Two Accounts of Shaul's Death
The last chapter of Shemuel I recounts Shaul's final, tragic moments as he asks his arms-bearer to kill him rather than allow him to be captured by the Philistines. When his request is refused, Shaul decides to fall on his own sword. In Shemuel II 1 we hear about the episode again, this time from the perspective of the Amalekite who shares with David news from the battle. However, the Amalekite's version of the events differs from the original regarding almost every detail:
- Who killed Shaul? According to Shemuel I 31, Shaul commits suicide, yet in Shemuel II 1, the Amalekite claims that he was the one to kill Shaul.
- Sword or spear? While the original narrative speaks of Shaul falling on his sword ("וַיִּפֹּל עָלֶיהָ"), the Amalekite describes Shaul as leaning on his spear ("נִשְׁעָן עַל חֲנִיתוֹ").
- Who is attacking Shaul? According to the original account, Shaul finds himself the target of archers, while the Amalekite speaks of horsemen and chariots.
- Why ask for death? In Shemuel I 31, Shaul asks to be killed because he fears that if he is captured by the Philistines, they will stab and torture him. However, in Shemuel II 1, he requests to be killed "כִּי אֲחָזַנִי הַשָּׁבָץ". The exact meaning of this phrase in unclear, but it seems to have little to do with fear of capture by the enemy.
Can these discrepancies be reconciled?
David and the Amalekite
The interaction of David and the Amalekite raises several further questions.
- Throughout their conversation, the Amalekite presents himself in varying ways. Initially he describes himself as having escaped the Israelite camp, giving the impression that he, too, is an Israelite. Afterwards, though, he shares that he told Shaul that he was an Amalekite. Finally, when explicitly confronted by David, he describes himself as the son of an Amalekite convert. Why does the Amalekite keep changing his story?
- Though David opens the conversation by asking the Amalekite about his origins, at the end of his speech, David once again probes and asks him "אֵי מִזֶּה אָתָּה". Why isn't David satisfied with the initial response?
- If the Amalekite was simply following Shaul's instructions, why does David kill him?