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!

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