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Affable Geek's answer to What does it mean to interpret the Bible literally? mentioned the possibility of non-literalists interpreting the story of David and Goliath as a "tale that grew in the telling." This reminded me of something I read many years ago in a Bible commentary.

It mentioned that several odd discrepancies exist in the details surrounding the story of David and Goliath, making it appear as if another story had been clumsily inserted into the middle of the text by some scribe. Unfortunately, the book was borrowed and I no longer have it, and I don't remember all the points that were made, but the one I remember clearly, because it was so blatant, was how David, once he volunteered to fight Goliath as Israel's champion, was introduced to King Saul as if for the first time, even though he had been serving in the King's court as a musician for quite some time prior to this.

Of course a literalist must necessarily reject this idea that the story is full of later interpolations. How would one account for the apparent discrepancies in the story of David and Goliath, then?

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Can you provide verse and translation references? I read quickly through 1 Samuel 17, and couldn't find any hint of the discrepancy you mentioned. –  Eric Jul 5 '12 at 20:08
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The main discrepancy will be between 1 Sam 17:56-58, where Saul asks David who his father is, and 1 Sam 16:17-21 where he clearly already knows who his father is. –  DJClayworth Jul 5 '12 at 20:18
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Maybe Saul just couldn't believe that that guy who couldn't wear his armor was the one who actually just killed Goliath. They would have been watching from a distance. –  swasheck Jul 5 '12 at 21:15
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And maybe he just forgot. He's a king with a war going on. He probably has better things to do than keep tabs on the lineage of his staff - even his favorite staff. If the text said something like "Saul had never known who David's father was before that", then we'd have a discrepancy. As it is, it's a big stretch to label it as such. –  Eric Jul 5 '12 at 22:57
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Another possibility: Who is his father? = Who is this guy?! and is a simple expression of surprise. –  TRiG Jul 9 '12 at 18:05
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2 Answers 2

Saul seems to have promised wealth to the family, or at least excempt the father from taxes.

Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.” (NIV 1 Samuel 17:25)

Aside from the lack of need for chronology, among other reasons, is it not possible that the King (who may have noticed the unnoticeable boy around here and there among the many of the Kings servants) was simply more interested in who 'his father was' by the question?

55 As Saul watched David going out to meet the Philistine, he said to Abner, commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is that young man?” (NIV 1 Samuel 17:25)

Again

“Whose son are you, young man?” Saul asked him. (NIV 1 Samuel 17:58)

I really would never have even noticed this 'contradiction', if it was not brought forward. I think we have to read the Bible in a believing state of mind and then put more effort into trying to figure out the cases where a contradiction really does 'seem' to exist.

I am speaking from a literalist point of view.

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When I was a literalist, I believe my take was simply that the text does not demand that it was chronological (and having studied Hebrew since, one does have to admit that the use of the word "wa" similarly does not demand chronology, only some form of relationship between the two). So, if the narrative is taken as,

  • 16 Saul needs a musician and is told about David.
  • 17 is a story about how David and Saul first met.
  • 18 continues from 16.

This actually does make some sense: how would the servants of the king have known of the harp abilities of a shepherd from Bethlehem unless they had some relationship with the boy already?


Addendum:

This position is supported with this article on creation which (while overall supporting an old earth mentality) does make one comment that is on topic here:

in ancient literature, it was common to sequence historical material by topic, rather than in strict chronological order.

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