Damien F. Mackey
Such ‘puzzled’ commentators, and indeed Hill himself – who will lament “the almost annoying paucity of material for careful analysis [of Jonadab]” – would greatly benefit here, I believe, from a recognition of Jonadab’s alter ego. Jonadab, it is here suggested, was none other than the legendary counsellor, “Achitophel” (Ahitophel) ….
Into the halçyon pastoral scene (Song of Solomon) of sun, vineyards, flocks, goats, shepherds, lillies, valleys and fruit trees – a veritable Garden of Eden – there will emerge a bitter and cunning “adviser”.
Like the serpent of old.
This dark character will bring down Amnon. And he will leave the Shunammite “desolate”.
He will foment Absalom’s rebellion, forcing King David to leave his city of Jerusalem in tears. And he will finally, like Judas, commit suicide.
Here is how the terrible and long-ranging conspiracy began to unfold (2 Samuel 13:1-2):
“In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her”.
Enter Jonadab (vv. 3-4): “Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. He asked Amnon, ‘Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?’
Amnon said to him, ‘I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister’.”
There is so much to know about this Jonadab.
Some translations present him as Amnon’s “friend”, but “adviser” (as above) will turn out to be by far the more suitable rendering of the Hebrew rēa‘ (רֵעַ).
For, no “friend” of Amnon’s was Jonadab!
Commenting on this Hebrew word, Andrew E. Hill (assistant prof. of OT at Wheaton College, Illinois) writes (http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/30/30-4/30-4-pp387-390-JETS.pdf):
“Jonadab is an acknowledged “friend” (réa’) of Amnon …. While it is possible that he was a close personal friend of Amnon since he was a cousin, it seems more likely that the word here connotes a special office or association with the royal family (especially in light of his role as a counselor in David’s cabinet; cf. 13:32-35). During Solomon’s reign, Zabud … has the title of priest and “king’s friend” (ré‘eh hammelek, 1 Kgs 4:5). It may well be that with Jonadab (and others?) this cabinet post has its rudimentary beginnings in the Davidic monarchy”.
Another key Hebrew word used to describe Jonadab is ḥākām (חָכָם), variously understood as meaning “wise”, or just “crafty” or “shrewd”.
Before we consider further this important word, we need to know what was the criminal advice that Jonadab had given to the king’s lovesick oldest son, Amnon. It was this (2 Samuel 13:5): “‘Go to bed and pretend to be ill’, Jonadab said. ‘When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand’.’”
Clear and unequivocal advice from a man described as ḥākām, but also coldly calculated advice with deep undertones and ramifications of which the manipulative Jonadab was fully aware.
Andrew E. Hill, again, offers this explanation of the adjective ḥākām:
“Even more signiﬁcant, Jonadab is called a “wise” man (hãkãm, 2 Sam 13:3). The majority of translators take this to mean “crafty” or “shrewd” due to the criminal nature of his advice to Amnon.” Yet S. R. Driver noted that “subtil” “is scarcely a fair paraphrase: the text says that Jonadab was wise.” He concludes that had the writer intended to convey a meaning of “shrewd” or “crafty” he would have used ´ãrôm or another such word (cf. Gen 3:1)”.
- P. Smith remarked that “Jonadab [Amnon’s] cousin and intimate friend [sic] was a very wise man, though in this case his wisdom was put to base uses”.
“Most recently K. P. McCarter interprets Jonadab to be “very wise,” while acknowledging that our English connotation of “wise” may be a misleading translation. …. I concur with Driver and the others cited on the understanding of Jonadab as a very wise man. In addition, I posit that the ploy suggested by Jonadab to Amnon for the seduction of Tamar was known to him by virtue of his standing in the royal court as a sage”.
