Monotheism was "admittedly syncretistic...

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at
Mon Jan 28 12:17:25 EST 2002

Jonathan, you are reading this text according to modern Western culture
and morality. In those days, as still today among many communities
including my next-door neighbours (from Pakistan), arranged marriages
are the norm and love barely comes into the picture. Also polygamy was
considered wuite normal at the time. Anyway, according to 1 Samuel
22:44, before David married Abigail Saul had already taken Michal away
from David and given her to Palti (X-QATAL indicating preceding event).
No doubt Saul had decreed the divorce, against David's wishes (and
against God's law e.g. Deut 24), as soon as David was forced to flee
alone. David reclaims her as soon as he can, as she is presumably living
in territory controlled by Saul and then by Abner and his puppet ruler
Ishbosheth until 2 Samuel 3. In David's eyes Michal is still his wife,
who has been unjustly stolen from him, and Paltiel is an adulterer. Not
nice by modern standards, I agree, but David was doing the right thing
in his own culture and according to the law of God.


Peter Kirk


-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan D. Safren [mailto:yon_saf at] 
Sent: 28 January 2002 11:46
To: Biblical Hebrew
Subject: Fw: Monotheism was "admittedly syncretistic...


What you call the "ambiguous" portrayal of David begins already in 1
Samuel. Michal wants to marry David because she loves him. David wants
to marry Michal because, career-wise, it's a good idea to marry into the
king;s family.

Michal, out of her love for David, saves him from death by lowering him
from the window of their house when the king's soldiers come to kill
him, thus betraying her own father; while David, during all the time of
his flight from Saul, does nothing to return Michal to him. Instead he
contracts some other political alliances, with Abigail, widow of Nabal,
of one of the important Judahite clans; with Ahinoam the Jezre'elite -
Jezre'el in Judah - to cement relations with Judah' with a Moabite
princess, to further relations with Moab.

Only after Saul's death, when David wants to undermine Benjaminite and
Northern Israelite support of Ishbaall son of Saul, does he "suddenly"
remember Michal and send for her as a condition of making an alliance
with Abner, and in doing so, he tears her out of the arms of her loving
husband Paltiel, who accompanies her crying.

Michal never forgives David, and her bitterness and rancor come out in 2
Sam. 6, when the Ark is brought to Jerusalem.

In fact, in all of Samuel, David is never described as having loved a
woman, either overtly or indirectly (Bathsheba was sexual desire) only
his son Absalom. 

When I teach Samuel, as I did this past semester, I demolish his graven
image, using what Samuel and 1Kings 1-2 themsaelves have to say about
this opportunistic usurper.



----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Kirk" < <mailto:Peter_Kirk at> Peter_Kirk at>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" < <mailto:b-hebrew at>
b-hebrew at>
Sent: Monday, January 28, 2002 1:13 AM
Subject: RE: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

> But, Jonathan, surely by default in a narrative of this type, all the
> actions of a "good" character are assumed to be good and those of a
> "bad" one bad. The author doesn't need to say this explicitly: the
> audience will already presuppose that your namesake, the hero, did the
> right thing 1 Samuel 14 and Saul was in the wrong. From 13:14 we
> know that Saul was the bad guy and his successor would be good. Now
> things do get more ambiguous with that successor in 2 Samuel, but when
> David sins we are told this explicitly (11:27) and the message is
> reinforced by a quoted prophecy (12:1-12). I think we should assume
> where there is no such indication the author approves of what David
> even where, as in 1 Samuel 25, it offends modern sensibilities.
> But, to defend Saul for a moment, what he proposes in 1 Samuel 14 is
> human sacrifice but a judicial death penalty following a clearly
> described court procedure, yes, MOT YAMUT (14:39), for breaking a
> royal decree. Indeed one could even admire Saul over many modern
> for upholding the principle that his own family is not above the law,
> all who break it are subject to the same penalty.
> Peter Kirk
> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Jonathan D. Safren [mailto:yon_saf at]
> > Sent: 27 January 2002 20:14
> > To: Peter Kirk; Biblical Hebrew
> > Subject: Re: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..
> >
> > Since we are dealing with theoligical narrative, and not childrens'
> > adventure stories, one would expect to find the authors' opinions
> implied,
> > even if not overtly stated, in these stories. And that is indeed
> the
> > preferred method of the biblical narrators. The reader is left to
> his
> > own conclusions from the protagonists' words or deeds.*
> > So one can't regard the Jephthah narrative of Judges 11 or the
> of
> > Michmas narrative of 1 Samuel 14 as objective reporting. Yes, both
> > Jephthah
> > and Saul are depicted as rash; Saul the more so in comparison with
> > brave
> > son Jonathan (ahem!) and the soon-to-be-king David.
> > That is all the more reason to place weight on the absence of
> condemnation
> > in principle of human sacrifice in both these narratives (and the
> Binding
> > of
> > Isaac), in our assessment of the attitude towards human sacrifice in
> the
> > Bible.
> > Sincerely,
> > ---
> > Jonathan D. Safren
> > Dept. of Biblical Studies
> > Beit Berl College
> >
> > * Sometimes this is more difficult, sometimes less so. Is David the
> ideal
> > king he is portrayed to be in later tradition, or is he a rat, a
> ruthless,
> > cynical Macchiavellian despot?

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