Wednesday, October 11, 2017

David, The Sequel

Finishing up the story of David, King of Israel and Judah - We left off with things going pretty well for David as he repeatedly defeats his enemies.

So all good, right? Nope. Not for long. After exterminating other tribes for a while, he gets in trouble the traditional way - can't keep his hands to himself. One day David sees Bathsheba. You may have even heard of Bathsheba as the story still has popular appeal. People hate adultery when it is them or their friend who is cuckolded, but they love it as entertainment. Bathsheba is married, but David does the wrong thing and summons and sleeps with her. Even worse in religious terms - he did it while she was still purifying herself from her monthly visit. Bad idea. She winds up pregnant and lets him know. So, he does the decent thing (I kid), and tries to get Uriah, the husband, to go home and sleep with his wife so he won't realize the baby wasn't his. But Uriah was a faithful soldier and stayed with his men, as they were at war. Good guy. So, David asks Joab, his nephew (who remember he cursed, but still employs as his commander in the field) and asks him to put Uriah where the fighting is fiercest and then abandon him to his fate. That worked out well. After Bathsheba mourned, she came to be David’s wife and bore him a son. Really, what else is a girl going to do around 1200 B.C.?  But God was pisssssssssed.

Maybe David didn’t realize the trouble he was in. Soon, he was raging about a rich man who took the lamb of a poor man rather than his own livestock to feed a traveler – David wanted him killed for it. But, we never find out what happened to the guy because Nathan points out to David that he will be punished for it if he does it. Maybe his point was – stopping talking about other people and consider yourself. Nathan prophesizes that someone from his own household will sleep with all his wives. Kings hate it when that happens. Almost as an afterthought, Nathan adds – oh, and God is going to kill your son. God does make the baby he had with Bathsheba sick. At first, David is sick with worry himself – but when he learns that the baby actually died – he goes about his business, saying, well, now he’s dead, so, move along everybody, nothing to see here. In fact, he goes to Bathsheba and they make another baby they call – Solomon. You probably have heard of Solomon too. But, we’ll get back to him later on in the story.

In the meantime, Joab is kicking the Ammonites’ butts and tells David to come take a city or they will name it after Joab instead. David does, and takes the defeated king’s crown, a big shiny one too. Not a good time for the Ammonites, as he takes all their cities. See, not all so bad. Except. . .

. . .  something creepy happens. One of David’s sons, Amnon, follows in love with his sister, Tamar – I think she was a half-sister, but you can tell the author wasn't any happier for it. On the advice of David’s brother, his uncle, he pretends to be sick and tricks her into coming into his bedroom. Then he tries to have his way with her. She tries to talk him out of it, so, he rapes her. Then she doesn’t want to leave, because that would be a worse shame (I guess) and just like that, he now hates her more than he loved her. So, he has her thrown out. Their brother Absalom hears about it and tells her to relax, and she lives in his house, a bitter woman. Absalom says nothing to Amnon, but two years later he gets David to send Amnon on a trip with him and he has him killed. David hears about it back home and mistakenly thinks all his sons are dead, but that just turned out to be a silly rumor. It is little touches like that which make you think maybe there is some historical basis for it as there is just no point to that plot twist.  Still, Absalom flees and for three years stayed away. But David, knowing Absalom had avenged the rape of his sister, had already forgiven him. Kind of. I mean, families fight, right? Seriously, it is more than a thousand years to early to say it, but Jeeeeesus, what a group.

Joab knows that David yearms for Absalom to return. He creates a bizarre artifice by sending a servant to David with a wacky story I’m not even going to trouble you with, because, frankly, I don’t really understand it - but at the end, like a protagonist in a Dan Brown novel, David figures out that Joab is behind the ruse and says to him, okay, go get Absalom. Now it’s really going to get weird.

Joab brings Absalom back, but David orders that Absalom not see his face. Why, you might reasonably ask?  I don't know. A few years go by and Absalom sends for Joab. who ignores him. So, naturally, Absalom has his servants burn down one of Joab’s fields. Joab comes and says – Hey, what the hell, or something like that, and Absalom says he just wanted to get his attention. He asks to see his father and if he did anything wrong, David can put him to death. It is all arranged and Absalom goes to his dad, falls to the ground, and David forgives him. Of course, he does. These people are nuts.

Not surprisingly, Absalom, a proto-politician, starts cleverly winning the hearts of the Israelis. When David learns this, he deals with it calmly and rationally - screaming like a lunatic that everyone with him should flee for their lives. At the very least, it was an over-reaction. So, David and his people flee to the wilderness, but he sends a few back of them with the Ark to be spies.

Absalom comes to Jerusalem, and is now king. He asked his advisor Ahithophel (say that three times fast) what to do. This is what Ahithophel tells him:

“Sleep with your father’s concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself obnoxious to your father, and the hands of everyone with you will be more resolute.”  So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father’s concubines right in front of everyone. I guess they had a higher vantage point than the roof.

That would probably get big ratings, even today. But it would have to be on cable.

