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Ritual Violence in the Hebrew BibleNew Perspectives$
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Saul M. Olyan

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190249588

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190249588.001.0001

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What Ends Might Ritual Violence Accomplish?

What Ends Might Ritual Violence Accomplish?

The Case of Rechab and Baanah in 2 Samuel 4

(p.9) 1 What Ends Might Ritual Violence Accomplish?
Ritual Violence in the Hebrew Bible

Debra Scoggins Ballentine

Oxford University Press

Just before the Judean king David assumes the throne of Israel, the current Israelite king Eshbaal is assassinated. Second Samuel 4 contains the story of Rechab and Baanah killing Eshbaal and bringing his head to David, who responds by ordering his men to execute, mutilate, and hang Rechab and Baanah. Using this story as a case study, this chapter analyzes the coding of violence as ritual in order to uncover social and political work that agents (and narrators) accomplish through violent acts that are justified by their enactment in a ritual framework. The narrative depicts two cases of violence in differing ways. The killing and mutilation of Eshbaal is portrayed as an illegitimate act of violence against an innocent man, whereas the killing and mutilation of Rechab and Baanah is presented as ritual violence, a punitive act, which exculpates David from the death of his rival. The exposure of the bodies of Rechab and Baanah stands in contrast with the recovery and burial of Eshbaal’s head, which further demonstrates David’s purported sympathy with those mourning the death of Israel’s king. The ritual framework protects David from retribution, blame, or other typical social consequences of killing, and moreover contributes to the positive portrayal of David in the larger narrative of his rise to power.

Keywords:   David, Eshbaal, Rechab, Baanah, king of Israel, mutilation, burial, wholeness

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