All posts by randymccracken

I am a teacher at Calvary Chapel Bible College York and the author of "Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel".

Paul and the Power of Grace

Paul and the Power of Grace

Paul and the Power of Grace
Available at Amazon USA / UK

“Paul and the Power of Grace” is a shorter, and updated version of John M. G. Barclay’s “Paul and the Gift.” It is written for a wider audience (being less technical) and it’s one of the best books I’ve read in the last three years. In my opinion it is a must read.  According to Barclay, “. . . this new book as a whole offers both an accessible summary of Paul and the Gift and an extension and development of that work (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. xi).

What Does It Mean to Say Grace is Free?

Barclay asserts that the New Testament concept of grace is not only understood by examining the Greek word charis, but is bound up in the idea of gift-giving.  All Christians would assert that grace is a free gift. But, as Barclay points out, that assertion means different things to different people. He cautions that, “We should beware of labels such as “free” and “pure,” lest they carry the connotations of modern ideologies of gift (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. 5). Barclay contends that, “What we associate with ‘gift,’ including its definition in our dictionaries, may be a product of modern cultural shifts, and it would be anachronistic to retroject these connotations onto the past or to take them for granted in our reading of Paul (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. 11). The tendency, according to Barclay, is to “perfect” a concept. He argues that we push our definitions of gift to an extreme, especially in  relation to a divine gift or grace. As a result, Barclay has identified at least six perfections of gift/grace.

The Six Perfections of Gift/Grace

1. Superabundance–A superabundant gift is perfected in scale, significance, or duration: it is huge, lavish, unceasing, long-lasting.

2. Singularity–benevolence or goodness is the giver’s sole or exclusive mode of operation. The giver is of such a character as only ever to give benefits: he/she would never do anything in a contrary mode, such as harm, punish, or judge.

3. Priority–Priority concerns the timing of the gift, which is given before any initiative taken by the recipient.

4. Incongruity–Incongruity concerns the relationship between the giver and the recipient, and maximizes the mismatch between the gift and the worth or merit of its recipient.

5. Efficacy–Gifts that achieve something, that change things for the better, might be regarded as better than gifts with limited positive effect.

6. Noncircularity–As we noted in the last chapter, Western modernity is inclined to perfect the gift as “pure” only when there is no reciprocity, no return or exchange.

(Paul and the Power of Grace, pp. 13-16).

The Significance of Recognizing the Six Perfections

For further elaboration on the meaning of the above “perfections” see Paul and the Power of Grace. My point here is to note Barclay’s contention that throughout the centuries people have used various combinations of these perfections, resulting in different understandings of grace. As Christians, we may all insist that grace is free, but our doctrine may look different from others based on the perfections we have consciously, or unconsciously accepted. Barclay states, “. . . different interpreters of this concept have tended to operate with different clusters of perfection. Nonetheless, they have often regarded their interpretation as the “correct” interpretation of grace, such that any other is not just different but wrong”. . . Disagreements may arise, not because one side emphasizes grace more than the other, but because they perfect the term in different ways” (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. 17–author’s emphasis).

Furthermore, Barclay maintains that if we want to see which perfections of grace Paul is in agreement with, we should compare these six perfections to what we find in his letters. By this means, we can arrive at a biblical (or at least, Pauline) definition of grace. This discussion alone was worth the price of the book!

What Paul Means By Grace and What He Doesn’t

There are two results of Barclay’s investigation of the Pauline concept of grace that I would like to highlight. One Pauline perfection differs from the Roman world, while the other differs from our world.

Grace for the Unworthy

As believers, we are very used to the biblical idea that God extends His grace to those who don’t deserve it. Paul writes in Romans 5:6 that “Christ died for the ungodly.” He continues by stating that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We recognize that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” (Rom. 3:23), and therefore, we are “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

Barclay notes that this concept of grace is counter-cultural. In the Roman world, grace was only to be bestowed on people who were considered worthy. Since the giving and receiving of a gift meant a social bond, one would not want to be associated with a disreputable giver. Neither would one wish to bestow a gift and connect themselves with an unsavory individual. Afterall, “Who would wish to degrade their reputation by tying themselves to people without worth?” (Paul and the Power of Grace, p. 7).

