Friday, January 31, 2014

1 Kings: Solomon the Wise-ish

Bible bloggin’ some more, and today we’re getting started on the First Book of Kings. As may be unsurprising to you, this is about the kings of Israel under the line of David. Much like the Books of Samuel, it’s heavy on politics and drama and rather light on religious stuff. So again, I may be skipping a lot of details to avoid getting bogged down.

First Kings opens with David as an old man, too frail to keep himself warm or, apparently, to bang his many wives anymore. So his advisors cast about to find the most beautiful woman they can find to warm his bed, and settle on a girl named Abishag the Shunammite. But we’re told that he “knew her not,” which is kind of euphemistic speech for telling us he couldn’t even get it up for this new and beautiful sex object.

You might ask yourself, “why would they go through this silliness?” After all, if the issue was that they just wanted someone to keep him warm, well, he had loads of wives who could have done that for him. And if you were hoping the Bible would explain it, tough. I had to go dig about on the internet for an explanation. It seems that there was this superstition floating around at the time that the fertility of the land was tied to the fertility of the king. Therefore, if the king wasn’t able to have sex, then the land would suffer and he’d have to be replaced to prevent famine. So his advisors were basically throwing Abishag into bed with David in the hopes that having a nubile young hottie would be exciting enough to overcome his decrepitude. But no dice.

Keep in mind that according to the Bible David was only the second king that Israel had ever had, and for hundreds of years they had gotten by without a king. It seems a little early to have developed such a weird superstition about their king. Probably picked it up from one of the kingdoms around them.

Anyway, with David being impotent and all, one of his sons Adonijah decides it's time for daddy to step down and let him have the job. So he starts telling everybody that he is going to be the next king, and manages to win the support of Joab (who, you may remember, is the commander of David’s army). This doesn’t sit well with Bathsheba, since David had supposedly promised her that her son Solomon would be king (but I guess he never got around to telling anyone else). Long story short: Bathsheba complains to David, and David steals a march on Adonijah by rounding up a priest and having Solomon anointed king before Adonijah can cement himself in the position.

After that, David had some final instructions to give Solomon in the form of a “fuck you,” to some of his old enemies and supporters. For example: Joab, the commander of his army. You may recall that Joab had committed a couple murders while serving under David? You may also remember how David never did anything concrete about either of them, and seemed content to let Joab go on being commander. Well, he tells Solomon to go ahead and have Joab killed for them now. Because I guess now that David has retired, he no longer has any use for Joab.

Also, some of the people he’d made up with after Absalom’s rebellion, and promised not to kill? Yeah, he tells Solomon to kill them as well. There’s some hairsplitting for you “I totally kept my oath! I’m not killing you, my successor is (on my instructions)!”

David dies shortly thereafter, riding out of this life on a wave of his own dickishness.

There’s a weird little bit then when Adonijah asks Solomon to let him take Abishag (the hot young thing who’d failed to arouse David’s “interest”) as his wife. In a fit of seeming insanity, Solomon has him put to death for making the request. At least, it seems insane if you only go by the Bible, but the internet comes to the rescue again. It gets back to the weird superstitions about kingly manliness as expressed by putting royal penises in female bodies. Supposedly, nailing Abishag when David had failed to do so could be seen as a symbolic victory over David, and would therefore count as a claim to the kingship. So basically, Solomon had Adonijah killed to prevent him from fucking his way onto the throne.

More politics, more killings, Solomon marries the daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh. One night Solomon has a dream in which God asks what Solomon would like to have given to him. Solomon asks for the wisdom and discernment to differentiate good from evil and properly govern Israel. And God gives it to him.

1 Kings 3:12 ‘behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.’”

So bear in mind as the stories play out from here on that (if God and the Bible are to be believed) Solomon is now the wisest man who has ever existed anywhere in the entire history of humanity.

