Plumbing the Depths of Aggaddic Exegesis

English320px-Talmud_setOne of the texts many, many thousands upon thousands of Jews studied recently, upon the beginning of a new cycle of Daf haYomi is the exegesis on the name of one of King David’s sons:

וא”ר יוחנן לא כלאב שמו אלא דניאל שמו ולמה נקרא שמו כלאב שהיה מכלים פני מפיבשת בהלכה

R. Jochanan said: His name [of King David’s second son] was not Kileav but Daniel. Why then was he called Kileav? Because he humiliated [maklim] Mephibosheth [David’s nemesis, presented here as David’s mentor, “av”] in the Halachah.

Ostensibly, all Rabbi Jochanan does, is to make sense out of a seeming contradiction in Scripture. In II Samuel 3:3, David’s second son is called Kileav, while in the parallel accound in I Chronicles 3:1, he is called Daniel. So one name – Daniel – is his real name, while the other – Kileav – is his biblical nickname, indicating, through midrashic exegesis some essential character trait (someone who defended David against his nemesis’ and erstwhile mentor’s accusations). However, I have long found this understanding too feeble. Is that all Rabbi Jochanan bases himself on? Is that all he wants to say? Is this midrashic exegesis totally independent from the plain understanding of the Scripture?

Upon reflection, and especially upon an examination of the uncited source texts, I believe Rabbi Jochanan was trying to convey something much more profound, much more basic. He was, in fact, conveying most concisely one conclusion, perhaps the only conclusion, one can make about Daniel/Kileav, based upon summarizing dozens of chapters in the books of II Samuel and I Kings.

The proof texts upon which Rabbi Jochanan bases himself are:

II Samuel 3:3-5: And unto David were sons born in Hebron; and his first-born was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.

I Chronicles 3:1-4: Now these were the sons of David, that were born unto him in Hebron: the first-born, Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; the second, Daniel, of Abigail the Carmelitess; the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah of Abital; the sixth, Ithream by Eglah his wife. Six were born unto him in Hebron …

While little is known about the last two sons listed (at least I can’t recall anything right now), three of the first four are well known to us. Amnon wanted to marry his half brother’s sister Tamar (whether she was also his own half sister is subject to debate among the commentaries). A detailed analysis of those chapters make it clear that Amnon hoped to marry her so as to become the most logical heir to David’s throne, as both he and his wife would each be children of one of David’s queens. He a prince, she a princess, from the same house, would be a slam dunk. In revenge for Amnon’s rape of the unwilling Tamar, Absalom killed his rapist half brother and eventually embarked upon his own initially successful usurpation of his father’s throne. Adonijah was more gentle but no less subtle about his royal ambitions, when he had himself crowned as the next king while David was still alive (though already old and frail, as Scripture describes him). Daniel/Kileav thus stands out as the only one of his irst four sons who did not try to usurp the crown. Hence Rabbi Jochanan describes him as David’s great defender. Rabbi Jochanan’s teaching is very much connected to peshat, the plain understanding of Scripture, indeed, but it is a profound and very subtle reading, requiring the student to apply the same subtlety when seeking to understand Rabbi Jochanan’s words.

By the way, the statement about David’s sons mentioned being those born to him during his reign in Hebron is significant, as it relates to the underlying theme of the unfitness – in David’s eyes – of those children to the throne, something Daniel/Kileav accepted, while three of his brothers would not.

4 Responses to Plumbing the Depths of Aggaddic Exegesis

  1. Lisa Liel says:

    I think you meant “Daniel/Kileav”, in the last sentence.

  2. Eliyahu Grossman says:

    Well written and very insightful. I like that the seemingly selective “embarrassment” was interpreted to be a reference to the historical problematic siblings that preceded him (Danial/Calev). I have also had a thought that Mephiboshet, as the son of David’s beloved Yonaton, might have been an “embarrassment” as also being beloved by David, whose initial siblings were unworthy of the throne, and that the embarrassment ended with a son like Calev/Daniel (although Shlomo got the crown, he did not protest).

  3. Abram Epstein says:

    Glad this was in English! (Abram)

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