Receiving Grace Obligates the Receiver

Barclay traces the history of gift-giving by pointing out that in the modern Western World a gift is not considered a gift unless it is given without obligating the other person. Nothing could be farther from the truth in the first century Roman world. While a gift could not be earned, the receiver was obligated to the giver. As noted above, a social bond was created. While the recipient might not be able to repay the gift-giver, he/she was obligated to them and expected to express gratitude in various practical ways (See my post on Grace in 3D for a further explanation). This is no less true of the concept of grace in the New Testament. The church has frequently erred in modern times by communicating that grace is free, meaning there is no obligation on the part of the receiver. To put it in Barclay’s words, New Testament grace is unconditioned (it is given without regard to worth or capacity), but it is not unconditional (a response is expected because a relationship has been established between the believer and God). The gift of grace transforms the believer because he/she is now in a relationship with God.

Conclusion

Barclay’s, Paul and the Power of Grace, contains much more than this short review has covered. I have sought to highlight aspects that enriched me as I read. In some cases, Barclay confirmed and fortified things I already understood about the New Testament concept of grace. In other ways his treatment enhanced my understanding of this key biblical concept. Barclay’s treatment will hopefully lead to greater understanding among all Christians about the meaning of grace as we uncover the ways in which we have perfected grace in comparison with Paul and the New Testament.

Paul and the Power of Grace is available at Amazon USA / UK

New Dead Sea Scroll Discovered

New Dead Sea Scroll Discovered

New Dead Sea Scroll
Sections of the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll discovered in the Judean Desert expedition prior to their conservation. (photo credit: SHAI HALEVI / ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY)

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) has announced today (Tuesday March 16, 2021), the discovery of a new Dead Sea Scroll. The scroll is 2,000 years old and contains portions of the 12 minor prophets. It is not intact but consists of over two dozen fragments. and was written in Greek. Interestingly, the name of God is written in paleo-Hebrew script.

New Dead Sea Scroll
One of the fragments after unraveling. Credit: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority

The scroll contains parts of Nahum and Zechariah and is thought to be a missing part of a Minor Prophets scroll discovered in 1952 which included parts of Micah. One of the fragments reads, “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord.” These words from Zechariah 8:16-17 seem like a particularly appropriate admonition for our world today.

A New Intensive Search for Dead Sea Scrolls

Cave of Horror
The Cave of Horror where the most recent Dead Sea Scrolls were found can only be accessed by descending on ropes. The distance is 80 meters or over 262 feet!

This recent discovery is the result of a new intensive search for Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists have long believed there are other scrolls yet to be discovered. The number of caves in the Judean Wilderness is vast and many remain unexplored. The cave that yielded the recent finds was explored in 1960 by the famous Israeli archaeologist, Yigael Yadin. It was dubbed “the Cave of Horror” because of the remains of the skeletons of 40 men, women, and children discovered there. No scrolls were recovered at that time, however, a Greek copy of the Book of the Twelve (the Minor Prophets) was discovered later. This is why it is assumed that the recent discovery is part of this same scroll. To date, only about 50% of the caves have been investigated. There is a renewed urgency in examining these caves and finding any potential scrolls before antiquities thieves discover them and seek financial gain from their sale.

Antiquities Forgery is Big Business!

Museum of the Bible
Sadly, this past year (2020), it was announced that all 16 Dead Sea Scrolls in the Museum of the Bible in Washington D. C. were forgeries!

It is important that the scrolls, and any antiquities for that matter, be found in a legitimate archaeological context by professional archaeologists. When items appear on the antiquities market, there is always the danger of forgeries. The 16 Dead Sea Scrolls at the Museum of the Bible in Washington D. C., all revealed to be forgeries this past year, is a painful reminder of this reality. (See my former article here when these scrolls were thought/hoped to be original.)

Other Recent Discoveries in the “Cave of Horror”

Bar Kokhba coins
Coins from the Bar Kokhba revolt were also discovered. Credit: Ofer Sion, Israel Antiquities Authority

The cave has also yielded other interesting finds, including the skeleton of a child, dated 6,000 years old and a weaved basket in excellent condition, carbon-dated to 10,000 years old (see below). Finally, some coins from the Bar-Kokhba revolt (132-135 A.D.) were also discovered (see photo above).

