can be given. We even may sense the reason for some of the anomalies in the biblical text.
1) Why did the soldiers risk their lives to obtain water for their leader? Because in a desert journey his life was truly at risk. To offer the leader water, when all suffer from life-threatening thirst, is a noble and sacrificial gesture on the part of the soldiers. Since David was not in a desert in the biblical account, the quest for water by his men appears somewhat artificial and forced compared to the Alexander account.
2) The source of the water in the Alexander narrative is a poor and wretched water hole. One might wonder if the "pit" referred to in the Qere of the MT and the LXX translation reflects the presence of the Alexander narrative behind the biblical narrative. Hence, the well at Bethlehem, so described in the MT, may be a literary creation, and that is why no other tradition knows of its existence.
3) Alexander poured the water on the ground as a way of saying that he should not receive special treatment above that of his men. Elsewhere Arrian stresses that this was an important issue for Alexander, and that is why he so often led his men into the thick of battle. The same is true of David's relationship to his men, to be sure. But the biblical narrative in 2 Sam 23:13-17 does not attach this meaning to the actions of David as clearly as Arrian does in his account.
4) David refers to the water as being like the blood of his valiant warriors. Though this fits the biblical context well, the statement is more poignant in a setting where the life of everyone is threatened by the lack of such water. The narrative of Arrian, however, lacks a saying of Alexander comparable to that of David. But if the biblical author is aware of the Alexander account, there is an irony here. For Alexander drove his men to the ends of the earth, frequently shedding their blood in foreign lands simply for the sake of his desire for imperial conquest. Perhaps, the Davidic saying is placed there by the biblical author to disavow such notions of imperial conquest, perhaps even as an allusion to Alexander, if the biblical narrative is dependent upon a Greek oral tradition.
5) Though we cannot be sure for whom David performed this dramatic act, in the Alexander account it was the Macedonian army which was strengthened by Alexander's dramatic action to continue its march. The dramatic gesture and saying makes more narrative sense in the Alexander account than in the biblical account in this regard.
6) The vagueness of the reference to the three heros in the biblical account gives one pause to speculate also. Commentators suggest that David's heros are not the three mentioned previously in the text. Perhaps, the generic reference to valiant warriors may stem from the biblical narrative's dependence upon the Alexander story, where the reference was simply to certain "light-armed troops."
7) Though Arrian's narrative does not speak of Alexander performing this act of pouring the water as a cultic libation; nonetheless, such gestures were common and well understood in the Greek world. The gesture makes more sense in the hands of Alexander than in the hands of David. When David pours out the water to Yahweh, the act is seen as a religious ritual, and this sends commentators scurrying all over the biblical text to find appropriate parallels. But the results of such a parallel search are meagre, which suggests once more that this is a non-Israelite custom performed by David. Though not a hard piece of evidence, it is a suggestive piece of an argument for a Greek tradition behind the biblical version.
Hence, in a number of ways the biblical text might appear to be a variation on an Alexander narrative. Many of the details, such as the thirsty leader, the sacrifice of the men in giving water to the leader instead of drinking it themselves, and the act of pouring the water on the ground, make more sense in the Alexander narrative than in the biblical narrative. One is drawn to conclude that the biblical account might be derived from this Alexander tradition.
The logic of our argument leads to a very difficult conclusion--the priority of a tradition concerning Alexander the Great over against a biblical tradition concerning David. Commentators in the past would have overlooked this comparison simply because the Alexander story came from a time much later than that of the biblical text--the Deuteronomistic History, which is usually dated in its final edition to the sixth century B.C.E. Babylonian Exile. But is that really the case?
Contemporary critical biblical scholars have proposed radical new dating scenarios for the biblical text, often pushing the creative generation of biblical materials well into the exile and post-exilic periods. Most well-known in this regard are the conclusions of John Van Seters, Norman Whybray, and Thomas Thompson concerning the origin of Pentateuchal and Deuteronomic writings.29 Even more radical proposals are offered by Giovanni Garbini, Niels Peter Lemche, and Philip Davies who locate the final generation of biblical literature in the Hellenistic or even Maccabean periods.30 If, indeed, their proposals have merit, then the possibility for a tradition about Alexander the Great influencing a biblical narrative becomes plausible. Commentators often have sensed that 2 Sam 21-24 has the appearance of being an appendix to the greater collection of materials in Samuel, perhaps added at the last stage of editorial development.31 This opens the door even more for the possibility of Greek influence upon these passages. In his analysis of Genesis Van Seters frequently pointed out that good parallels or even sources for the narratives in Genesis might be found in Greek literature. He lamented the reluctance of biblical scholars in the past to look to Greece and the Greek historiographical tradition in order to discover the roots of biblical narratives and the biblical historiographical tradition.32 In a very small way this article is an attempt to undertake that very quest.
If there is validity in our comparison of 2 Sam 23:13-17 and Arrian's account of Alexander, and if indeed the Alexander tradition in someway might lie behind this biblical narrative, this opens up the question of other biblical narratives which might reflect the influence of the classical tradition. Consider for example, the folkloristic motif concerning Samson's escapade in setting Philistine fields on fire by tying toches to the tails of paired foxes in Judg 15:4-5. It has an eerie parallel in the classical tradition. Or again, there is the strange narrative in Judg 21:15-24 concerning the kidnapping of women at a wine festival by the surviving men of the tribe of Benjamin. What connnection might it have to the Roman folktale, "The Rape of the Sabine Women"? Both of these biblical stories come from sections in the book of Judges which commentators have deemed to be late additions. One wonders about the possibility of influence from Greek and Roman traditions, if these biblical texts arose as late in the post-exilic era, as some have suggested.
