Since it was first isolated as such, the Succession History has remained a major focus of biblical scholarship. Mindful of some of the principal elements of this scholarship, describe and evaluate the issues surrounding the identification of the History, its literary form and expression, its context within the biblical corpus, and its usefulness for the study of this history of ancient Israel.


The literary unit that modern scholars have identified in 2 Samuel 9-1 Kings 2 (excluding 2 Sam 20-24) has been variously called the Court History, Succession History, Succession Document or Succession Narrative (SN). Important issues in scholarship for the SN are its extent, its central message, its Tendenz toward David/Solomon, and its date and historical reliability. There are also scholars who challenge the very existence of the SN. Although traditional scholarship interested in source critical and historical concerns continues, there has been a rising trend since the last few decades of the twentieth century to read the narratives purely for their literary merit regardless of their historically accuracy.

The amount that has been written on the SN is voluminous. Leonhard Rost (1926) was the first to offer an argument for a cohesive unit called “The Succession Narrative.” He pushed this term because he believed that 1 Kgs 1-2 was a part of the earlier material in Samuel, where the defining question that this narrative was meant to answer is found in 1 Kgs 1:20,27:

As for you, O my lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are upon you to tell us who will sit upon the throne of my lord the king after him?

This question was answered by the narratives that depict the demise of each of the heirs apparent, first Amnon and then Absalom narrative found in 2 Sam 13-20 (Absalom’s Rebellion). Rost argued to the unit extent farther and more extensively than previous scholarship had admitted. Rost took it to include 1 Kgs 1-2 (where he saw the ultimate purpose being) and he felt it went back to 2 Sam 9 (since Mephibosheth’s circumstance is assumed in 2 Sam 13-20), and the Bathsheba incident (2 Sam 10-12) was the explanation for David’s misfortune. The origin beginning was lost, according to Rost and interwoven into 2 Sam 6-7. Thus Rost included 2 Sam 6:16, 20-23 (Story of Michal looking through the window), the rejection of Saul’s house and 2 Sam 7:11,16 the election of David’s house. Rost’s theory was given further canonical status by its inclusion into the DH hypothesis of Martin Noth, with almost no Dtr insertions into the narrative. Regardless of the position taken by subsequent scholars, all studies first deal with Leonhard Rost’s argument that the SN is unity. Many scholars quibbled on the extent of the SN or what texts should be included. These studies usually look for elements with the SN that depend on prior narratives and then argue that additional narratives are needed in order to make sense of the SN. This is seen in Rost’s own work and others have argued for still more inclusions, such as 2 Sam 2-4 which Van Seters argues belongs to the SN (his Court History) not to the HDR, since Abner’s muder is important to the SN. The opposite approach finds that money of the characters in 2 Samuel 10-12 and 1 Kings 1-2 are not found in Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 13-20) but that these chapters share a number of similarities and are dependent upon one another. Dietrich has argued that these three chapters actually consisted of an original anti-Solomon text that were later reworked and placed in a larger composition. Flanagan accepts that these are secondary but argues that 2 Samuel 9-20 was originally a Court History to with 1 Kings 1-2 was only later added to answer the succession question. Blenkinsopp takes a different approach, arguing that structure features should guide us in assessing the beginning of a textual unit. The fact that the Bathsheba episode (2 Sam 11:1b-12:25) is inserted into Joab’s Ammonite campaign (2 Sam 11:1a, 12:26-31) and picks up with a presumptive sentence (Wiederaufnahme) gives him the structural cue that a new literary unit has begun. The phrase “and the kingdom was established by Solomon” (2 Kgs 2:46) offers the next structural signal that the SN has ended. Blenkisopp understands the narrative similarities and dependences to be editorial work after the insertion of the SN to make it fit better. Steven McKenzie, however, argues that there are too many other narrative pieces that are connected with the SN that lie outside of what has traditionally been considered the SN, along with the fact that 2 Sam 11-12 (Bathsheba) and 1 Kgs 1-2 seem to be independent of these. McKenzie argues that 2 Kgs 1-2 is Dtr, and is added to the early David stories. But the negative evaluation of all of this is added post-Dtr with the wholesale insertion of 2 Sam 11-12. Thus, for McKenzie there is no SN. Additionally, others have argued extensively over the central theme, which is often discussed in tandem with genre and the Tendenz toward David and Solomon. Rost argued that the central question was “who will sit upon the throne of David?” Thornton argued that the central question is not “who will rule?” but more likely “why did Solomon succeed?” Von Rad argued that the narrative is characterized by “restraint” shown by the author who does not insert himself or his theology into the narrative very much (except for 2 Sam 11:27,12:24,17:14). The secular nature of the narrative (in contradiction to HDR where Yahweh had his hand in everything) is “a wholly new conception of the nature of God’s activity in history.” Thus von Rad saw this as history writing. R. N. Whybray accepted von Rad’s genre of history but also added that it served to instill proverbial wisdom, similar to the Joseph narrative, as well as serve political propagandistic purposes. Flanagan argued that two important themes of both exonerating David and also legitimizing Solomon run through the narratives, themes that are also felt by J. Blenkinsopp. McCarter argued that this was court apology, similar to his arguments that compared the History of David’s Rise (HDR) to the Apology of Hattušili III. For McCarter, these are pro-David/Solomon works that are attempting to clear David of guilt and make Solomon look good. McCarter sees as originally pro-David stories which had undergone an original pre-Deuteronomistic prophetic redaction (this accounts for 2 Samuel 10-12). Many other scholars mentioned are generally in sympathy with the historical value of these narratives and place them within the reigns of the David and Solomon.

