How Many Sons Did Absalom Have? Intentional Ambiguity As Literary Art -- By: Randy L. McCracken

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 172:687 (Jul 2015)
Article: How Many Sons Did Absalom Have? Intentional Ambiguity As Literary Art
Author: Randy L. McCracken


How Many Sons Did Absalom Have?
Intentional Ambiguity As Literary Art

Randy L. McCracken

Randy L. McCracken is professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Calvary Chapel Bible College, York, England.

Abstract

The apparently contradictory statements about Absalom’s sons, or lack thereof, in 2 Samuel 14:27 and 18:18 have puzzled readers and scholars. This article seeks a new solution by proposing that the author of these texts deliberately created this ambiguity in order to communicate an important message about Absalom. Through the use of apparent contradiction, inclusion, and point of view, the author skillfully linked these two passages. The message communicated is a surprising reversal of Absalom’s image. He is pictured before his rebellion as someone important, but by the rebellion’s end he is portrayed as impotent.

Anyone reading the account of Absalom’s rebellion found in 2 Samuel 13-20 is struck by the apparent contradiction between 2 Samuel 14:27, which states that Absalom had three sons and one daughter, and 2 Samuel 18:18, which states that he had no sons.1 This article seeks a new solution to this problem by proposing that the author2 of these texts deliberately created this ambiguity in order to communicate an important message about Absalom. The message conveyed involves a surprising reversal of Absalom’s portrayal. He is pictured before his rebellion as

someone important, but by the rebellion’s end he is portrayed as impotent. The conflict in these two passages is really not about how many sons Absalom had (although it is this apparent contradiction that invites the reader to compare the texts), but about the contrast between the image that Absalom projected and the reality of who he was.

The Inadequacy Of Proposed Solutions

In recent history, two solutions for the apparent contradiction of 2 Samuel 14:27 and 18:18 have been proposed. Furthermore, scholars who propose one or the other of these solutions sometimes take different paths in arriving at their conclusions. The first solution, proposed by some literary critics, is that the two passages are from different sources (i.e., different authorial hands) and are therefore contradictory. For example, speaking of 2 Samuel 18:18, McCarter writ...

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