The first evidence of his new wisdom is that classic story of the two prostitutes and the baby (though I don’t recall the version I was told as a kid having the women as prostitutes). They come before the king, and the one claims that the other has stolen her baby to replace one of her own that had died. Solomon declares that since he doesn’t know who the baby’s real mother is, he’ll just cleave the baby in two and let each woman keep half. We all know the result: the baby’s real mother would rather the baby be given to the other woman than killed, while the woman who was apparently so desperate to replace her own dead child that she stole another is for some reason OK with the idea of killing the replacement baby if it means she gets to keep half.

I wonder why no one ever considers how insanely irrational that woman’s reaction is. All we hear about is how clever and wise Solomon was for hitting on that idea for how to figure out who the real mother was.

After that we get a full chapter about who Solomon’s officers were, how great and wonderful a ruler Solomon was, how wealthy he was, and how all the other kings of the world fell over themselves to suck up to him. And from there we get on to Solomon building The Temple.

There are two full chapters dedicated to describing the materials and construction of the temple, followed by a chapter about all the furnishings that went into it. There’s a brief aside about Solomon building himself a palace that was actually a larger building, but the passages really dwell on the temple. I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say that metric buttloads of gold, bronze, cedar, cut stone, and other valuable stuff was sunk into it. But there are a few bits that are worth pointing out for the interest value.

One of the main features of the temple is a pair of ten foot high carved cherubim with ten foot wingspans, covered in gold. There are also smaller carvings of cherubim all over the temple, along with carvings of bulls, trees, flowers, fruits, etc. Now, who remembers the Second Commandment? Here’s a refresher:

Ex 20:4  ‘You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”

So yeah, the temple dedicated to God, the most holy place in the world which is supposedly his earthly dwelling, is also a giant monument to pissing on one of his central commands. But then, as we mentioned way back in Exodus, those very commands are contained in an ark which is also carved with cherubim in violation of this exact same command. Because God’s law is God’s law, except when he (or the voices in your head, or your “inner conviction,” or your priest) tells you to do something else.

And when the temple is completed, the “glory of God” takes up residence without saying a thing about how the temple mocks his commands, so evidently he approves of it.

The other thing to mention is that the account of the construction of the temple contains the infamous Pi passage. For those who don’t know, it goes like this:

1 Kings 7:23 Then he made the sea of cast metal. It was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference.”

Some people like to make a big deal out of this passage, because anyone who’s passed even the most elementary of geometry classes knows that a circle ten cubits in diameter would have a circumference of 31.4(159265… etc.) cubits. Given hand measurements, maybe thirty-one-and-a-half, or even thirty-one, would have been reasonable estimates. But thirty is just poor. Personally, I don’t think the passage provides enough information to make a precise judgment, since “round” and “circular” are not necessarily the same thing and cubits were kind of imprecise measurements in that time period anyway. About the only real conclusion one can make from passages like this is that only idiots believe the Bible is a science textbook.

And with that, I think we’re about done for today. We’ll work a little more on First Kings in the next post, and until then I do hope you’ll all be well!

Monday, January 27, 2014

2 Samuel: Manufactured Crises

It seems that in my outrage over God declaring public rape of his wives as David’s punishment for what he did to Uriah and Bathsheba, I kind of forgot to comment on an additional punishment. Remember how it was learning that Bathsheba was pregnant that prompted David to murder her husband? Yeah, God made the baby suffer a seven-day illness, and then killed it. No Biblical punishment is complete if innocent children aren’t killed, after all.

So over the next several years, God’s “punishment” to David plays out. It starts with one of David’s sons, Amnon, raping Tamar, who is the sister of one of David’s other sons Absalom. The Bible isn’t exactly clear on the relationships, but I assume Tamar is described as Absalom’s sister and not Amnon’s sister because they had different mothers. Which still leaves us with Amnon raping his own half-sister. David hears about it and gets angry, but apparently didn’t do shit to punish Amnon. So about two years later, Absalom murders Amnon in retaliation and then flees into exile.

