A Word About . . .

The Ark

The "Ark narrative" as it is called in scholarly circles is the fragmented account of the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant and is spread out from Exodus to Chronicles. Trying to piece the picture together is always iffy. What becomes clear is that the ark was not always contained within the tabernacle after the destruction of the tabernacle at Shechem by the Philistines in Samuel's time.

Whither and how far the ark may have wandered after that is unclear in the narrative. There are some indications that Shaul had access to the ark during his reign, which would mean it was probably within the sanctuary at Nob. What is very clear, however, is that when Dahveed brought it to Jerusalem, he didn't get it from the sanctuary, which was then at Gibeon. We know that because that's where Solomon goes after his ascension to the throne to seek God. Presumably, the ark was separated from the sanctuary at the destruction of Nob. Where was it during Dahveed's fugitive years?

As mentioned in the footnote in the text of this book, there is a good chance that Dahveed had it with him. Context is clear that the word "ephod", when not motified by "linen" cannot refer to a garment, but to some kind of solid object. In addition, Solomon, when sparing Abiathar's life at the time Adonijah made a bid for the throne, specifically says he is doing so because, "you carried the ark of the Lord God before my father David, and because you shared in all the hardships my father endured." 1 Kings 2:26 (NRS version. Some other versions use the word "afflicted" instead of "hardships") The only time this could have happened was after the destruction of Nob when Abiathar fled to David, and the "ephod came down by his (Abiathar's) hand." (Literal translation 1 Samuel 23:6.) Notice that Abiathar is not the subject/active agent in the Hebrew text. The ephod itself is. Such action would never be attributed to a piece of clothing. But the culture at the time would attribute such actions to the gods through the item they dwelt in. I have, therefore, placed the ark with Dahveed during his wandering years. My apologies if this offends anyone.


As I've discussed in my previous books, historians argue endlessly about chronology. There is only one generally accepted date in ancient history, and that is 664 BC (or BCE of you prefer) and the end of the third intermediate period in Egypt. Every date previous to that one, and many after it, are simply educated guesses. Some guesses are more educated than others, and the further back one goes, the more "guess" enters the picture. The usual estimate for the beginning of Dahveed's reign is around 1000 BC, give or take 50 years, with Solomon taking the throne around 970 BC with the same margin of error.

The other very important aspect of chronology is that the Bible comes to us from an oral tradition. All the stories in the Bible were originally told orally, and only written down much later. This means that the stories about Bible characters are told in thematic sequence, not necessarily in straight chronological sequence. This is very important for our understanding of the stories. This should not be surprising. When you are telling someone about events which happened to you that occurred over several days or weeks, you don't tell them everything that happened in between the relevant events! You skip those until the entire connected sequence has been told. Then, if there is some other theme you want to discuss, you go "back in time" and begin another sequence. The stories of Dahveed's life are told in exactly this way. This means, of course, that we don't know how much time may have passed between events in a sequence, or even how the sequences actually fit together in straight chronological order. We can only guess. Note the amount of time I have put between Goliath's death, and the covenant between Dahveed and Jonathan.

English readers, however, are used to written history and stories being told in straight chronological sequence. Again, to make it easier for my readers, I have given my best "guess" at the chronological sequence of many of the events in Dahveed's life. There are times, however, when I have followed the thematic sequence, and then "gone back in time" to pick up the story in another place. (For those of you who are curious, yes, this thematic sequence is indicated in the Hebrew. This involves the use of the Hebrew letter vav, about which Hebrew scholars argue with as much verve as historians argue about chronology.)


In 1 Sam 23 when Shaul finds Dahveed at Maon, geography is so confusing that scholars and commentators cannot agree. Therefore, I have ignored the mention of Dahveed in the Arabah, since it is difficult to go "down" to a rock from there, and any mountains would be above the Arabah.

In 1 Sam 23, the hill of Hakilah is south of Jeshimon, but in 1 Sam 26 it is "before" Jeshimon. In 2 Sam 23 Shaul goes to the wilderness of Maon to find Dahveed around the hill of Hakilah. In 1 Sam 26, he goes to the wilderness of Ziph and camps on the hill of Hakilah. All that is clear is the general area where these places are. I have, therefore, simply picked spots with geography which is attuned to the needs of the story. I have also ignored Dahveed's stay in the Arabah since I couldn't make the geography of it fit in with anything else at all!

