What is the succession narrative?

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The Succession Narrative, a biblical text, is also known as the "Court Narrative." The narrative is comprised of two parts; 2 Samuel 9-20 and 1 Kings 1-2. The text of 2 Samuel 9-20 narrates the family history of King David of Israel.

The text of 1 Kings 1-2, from which the narrative derives its name, narrates the succession of Solomon to the Davidic throne.


The main element of the family history of David is his adulterous union with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), often called the "sin of David," and its aftermath. Following the "sin of David," according to McKenzie, was a tragic sequence of events, "the wreck of a family, of lives, and nearly of a kingdom." The main element of the account of Solomon's rise to the Davidic throne is that he receives Divine approval through Zadok the Priest and Nathan the Prophet.

According to McKenzie, the author of the narrative "is detached and objective; he lets the words and actions of his characters tell what the characters were. The story moves rapidly and consistently, it is vivid; there is no marvellous element, but the story is profoundly religious."


According to P.K. McCarter, in his "II Samuel," the Succession Narrative acts as an apology. As McKenzie states, "Its author was probably a court scribe of Solomon who was commissioned to write the history of the succession in order to show that Solomon, the younger son, was the legitimate successor of David."

Time Frame

H. Forshey, in the "Anchor Bible Dictionary," points out that, traditionally, scholars have dated the Succession Narrative to the 10th century BCE. This viewpoint sees the narrative as being "essentially contemporary" with the events which are narrated. McCarter argues in a similar way, noting that "the occasion for committing the story to writing was surely a time of crisis or danger, when the stability of Solomon's throne was threatened, and this time was very probably the early years of his reign."


McKenzie, suggests that this narrative, along with other accounts contained in the books of Samuel and Kings, "arose as a result of the burst of national-historical consciousness which must have followed the erection of David's kingdom of all Israel and his victories. This was the period of national birth and its heroic stories were sure to be recounted with a new flash of pride and with a new faith; for they were stories of Yahweh's saving acts for Israel."


The Succession Narrative has great literary and historical significance. Biblical and classical scholars have acclaimed this text as one of the finest pieces of prosaic narrative in the Ancient Near East. McKenzie states that the narrative is "universally admired as the greatest single monument of Israelite prose narrative; indeed, no narrative of comparable merit is known before it in any literature of the world, and few Gk historians were able to write as well." Historically, McKenzie argues that when reading this narrative "one is in the presence of the David of history more than in any other part of the book."


Biblical scholarship has a renewed interest in the Succession Narrative. Many older, and accepted, theories have been brought under scrutiny. Forshey points out that a "more critical assessment" of the historical worth of the Succession Narrative has begun. Forshey theorises that it is possible that the Succession Narrative, and the narrative units contained therein, have a more complex history than previously thought by biblical scholars.