Skipping a lot of details because it’s just pure politics and family drama, David eventually invites Absalom to return to Jerusalem. Once back home, Absalom dedicates himself to conspiring to take the throne from his dad and eventually manages to stage a successful coup. David flees Jerusalem, leaving behind ten of his concubines “to keep the house.” As decreed by God, Absalom ends up publicly raping all of those concubines to show all of Israel that he’s defeated David.

After a short exile, David’s loyalists eventually defeat Absalom’s army in battle and Absalom is killed against David’s orders. David then makes such a huge show of mourning for Absalom that the commander of his army Joab had to take him aside and say “Hey, there’s a bunch of people out there who just fucking died in battle for you, and a bunch more who risked dying on your behalf. And now they’re all starting to think that you’d be just as happy if they’d all died so long as the guy they were fighting for you against got to live. How about you show them some gratitude, you fuck, before they abandon you completely?” So David made a half-hearted show of listening to his people for a bit, but fired Joab anyway.

But don’t worry about Joab. He eventually got his job back after murdering his replacement for not carrying out David’s orders quickly enough.

Oh, you remember those concubines that David abandoned to get raped? He locked them up in a house by themselves, and other than providing them with food and shelter he basically ignored them for the rest of their lives.

Ninety percent of the rest of the Second Book of Samuel is just more politics and war. David forgave a bunch of the guys who’d rebelled against him under Absalom. Some dude named Sheba exploited arguments between the tribe of Judah and the rest of Israel to try and declare himself king, but his people eventually sold him out to save their own asses.

Later, there’s a short bit about how there was a three year famine in Israel. And only after people have been starving for three years does God mention to David that he’s causing it because Saul once attacked a bunch of Gibeonites (if you recall, the Gibeonites were the people who sold themselves into slavery to the Israelites under Joshua in order to avoid genocide). So David has to go make peace with the Gibeonites in order to end the famine. And the Gibeonites demanded that to make up for the deaths amongst them at Saul’s hand, David needed to give them seven of Saul’s descendants to kill. This seemed totally reasonable to David, apparently, so he did it. And totally reasonable to God, apparently, since he ended the famine.

Let’s see… then there’s another war with the Philistines, in which the Israelites killed four giants (one of who was named Goliath – what a coincidence!). David came so close to getting killed in that war that his commanders refused to let him go into battle anymore. This is followed by David composing a really long song that mixes a lot of sucking up to God with a lot of blowing his own… horn.

This is immediately followed by a passage that is attributed as being David’s final words. Which is kind of weird, because David isn’t dying anywhere in Second Samuel. His last words are just randomly thrown into the middle of stories about stuff that isn’t even happening near the time of his death. What excellent narrative structure!

This is followed by listing all the heroic dudes who served David, and some of their exaggerated accomplishments.

All of that before we finally come to something that includes God being an active participant in the story.

2 Sam 24:1 Again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he incited David to go against them, saying ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’”

There is no reason given, either before this passage or after, for why God is angry at Israel. Nor is it explained exactly why ordering David to count them is somehow a punishment for them. Now, there’s a rule way back in Numbers about how the priests are supposed to collect a tax whenever they take a census and no mention is made of David collecting that tax, but whatever. It’s never explicitly referenced as the reason for what happens next after David has the census performed (and for the record, the result is 800,000 men of fighting age in Israel and 500,000 in Judah, which can only be hilariously overblown numbers for the population at that time).

2 Sam 24:10 But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said teo Yahweh, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But no, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.’ 11 And when David arose in the morning, the word of Yahweh came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying 12 ‘Go and say to David “Thus says Yahweh, three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.”’ 13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, ‘Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days of pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.’”

So consider what we’re being told here. God is pissed at Israel for no stated reason. So he orders David to perform a census in order to manufacture a bullshit reason to punish them. But of course, God’s manufactured reason for punishing Israel is because David did what God ordered him to do! This passage could have dispensed with all of that story and just said “God pretty much just wants to fuck you up, whether you obey him or not, but sometimes he likes to put a thin veneer of reason on it just so the true dumbasses among you can think there’s a justification for it.”

