In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Succession Narrative

  • Introduction
  • Rost’s Seminal Study
  • General Overviews
  • Collections
  • SN as History
  • Date
  • Wisdom Influences on SN
  • Theology of SN

Biblical Studies Succession Narrative
Andrew Knapp
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0261


“Succession Narrative” (SN; German Thronfolgegeschichte and similar terms) refers to a block of text in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings thought by many scholars to be a discrete ancient source that was incorporated into the Deuteronomistic History. The most common delineation of the source is 2 Samuel 9–20 and 1 Kings 1–2 (herein, “traditionally delineated” signifies these boundaries), though nearly all scholars assume that certain verses in this complex are later additions. The idea of an SN dominated biblical scholarship for much of the 20th century, but in the early 21st century there is no longer consensus on whether such an independent narrative ever existed. Most accept the traditional theory with certain modifications, though some have abandoned it altogether. Some scholars prefer the label “Court History” on the grounds that the text does not focus on the issue of succession but rather presents a story of David’s court. This bibliography opens with a separate section devoted to the groundbreaking study of Leonhard Rost, Die Überlieferung von der Thronnachfolge Davids (English translation: The Succession to the Throne of David). First published in 1926, Rost’s argument has proved one of the most influential theories in the history of Hebrew Bible scholarship. Despite its resilience, though, in recent decades nearly every aspect of the traditional theory has come under attack. One can divide the points of controversy regarding SN into five broad categories: (1) Theme: What is the overarching theme of SN? Rost viewed the entire complex as answering the question of who will sit on David’s throne, but several later interpreters have questioned this. (2) Tendenz (Intention): Was SN truly propaganda for Solomon’s glory? This was one of the first aspects of the theory to come under fire, as interpreters pointed out that Solomon barely appears until the very end of the story, and when he does his actions are ambiguous. Many have even argued exactly the opposite of Rost’s position, namely that SN was composed as anti-Solomonic (and anti-Davidic) propaganda. (3) Boundaries: What are the precise limits of the original story? Nearly all agree that 1 Kings 2:46 provides the conclusion of SN, but the beginning is debated. Rost himself thought the beginning may have been lost. Many others have argued that the unit originally began in 2 Samuel 2, or 8, or 10, or even farther back, in 1 Samuel. (4) Date: When was SN composed? Rost argued that it was written by a contemporary of Solomon, but many in the early 21st century dismiss tout court the idea that such a story could have originated in the 10th century BCE. (5) Unity: Do these chapters actually represent an “integrated, self-contained story”? Despite Rost’s insistence on several unifying themes in SN, many now suggest that this complex actually comprises several disparate, originally unrelated narratives. As the centennial of the publication of Rost’s seminal work draws near, nothing close to a consensus view exists regarding SN. Many still support Rost’s theory more or less, but numerous alternative models for the origin and development of this complex of texts have been suggested.

Rost’s Seminal Study

Although many had previously explored this complex as a unit, by far the most influential work on SN was Leonhard Rost’s 1926 monograph (Rost 1982). Rost was the first to treat SN synthetically, suggesting that the complex is “an integrated, self-contained story” (p. 114) that was later incorporated into the books of Samuel and Kings more or less whole cloth. Rost considered SN “the finest work of Hebrew narrative art” (p. 116), a beautifully crafted document the coherence of which is indicated by a common style, theology, set of characters, and most importantly theme: “Who will sit on David’s throne?” (p. 89). Rost viewed SN as contemporary with Solomon—the text was propaganda written “‘in majorem gloriam Salomonis’—to the greater glory of Solomon” (p. 105). Although nearly every aspect of Rost’s theory is now questioned (see Introduction), it is difficult to overstate the significance of Rost’s monograph for later scholarship of SN. Also included in this section is Eißfeldt 1928, one of the earliest responses to Rost’s monograph, and one of the few that challenged his conclusions for the first several decades after publication.

  • Eißfeldt, Otto. “Noch einmal: Text-, Stil-, und Literarkritik in den Samuelisbüchern.” OLZ 31 (1928): 801–812.

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    Early response to Rost’s work that is exceptional in that, unlike most of his colleagues, Eißfeldt remained unconvinced by Rost’s SN thesis and contested almost every point: “So vermag ich bei aller Anerkennung mancher Einzelheiten Rost in dem, was er als seine Hauptthesen vorträgt, nicht zu folgen: Weder seine Unterquellen . . . noch das von ihm herausgeschälte Gesamtwerk von der Thronnachfolge Davids sind literarische Einheiten, die einmal selbständig existiert hätten” (p. 803).

  • Rost, Leonhard. The Succession to the Throne of David. Translated by Michael D. Rutter and David M. Gunn. Historical Texts and Interpreters in Biblical Scholarship 1. Sheffield, UK: Almond Press, 1982.

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    Exceedingly influential early monograph on SN. Nearly all later treatments of SN begin with Rost, and his delimitation of the text continues to serve as the starting point for several scholars even though few agree with him in all particulars. Specifically, Rost delimits SN with the following passages: 2 Sm 6:16, 20b–23; 7:11b, 16; 9:1–10:5, (6–11:1), 2–12:7a, 13–25 (26–31); 13:1–14:24, 28–18:17, 19–20:22; 1 Kgs 1:1–2:1, 5–10, 12–27a, 28–46 (p. 87). Originally published as Die Überlieferung von der Thronnachfolge Davids (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1926).

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