The Death of King Saul in Rabbinic Tradition: A Study of Vayikra Rabba 26. 7

Nurit Mandelkorn

The paper examines rabbinical views on the figure of King Saul that come to the fore in one section of the midrash Vakira Rabba 26.7. Among the range of topics addressed in that unit, this discussion focuses on the reasons behind King Sauls death, the prophecy concerning his imminent end, and Sauls reactions to that prophecy. Through a close reading of the relevant midrashim against the background of the biblical narrative (1 Sam. 28), a complete picture takes form. This midrashic unit powerfully depicts the dualism inherent in rabbinical attitudes toward the figure of King Saul. While this dualism can be detected in the biblical narrative itself, and is reflected especially in King Davids lament for Shaul, it remains implicit. In the midrashic unit of Vayikra Rabba 26.7 the dualism is pronounced: On one hand, Sauls sins are detailed and their seriousness underlined, yet his death is presented in a positive light, with emphasis on his merit as the first King of Israel. At the epicenter of this dualism, as portrayed in the midrash, stands the reversal in Gods attitude to Saul, expressed most cogently by R. Yochanans reading of the verse Tomorrow you and your sons will be with Me (1 Sam. 28: 19) seen as a definitive recognition of Sauls righteousness as the ultimate evaluation of his life.