There is also the problem of Dahveed going to the wilderness of Paran, 1 Sam 25:1, which is way down south of the Negev. Most Bibles will note that the word Paran should probably be Maon, as it is in the LXX. Remember, the story is not told chronologically, so we don't exactly know when Shamuel died, and when Dahveed moves to Maon. I have chosen to place his move after his meeting with Nabal.

I also mention the "land stair" to the Shephelah. Remember, there were two rises of land from the coastal plains (Philistia) to the highlands (Israel/Judah). The first rose about 200-300 feet to a plateau with rolling hills called the Shephelah. The next "stair" rose 1200-1500 feet to the central plateau of Canaan and the countries of Judah and Israel. Both rises could be very abrupt via clifts and rock ramparts. The rises also gradually smoothed out the farther south you went toward the Negev.


For those of you who have read the genealogies in the Bible which give Shaul's descendants, you may be wondering where Ishvi is. He is listed as a son of Shaul in 1 Samuel 14:49, and as far as I know is never listed again. A son named Abinadab is listed as killed with Shaul, but is never mentioned elsewhere in Shaul's story. Some scholars speculate that Ishvi and Abinadab are one and the same. I don't know. But in the interests of simplicity, I picked one name to use in my story, ignoring the other. I liked "Ishvi" better than "Abinadab" and Ishvi was mentioned first. Besides, Dahveed had a brother named Abinadab, and I didn't want to confuse people more than I had to with multiple characters having the same name!


Specifically Ahithophel and Mephibosheth. Both of these names were most likely given their present form by scribes editing Samuel's books. At the time of the editing, David was a national hero, and anyone who opposed him was obviously a bad person. Names where then altered to indicate this. We have Mephibosheth's real name, Meribbaal, which is what I use in the book. But Ahithophel's real name has not survived in the record. However, other name changes indicate that "thophel" was often substituted for "baal", which in David's time simply meant "husband" or "lord" or "owner." Only later did it become the popular name of the Canaanite god. Ahithophel's name could, therefore, have been Ahibaal, and that is what I use. In addition to being a nicer name for the man, it's also shorter. That means less to type. When it comes to typing, I'm lazy.


This is where the cultural differences between our day and Dahveed's day rear their heads in an unmistakable way. Today, our lives are intensely entwined with extremely accurate and precise numbers. We assume that the rest of the planet is also ruled by these accurate and precise numbers. Sorry. There still exist cultures today that have two numbers. One and two. Anything else is "more."

We also assume that past cultures must also have loved very accurate and precise numbers. We received 60 seconds in a minute and sixty minutes in an hour from Babylon, after all. But, Israel isn't Babylon, and Hebrew numbers are mushy. We're dealing with a culture where the smallest amount of time that we know they used is the hour, not the split second. And the hour was defined as a certain segment of dawn to dusk, and dusk to dawn. That meant the hour stretched and shrank according to the season of the year!

Therefore, "40 years" can mean 40 years as we understand it, or "the years from adulthood to death" or "a generation." Since the scribes who wrote down the stories for us were not concerned with our passion for absolute accuracy in numbers, they neglected to indicate which meaning was meant when they used the term, leaving it up to us to guess which one seems the most logical. If more than one meaning can logically fit, take your best guess.

For instance, Dahveed reigns for 40 years. Does this mean exactly 40 years to the day, or 38 .5 years, or maybe 43 years and two months?? If we were to ask the recording scribe which one is "right", he would look at us as if we were crazy. Dahveed reigned from his adulthood until he died. What more do you need to know? The exact amount of time that covered was irrelevant and useless information, so no one bothered with it. This attitude naturally drives us western number-oriented people right up the wall, and it's one reason that historians argue so intensely about chronology!

Now, one of the favorite units of numbers in the Bible is the "elef." It's translated in one of two ways, either "family unit" or "thousand." Here's where things get very sticky. The meaning of elef in Dahveed's time is "family unit" and very well could have had a standard number assigned to it that everyone back then understood. But, by the time the Hebrew scriptures were translated into what we know as the Septuagint, the number that went with elef had long since been lost. So the scribes doing the translating assigned a number to elef. They chose "thousand." It seemed the best guess to them.