For more information on this recent find, including additional photos and a video see the following links: Jerusalem Post,  Haaretz, Verietyinfo,  Video link on recent discovery

This month the Historical Faith Society, a part of the Patterns of Evidence ministry, is highlighting the search for new Dead Sea Scrolls. Click on the first link for further information and a short video.

Who Was Bathsheba? How Intertextuality helps

Who Was Bathsheba? How Intertextuality helps

Bathsheba
Bathsheba

Discerning Bathsheba’s character has proven to be challenging to Bible readers and scholars. Today’s Western culture has also made any evaluation of Bathsheba, an extremely sensitive issue. Note these two contrasting posts I discovered on the internet (David, Bathsheba, and Woke Exegesis, and Bathsheba Naked).  Scholars have assigned various labels to Bathsheba. She has been characterized as a clever and calculating woman by some and a naive, or foolish woman by others. Still others would characterize her as a victim of the abusive power of kingship.

What makes an evaluation of Bathsheba so difficult is that the text offers very little information about her. The following array of questions taken from my book Family Portraits, illustrates how little we know.

“Did Bathsheba position herself in a place where she knew David would be able to see her or does his vantage point on the roof of the palace allow him viewing access into the privacy of her home or courtyard? Is Bathsheba’s bath in verse 2 connected to the statement of her purifying herself in verse 4? Does the statement, “she was cleansed from her impurity” (v. 4) refer to the end of her menstrual cycle, or to bathing after having intercourse with David? Is Bathsheba a foreigner or an Israelite? Why does David send for her knowing that she is a trusted soldier’s wife? Why does Bathsheba come? Does David take her by force, or does she come willingly?” (p. 231)

Intertextuality to the Rescue

The above subtitle probably promises more than it is able to deliver, but nonetheless, intertextuality is an important resource that provides insight. In last week’s post (Allusions to Rachel in 1 Samuel), I noted how intertextuality (sometimes referred to as typology) can be a fruitful avenue that allows Scripture to interpret Scripture. In Bathsheba’s case, there are two important texts within the Books of Samuel that provide fertile ground for better understanding this enigmatic person. Both texts share similar themes, motifs, and words with the David and Bathsheba story in 2 Samuel 11. The two texts also involve two other women. The first, 1 Samuel 25, is the story of Abigail, another of David’s wives acquired from another man. The second, 2 Samuel 13, the story of Tamar, David’s daughter, follows immediately upon the story of David and Bathsheba.

Bathsheba Through the Eyes of Abigail (1 Sam. 25; 2 Sam. 11)

(The following paragraphs on Abigail and Tamar are excerpted from my book Family Portraits, pp. 239-243, with a few minor changes.)

Abigail intercedes with David to save the life of her household.

Many scholars have noted the connection between the stories of Abigail and Bathsheba. In some ways Abigail’s account is a mirror image of Bathsheba’s story with a few interesting twists (This observation, and some of the insights that follow, are from Adele Berlin, “Characterization in Biblical Narrative: David’s Wives, JSOT, 23, 1982, pp. 69-85). Both are married when David meets them and both become his wife after the death of their respective husbands. Abigail’s husband is an evil man, Bathsheba’s a good one. Abigail’s words that the one who fights the Lord’s battles should not be guilty of “evil” (1 Sam. 25:28–31), anticipate David’s actions in 2 Samuel 11 (see esp. v. 27).  At the nadir of his power, a woman saves him; at the height of his power, he is imperiled by a woman (Joel Rosenberg, King and Kin, p. 152). Nabal commits a foolish act potentially leading to his death at the hands of David, but Abigail intercedes and saves him thus saving David from shedding innocent blood. Uriah is innocent, yet Bathsheba commits (or is coerced into committing) a foolish act which leads to his death. David becomes guilty of shedding innocent blood and she does nothing (perhaps can do nothing) to prevent it. When a crisis strikes, Abigail knows what to do, Bathsheba does not. Nabal refuses to take from his abundant flocks and so does David (2 Sam. 12:1-6). Both Abigail and Bathsheba are said to be beautiful women (different Hebrew words).