Hill will also cite the view of H. P. Müller, that the Hebrew word may pertain to learning:
“… after the beginning of the monarchy, it is commonly understood that the root ḥkm refers above all to the academic wisdom of the court and the ideals of the class entrusted with it”. Furthermore, recent study has shown considerable Egyptian inﬂuence on a wide range of OT literary types, most notably Hebrew wisdom.’ In recognition of this fact, R. N. Whybray states that
we cannot dismiss the considered opinion of S. Morenz, who claims that the presence at Solomon’s court of bilingual ofﬁcials with a competent knowledge of Egyptian writing must be regarded, in view of what we now know of that court and its diplomatic relations with Egypt, as absolutely beyond question; and what is true of Solomon’s court may reasonably be supposed to be true of David’s also. ….
…. Given this Egyptian inﬂuence in the Israelite united monarchy and the knowledge of and access to Egyptian literature, my contention is that Jonadab was not only skilled in the academic wisdom of the royal court but also had some familiarity with Egyptian literature”.
This “Egyptian” element needed to be included here because soon the suggestion will be made that Jonadab may have had – like Tamar – an Egyptian-name alter ego.
The Plot Thickens
Andrew E. Hill begins his discussion of adviser Jonadab, in his close association with Amnon, by referring to the puzzlement that Jonadab’s actual rôle in this has caused commentators. Hill gives these “two reasons” why he thinks that commentators may be puzzled about Jonadab:
- because of the ill-fated advice he gave to the crown prince Amnon (2 Sam 13:3-5), and
- on account of his uncanny foreknowledge of the events surrounding Absalom’s vengeful murder of Amnon (13:32-35).
Such ‘puzzled’ commentators, and indeed Hill himself – who will lament “the almost annoying paucity of material for careful analysis [of Jonadab]” – would greatly benefit here, I believe, from a recognition of Jonadab’s alter ego. Jonadab, it is here suggested, was none other than the legendary counsellor, “Achitophel” (Ahitophel), which may possibly be an Egyptian name: something like Rahotep, or Aahotepra, with the pagan theophoric (Ra) once again dropped. Thus, e.g., [R]ahotep (or Ahhotep) = Ahitoph- plus the Hebrew theophoric –el (“God”).
King David was no fool. He would see right through the trickery of e.g. Joab (and others), who would then be forced to concede (2 Samuel 14:20): ‘Your servant Joab did this to change the present situation. My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God – he knows everything that happens in the land’. Yet even the ‘angelic’ David is said to have greatly valued the advice of Achitophel (16:23): “Now in those days the advice Achitophel gave was like that of one who inquires of God. That was how both David and Absalom regarded all of Achitophel’s advice”.
He may even have advised the ageing King David to take into his service “a young virgin”.
Achitophel was, I propose, none other than the “wise” (ḥākām) royal counsellor, Jonadab.
Credit, then, to Andrew E. Hill for being able to get behind Jonadab’s conspiracy without his having, to assist him, this crucial Achitophel connection. I can now disclose Hill’s giveaway title, “A Jonadab Connection in the Absalom Conspiracy?” (JETS 30/4, Dec., 1987, 387-390).
Hill is undoubtedly quite correct in his estimation that Jonadab fully knew what he was doing, even if he may be wrong in suggesting that the latter was using Egyptian love poetry for his precedent (more likely, we think, the Egyptians picked it up later from the Tamar incident). According to Hill:
“Unlike those who view this counsel of Jonadab to Amnon as bad advice because it concerned itself only with methods and failed to calculate the consequences, I am convinced that Jonadab knew full well the ultimate outcome of his counsel…. The illness ploy, borrowed from Egyptian love poetry [sic], was maliciously designed to exploit Amnon’s domination by sensuality (a trait he shared with his father David)”.
What was the psychologically astute Jonadab (Achitophel) really up to? And why?
