Posted by: mattcolvin | December 20, 2011

Mincing Steps and an Anti-Annunciation: Notes on 1 Samuel 15:32-33

1 Samuel 15:32 has been the subject of scholarly puzzlement. A single difficult word, מעדנת, of unknown meaning, has made the whole force of the verse unclear. My Reader’s Hebrew Bible defines the word as “uncert., in chains, trembling, cheerfully, calmly; bonds, bands.” HALOT gives both meanings: “with הלך, to go in chains; alt. trembling Sept. (? מעד), or cheerfully, calmly (Aq., Symm., Tg.: עדן?).” Robert Alter opts for “with mincing steps,” but comments on the other options:

with mincing steps. The Hebrew adverbial term ma’adanot is much disputed. Some interpret it as “stumbling,” others, by a reversal of consonants, read it as “in fetters.” But the root of the word seems to point with the least strain to ‘-d-n- — “pleasure,” “delicate thing.” That makes sense if one construes Agag’s words (the meaning of which is also in dispute) as the expression of a last illusion: I have been spared in the general massacre, and now I am brought to parlay with the chief holy man of the Hebrews for some important purpose; so surely they will not kill me.

If we take it as “cheerfully”, then Agag is under a misapprehension: he is relieved to find himself in the power of Samuel rather than Saul, and imagines that he will now be spared.

If, on the other hand, we take it as “with mincing steps,” then Agag’s pace gives physical expression to the dread he feels when he is approaching Samuel.

Likewise, Agag’s utterance, “Surely the bitterness of death is past,” is of uncertain meaning. Again, there are two options, and they fit with the different possibilities for the adverb. Either Agag thinks that he is now out of danger of death, or he has resigned himself and embraces his fate.

Either way, Samuel’s declaration in 15:33 is an anti-annunciation. Where Gabriel tells Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Samuel tells Agag, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.”

Thereupon, Samuel “hacked Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal.” We should remember that Samuel, as a priest, has had plenty of experience hacking things to pieces with a two-edged sword “piercing to the division of joints and marrow.” Oxen are larger and tougher. Agag was a quick job for Samuel.



  1. […] 1Mincing Steps and an Anti-Annunciation: Notes on 1 Samuel 15:32-33 « Colvinism SUBMIT […]

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