A survey of these stories also demonstrates that they share a host of similar vocabulary. The following list is a sample of these similarities with Scripture references to Abigail’s story occurring first (1 Sam. 25), followed by those in the Bathsheba story (2 Sam. 11–12):

David sends and inquires (25:5; 11:4, 6–7)

David sends messengers (25:14, 42; 11:4)

David takes (25:40; 11:4)

Nabal is evil in his doings; David does evil (25:3; 11:27)

evil should not be found in David; David commits evil (25:28; 11:27)

threefold use of “peace” (25:6; 11:7)

sword (25:13; 11:25; 12:9, 10)

dead or died (25:37, 38, 39; 11:15, 17, 21, 24, 26)

wash the feet (25:41; 11:8)

descend (25:23; 11:8–13)

morning (25:22, 34, 37; 11:14)

drinking and being drunk (25:36; 11:11, 13)

swearing an oath, “As the Lord lives…” (25:26, 34; 11:11)

wall (25:16; 11:20, 21, 24)

“hasten” and “tomorrow”—same letters in Hebrew (25:18, 23; 11:12)

Although words are often used in different ways between the two stories, and some occurrences may be coincidental, the similarities are striking. In particular, David’s sending messengers, the threefold use of the word “peace,” the words “sword” and “dead,” the description of Nabal and David doing “evil,” and the phrase “wash the feet” (which only occurs in these two passages in the books of Samuel), strongly suggest correspondences between these two accounts. The correlation of theme and vocabulary indicates that a comparison between Abigail and Bathsheba would be fruitful and might unveil some of the ambiguity present in Bathsheba’s character in 2 Samuel 11.

Carole Fontaine has noted “the clustering of typical wisdom motifs in vocabulary and theme” found in 2 Samuel 11–12 (The Bearing of Wisdom on the Shape of 2 Samuel 11-12, and 1 Kings 3, JSOT, 34, 1986, pp. 61-77). In a previous chapter we observed that the story of Abigail also contains vocabulary and motifs consistent with the themes of wisdom and folly (Chapter 18 of Family Portraits). This recognition creates yet another link between the stories of Abigail and Bathsheba. The most ironic contrast between the two is that Abigail’s action saves her “good-for-nothing” husband Nabal from death, while Bathsheba’s action sends her good husband Uriah to his death. This contrast highlights the wisdom motif of the woman who brings death. Fontaine notes the similarity of language in Proverbs 6:22 with the opening of the story in 2 Samuel 11. Speaking of the commandments and teachings of one’s parents (which ultimately derive from the Lord), Proverbs 6:22 states, “When you walk they will lead you; when you lie down they will watch over you” (ESV). I have highlighted the words “walk” and “lie down” because they are precisely the words that characterize David’s action in 2 Samuel 11:2, 4. The proverb goes on to warn that the commandment will “preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart” (Prov. 6:24–25a). The proverb continues,

Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes into his neighbor’s wife; None who touches her will go unpunished. (Prov. 6:27–29, ESV)

The correspondences, though not exact, cannot help but make one think of the David and Bathsheba affair. While Bathsheba may not have intentionally seduced David she is, nonetheless, the woman who brings death, not to her fellow adulterer in this case, but to her husband. The counterpart of the adulteress in Proverbs 6 is “Woman Wisdom” in Proverbs 9. Similarly, Bathsheba’s act foolishly puts her husband in harm’s way while Abigail acts wisely in saving her husband. When one adds up Bathsheba’s naiveté and passivity the sum total is foolishness.

It is not just these similarities, however, that associate Bathsheba with the woman who brings death; a reference within the story of chapter 11 also suggests this equation. When Joab sends a messenger back to David with the news of Uriah’s death, he refers to the story of Abimelech in Judges 9 (2 Sam. 11:21). Uriah has just died because the Israelite army got too close to the city wall. Similarly, Abimelech, the petty tyrant king of Shechem, died when he got too close to the city wall and a woman cast a millstone on his head (Judg. 9:50–54). This may have become a proverbial story in Israel about the dangers of getting too close to an enemy’s wall and may explain why Joab anticipates David citing it. Within the context of the story, however, it takes on a deeper meaning, for it was Bathsheba’s act of lying with David that directly resulted in Uriah’s death at the foot of the wall in Rabbah. Like the other correspondences, this one is not exact. It is simply one more nail in the coffin that convicts Bathsheba of a foolish action.

Bathsheba Through the Eyes of Tamar (2 Sam. 11 and 13)

Tamar and Amnon
The terrible story of Tamar and Amnon provides a comparison for evaluating Bathsheba’s character.

