How Are the Mighty Fallen! A Study of 2 Samuel 1:17-27 -- By: David L. Zapf
GTJ 5:1 (Spr 84) p. 95
How Are the Mighty Fallen!
A Study of 2 Samuel 1:17-27
2 Sam 1:17–27 introduces and records David’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. Examination of the textual tradition upholds the integrity of the MT as represented in BHS. Significant lexical problems are considered and suggestions made toward their solution. Consideration of the structure of the lament proper (vv 19–27 ) reveals David’s skill as a poet, while analysis of the content shows David’s grief over the deaths of two men with whom he had very different relationships—Saul as a warrior of Israel, yet David’s persecutor, and Jonathan as an intimate friend. On a broader level in the Samuel narrative, the lament is a fitting tribute to the tragic hero Saul while also contributing to the story of David’s accession to the throne of Israel.
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David’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan in 2 Sam 1:17–27 is a superb example of Hebrew poetry. William L. Holladay notes that “Critics have affirmed with one voice the literary quality of this poem.”1 Keil and Delitzsch say, “It is one of the finest odes of the Old Testament; full of lofty sentiment, and springing from deep and sanctified emotion.”2 Stanley Gevirtz praises it as “a genuine expression of deep sorrow and a masterpiece of early Hebrew poetry.”3 Peter R. Ackroyd wrote, “The poem is a superb work of art, its structure skilfully developed.”4 Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg states
GTJ 5:1 (Spr 84) p. 96
that this lament “has been called the most beautiful heroic lament of all time.”5
The beauty of this piece of literature, however, does not readily yield itself to the modern reader. Several difficulties confront the interpreter. First, one encounters several textual problems. As a result, whole articles have been devoted to “reconstructing” a readable text for 2 Sam 1:17–27.6 There are also several lexical possibilities for certain words, forcing the interpreter to make a decision. Further, the structure of this poem is highly complex, employing a wide variety of literary devices known in Hebrew poetry.7 These...
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