The Amalekite’s Report Of Saul’s Death: Political Intrigue Or Incompatible Sources? -- By: Bill T. Arnold

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 32:3 (Sep 1989)
Article: The Amalekite’s Report Of Saul’s Death: Political Intrigue Or Incompatible Sources?
Author: Bill T. Arnold


The Amalekite’s Report Of Saul’s Death: Political Intrigue Or Incompatible Sources?

Bill T. Arnold*

The circumstances of Saul’s death have remained enigmatic for many years because of divergent accounts in I Samuel 31 and 2 Samuel 1. In the former chapter the wounded Saul apparently committed suicide after his armor-bearer refused to apply the coup de grâce. In 2 Samuel 1, however, the Amalekite was not so hesitant to “help” Saul and admits as much in his report to David.

In I Samuel 31 we are told that after Saul’s three sons were killed the Philistine archers gravely wounded him.1 In the face of certain defeat, Saul pled with his armor-bearer to mercifully end his life rather than allow him to fall into the hands of uncircumcised Philistines who would doubtless torture and mutilate a captured Israelite monarch. When the armor-bearer refused to comply, Saul drew his own sword and fell upon it. Later in the chapter (vv 8–10) we learn that Saul’s fears were well founded. The Philistines discovered his body the next day. After decapitating him and removing his armor, they impaled his body on the walls of Beth Shan and sent his head and armor on a victory tour around the Philistine countryside.

In the first chapter of 2 Samuel2 the account of the unfortunate Saul’s demise is incompatible with this scenario. Here David and his private troops were waiting in Ziklag for news from the battle at Mount Gilboa. On the third day an Amalekite messenger arrived at Ziklag bearing visible signs of mourning (torn garments and dirt on his head). Having escaped from the Israelite encampment, he reported to David that Saul and his sons and many other Israelites had fallen in battle to the victorious Philistines. When David asked for more detail, the Amalekite related the events as follows: He happened upon the seriously wounded monarch at Mount Gilboa. With the Philistines pressing all around, Saul asked this Amalekite stranger—not the armor-bearer—to finish him off. The Amalekite then coolly recounted how he had killed Saul and taken from his body the diadem and royal armlet that he then presented to David. David responded with bitter mourning and fasting until evening

* Bill Arnold is associate professor of Old Testament and Biblical languages at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.

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