Now, David’s response was that he’d take either of the punishments that doesn’t involve him being defeated by other men (basically, the famine or the pestilence), and he’ll leave it to God to decide which it will be. Which I kind of like to think of as David just throwing his hands up and saying “Fuck it! You’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, so just get it over with! All I ask is that you do your own dirty work, so everyone can see that it’s you being a douchebag!”

So God picks the pestilence, and kills 70,000 people.

God acts through an angel, who’s dispensing death from by the threshing floor owned by some guy named Araunah. The prophet Gad tells David that he can end the plague by building an altar at the threshing floor. So David buys the threshing floor and some oxen to use as a burnt offering from Araunah for fifty shekels of silver. Then he builds the altar and sacrifices the oxen, and the plague ends. And with it, so does the misnamed Second Book of Samuel.

The Book was longer than the number of posts on it would suggest, but most of it is pure politics and I kind of skipped over it in the retelling. Maybe an extreme obsessive might be able to construct theological meaning out of all that stuff, but it just didn’t seem worth it to me.

Take care until next post!

Monday, January 20, 2014

2 Samuel: Her Beauty and the Moonlight Overthrew Ya

It kind of occurred to me that most of what’s going on in the Books of Samuel is basic war and politics stuff, with only the occasional nod tossed in the direction of God to justify why it was good that the people who won were the people who won. Their insight into the whole God idea is kind of minimal, and the details are a bit dry and boring. So I think I’m going to end up skipping over a lot of that stuff to try and focus on the things with clear religious implications.

One of the first things David does after becoming king is to finally go and conquer Jerusalem, in which the Jebusites had been quietly holding out ever since the Israelites first invaded Canaan hundreds of years prior. As most of you are no doubt aware, Jerusalem was to become quite an important religious center. David also took a bunch of wives and concubines from among the women of Jerusalem (and don’t kid yourselves that all of them were happy at the prospect of marrying the man who’d just invaded their home and killed their menfolk).

There’s a bit more about David’s ongoing wars with the Philistines, but the next important religious bit is when David decides to have the ark of the Covenant brought to Jerusalem. So he sets out with a bunch of people to retrieve it from this guy Abinadab. They set it on this nice new cart, and Abinadab sends his sons Uzzah and Ahio along to drive the cart and make sure the ark gets to Jerusalem safely. David and all his men are making a big happy holiday out of the trip when…

2 Sam 6:6 And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. 7 And the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.”

So the oxen stumble, and Uzzah touches the ark to steady it so it won’t fall and get smashed to pieces. And God just killed the fuck out of him for touching his shit. That’s the kind of behavior you’d expect to see from a psycho villain in some over-the-top action movie.

Of course, that takes the celebratory mood right out of everyone, and David decides that maybe he doesn’t want the ark in Jerusalem after all. So he takes it to the house of some guy named Obed-edom and leaves it there. That is, until three months later when he hears how prosperous Obed-edom has been ever since the ark took up residence. Then David decides he still wants it after all, and has it brought to Jerusalem.

There’s a little aside about how his wife Michal get annoyed with David for flaunting himself half-naked in front of all the female servants while he was dancing around celebrating the arrival of the ark. David has kind of a douchebag response, pretty much saying that his wife and her opinions can go fuck themselves, because the female servants all get off on seeing him dance about and that’s all good with him. Classy.

Moving on, God sends the prophet Nathan to tell David that God has a promise to make to him. And that promise is that God is going to make sure that David and his offspring are kings forever. There’s an interesting bit contained in the end of the promise.

2 Sam 7:12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you. 16 and your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”

Oh, the things that can be said about this! Firstly, it takes some balls to describe your love as “steadfast,” in the same sentence you talk about how you took that love away from someone. Well, it takes balls, or a complete failure to understand what the word “steadfast” means.

