Matthew J. Suriano

Remembering Absalom's Death in 2 Samuel 18–19

History, Memory, and Inscription

Volume 7 () / Issue 2, pp. 172-200 (29)
Published 07.01.2019

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The brief notice of Absalom's pillar in 2 Sam 18:18 provides an important yet unusual case of how memory is constructed in ancient Israel and the Hebrew Bible. Commemoration of the dead typically works from the perspective of the (living) descendent and is directed towards the (deceased) ancestor. Yet in this example Absalom commemorates himself, effectively circumventing cultural ideals of patrilineal succession, rupturing the symbolic power of memory, and severing the rebellious prince from his father's lineage. Absalom's pillar can be compared with the rhetorical self-commemoration of two parallel sources: a Phoenician inscription erected by ʿAbd-ʾosīr (KAI 35) and the recently discovered Old Aramaic stele of Katumuwa from Samʾal (modern Zincirli). In these examples, the mechanics of remembering are inverted. This inversion is a key motif throughout 2 Samuel 18–19, which portrays the end of Absalom's revolt, the reversal of his fate, and his father David's survival. From Absalom's ignoble burial and self-commemoration in 2 Sam 18:17–18, to David's tragic mourning for his dead son in 2 Sam 19:1–5, the biblical narrative emphasizes interrelated themes of dynastic rupture and continuity in order to bring closure to Absalom's story and highlight the survival of David's royal house.

Matthew J. Suriano BA in History from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; MA in Ancient History from Jerusalem University College, MA and PhD in Hebrew Bible and Northwest Semitics from University of California, Los Angeles; has taught at University of Southern California's School of Religion and was a Lecturer in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA with a visiting faculty appointment in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara; currently Visiting Lecturer in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.