Friday, June 06, 2008

David's Foreskin Collection: 1 Samuel 18-20

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

In Iceland there's actually a penis museum. Here in 1 Samuel 18 we have a collection of foreskins, which isn't quite the same but is almost as impressive in a crude and disgusting way.

It's at this point that the militarist version of King David's story takes over the narrative entirely.

It begins, incongruously, with a description of the close friendship that develops between David and prince Jonathan. The language employed here is so suggestive that it's not surprising that a lot of people cheekily suggest this was a homosexual relationship, although I personally happen to think it's perfectly possible for two people to have an extremely close and completely non-sexual relationship regardless of what sex organs they happen to have. In this case, still, one has to wonder: Jonathan and David "became one in spirit" and are so close that Jonathan takes off all his clothes and gives them to David as a gift. How nice!

Saul is more suspicious of David. He makes David a commander in the army and David becomes extremely successful - too successful, in fact, so that Saul grows jealous and David is more popular with the chicks. Saul is angry that all the girls in Israel are infatuated with David, and even tries to kill him - twice! - while David plays the harp. Eventually he sends David off to the front on an indefinite military campaign. Saul seems to think if he keeps David in the field long enough, eventually a Philistine soldier will kill him, but this doesn't happen, supposedly because "the Lord was with David."

In the meantime, David falls in love with Saul's daughter Michal. (Following the battle with Goliath, he was supposed to be married to Saul's elder daughter Merab, but he turned her down, so Saul married her off to some nobody named Adriel of Meholah.) Saul is "pleased" to learn that they want to marry - not because this will bring the two men closer together, but rather because he believes Michal will be "a snare to him so that the hand of the Philistines may be against him."

This logic at first seems tortuous, but the plot soon becames clear: Saul will set a high bride price. High, indeed: he orders David to go out and collect a hundred Philistine foreskins. David again one-ups the king by killing two hundred Philistines and presenting their foreskins. In exchange, Saul gives him Michal.

This is a rather dubious bride price. I realize the Philistines in question are foreigners and perhaps therefore unworthy of the same rights and privileges given to Israelites - but surely this is an act of mass murder. We can expect it from Saul, who is nearly as immoral and crazy as Gideon or even Samson, but David doesn't bat an eye, either.

Saul's immediate reaction to the presentation of the foreskins is not recorded, but we may presume that it was something along the lines of "Curses! Foiled again!"

In the next two chapters, Saul continues to conspire against David but can't get the support of his own kids. At the beginning of chapter 19, he decides to kill David, but Jonathan sends David away and intercedes, persuading his father to relent. David returns to the court but once again Saul throws a spear at David and this time the latter escapes with the help of his wife Michal. David comes back yet again to speak to Jonathan, who has inexplicably forgotten the event in the previous chapter and initially refuses to believe his father would genuinely want to kill David. The two conspire to find out Saul's intentions and, finally convinced, Jonathan covers for David as he once again flees the king's court.

Sadly, despite the fact that this book is named after him, Samuel has been relegated to a bizarre secondary role by this time in the narrative - as has God, really, but that's another matter. David flees to Ramah at the end of chapter 19 and ultimately comes across Samuel, who apparently has taken to standing around with a group of men delivering vague prophecies. When you were a political refugee in Israel, yu could stand among the men - which David did, so that on three separate occasions Saul's men refused to apprehend the fugitive. Ultimately Saul goes himself to meet up with Samuel, and "the Spirit of God" possesses him - as it apparently possessed all of his deputies - and he strips naked and starts prophecying. What the hell is this lunatic prophecying craze? Why do people in Samuel's presence automatically turn into gibbering soothsayers? The Pentecostals doubtless find it exciting, but I just find it kind of stupid. Why the Spirit of God would be at all interested with Saul at this point is totally unclear - he's already been thoroughly condemned.


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