Both Absalom and David thought Ahithophel gave great advice. But Absalom also calls for Hashei, who is David’s secret mole in Jerusalem, and charged by David with countering whatever sound advice Ahithophel gives. Leave aside sleeping with David's concubines, Hashei gives what sounds to me like the same advice Ahithophel gave, although having him wait a little longer to attack. For some reason, it seems like better advice to Absalom.

Hashai then sends two priests to warn David that Absalom is coming for him. But, the priests are seen and Absalom’s men follow them. Fortunately, a couple hides them in the well. Their pursuers had to be idiots, because they didn’t find them. The priests got to David and warned him in time (although – if Absalom was following Hashai’s advice, there should have been no rush – plot flaw!)

And if you think Ahithophel would figure it all out and ruin Hashai’s schemes, think again. The big baby went back to his hometown and hung himself. Once again, things are looking up for David. The two armies prepare to fight. His men persuade David to stay behind but he asks them to be gentle with Absalom for his sake. But Absalom is riding on his mule when his hair gets tangled in a tree branch and he’s left hanging there. How is that even possible? Joab and his men kill him and bury him in a pit. Maybe they did it gently.

When David learned of Absalom’s death he wailed: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” Personally, I wouldn’t have given the jaw of an ass for Absalom myself, but you know Jewish parents.

Joab, hearing that David was mourning, went to him and gave him a piece of his mind. “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead. Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.”

This is why I like Joab more than David. Obviously, he was a violent guy, but he actually made sense a lot of the time. A lot more than David did, anyway.  What’s wrong with God that he preferred David?

David went back to Jerusalem. He didn’t kill the concubines who Absalom had slept with. He just confined them for the rest of their pathetic lives. I suspect that was seen as merciful and just for this – because, after all, the concubines were at fault, right? At least in the bronze age mind they were - I guess.

In any event, now the Israelis and the Judeans don’t get along so well. An Israeli named Sheba blew his trumpet and called away the men of Israel. Joab went after them. They came to a great rock and Joab went to meet Amasa, who fled with the Israelis, and who, for reasons I can’t even begin to understand, David had earlier promised to put over Joab if he played ball with him. So, while they were walking towards each other, Joab did the prison yard thing and secretly took his knife from its sheath and “took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him.” Then, he disemboweled him. They moved on and came to a city where Sheba was holed up. They were battering down the wall when a woman came to it and called for Joab, asking him to relent. He said they would if they threw down the head of Sheba. Next thing you know, over the wall comes Sheba’s head, and, they all went home. That’s how business was sometimes handled back then, and, frankly, as horrific as it sounds, it spared a lot of lives – probably the life of every person in that city, for example - save Sheba, naturally.

Here’s another good example. God brought famine to Israel because Saul, long dead himself, had put the Gibeonites – who were not Israelis, but lived around there too – to death. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. God could have said "you know what, live and let live," but, who can see the ways of the Lord? David asked the Gibeonites how to make it right with them. They asked to be given seven Israelis to put to death. So David gave them seven of his subjects, Saul’s descendants, and the Gibeonites put them to death and exposed their corpses. Then David exposed the bones of Saul and Jonathan, the latter who was, of course, his own good friend. Famine over, just like that. If only it was really that easy.

David was getting older. His men killed some more Philistines, but they decided, no more war for David. He was too old and valuable. Now David had many warriors, and frankly, it gets tedious when the Bible lists them, which it does to some extent. But, then David called for Joab – good old Joab – who should have been king if you ask me, and had him, against his will, go through the land and count all the fighting men. There were 800,000 in Israel and 500,000 in Judah. For some reason that again defies reason, this was a sin. God spoke to David’s seer and gave him three choices, three years of famine, three months fleeing his enemies or three days of plague, to atone for his sin. David liked the last one best and God’s angel wiped out 70,000 Israelis with plague. But, God stopped him before he wiped out Jerusalem.

The seer then came to David and told him to go build an altar to God on the threshing floor belonging to so and so. David did so, insisting on buying the place, rather than just accepting it as a gift, and, God then stopped the plague entirely. Don’t ask me what happened to God stopping it at the end of three days, which was the original deal. The Bible is often not very consistent.

As David became very old he couldn’t stay warm. So, his attendants got him a beautiful young virgin to keep him warm. Lucky her, though she took care of David, he did not sleep with her – I presume this is what it was like with Hugh Hefner in his last days.

David’s son, Adonijah, a handsome and spoiled brat, tried to become king and threw a big party. But, he didn’t invite Nathan – you remember Nathan – or David’s son Solomon, who was promised the kingship. Bathsheba and then Nathan went to David and said – hey, what about your promise to Solomon? So, David, having nearly run his race, made Solomon king.

The big wrap up where I wax ineloquent and think about life, death and other such things.

And I could go on and on with Solomon. All this brutality I have related to you was in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel of the Old Testament. Samuel himself, who I didn’t mention until now, was probably the last important prophet of Israel. He anointed both Saul and David earlier on, but was barely mentioned in the very books named for him. Nevertheless, they are two of my favorite books in the Bible, which I’ve read more than once, because I like the stories. You can see that there is more to it than you learned in temple or church, but it doesn’t exactly put David in a good light. That is supposed to be the moral lesson – David’s sins and God’s rebuke him and then forgives him. Personally, I don’t see it. It seems to me that the lesson of the Bible is, whether you are good or bad, life isn't fair. You could say that's just my opinion, and it is, but it is also real life.

