Homer, The Ancient Near East And The Hebrew Bible

I just got the latest Journal of Biblical Literature (this may be behind a pay wall) and was pleased to read “Homeric and Ancient Near Eastern Intertextually in 1 Samuel 17” by Serge Frolov and Allen Wright. Using criteria to determine the extent to which one text imitates another suggested by Dennis MacDonald, they study the probabilities of Homeric or Near Eastern intertextually in the story of David and Goliath. Of course, this is in the context of ongoing discussion of the influence of Greek literature, everything from Homer to Herodotus to Plato, on the development of the Hebrew Bible. Here is the most important implication of Frolov and Wright’s conclusions,

Expressed in stochastic terms (as befits the complex and dynamic system that is biblical exegesis), the principal corollary of these conclusions is that the likelihood of the David–Goliath pericope being genetically linked to ancient Near Eastern antecedents is relatively high, while a connection of this kind between the chapter in question and Homer is relatively implausible.

A few quibbles here and there notwithstanding, I like the criteria based probabilistic approach of this paper. Far too often, scholars seek absolute answers to non-deterministic or underdetermined questions. It is certainly my own belief that stochastic terms befit “the complex and dynamic system that is biblical exegesis.” Please read the whole paper. You’ll find it well worth your time.

3 thoughts on “Homer, The Ancient Near East And The Hebrew Bible”

  1. I will definately read this one – thanks!
    Every time I read the stories about David and Saul’s stormy relationship I think of Achilles and Agamemnon; David and Goliath – the Homeric ‘duels’ amidst a battle; David and Jonathan – Achilles and Patroclus; heck – David’s whole career; I could go on, but I am glad someone is exploring this avenue of research. The quote from the paper doesn’t bode well for my comparisons, but I’ll see what they have to say!
    Thanks for the heads up!

  2. Mat,
    In some ways I think the most important thing about this paper is the attempt to use a well-articulated method to judge a rather complex issue. As to their conclusions, I think Frolov and Wright are more or less correct. The “less” part involves my worry that in this particular example we may well be dealing with what Dennett might call a “good tick,” something that would come up rather naturally in such narratives without any influence from any cultural diffusion at all. On the “more” side of the argument, I think we may be dealing with a common Mesopotamian background with instantiations in 1 Sam 17 along with other places in the Hebrew Bible and in Homer as well as other Greek accounts. The authors themselves suggest this as one possible explanation.

  3. Curses! It is, indeed, behind a paywall – and a paywall that my wallet hasn’t breached yet. I was able to find the 1st article in the journal for free (http://surface.syr.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1013&context=rel&sei-redir=1#search=%22journal%20biblical%20literature%20130%203%20download%22), but can’t quite figure out why this article was blessed over and above the one I’d like to read. Ah well. Any links by observant readers would be most appreciated!
    If the “good tick” refers to the heroic duel that settled the battle, I’m not quite convinced that it would arrive naturally in the telling of a story. My ignorance on the subject shows in this, but how often are such ‘heroic duels’ attested in the ANE literature? I always received the impression that it was a strange, improbable occurence mostly found in aristocratic storytelling – or, at least, a microcosmic representation of the actual battle (the military leader’s role in the battle becoming more anthropomorphized(?) and personalized).
    Perhaps I’m being too narrow in asking which came first? The chicken or the egg. I tend, however, to be taking the entire story of David’s rise to power as a comparison. Even Samuel reminds me of the priest of Appollo who demanded his daughter back – that one act seemed to spur on much of the drama in the Illiad.
    Well, I look forward to checking this out, if I can find it heh heh! As usual – your posts are very interesting, Duane!

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