Also, I like the bit about how when David’s descendants are naughty, God will use other people to “discipline” them. This strikes me as a pretty clever little apologetic. It kind of covers the fact that God seems by this point in the Bible to not be performing miracles anymore (“Oh, ummm… yeah, God’s not doing miraculous punishments anymore, but, ummm… that’s because he promised David to work through people from now on. It’s totally not because he doesn’t exist and all that stuff from earlier stories was made up by your ignorant and illiterate ancestors”), plus it gives the priest class carte blanche to claim that anything bad that happens is because the king isn’t running the country the way they (umm… I mean, God… yeah, God) want them to. Of course, it also kind of makes a hash of free will. But again free will is not a concept that has been introduced thus far in the Bible, so I’m pretty sure the authors didn’t consider that a weakness of the text at all.

And finally, this passage is commonly held to have two meanings. The clear literal meaning is that God is talking about David’s kingdom (Israel) and the rulership of his descendants over it. But of course, everyone knows that the kingdom of Israel under David’s line didn’t last forever, the nation of Israel even ceased to exist for a couple thousand years, and then once it was reinstated it was governed by elected officials rather than monarchs claiming descent from David. Clearly the literal reading is a broken promise and/or bullshit. Which is why Christians go to such trouble to create a metaphorical second meaning in which Jesus is descended from David, and Jesus’ heavenly kingdom lasts forever, and that’s the kingdom God is talking about in this passage. Of course, in order to believe that you have to believe a whole lot of stuff for which there is no evidence, so there’s no demonstrable truth to that interpretation. And even if heaven exists, remember that God’s promise to David is “your throne shall be established forever.” But David doesn’t rule in heaven (even though he’s presumably there), so even that is a problematic interpretation.

For the next couple chapters, the bible goes on about more military victories over the Philistines, Syrians, Edomites, et al, complete with wildly exaggerated numbers of participants in the battles. This is broken up with a little aside about how David tracks down the last of Saul’s surviving grandsons and invites him to share the royal table for the rest of his life. Then we get to another classic tale about David and Bathsheba.

See, one year David had his armies out beating the snot out of the Ammonites, but David himself remained in Jerusalem. He was standing around on the roof of his house taking in the view, when he noticed this beautiful woman bathing herself. So David asked around about who she was, and found out that she was Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers named Uriah. Uriah was away fighting in the battles, and David was feeling his kingly oats, so he sent some of his men to kidnap her for his sexual amusement.

So, are we all clear that David was a rapist? I mean, it’s sort of implied with his taking wives from defeated enemies in the past, but here it’s pretty explicit. We’re all on the same page here, right?

Later, David comes to learn that Bathsheba had gotten pregnant. His solution: he sent a message to Joab (who was commanding his armies) instructing him to make sure that Bathsheba’s husband Uriah got placed in the midst of the thickest fighting. He was then to abandon him there to ensure Uriah got killed in battle. Once Uriah was out of the picture, David forced Bathsheba to marry him.

Now, this actually pissed God off. Which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise; as discussed back in Leviticus, nailing another man’s wife is a death penalty offense under God’s law, as is murder. And David had just done both. So you know he’s in for it. Let’s check out God’s wrath:

2 Sam 12: 10 ‘Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ 11 Thus says Yahweh, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and shall give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’”

What… the… fuck?! David commits a crime, and God declares that his punishment will be that his wives will be publicly raped?! HIS WIVES?! What the fuck did his wives have to do with David’s fucking crime? There is no conceivable way in which this is justifiable!

And that’s not even looking at the hypocrisy of it. Even under God’s own barbaric laws – the ones that were dictated to Moses with the instruction that they were never to be altered – David should have been sentenced to death twice over. But I guess being king, or even just someone that God likes, means David is above the law, just like the rich and powerful have acted like they’re above the law since, well, pretty much the invention of law.

I love, too, the phrase “because you have despised me,” as if David’s crime was something he’d done to God and not to Bathsheba and Uriah. God suffered no harm, but Bathsheba was raped and her husband murdered. Then Bathsheba was forced to marry her rapist and her husband’s killer. But, y’know, she’s a woman, which in the Bible isn’t really the same as being a person anyway.

