Bible Review 18:5, October 2002

David’s Threat to Nabal

How a little vulgarity got the point across

By Peter J. Leithart

When David first meets Abigail, his second wife-to-be, she is married to another man, a prosperous farmer named Nabal. In Hebrew, Nabal’s name means “Fool,”1 a clear sign that he won’t amount to much in the biblical world. Indeed, Nabal dies almost as soon as he is introduced (and David’s wedding plans are then set in motion). Yet Nabal the Fool still plays an important part in the narrative. An understanding of his role has been lost over the years, however, due to the common misreading of two key, yet rather crude, phrases that have been “cleaned up” by generations of translators.

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