Verse 20. "On every hand six fingers" - This is not a solitary instance: Tavernier informs us that the eldest son of the emperor of Java, who reigned in 1648, had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot.
And Maupertuis, in his seventeenth letter, says that he met with two families near Berlin, where sedigitism was equally transmitted on both sides of father and mother. I saw once a young girl, in the county of Londonderry, in Ireland, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, but her stature had nothing gigantic in it. The daughters of Caius Horatius, of patrician dignity, were called sedigitae, because they had six fingers on each hand. Volcatius, a poet, was called sedigitus for the same reason. See Pliny's Hist. Nat., lib. xi., cap. 43.
THERE are evidently many places in this chapter in which the text has suffered much from the ignorance or carelessness of transcribers; and indeed I suspect the whole has suffered so materially as to distort, if not misrepresent the principal facts. It seems as if a Gibeonite has had something to do with the copies that are come down to us, or that the first fourteen verses have been inserted from a less authentic document than the rest of the book. I shall notice some of the most unaccountable, and apparently exceptionable particulars:-
1. The famine, 2 Samuel xxi. 1, is not spoken of anywhere else, nor at all referred to in the books of Kings or Chronicles; and, being of three years' duration, it was too remarkable to be omitted in the history of David.
2. The circumstance of Saul's attempt to exterminate the Gibeonites is nowhere else mentioned; and, had it taken place, it is not likely it would have been passed over in the history of Saul's transgressions. Indeed, it would have been such a breach of the good faith by which the whole nation was bound to this people, that an attempt of the kind could scarcely have failed to raise an insurrection through all Israel.
3. The wish of David that the Gibeonites, little better than a heathenish people, should bless the inheritance of the Lord, is unconstitutional and unlikely.
4. That God should leave the choice of the atonement to such a people, or indeed to any people, seems contrary to his established laws and particular providence.
5. That he should require seven innocent men to be hung up in place of their offending father, in whose iniquity they most likely never had a share, seems inconsistent with justice and mercy.
6. In ver. 8, there is mention made of five sons of Michal, which she bore ( hdly yaledah) unto Adriel. Now, 1. Michal was never the wife of Adriel, but of David and Phaltiel. 2. She never appears to have had any children, see chap. vi. 23; this I have been obliged to correct in the preceding notes by putting Merab in the place of Michal.
7. The seven sons of Saul, mentioned here, are represented as a sacrifice required by God, to make an atonement for the sin of Saul. Does God in any case require human blood for sacrifice? And is it not such a sacrifice that is represented here? Dr. Delaney and others imagine that these seven sons were principal agents in the execution of their father's purpose; but of this there is no proof. Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, certainly had no hand in this projected massacre, he was ever lame, and could not be so employed; and yet he would have been one of the seven had it not been for the covenant made before with his father: But the king spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan-because of the Lord's oath that was between them, ver. 7.
8. The circumstance of Rizpah's watching the bodies of those victims, upon a rock, and probably in the open air, both day and night, from March to October, or even for a much less period, is, as it is here related, very extraordinary and improbable.
9. The hanging the bodies so long was against an express law of God, which ordained that those who were hanged on a tree should be taken down before sunset, and buried the same day, lest the land should be defiled, (Deut. xxi. 22, 23.) Therefore, 1. God did not command a breach of his own law. 2. David was too exact an observer of that law to require it. 3. The people could not have endured it; for, in that sultry season, the land would indeed have been defiled by the putrefaction of the dead bodies; and this would, in all likelihood, have added pestilence to famine.
10. The story of collecting and burying the bones of Saul and Jonathan is not very likely, considering that the men of Jabesh-gilead had burned their bodies, and buried the remaining bones under a tree at Jabesh, 1 Sam. xxxi. 12, 13; yet still it is possible.
11. Josephus takes as much of this story as he thinks proper, but says not one word about Rizpah, and her long watching over her slaughtered sons.
12. Even the facts in this chapter, which are mentioned in other places, (see 1 Chron. xx. 4, &c.,) are greatly distorted and corrupted; for we have already seen that Elhanan is made here to kill Goliath the Gittite, whom it is well known David slew; and it is only by means of the parallel place above that we can restore this to historical truth.
That there have been attempts to remove some of these objections, I know; and I know also that these attempts have been in general without success.
Till I get farther light on the subject, I am led to conclude that the whole chapter is not now what it would be, coming from the pen of an inspired writer; and that this part of the Jewish records has suffered much from rabbinical glosses, alterations, and additions. The law, the prophets, and the hagiographa, including Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, &c., have been ever considered as possessing the highest title to Divine inspiration; and therefore have been most carefully preserved and transcribed; but the historical books, especially Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, have not ranked so high, have been less carefully preserved, and have been the subjects of frequent alteration and corruption. Yet still the great foundation of God standeth sure and is sufficiently attested by his own broad seal of consistency, truth, and holiness.