In conclusion, this form-critical analysis is offerred as hypothetical suggestion. It is ultimately very difficult to prove these conclusions in a definitive way, especially when we deal with an age so distant in time, for the possibility of lost texts and literature, which could explain such thematic connections to us, looms large. The possibility of mere coincidence in narrative plot and literary motifs also exists, since the accounts we consider are by their very nature rather short. However, in this current scholarly age of ferment, when our grand theories of origin for the biblical texts are being questioned, such a speculative endeavor as this paper has undertaken may be of value in raising new and challenging questions for the scholarly guild.
1Antti Aarne, The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography, trans. and enlarged by Stith Thompson (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1961), 21-538; and Eleanor Hull, "David and the Well of Bethlehem: An Irish Parallel," Folklore 44 (1933): 214-218, who evaluated the tales of David, Alexander (as told by Plutarch), Sir Philip Sidney, and Conaire the Great of Ireland, paying primary attention to the last folktale.
2Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, vol. 5, trans. H. St. J. Thackeray and Ralph Marcus, (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977) 526-529.
3Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander, vol. 2, trans. John Rolfe, (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1946) 164-167.
4Plutarch, Plutarch's Lives, vol. 7, trans. Bernadotte Perrin, (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967) 348-351.
5Arrian, History of Alexander and Indica, vol. 2, trans. P. A. Brunt, (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983) 178-181.
6John Mauchline, 1 and 2 Samuel, (NCB; London: Oliphants, 1971) 317; P. Kyle McCarter, II Samuel, (AB 9; Garden City: Doubleday, 1984) 495; and Arnold Anderson, 2 Samuel, (WBC 11; Dallas: Word, 1989) 276.
7George Caird, "The First and Second Books of Samuel," IB 2:1169.
8Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, I & II Samuel, trans. Jown Bowden (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964) 405.
9Peter Ackroyd, The Second Book of Samuel (CBC; Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1977) 224.
10McCarter, II Samuel, p. 495.
11Henry Preserved Smith, The Books of Samuel (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1899) 385.
13Samuel Rolles Driver, Notes on the Hebrew Text and the Topography of the Books of Samuel (2nd ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1913) 366-367; and Anderson, 2 Samuel 276.
14MCarter, II Samuel 495-496.
15Gnana Robinson, Let Us Be Like the Nations: A Commentary on the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel (ITC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 280-281.
16Mauchline, Samuel 318; Ackroyd, Samuel 224; McCarter, II Samuel 496; and Anderson, 2 Samuel 276.
17Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1990) 349.
18McCarter, II Samuel 495.
19Smith, Samuel 385; Caird, IB 2:1168; Mauchline, Samuel 317; and McCarter, II Samuel 490.
20McCarter, I Samuel (AB 8; Garden City: Doubleday, 1980) 144.
21Ackroyd, Samuel 224; and Anderson, 2 Samuel 276.
22McCarter, I Samuel 144.
23Arrian, History of Alexander 178-181.
24Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander 164-167.
25Plutarch, Lives 348-351.
26J. R. Hamilton in Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, trans. Aubrey de Sélincourt, rev. and introduction by J. R. Hamilton (New York: Dorset, 1971) 32.
27Ibid. 27; and N. G. L. Hammond, Sources for Alexander the Great: An Analysis of Plutarch's Life and Arrian's Anabasis Alexandrou (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 277.
28Hamilton, Campaigns 17-34; Brunt, History of Alexander xvi-xxxiv; and Hammond, Sources 189-333. However, A. B. Bosworth, A Historical Commentary on Arrian's History of Alexander, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980) 16-38, and From Arrian to Alexander: Studies in Historical Interpretation (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988) 1-211, provides both positive evaluation and negative critique of Arrian's methods.
29John Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975) 1-312, In Search of History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) 1-362, Prologue to History (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992) 1-333, and The Life of Moses (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994) 1-468; Roger Whybray, The Making of the Pentateuch (JSOTSup 53; Sheffield, Eng.: JSOT Press, 1987) 221-242; and Thomas Thompson, The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel (JSOTSup 55; Sheffield, Eng.: JSOT Press, 1987) 11-212, and Early History of the Israelite People (SHANE 4; Leiden: Brill, 1992) 353-423.
30Giovanni Garbini, History and Ideology in Ancient Israel, trans. John Bowden (New York: Crossroad, 1988) 1-178; Niels Peter Lemche, The Canaanites and Their Land (JSOTSup 110; Sheffield, Eng.: JSOT Press, 1991) 13-173, "The Old Testament--a Hellenistic Book?," SJOT 7 (1993): 163-193, and "Is it Still Possible to Write a History of Ancient Israel?," SJOT 8 (1994): 165-190; and Philip Davies, In Search of 'Ancient Israel' (JSOTSup 148; Sheffield, Eng.: JSOT Press, 1992) 94-161.
31Smith, Samuel 373; Hertzberg, Samuel 381; McCarter, II Samuel 443; and Anderson, 2 Samuel 248. However, Brueggemann, "2 Samuel 21-24: An Appendix of Deconstruction?," CBQ 50 (1988): 383-397, argues that these chapters were integrated rather well into the Deuteronomistic History early onward.
32Van Seters, Prologue to History 78-103 et passim.