Jonadab, according to Hill, was not actually serving Amnon’s interests at all. He was cunningly providing Absalom with the opportunity to bring down his brother, Amnon, the crown prince:
“… I am inclined to see Jonadab as a co-conspirator with Absalom in the whole affair, since both men have much to gain. Absalom’s desires for revenge against Amnon and ultimately his designs for usurping his father’s throne are clearly seen in the narrative (cf. 13:21-23, 32; 15:21-6). Amnon, as crown prince, stands in the way as a rival to the ambitions of Absalom. Absalom and Jonadab collaborate to remove this obstacle to kingship by taking advantage of a basic weakness in Amnon’s character. The calculated plotting of Absalom and Jonadab is evidenced by the pointed questioning of Tamar by Absalom after her rape and his almost callous treatment of a sister brutishly violated and now bereft of a meaningful future (almost as if he expected it, at least according to the tone of the statements in the narrative; cf. 13:20-22). While a most reprehensible allegation, it seems Tamar may have been an unwitting pawn of a devious schemer, an expendable token in the power play for the throne”.
That Hill has masterfully managed to measure the manic Machiavellian manipulating by the famous pair, Absalom and Achitophel, may be borne out in the subsequent progress of events:
“Further testimony to the Absalom-Jonadab conspiracy is found in the time-table exposed in the narrative. Absalom coolly bides his time for two years before ostensibly avenging Tamar’s rape (13:23), and only after a three-year self-imposed exile in Geshur (the homeland of his mother Maacah, 3:3) does he return to Jerusalem to make preparations for his own kingship by undermining popular allegiance to David (13:39; 15:1-6). Certainly this belies a carefully constructed strategy for seizing control of the monarchy and bespeaks a man of considerable foresight, determination and ability”.
Hill’s excellent grasp of the situation becomes even more plausible if Jonadab were Achitophel, Absalom’s adviser during the prince’s revolt against King David.
The “two years” and “three-year self-imposed exile”, then “two years” more upon Absalom’s return – during which King David refused to see him – are chronological markers indicating that Abishag (or Tamar) must have come into David’s service closer to his 60th, than 70th, year.
But why this bloody-minded obsession on the part of Jonadab-Achitophel?
From 2 Samuel 13:3, we might estimate that he was not so very old, “Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother”. That he was at least younger than David. Achitophel, however, would be estimated as having been old and grey – more appropriate to a wise counsellor – he apparently being the grandfather of Bathsheba (cf. 2 Samuel 11:3; 23:34). “Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother” would now, therefore, need to be re-translated as (based on the meanings of Hebrew ben as previously noted), “Jonadab official of Shimeah …”.
Might not the formerly wise counsellor of King David have become embittered over the latter’s deplorable treatment of Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah the Hittite? Adultery, then murder? King David had, at this point – as Pope Francis rightly observes – fallen into corruption. (https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/cotidie/2016/documents/papa-francesco-cotidie_20160129_from-sin-into-corruption.html):
Francis confided: “in reading this passage, I ask myself: where is David, that brave youth who confronted the Philistine with his sling and five stones and told him: ‘The Lord is my strength’?”. This, the Pope remarked, “is another David”. Indeed, “where is that David who, knowing that Saul wanted to kill him and, twice having the opportunity to kill King Saul, said: ‘No, I cannot touch the Lord’s anointed one’?”.
The reality is, Francis explained, that “this man changed, this man softened”. And, he added, “it brings to mind a passage of the prophet Ezekiel (16:15) when God speaks to his people as a groom to his bride, saying: after I gave all of this to you, you besot with your beauty, took advantage with your renown, and played the harlot. You felt secure and you forgot me’”.
This is precisely “what happened with David at that moment”, Francis said. “The great, noble David felt sure of himself, because the kingdom was strong, and thus he sinned: he sinned in lust, he committed adultery, and he also unjustly killed a noble man, in order to cover up his sin”.
“This is a moment in the life of David”, the Pontiff noted, “that we can apply to our own: it is the passing from sin into corruption”. Here “David begins, he takes the first step toward corruption: he obtains power, strength”. For this reason “corruption is an easier sin for all of us who have certain power, be it ecclesiastical, religious, economic or political power”. And, Pope Francis said, “the devil makes us feel secure: ‘I can do it’”.
But “the Lord really loved David, so much” that the Lord “sent the prophet Nathan to reflect his soul”, and David “repented and cried: ‘I have sinned’”.