The story of Amnon and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 is the sequel to the story of David and Bathsheba. It is the beginning of the fulfillment of the Lord’s word of judgment in 2 Samuel 12:11: “Behold I will raise up evil against you from your own house” (my translation). Just as David has illicit sex in his house, so too does his son Amnon. Verbs once again draw a parallel between the actions of father and son. Just as David “sent” for Bathsheba, so he innocently “sends” his daughter Tamar to Amnon’s house (13:7). Ironically Amnon “lies down” on his “bed” (13:5), the posture David was in at the beginning of 2 Samuel 11:2. The word “lie” also describes Amnon’s sin (13:11, 14), as it does David’s (11:4). Wisdom motifs and vocabulary are once again prevalent in 2 Samuel 13, indicating a further link with chapters 11–12. These parallels once again suggest that we may profit from a comparison between Bathsheba and Tamar in order to gain a clearer understanding of her character.

Like Bathsheba, Tamar is said to be beautiful (13:1, although a different Hebrew word is used). Tamar is sent by David to Amnon’s house in order to make him some food so that he might recover from his “illness” (13:6–8). She remains unsuspecting of any ulterior motive, even when Amnon orders everyone else out of the house and tells her to come into his bedroom (13:9–10). Our portrait of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11 proposed that she was naive (not included in this post but explored earlier in my examination of 2 Sam. 11); may we suggest that the parallel with Tamar adds weight to that proposal? We also inferred the possibility that Bathsheba may not have known why she was sent for. The same is true of Tamar. She believes she was sent to minister to her sick brother; the true purpose of her visit has been concealed from her. Here, however, the similarities end. When Amnon forcefully expresses his intentions, Tamar protests (13:12–13). Her language invokes the words “fool” and “folly” as she tries to dissuade her brother from his predetermined course of action. We note an important difference here between Tamar and Bathsheba. The words describing Bathsheba’s actions in 11:4–5 gave no hint of resistance, and certainly the text records no words of protest. Tamar protests the foolish act being forced upon her; Bathsheba acquiesces. Once again a comparison of stories yields a verdict of foolishness in regard to Bathsheba.

Scripture affirms the importance of more than one witness in determining a conviction (Deut. 17:6; 19:15). Although Bathsheba’s portrait in 2 Samuel 11 is ambiguous, there is enough circumstantial evidence to suggest a certain understanding of her character. The witness of Abigail and Tamar seems to solidify our suggestion that Bathsheba is a naive and passive woman who does not have the wisdom or strength to extricate herself from a dangerous situation. If we were to hold court on Bathsheba’s character, based on the evidence of 2 Samuel 11 and our two witnesses, we would have to conclude she is not a cunning, manipulative, or malicious person. She is simply foolish. (end of section from Family Portraits)

As I noted parenthetically above, the chapter on Bathsheba in my book also explores the scene in 2 Samuel 11 which is not included here. The point here is to demonstrate the insights that can be gained from investigating texts with similar themes, motifs, and words. Hopefully, this post has demonstrated that a look at the stories of Abigail and Tamar can provide insight into the, otherwise, ambiguous character of Bathsheba.

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.Family Portraits

 

Allusions to Rachel in 1 Samuel

Allusions to Rachel in 1 Samuel

Meeting of Jacob and Rachel
“The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel” by William Dyce (mid-nineteenth century).

Rachel is one of the matriarchs of Israel. As such, she plays an important role in the unfolding story of the Book of Genesis. Rachel is best known as the beloved wife of Jacob (Gen. 29:18-20), and the mother of Joseph (Gen. 30:22-24). Other famous episodes in her life include the rivalry between her and her sister Leah (Gen. 30:8), her stealing the household gods of her father Laban (Gen. 31:19), and the birth of her second born son Benjamin which results in her death (Gen. 35:16-20). Many readers of 1 Samuel may be unaware of the numerous allusions to Rachel in its pages. Since Rachel lived approximately 800 years before the events recorded in 1 Samuel, what is the significance of the constant allusions to her? A brief discussion of typology, or intertextuality, as it is frequently referred to, is necessary to answer this question. Then we will look at each occurrence in 1 Samuel that alludes to Rachel and seek to understand its significance.

