Chapter Two Research Notes

From The Hidden Crown PBS series
From The Hidden Crown, PBS series, 2013
Neither the armor nor the crown are correct to Saul’s time period, but the mood is perfect.

“It wasn’t much of a crown, but it was the only one he had, taken from the bounty of his first defeat of the Ammonites, back in the days when He was happy. If He had let Saul keep the bounty from King Agag, he wouldn’t be stuck with Nahash’s battle back-up; he’d have the most impressive solid gold, jewel-encrusted crown. Not thin gold hammered over copper and dotted with gems like this piece of second-rate metalwork.”


This references two of Saul’s battles. 1 Samuel 11 tells of his first victory after being quietly anointed king, against King Nahash of Ammon. And 1 Samuel 15 details the victory that will haunt him, when he wasn’t sufficiently obedient to what the Lord had told him to do, and Samuel told him that the Lord had already found someone else, someone better to be king. The He is the Lord, but at this point Saul can only refer to the Lord with bitterness, which I try to convey via italics.

From Dress and Personal Appearance in Late Antiquity
The Clothing of the Middle and Lower Classes

“Everyone was watching Abner lead a boy through the room. His tunic was of the plainest brown wool, stained, rough, and threadbare in spots, as if it had been handed down through many sons. He did not act like a servant, and he definitely did not look like a tribal visitor, but Abner was leading him. And then it dawned on Saul: the boy was the singing shepherd.”


This paragraph from Chapter 2 of The Giant Slayer shows a couple of storytelling assumptions I make:

“Many brothers” Whether you take the 1 Samuel 16:10-11 number of 8 sons or the 1 Chronicles 2:13-15 number of 7 sons — that’s a lot of brothers for David’s clothes to go through before getting to him!

plain, stained, threadbare In the Bible, David insists that he and his family are lowly, but the Talmud and other researchers think this is an exaggeration. I like the idea of taking David at face value, so I kept them as a family that is richer in sons than in goods. This may also have been inspired by the two large families I’m familiar with: my mother was one of 12 kids, and my dad one of 7 (6 of them boys). My mother’s father was a factory worker and a farmer and a fixer of electronics; my father’s father was a minister. Everyone worked hard from a young age and resources were just spread thinner.

A musician. All this buildup for a lousy musician? Not a witch or a healer who knew of some rare herbs nobody had tried yet? “A singing shepherd?”

The servant’s face was transformed. “My lord, when he sings, you forget all your troubles. Every new moon feast, he sings songs of praise that get the old men leaping up and raising their hands. His songs of lament get everyone weeping.”


Click through to the video of someone playing a replica of a biblical-era lyre–they are plucked and strummed with two hands simultaneously (and look very different than the image above)!

Saul angled his head nearer to Jonathan. “Remember what the Lord did to the Philistines at Michmash?”

“Made them panic until they were swinging their swords like blind men trying to kill bees.” Jonathan laughed quietly. “How could I forget?”


1 Samuel 14 tells the story of Jonathan’s famous exploits, climbing a cliff to get to the Philistine outpost and setting off a satisfying victory for the Israelites–until David and Goliath, one of the most heroic battle stories of Saul’s kingship.

This is also a good time to talk about swords.

Until David was king of both Judah and Israel, the Israelites did not have what we think of as a standing army, and even then the army probably didn’t supply weaponry. Whenever they went to battle, the leader (whether prophet or king) would travel around, rousing people to the cause, and soldiers (aka farmers and shepherds) would have taken whatever weapon, shield, and armor the family owned. In fact, in that famous battle at Michmash, Saul and Jonathan were the only two Israelite soldiers who had a sword or a spear (1 Samuel 13:22).

You’ll notice that, while only the king and his first-born son had swords, many Philistine soldiers did (although the Lord took away that technological advantage).

Any swords would have been made of bronze, because that was the metal available to Israelites. According to 1 Samuel 13:19-22, the Philistines has a lock on blacksmithing, and therefore on iron, and they wouldn’t make swords or spears for their enemies (and overcharged for sharpening farm implements). Bronze isn’t the strongest metal, and doesn’t hold an edge as well as iron, but it was what they had. As a result, their swords would have been not much more than two feet long. Their best weapons would have come from plunder when they defeated better-equipped armies–the more they won, the better equipment they’d have.

Swords used in the region at that time would have been khopesh swords from Egypt (like in the illustration above), straight by the handle and then curved half-way up, that would have been sharpened on the outside edge. These would be useful for hooking the arm or leg of an enemy soldier or their horse, and then cutting. There may also have been sickle swords that have the same shape but have the sharp edge on the inside. Straight swords with edges on both sides were also found in the region, like the one below.

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