However, not all scholars find the depiction of David to be necessarily flattering or conducive to royal apology. Delekat (1967) argued that because of 2 Sam 10-12 (Bathsheba story) and 1 Kgs 1-2 (Solomon’s executions) that the SN had a negative slant toward David/Solomon. He argues that it was composed during the reign of Solomon by those who opposed him and distributed in those circles. Würthwein and subsequently Langlamet understand that the originally anti-David / Solomon underwent a later redaction that added favorable elements. Veijola, although similar in views to Würthwein and Langlamet, puts his views in context of a DH (following Smend’s double redaction and Dietrich’s addition of DtrP [DtrG/H = pro-monarchy (580 BCE); DtrP = guarded pro-monarch; DtrN = anti-monarchy])

The intricacy of the accretions that these scholars posit is characteristic of the Göttingen school, whose most influential representative is R. Smend. This precise manner in which two diametrically opposed redactions can be identified in half verses has been criticized by Karel van der Toorn in his work on scribal culture and by J. Blenkinsopp. This type of editing is not attested in the ancient Near East, nor is at all similar to the expansion seen in the MT versus the LXX, which is usually ideologically complementary to the text.

Another influential scholar that has had much to say about the SN or the Court History, as he usually calls it, is John Van Seters. Van Seters argues that the HDR was the product of a pro-monarchic Deuteronomistic History which was subsequently edited by an anti-messianic (thus anti-David) redactor. Van Seters argues that the SN was a unified work by this redactor in the Persian period. Blenkinsopp has challenged Van Seters’ creation of an anti-David movement in the Persian period, since there does not seem to be any extra-biblical or biblical evidence to corroborate this (there only seems to be positive portrayals of David).

Van Seters is representative of the tendency of many scholars who tend to date texts in later times, and the Persian period has become the dumping ground for a large number of texts. The assumed historicity and closeness of the events has been called into questions by the general methodological problem of accessing the history of Israel as well as more specifically the unraveling of the united monarchy in the scholarly consensus. If one no longer holds that the united monarchy was ever a historical entity or if David or Solomon ever existed, then one should be understandably skeptical about any historical document that not only claims to detail the rise and fall of such characters, but one that does so in excruciating detail. Although the debate or the history of Israel and the united monarchy cannot take place here, there are good reasons within the documents themselves that demand connection to historical reality. The very juxtaposition of positive and negative portrayals of David and Solomon makes no sense if they were written long after the purported events and if David or Solomon never existed. Why take all the effort in the HDR and SN to either exonerate or implicate (both tendencies exist in the text) if these were not written close to real events? If one wished to portray David and Solomon positively there would be little objection in later periods, but if these events were still a part of living memory, the author could not ignore them.


Arnold, Bill T. “Samuel, Books of.” Edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson. Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2005. Blenkinsopp, Joseph. “Another Contribution to the Succession Narrative Debate (2 Samuel 11–20; 1 Kings 1–2).” JSOT 38 (2013): 35–58. doi:10.1177/0309089213492811. ———. “Theme and Motif in the Succession History (2 Sam Xi 2ff) and the Yahwist Corpus.” Supplements to VT 15 (1966): 44–57. Flanagan, James W. “Court History or Succession Document? A Study of 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2.” JBL 91 (1972): 172–181. doi:10.2307/3263203. McCarter, P Kyle. “‘Plots, True or False’ : The Succession Narrative as Court Apologetic.” Int 35 (1981): 355–367. McCarter, P. Kyle. II Samuel : A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984. McKenzie, Steven L. “The So-Called Succession Narrative in the Deuteronomistic History.” In Die Sogenannte Thronfolgegeschichte Davids: Neue Einsichten Und Anfragen, edited by Albert de Pury and Thomas Römer, 123–135. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 176. Freiburg, Schweiz; Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000. Thornton, T. C. G. “Solomonic Apologetic in Samuel and Kings.” Church Quarterly Review 169 (1968): 159–166. Van Seters, John. In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. ———. “The Court History and DtrH: Conflicting Perspectives on the House of David.” In Die Sogenannte Thronfolgegeschichte Davids: Neue Einsichten Und Anfragen, edited by Albert de Pury and Thomas Römer, 70–93. Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 176. Freiburg, Schweiz; Göttingen: Universitätsverlag; Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2000.

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