The Abishag Episode: Reexamining The Role Of Virility In 1 Kings 1:1-4 In Light Of The Kirta Epic And The Sumerian Tale “The Old Man And The Young Woman” -- By: Russell L. Meek

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 24:1 (NA 2014)
Article: The Abishag Episode: Reexamining The Role Of Virility In 1 Kings 1:1-4 In Light Of The Kirta Epic And The Sumerian Tale “The Old Man And The Young Woman”
Author: Russell L. Meek


The Abishag Episode:
Reexamining The Role Of Virility In 1 Kings 1:1-4 In Light Of The Kirta Epic And The Sumerian Tale
“The Old Man And The Young Woman”

Russell L. Meek

Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Based on two pieces of parallel literature (the Sumerian folktale “The Old Man and the Young Woman” and the Kirta Epic), most modern interpreters have understood the Abishag Episode as a virility test that indicates David is unfit to rule. However, this article contends that this view is a misreading of the text based on a comparative method that fails to take into account important differences between 1 Kgs 1:1-4 and the parallel literature. Following Hallo’s contextual method, this article compares and contrasts these two texts with the Abishag Episode and demonstrates that the dissimilarities between the narratives make it unlikely that 1 Kgs 1:1-4 is truly about David’s sexual competence. The evidence presented here confirms that the Abishag Episode is concerned with David’s ability to rule, but the emphasis is on David’s inability to rule his kingdom effectively, which his servants attempt to address by reenergizing David with a beautiful young virgin.

Key Words: David, Abishag, 1 Kings, contextual method, Kirta Epic, Sumerian folktale

Author’s note: I would like to express my gratitude to Stephen J. Andrews, William R. Osborne, R. Michael Fox, and William K. Bechtold for their careful reading and insightful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Introduction

1 Kings 1:1-4 records a curious incident in which David’s servants bring him a young woman to lie down with him because he is old and can no longer warm himself. The text states that the young woman was brought to David and served him, but that the king did not have sex with her (לֹא יְדָעָהּ). The text jumps from this episode into the narrative that relates how the crown prince, Adonijah, attempted to usurp the throne from his

father, followed by Solomon’s attempt to gain the throne with the help of Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet.1

Many modern scholars argue that the narrative has strong sexual overtones that indicate David has failed some sort of virility test, but most of them fail to cite evidence for their reading of 1 Kgs 1:1-4.2 The few who do provid...

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