Typology, or Intertextuality in the Bible

I have written more extensively on the topic of typology elsewhere (see here). Peter Leithart provides a good succinct definition. He writes, “Typology means that earlier characters and events are understood as figures of later characters and events, and the text is written in a way that brings out the connection” (Peter Leithart, “A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1&2 Samuel,” p. 13). As I explained in my post on typology: “Biblical authors intentionally recall earlier stories, characters, and events as a way of commenting on the story, character, or event they are relating. The student of the Bible is being invited to compare the stories or characters in order to notice these similarities and differences. Through this comparison, the reader gains insight into what the biblical author is communicating. This is especially helpful when one is trying to understand a particular biblical character.” This practice or technique is what is meant by intertextuality. To put it simply, it is using Scripture to interpret Scripture.

Texts Alluding to Rachel in 1 Samuel and Their Meaning

Hannah and Rachel

Hannah and Peninnah
The conflict between Hannah and Peninnah recalls the conflict between Rachel and Leah.

1 Samuel begins with an immediate allusion to Rachel. Elkanah’s marriage to Hannah and Peninnah recalls Jacob’s marriage to Rachel and Leah (1 Sam. 1:1-6). This allusion is further solidified by the fact that one woman is barren (Hannah/Rachel) and one is fertile (Leah/Peninnah), which leads to conflict between them. Robert Polzin (Samuel and the Deuteronomist), followed by Keith Bodner (1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary), suggests that the birth story of Samuel (the kingmaker) looks forward to the birth of kingship in Israel. There are a number of connections in 1 Sam. 1 with 1 Sam. 8-9. The conflict between the women leads Bodner to conclude: “The advent of kingship in Israel will also produce conflict, and at this point in the story this conflict is symbolically represented in Hannah and Peninnah” (p. 16).

Ichabod and Rachel

Rachel dies giving birth
The Birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel by D. Chiesura.

The birth of Ichabod in 1 Samuel 4:19-22 contains the next allusion to Rachel. When the daughter-in-law of Eli hears of his death, the death of her husband (Phinehas), and the capture of the ark, she is overcome with premature labor and gives birth. The birth is difficult and results in her death. Before dying, however, she gives her son a strange name–Ichabod–which means, “the glory has departed.” These circumstances bear some resemblance to the story of Rachel giving birth to Benjamin. It should also be noted that the man who delivers the bad tidings in 1 Sam. 4 is “a man from Benjamin” (1 Sam. 4:12). When Rachel gives birth, she too dies, and in the process, she also gives her son an unusual name with a sad meaning. Benjamin’s original name as given by Rachel is Ben-Oni which means “son of my sorrow.” Apparently Jacob did not wish his son to be stuck with such a negative legacy and so changed his name to Benjamin (Gen. 35:18). In my book, Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel, I suggest the following application: “The parallel between the two birth stories may lie in the contrast they provide to one another. Ben-Oni does not properly reflect the future of Jacob’s family, and so Jacob changes his son’s name to Benjamin. However, the name, Ichabod, stands because it is a true reflection of the situation—“the glory has departed” (p. 77). It should be remembered that Saul is a Benjamite. Barbara Green (How Are the Mighty Fallen? A Dialogical Study of King Saul in 1 Samuel, p. 145) points out that the news the man from Benjamin brings leads to the mother’s death and the outcry of the people. Is this perhaps a harbinger of the problems that Saul’s kingship will bring upon Israel? It is interesting that a few of the ancient Rabbis even identified this Benjamite as the young man Saul!

Saul and Rachel

Samuel anoints Saul
When Samuel anoints Saul, he gives him 3 signs. The first concerns Rachel’s tomb.

While the previous story of Ichabod’s birth alludes to Rachel’s death, the next story expressly mentions her tomb. After Saul is anointed by Samuel, he is given three signs to confirm his appointment. The first sign involves encountering two men by Rachel’s tomb (1 Sam. 10:2). As Saul arrives at the tomb of the matriarch of his tribe, he will receive news that the donkeys he went to seek have been found, and that his father is concerned about what has happened to him. While the immediate context confirms Samuel’s word that the Lord has anointed him, some suggest that in the bigger picture of Saul’s story the mention of Rachel’s tomb and the words of his father, may sound an ominous note. A tomb quite naturally speaks of death. Peter Miscall (1 Samuel: A Literary Reading) remarks, “…’tomb’ tips the ambiguous symbol of Benjamin toward the pole of misfortune and death” (p. 55). Regarding the father’s words, Bodner comments, “…the words of Saul’s father Kish mean more than the speaker(s) may realize. Kish says, ‘What will I do about my son?, suggesting that uncertainty clouds the future of his son” (p. 94).

