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TEL MASOS, GESHUR, AND DAVID
DIANA EDELMAN, Buffalo Grove, Illinois
David, while in residence in his new capital of Judah at Hebron fathered Absalom with Maacah, daughter of Talmai, King of Geshur. His first two sons were mothered by his wives Ahinoam and Abigail, whom he had married while living in the wilder-ness, prior to his service to Achish of Gath. His marriage to Maacah must therefore have taken place in the opening years of his kingship at Hebron. The political nature of his marriage to Maacah has been recognized in the past.” It has always been assumed, however, that Talmai was king of the northern kingdom of Geshur in the Golan.
It seems more reasonable to conclude, however, that Talmai was king of the southern Geshur. Whether or not he remained a Philistine vassal after setting up his own state at Hebron, it would have been a politically expedient move for David to ally himself with one or more of the groups he had formerly been raiding as a Philistine mercenary. Peaceful relations with groups living just to the south of his new state would have allowed the king to concentrate his limited resources on other endeavors. His ability to enter a treaty with southern Geshur, had he remained a Philistine vassal himself, would have been conditioned on the lack of formal declaration of war between the Philistines and Geshur. No vassal was allowed to enter a treaty with a declared enemy of its overlord. The postulated alliance with Talmai, king of Geshur, would have provided David with military aid when he needed it. At the same time, it could have provided him with a market for his goods and possibly additional eco-nomic opportunities.
With the above comments in mind, Tel Masos becomes an attractive candidate for the political center of southern Geshur. If one can put any weight in Talmai’s characterization as “king,” Tel Masos is the only site south of the Judahite hills that is large enough to associate with a possible kingdom. In spite of Finkelstein’s suggestion that Masos probably only reached the political level of a chiefdom, its 200-odd-year existence by the time under consideration, and its postulated role as a major trans-shipping center and headquarters for the northwestern branch of the incense trade route, would seem to have required a developed administration to regulate the flow of goods, and would seem to presume a stabilized leadership. To me, this suggests its attainment of statehood and monarchy.
In reviewing the biblical passages that mention Talmai and Geshur, only 2 Sam. 15:8, which mentions Absalom’s sojourn with his father-in-law in retrospect, associates Talmai and his Geshur with the better-known northern kingdom. The qualifier “in Aram” appears after Geshur only in this verse and has the suspicious appearance of a gloss, since Geshur itself is a sufficient geographical marker. Elsewhere, references to Talmai and his state (2 Sam. 3:3; 13:37, 38; 14:23; 32; 1 Chron. 3:2) can all be construed to apply to southern Geshur. It can be noted that references to northern Geshur are regularly paired with the adjoining territory of Maacah (Deut. 3:14; Josh. 12:5; 13:3, 11, 13). The single exception is 1 Chron. 2:23, where it is paired with Aram.
Perhaps the latter text inspired the gloss in 2 Sam. 15:8.