And just a tad bit of icing on the cake, the other part of the punishment being “I will raise up evil against you out of your own house,” as though God will be compelling members of David’s household to act against him in ways they would not have without God’s intervention. Once again, taking a dump on the concept of free will.

By the way, none of these punishments happen right away. They just kind of start cropping up later in the story (we’ll get to the details in future posts). This kind of suggests to me that, if any of this stuff is even historical at all, the writers kind of noticed that David totally got away with committing some capital crimes. So they inserted this shit declaration from God as a way of “explaining” how the bad stuff that David goes through later means he didn’t really get away with it. It’s a whitewash job, and it even totally fails at being that.

Anyway, I think winding down this rant will bring us to the end of today’s post. But there’s still more to Second Samuel to come, so don’t be a stranger. Until then, do take care!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2 Samuel: Rough Draft of Game of Thrones

Let’s get started on the Second Book of Samuel, shall we? When The First Book of Samuel left off, Saul was finally dead. The Second Book opens with David getting the news. And he gets it from an Amalekite man who claims to have been part of the Israelite camp at Saul’s final battle (which seems like a silly thing to claim, given the Israelites’ god-ordained violent anti-Amalekite racism). And this man claims that when Saul was injured and his sons dead, the king had asked the Amalekite to kill him to prevent his capture (which, according to First Samuel, is bullshit, but the guy could have just been making up the story to make himself look better, since as far as most people knew David and Saul were enemies). He tells David that he did as Saul asked, and then brought Saul’s crown and armlet to David.

David displays his gratitude in true Biblical fashion: by killing the Amalekite for having “killed God’s anointed.” David then composes a poem of mourning for Saul and Jonathan, which included a line about how Jonathan’s love for him was “extraordinary, surpassing the love of women.”

At this point, David leaves his little Philistine town to move to the city of Hebron in the lands of Judah with his ragtag group of brigands. And here, the people of Judah (to whom, you might recall, he’d been sending gifts from his raiding) declare him king.

So there you go. God and Samuel had anointed David king years back, and now the people have finally acknowledged it, right?

Ummm… no. Recall that Samuel had done his anointing in secret. Nobody fucking knows that God supposedly wants David to be king – Judah just wants him because he was from their tribe, kicked a lot of Philistine ass in the name of Israel, and kept sending them gifts of looted wealth. Meanwhile Abner, the head of Saul’s army, was still under the impression that Saul had been king and that his surviving son Ish-bosheth ought to inherit. So he declared Ish-bosheth king over all of Israel.

This, predictably, leads to a years-long civil war with God’s chosen people actively killing each other over who should be king. While David generally gained ground, the real turning point came when Ish-bosheth accused Abner of nailing one of Saul’s old concubines. This provoked Abner, who was the real power in Ish-boseth’s kingdom anyway, to decide to switch sides. So Abner goes around behind his purported king’s back, politicking his little ass off to get the Benjaminites and others to throw in with him.

Once he’s secured as many turncoats as he can, Abner meets with David to make the agreement official (part of the agreement involves Abner taking Michal – David’s first wife, the daughter of Saul, whom Saul had taken back and given to another husband when he and David were on the outs – away from her current husband and delivering her back to David). Joab, however, is convinced that Abner is just blowing smoke to sucker David, plus he’s pissed at Abner because he’d killed one of Joab’s brothers during the war.

So after Abner left his meeting with David, Joab sent some of his own men to capture Abner for him. When they bring him back, Joab stabs Abner to death. David’s reaction, upon hearing about it, was to declare a curse on Joab’s family and descendants. I’m not sure whether that’s because he was the kind of dick who punishes a man’s family for the man’s crimes, or the kind of dick who declares a curse because he knows it’s just meaningless words but will look to his ignorant subjects like he did something meaningful.