“I would like to stress only this”, Francis stated: “there is a moment when the tendency to sin or a moment when our situation is really secure and we seem to be blessed; we have a lot of power, money, I don’t know, a lot of ‘things’”. It can happen even “to us priests: sin stops being sin and becomes corruption. The Lord always forgives. But one of the worst things about corruption is that a corrupt person doesn’t need to ask forgiveness, he doesn’t feel the need”.
The Pope then asked for prayer “for the Church, beginning with us, the Pope, bishops, priests, consecrated people, lay faithful: ‘Lord, save us, save us from corruption. Sinners yes, Lord, we all are, but never corrupt! Let us ask the Lord for this grace’”, Francis concluded.
Jonadab-Achitophel, as the grandfather of Bathsheba – and thus likely having shared a close family bond with her husband, Uriah – might well have become embittered against King David for what the latter had done to his family. The counsellor’s once ‘god-like’ advice would now set the Davidic world spinning out of control – as we read above, “wise man, though in this case his wisdom was put to base uses”. Had not David been fore-warned in a dread prophecy (2 Samuel 12:10): ‘… the sword shall never leave your house’?
To begin with, Absalom – urged on by Jonadab-Achitophel – will slay his brother, Amnon. Andrew E. Hill writes on this:
“One last proof adduced for a Jonadab connection in the Absalom conspiracy is Jonadab’s own response to the rumor supposing the assassination of all the king’s sons (13:30). In countering the false report Jonadab betrayed his complete knowledge of the ambush in Baal Hazor (including the participants in the crime, since he conﬁrmed that “they [the servants of Absalom] killed” only Amnon; cf. 13:29, 30-32) before any ofﬁcial or eyewitness news reached Jerusalem. In addition he informed the royal court that Absalom had been plotting his revenge for two years (13:32-33). The only possible explanation for Jonadab’s detailed foreknowledge of the bloodletting at Baal Hazor is his involvement in the scheme from its inception”.
No doubt the “wise” Jonadab-Achitophel had discerned that Absalom would make a far more willing candidate, than would Amnon (then heir to the throne), for overthrowing King David.
Then everything changes. Amnon is killed, this sending a shudder through the royal palace. David is told (2 Samuel 13:30): ‘Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons; not one of them is left’. But, while David is in the process of doing one of the things that he does best, grieving (v. 31): “The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his attendants … with their clothes torn”, Jonadab-Achitophel will (with his insider’s knowledge) reassure the king (v. 32): ‘My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s express intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar’.
“Meanwhile, Absalom had fled” (v. 34).
Now, did Absalom on this occasion take with him his ‘sister’ Tamar, as well as “his men” who had slain the unsuspecting Amnon (vv. 28-29)? “Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. But King David mourned many days for his son. After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years” (vv. 37-38).
According to 2 Samuel 15:32, there was already a significant place of worship on the Mount of Olives – some thousand years before Jesus was crucified: “But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. Now David had been told, “Achitophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “O Lord, turn Achitophel’s counsel into foolishness.” When David arrived at the summit [place of the head], where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head” (2 Samuel 15:30-32).
Absalom’s prized hair would bring him undone: “He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going” (2 Samuel 18:9). This made him easy pickings for David’s “too hard” man, Joab, who “took three javelins in his hand and plunged them into Absalom’s heart while Absalom was still alive in the oak tree” (v. 14) – against the wish of King David: ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake’ (v. 5).
Prior to this Absalom had, for once, put aside the advice of Achitophel in favour of another counsellor, Hushai (17:14). And this snub would lead to Achitophel’s suicide – something of a rarity in the Bible (v. 23): “When Achitophel saw that his advice had not been followed, he saddled his donkey and set out for his house in his hometown. He put his house in order and then hanged himself. So he died and was buried in his father’s tomb”.
In this, his final act, Achitophel draws comparisons with Judas Iscariot.
Whilst, ultimately, we are all responsible for our own actions, it is terrible to think that the tragedy that was Achitophel may have been set in train by King David’s callous murder of Uriah, the husband of Achitophel’s grand-daughter with whom David had committed adultery.