[b-hebrew] 'Prophesying' 1 Samuel 18:10

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu Jul 8 06:12:15 EDT 2004

On 07/07/2004 01:17, Harold R. Holmyard III wrote:

> ...
> HH: The precise connotation of the Hithpael does not have to be the 
> same in every context.

Absolutely. Hebrew "stems" have very variable meaning and don't always 
correspond to what we might think. I wonder if the hithpael of NB) 
actually means more than "prophesy continuously or habitually", whereas 
the niphal tends to mean an individual prophetic message.

> ...
>> I don't like "rave" either because it implies something about the 
>> physical manifestations which we don't really know.
> HH: BDB doesn't give "rave" as a gloss for NB) like the Dictionary of 
> Classical Hebrew does, but it does indicate that NB) in the Hithpael 
> can involve frenzy, excitement to violence, and an ecstatic state. ...

Well, at this point I am with Karl in asking you not to be too dependent 
on dictionaries, and in this case especially on dictionaries which seem 
to want to reinterpret Hebrew texts according to a modern western 
worldview. I expect that Clines, Brown, Driver and Briggs don't/didn't 
believe that spiritual beings can affect human behaviour and speak 
through people. But the ancient Hebrew authors clearly did believe this. 
It seems likely to me (although not certain, see my reply to Brian) that 
in this context RUAX refers to an independent spiritual being affecting 
Saul (and BDB agrees). So to interpret in terms of mental illness or 
altered states of consciousness is imposing an alien worldview on the text.

In a situation like this, lexicographers need to become anthropologists. 
Studies of animism, shamanism and folk Islam (which is mostly 
pre-Islamic) are more likely than studies of modern mental illness to 
give a clue to what this "prophesying" was.


> HH: David played the lyre to soothe the mental disturbance of the 
> king, which amounted to mental illness:

I see the writer's viewpoint as more that there was a spiritual battle 
here: the "evil" spirit was troubling the king, but the Spirit of YHWH 
had just (16:13, the juxtaposition is not random) come upon David in 
power (and with what manifestations, I wonder?) and so was more powerful 
than the "evil" spirit and could drive it away from Saul.

> ...
> HH: I think that "rave" can used today of people claiming divine 
> speech, if they manifest wildness or mental illness. ...

Indeed, in a pejorative sense. And so it fits well at Jer 29:26 for 

> ... So I don't find "rave" bad at 1 Sam 18:10, and "prophesy" strikes 
> me as a bit flat or odd. The reader knows that Saul has been possessed 
> or harassed by an evil spirit. You might say that the whole situation 
> was odd.

I agree that it is all rather odd, certainly from a modern western 
viewpoint. Again, I suspect it will seem less odd to someone 
knowledgeable about shamanism, folk Islam etc.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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