Afterwards, David made everyone make a show of mourning for Abner, and he refused to eat anything else for the rest of the day. This, apparently, convinced everyone that he’d had nothing to do with Abner’s death, because I guess people hadn’t become cynical about their rulers yet.

News of Abner’s death gets back to Ish-bosheth, which takes the wind right out of his sails and those of his remaining followers. So much so that two of his father’s raiding captains decide that it’s time to just outright betray and murder the poor guy. So one day when he’s asleep, they sneak into his house and kill him in his bed. Then they chop off his head and go deliver it to David.

David’s is no more welcoming of this than he was for the guy who’d claimed to kill Saul. He has both men executed. Then, with the last of Saul’s sons finally dead, the remainder of Israel at last accepts David as their king.

So there you have it: the story of how David became king. Pretty much a tale of pure drama, murder, warfare, politics, and betrayal with only the occasional nod in the direction of God. Sort of like a rough draft of Game of Thrones, only with less supernatural stuff and worse writing.

But that’s not the end of Second Samuel, not by a long shot. We’re only in Chapter 5 out of 24, after all. When next we return, we’ll be getting into the exciting reign of David over all of Israel. Until then, be well!

Friday, January 3, 2014

1 Samuel: Saul Fall

OK, first of all, I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, and offer my hopes that you all had a great holiday season regardless of which holiday(s) you celebrated. Yes, even Christmas.

We’ve now been through seven posts trying to get through the First Book of Samuel, and I’m hoping to get this bad boy knocked out with this final post. When we left off, Saul had (not for the first time) pledged peace with David and gone back to pursuing his kingly duties rather than chasing one of his most loyal subjects around and trying to kill him because God was actively driving him insane.

Then Samuel dies. How there’s going to be a Second Book of Samuel (and there is) when Samuel died in the first book, I have no idea. But timelines can be complicated things in the Bible, so I guess we’ll see when we get there.

So then we get a side story involving David, a woman named Abigail, and her husband Nabal. One of the footnotes tells us that Nabal is actually a Hebrew word that means “fool,” so you can tell right away that this is an allegorical tale since nobody would name their kid that (well, unless his parents were complete tools). Now Nabal was very rich, and he was in a town near where David was hanging out to have his sheep sheared. David heard about it, and sent ten of his men to go see Nabal. He had them claim that since David’s men had helped keep Nabal’s herds safe in the wilderness, Nabal ought to give them all of the food he had on hand. Nabal responded that he had no idea who this David character was or whether what they claimed was true, so he didn’t give them anything. When the men reported the refusal back to David, he ordered his men to gather up their weapons and get ready to go murder the fuck out of Nabal and every other man in his household.

This is what we like to call “banditry,” in case you were wondering.

Now, Nabal’s wife Abigail heard about the visit and had her servants gather up a bunch of food in secret. Then she snuck out to visit David and give him the food, kiss his ass unashamedly, and beg him not to kill her husband. David relented, but then God killed Nabal on his behalf ten days later.

David then went and claimed Abigail as his new wife. Then he apparently also married some girl named Ahinoam. Meanwhile, we are informed, Saul had given David’s first wife Michal to some other guy named Palti.

After that, David was hanging out in the wilderness around Ziph, and the residents went to Saul to complain. So once again, Saul took an army out to try and capture or kill David. This time, David and a guy named Abishai brother of Joab, snuck into Saul’s camp at night and stole the spear and water jug from the sleeping king. They got in and out of camp successfully because God made all the guards fall asleep.

The next morning David approached Saul’s camp and started berating Abner, the head of Saul’s army, telling him he deserved to die for failing to protect Saul. Which is kind of douche behavior, considering that David only got past Abner’s guards because he had supernatural help. But anyway, he presented the water jug and spear as proof that he had entered the camp and could have killed Saul if he wanted to. So, for about the billionth time, Saul kisses David’s ass and promises not to try and hurt him anymore.

