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Fourfold or Sevenfold in 2 Sam 12:6?

July 23, 2007

Preparing for a move down the East coast, I was only to happy to see my copy of JBL 126 no.2 (Summer 2007) finally arrive this past week (since I need to pack finish packing my journals). I finished reading the volume last night and was intrigued by some comments made by Jeremy Schipper in his overall excellent Critical Note “Did David Overinterpret Nathan’s Parable in 2 Samuel 12:1-6” (JBL 126[2007], 383-391). Schipper’s overall premise that David overinterprets Nathan’s parable and sees it as a condemnation not of himself but of Joab—an intriguing idea that I think works well with the text.

What bothered me was a relatively minor textcritical comment preferring the “sevenfold” of LXX (minus the Luccian recension) over the “fourfold” of the MT. In truth, this position is not new; S. R. Driver, P. K. McCarter and others have taken this position before. However, I still think it is wrong.

This is not to say there aren’t advantages to following the LXX here. One of the benefits of taking the LXX is that it creates a nice pun with the name Bathsheba (שבעתים with בת שבע). Another advantage, as noted by Schipper, is that “the term ‘sevenfold’ places emphasis on the need or desire for the punishment of wrongdoings, including murder (cf. Gen 4:15, 24; Ps 79:12)” (p. 390). A demand of sevenfold restitution then supports Schipper’s interpretation of the text—David is not hoodwinked here into think that Nathan is actually talking about sheep but knows that murder is the issue.

However, on the side of the MT are several factors as well. First off, Exod 21:37 prescribes a fourfold restitution for a stolen lamb. Since most (though not all) scholars would place the CC before DtrH, the author(s) here just have David pronouncing the standard punishment for a sheep stealer. More persuasively, the Targums and the Peshitta have “fortyfold,” an exaggerated reading that indicates that the text that they (or an earlier tradition) are following had “fourfold” not “sevenfold.” Yet personally, the most persuasive of all arguments is the fact that the fourfold condemnation that David calls upon himself actually comes about in the following chapters. From this point on, David loses four sons: 1) his unnamed love child with Bathsheba, 2) Amnon, 3) Absalom, and 4) Adonijah.

Hence, I’d say that the MT is to be preferred. One textual tradition tried to align the passage with a more standard punishment for murder by aligning itself with texts that prescribe a sevenfold punishment (LXX), while other traditions more simply make the punishment fortyfold (Targums, Peshitta). That is to say, the reading in the MT explains the development of the other readings. Further, while being the more difficult reading in the chapter, the MT makes more sense in terms of the larger story arc in DtrH.

  1. Jeremy permalink
    July 30, 2007 3:22 pm


    As an reader of your blog from time to time, I’m glad that you enjoyed the article (minor text critical matters aside, of course).


  2. jimgetz permalink*
    July 30, 2007 9:37 pm

    Thanks for (virtually) stopping by. I think your reading understanding of David and Nathan’s interaction in 2 Sam 12 is quite nice and answers some of the lingering issues from the traditional reading of the story (e.g. why does David act so daft?). I don’t think loosing the sevenfold in v.16 takes away from the argument as a whole.

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