For hundreds of years, no one thought to question that assignment. However, modern scholars have much more to work with than did the scribes who created the Septuagint. We have thousands (our thousands) of clay tablets from numerous places in numerous languages, from different time periods of ancient history. We have archaeological discoveries to help us interpret what is translated. And this word elef, or it's equivalent, is quite common. There was just one problem. "Thousand" didn't fit. Scholars, therefore went back to the records, trying to understand. The essential question was, "how many is a 'family unit?' "

Well, that depends. How many people are in your family? Mushy numbers, remember? Therefore, hold onto your hats! Currently, the best scholarly guess at how many an "elef" is stands at 5-14 people. (Is it safe to come out now?? OK.) Naturally, this wreaks havoc with the general ideas of how many people were involved in the biblical battles for instance. However, it does bring the Biblical record into line with what we know about the general culture, the population, the amount of land available, and the size of towns, settlements, and kingdoms. So, maybe deciding that the guess of the Septuagint scribes was not quite correct isn't such a bad idea.

Because we really don't know how many an elef is, I've used the word "unit" as a substitute. "Unit" can be mushy, just like elef. How many a unit contains depends on who's counting and what is being counted. Elef was probably exactly the same way. (Yes, I know. If 'thousand' is 5-14, how many is a 'hundred?' Since 'hundred' can also mean 'fraction or multiple' maybe we should just leave it alone for now!)

Samuel or Chronicles?

I have chosen to follow the plot of Dahveed's life as outlined in 1 and 2 Samuel. These books were written hundreds of years before Chronicles, and are, therefore, considered more reliable than Chronicles. By the time Chronicles was written, Dahveed was considered a national hero, and you'll notice that his life in Chronicles has been purged of any hint of wrong-doing with the exception of his affair with Bathsheba. That got him in so much trouble that it simply couldn't be ignored, even hundreds of years later! But notice that it's only mentioned in Chronicles, it isn't told. I feel that the books of Samuel reflect a truer picture of what Dahveed was like, so I have only used the account in Chronicles for additional details to the narrative if I thought they might be useful.

Translations of the Psalms.

They are my own. Don't blame anyone else for them. Don't look for them in a Bible.

I realized when I was writing my book about Ruth that I needed to know more about Biblical Hebrew in order to really understand the story. By the time I started research for Dahveed, I realized I needed to know a lot more about Biblical Hebrew. So I sat in on Hebrew classes at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University. (And my profound thanks to the teacher for so graciously allowing my presence in the classroom!) I learned how to do my own translations.

My goal has been to reflect more of the Hebrew usage and words rather than tweaking them for a smooth English translation. Thus, if the Hebrew uses the word "voice" three times in three sentences, so do I, rather than put in a synonym as "better English usage" demands. Note Psalms 23, and the "ruts of righteousness!" "Path" is more melodic in English and flows better, but the Hebrew word is "rut" not "path." Rougher sounding in English, I know, but a much more vivid word picture! So, if the Psalm translations use repetitive words arranged rather oddly, leave out or add some words, and sound a bit skewed to your ear, blame it on the flavor of Biblical Hebrew! I hope you like the tang, as if you've had the chance to taste an exotic food for the first time.

The use of the word "piss"

This is taken directly from the King James translation, and very accurately reflects the Hebrew. My apologies to those readers for whom the word is not an acceptable word. Please remember, however, that Dahveed was not in a polite mood when he used it. Given that the servant who reports to Abigail calls Dahveed "a wall" the implications of the comment become more apparent, as well as how the author of 1 Samuel played with the term. In addition, this is not the only time the entire description is used in the Bible. God Himself uses it to describe how he will completely destroy royal houses. The fact that this is applied to Nabal's house indicates very strongly that he was the local ruler, not just a rich farmer.

The way I wrote this book

As with my other books, one of my purposes is to tell these stories in their proper historical and cultural context. This means that I try to tell the story from the perspective of the protagonist using the mindset, attitudes, and accepted ways of the world as they were understood back in the late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age, when Dahveed lived. Details and comments in the Bible make it clear that Israel and Judah in Shaul and Dahveed's time were very much a part of the Bronze Age culture in the Ancient Near East, just like we are part of our culture today. Therefore, to really appreciate much of what these stories have to say, we must forget our own ideas of "the way things should be," and put ourselves in the sandals of the Biblical characters, attempting to view their lives and times using the same perspective that they had back then.