Michal and Rachel

Michal's idol recalls Rachel
Michal hiding an idol in David’s bed is reminiscent of Rachel hiding idols in her saddlebag.

When Saul threatens David’s life, Michal seeks to protect him. Michal helps David out through a window in the house and then does something very interesting. She takes an idol (one wonders where she gets it), puts it in David’s bed and covers the head with goat’s hair (1 Sam. 19:11-17). When Saul’s soldiers come to take him, she claims that David is sick which allows David extra time to escape. Several features of this story recall incidents in the lives of both Jacob and Rachel. Bodner sums up the similarities: “Both of these episodes feature deceptive father-in-laws (Laban and Saul), younger daughters (Rachel and Michal), fugitive husbands (Jacob and David), and hidden idols (author’s italics, p. 206). In Family Portraits, my conclusion is: “Although Rachel is one of the matriarchs of Israel, the comparison here is not flattering. It serves to confirm that Michal’s religious devotion is misplaced” (p. 127). Michal’s possession of an idol, and lying to her father that David threatened to kill her, places her in a negative light, in spite of the fact that she saved David’s life on this occasion.

Saul and David, Rachel and Leah

In the larger picture of 1&2 Samuel we learn that Saul ,the first king, is a member of the Tribe of Benjamin. David, of course, is from the Tribe of Judah. Genesis reveals that Rachel had two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. The first king of Israel is, therefore, a descendant of Rachel’s. The Tribe of Judah, however, is descended through Leah and Judah becomes the preeminent son among Leah’s progeny (Gen. 49:8-12). The conflict between David (Judah) and Saul (Benjamin) is reminiscent of the conflict between the two matriarchal mothers and sisters, Rachel and Leah. Interestingly, although Rachel was the most loved by Jacob, it was Leah who rested by him in the end, as she and Jacob were both buried in the ancestral cave at Machpelah purchased by Abraham (Gen. 49:29-31). Similarly, it was David, the descendant of Leah, persecuted by Saul, the descendant of Rachel, who triumphed in the  end.

Conclusion

Rachel is one of the revered matriarchs of Israel and deserves her place among the great women of the nation. Yet, it must be said, that her character description in Genesis, like that of her husband Jacob, is less than ideal. She is remembered for being beautiful (Gen. 29:17) and to her credit, she seeks the Lord in her barrenness and is granted a son (Gen. 30:22-24). However, she also has a fiery temper and a competitive nature driven, at least at times, by envy (Gen. 30:1-2). Rachel, like Jacob, can also be deceptive. As illustrated when she steals her father’s gods and lies about it (Gen. 31:19, 34-35).

When we turn to the allusions of Rachel in 1 Samuel, once again negativity dominates. Rachel’s comparison with Hannah is indeed a positive (both are the loved wife who is barren), but the similarity also extends to the conflict and rivalry represented in both families. The allusion between Benjamin’s birth and Ichabod’s is foreboding of difficult times ahead. If “the glory has departed” at the birth of Ichabod and he is the “new Benjamin,” then what does that forecast for the future of the tribe of Benjamin? We have already noted above that Saul’s first sign of kingship being confirmed in the vicinity of Rachel’s tomb does not seem to suggest a bright future. Finally, the similarities between Rachel and Michal are not complimentary to either, but, in the end, Rachel certainly fares better than Michal in biblical history.

Except for some aspects in the comparison with Hannah, it must be said that all of the allusions to Rachel in 1 Samuel are designed to communicate a negative message. Perhaps this relates to our final point above that the kingship was ultimately not destined for a descendant of Rachel from the Tribe of Benjamin, but for a descendant of Leah from the Tribe of Judah, and this may be one of the main reasons that the inspired author draws so many allusions to her in 1 Samuel.

Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel. Available at the following sites: Amazon USA / UK, and WestBow Press as well as other internet outlets.Family Portraits

 

John the Baptist and Salome’s Dance Floor

John the Baptist and Salome’s Dance Floor

Beheading of John the Baptist
Salome presents the head of John the Baptist to her mother.