David has had enough of this shit, though, and decides that it would be best if he just left Israel for a bit so that Saul will stop being tempted to come try to kill him. He does this by gathering up his merry band of brigands and going to live among the Philistines, taking refuge with Achish the king of Gath. He convinces Achish to let him and his men have their own little town all to themselves so that nobody can really keep an eye on what they’re up to. And what they’re up to is…

1 Sam 27:8 Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. 9 And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish.”

Wait… did that say “Amalekites?” Didn’t Saul kill all of them earlier in this same book? Chapter 15 did say that he attacked them and “devoted all the people to death at the edge of the sword.” Which passage is full of shit? And, lest it be missed because sheer repetition has made it old hat by now, note that our Biblical hero is going around murdering entire villages and stealing their stuff.

Oh, also… while all this is going on David is lying to his benefactor Achish by claiming that he’s out raiding Israelite settlements instead. So when all the other Philistine kings start asking Achish why he’s sheltering a guy who used to be Philistine-Killer-in-Chief, Achish reassures them that now David is fighting for their side so it’s all good. Achish was so taken in by David’s lies that he even made him his personal bodyguard and asked him and his men to accompany the next Philistine attack on Israel.

There’s a little aside then about Saul consulting with a medium about the upcoming war, on account of God refusing to take his calls anymore. She summons up the spirit of the dead Samuel, who reminds Saul that God had turned against him because he didn’t kill the Amalekite animals and king. He then tells him that God has given the kingdom to David, and as additional punishment Israel is going to lose the upcoming battle and Saul and his sons will all be killed.

After that the narrative returns to David, who is marching with Achish to go to war against Israel. But the other Philistine commanders tell Achish that they don’t trust David not to switch sides in the battle, so he should fuck off. Of course, David has Achish thoroughly snookered, but the Philistine lord has no choice but to send him home.

Which is all well and good, since when David’s men return to their little town, they discover that it has been raided by those pesky Amalekites who seem to spontaneously generate out of the ground whenever they get genocided. Everybody in town was taken captive. Nobody was killed at all, just captured – a courtesy that David does not return, since he chases down the raiding party and spends a day and a night slaughtering all but the few who could escape.

Now once David’s men had recovered all the stuff the raiders stole, some of them wanted to keep all of it themselves rather than sharing any of it with the people who hadn’t been able to keep up on the chase. But David forced them to share it, saying to them:

1 Sam 30:24 ‘Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.’ 25 And he made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.”

Isn’t that adding to the law? I thought that was forbidden.

Anyway, David took a portion of the spoil he’d taken off the Amalekites and sent it as a present to his friends among the elders of Judah.

Meanwhile, true to Samuel’s word, Saul’s army gets totally waxed by the Philistines who ended up killing all of his sons in the fighting (including David’s soul mate Jonathan). Saul was wounded by archers, and in fear of being captured and tortured he asked his armor-bearer to kill him. When the armor-bearer refused, Saul fell on his own sword to kill himself. The armor-bearer then followed suit.

With the army defeated, the Israelites abandoned the cities nearest the battle which the Philistines then occupied. The Philistines briefly had the bodies of Saul and his sons displayed on the walls of the city of Beth-shan, but the Israelites of Jabesh-gilead heard about it and sent a raiding party to recover the bodies for proper burial.

And that, finally, is the end of the First Book of Samuel. To recap: God turned Saul into a king and into a bad guy, then punished him for being a bad guy by driving him mad and eventually killing him and an untold number of other people by taking the Philistines’ side in a war. Meanwhile he decides that David is king (but, y’know, in secret so that nobody really knows about it, which could have avoided a whole shitload of pointless killing). And David is kind of a violent, lying dick when it comes to anyone other than Jonathan or Saul. The guy the book is named after is (depending on your perspective) either a relatively minor character who’s only a mouthpiece for God’s commands, or a hyperpolitical liar playing the role of kingmaker while using the threat of God’s wrath as a goad to force his chosen kings to do as he says.

Next time, we’ll start in on the Second Book of Samuel. Will Samuel return from the dead to justify being the titular character of the book? We’ll find out! Until then, be well.