The beheading of John the Baptist is a well-known story. Even many who aren’t familiar with the New Testament have heard the story of the dance of Salome that cost John his head. Artists throughout the ages have dramatized the grizzly scene of John’s head being brought on a plate by the young girl (see above). Recently, Győző Vörös, director of the excavations at Machaerus, announced that he has pinpointed the area where Salome’s deadly dance took place.

Herod’s Palace Fortress at Machaerus

Aerial photograph of archaeological site of Machaerus.  [Credit: Gyozo Voros]
The death of John the Baptist is not only recorded in Scripture, it was also recorded by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In fact, it is Josephus’s account that locates John’s execution at Machaerus, one of Herod’s mountaintop fortresses. The fortress was originally built during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, one of the Hasmonean rulers (more popularly referred to as the Maccabees). Herod the Great refurbished and strengthened it. Machaerus was Herod’s most eastern fortress and is located in present-day Jordan. The map that follows shows the location of Machaerus and Herod’s other palaces/fortresses.

Map of Herod's palaces
Herod’s palaces. Credit:Biblical Archaeology Review

The Gospel accounts of John the Baptist’s Death

In order to avoid any confusion, I would point out that, although Herod the Great had refurbished the palace, it was Herod’s son, known as Herod Antipas, who figures in the story of John’s beheading. The Gospels record that John accused Herod (Anitpas) of violating the Law of Moses by taking his brother’s wife. Herodias was previously married to Antipas’s brother Philip (Mark 6:17-20). Antipas arrests John and throws him in prison, not willing to kill him for fear of the people who regarded John as a prophet. However, when Salome, Herodias’s daughter, dances for Herod, he promises her anything, up to half his kingdom. Her request is for the head of John the Baptist, which Herod reluctantly grants.

Josephus’s Account of John the Baptist’s Death

Josephus
First century Roman bust thought to be Josephus.

As noted above, Josephus also provides an account of John the Baptist’s death. Josephus’s account differs in some particulars. His account compliments the Gospels by adding additional information. I have provided an abbreviated version of his account below:

But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice toward their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing join in baptism. . . . When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons, Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition, for it looked as if they would be guided by John in everything that they did. Herod decided therefore that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising, than to wait for an upheaval, get involved in a difficult situation and see his mistake. Though John, because of Herod’s suspicions, was brought in chains to Machaerus, the stronghold that we have previously mentioned, and there put to death, yet the verdict of the Jews was that the destruction visited upon Herod’s army was a vindication of John, since God saw fit to inflict such a blow on Herod (Josephus Ant 18.5.2 §116–19).

Josephus’s mention of the destruction of Antipas’s army relates to the defeat he suffered in 36 AD at the hands of the Nabatean King Aretas IV. Anitpas had divorced his daughter in order to marry Herodias.

Where Did Salome’s Dance Take Place?

Throne niche at Machaerus
Vörös believes this niche once contained Herod’s throne. [Image: © Győző Vörös]
Within the ruins of the palace, a courtyard has been uncovered, along with a niche which Vörös believes to be the place where Antipas’s throne was located. The photo above shows the niche where the throne may have been. In an article for BAR (Sept/Oct 2012), Vörös writes,  “Herod’s palace also included a courtyard with a small royal garden, a Roman-style bath, a triclinium for fancy dining and a formal peristyle courtyard enclosed by porticoes on four sides. This final area was the most imposing area of the palace, and it was there that Salome must have danced for Herod Antipas. We even know where the king sat: A semi-circular apse marks the space for King Herod’s (and later his son Tetrarch Herod Antipas’s) throne in the axial center of the peristyle courtyard.”

An artistic representation by Vörös of what this courtyard may have looked like can be found in the following article by livescience entitled,  “Dance floor where John the Baptist was condemned to death discovered, archaeologist says” (Go to the bottom of the article). A short article in Bible History Daily also contains some artistic reconstructions of the palace. A short video about Machaerus by The Watchman program can be found here and a longer version can be found here.

As with any archaeological reconstruction, 100% certainty is not possible. Some archaeologists have agreed with Vörös’s conclusions, while others are not convinced. In any case, Salome’s dance certainly happened within this palace in a place where Herod would have entertained guests. This seems to be the most likely spot. The work at Machaerus continues and perhaps even greater clarity about where this biblical event took place will be forthcoming.