Reading the Bible is not a religious thing for me, although there are what I think are spiritual aspects to it.*  One reason I like reading it is much the same reason some people like The Game of Thrones (“TGOT”). It’s entertaining, particularly if you like gratuitous sex and violence. But, there are literate, historical and lingual reasons I like it too.

*Years ago I came up with my own definition of spirituality, which resonated for some people I tried it out on. I still like it, though I’ve tinkered with the original - Spirituality is a pleasant feeling of connection to the universe that some people identify with one or more supernatural beings.

I tried reading TGOT but couldn’t get through it. I’ve never watched the show on television. A friend of mine mocks me because I like made up stories from thousands of years ago but not ones someone made up now. He’s got a point, but it’s really an overstatement. I love a lot of modern fiction and even fantasy for various reasons, and don’t feel obligated to like or dislike any of it, without regard to some rational. But there is also no doubt I rarely like fantasy except when it invokes stories or myths from long ago and the mythology, names and places have meaning to me separate and apart from the story I’m reading. It’s as broad as the differences among The Once and Future King, Peter Pan and Beatrix Potter. Stories by authors who share these interests gives me the feeling of a connection to history and through it to the universe. I realize that is a feeling, not a physical manifestation, at least outside my brain. I accept it without being able to fully explain it. And it is important to me, for reasons I can’t explain either. At some point our ability to explain these things ends with a closed door. Some people think they know why they are this way or that, but they - we - really don’t. I’m very comfortable with uncertainty. So, I’ll just finish the story -

And soon David died, going to rest with his ancestors, but not before giving instructions to Solomon to kill Joab – because, well, as I said, these people were just crazy. If anyone deserved  David’s friendship and to be King of Israel and Judah himself, it was Joab, in my modern view. David was 70 when he died, which was a long natural life.  I, his namesake, am now 58, only 12 years younger than he was when he died. Of course, my life and death is not linked to David's because of a name and I don’t know when I will die (though for some bizarre reason, I frequently tell people I will die at 66). I hope it is a long time from now, until pain makes life more some imaginary duty instead of pleasure, but you never know. 72-73 is an average, not a given.

I live – we live - in a different place and time than David did -- a much, much better one in my view, though one built on the foundation of his time, if he actually lived. There is no direct proof or strong circumstantial evidence that he did, whatever you may have been told, though the name and story has come down through history, never having lapsed. Whether there was a King David or not, the heritage is there, even if we can only name our grandparents or great grandparents and have to stop there. Because of reading and writing, we are not just products of those we are genetically descended from, but innumerable other peoples and civilizations, some of which we know and some we don’t. Some people don’t even care about why they feel a connection to their ethnic ancestors. Maybe most people. They just want to be told that they are this nationality or that religion, even if they literally know nothing about it. Whatever story, true or not, they’ve been told as children is good enough for them and that is what they preserve.

I may sound all judgy in the above rendition of the Bible. I have a 21st century perspective, of course. But, I’m really not picking on the Jews at all. Find a group at that period of time, or for thousands of years, that didn’t behave in a similar barbaric way, at least to our eyes, and survived for long when they came in contact with other fierce people. If you do find one, good chances you are relying on their own legends and not the truth. There are snippets in the Bible and the Jewish culture that has come down to us which are far superior to other cultures, but it was a culture in its infancy compared to what we know today. No one should base their ethics upon the behavior of Biblical characters because often they were examples of human failures, frailty, cruelty and sin.  Humanity, like a single human, had to start somewhere. It's like carving a jack-o-lantern. It's beautiful when you finish, but every carve out the inside of a pumpkin? Ycccccch.

The Bible itself is a collection of stories, real or imagined, laws and poetry emblematic of a continuing tradition. It tells us of a fairly substantial period of time, roughly a millennium to a millennium and a half, and may be fairly said to be a significant part of the reason we now live in what seems to us an enlightened, if highly imperfect culture, though no doubt future cultures will find us barbaric too. I hope so, at least. It is a step by step thing, but the Jews have been evolving for thousands of years in a more intact way than most other groups. The fact that Bibles are printed by the millions today in hundreds of languages, even if rarely read in their entirety in any of them, alone tells you of the impact of this early and continuing culture. Nevertheless, each of us is a product not just of one strand of people, but many peoples, particularly in the modern age, who though out history have influenced one another, merged and split off from one another in innumerable ways. I feel as much an heir to the Greeks and to the American founders, just as they were children of each other and many other groups.

We know from watching tv and reading the news that life can still be filled with horrors of Biblical proportions and there are people who wish to still live with laws and mores like those of earlier centuries, butchering or enslaving others. As we know from recent events there are people in America with full access to our diversity, enlightenment ideas and technology, who murder and destroy with no clear rationale and many more who would if they could. But, overall, not so much either, and when I leave my home to go get a sandwich, there is never a thought in my mind that someone is coming to kill me. It is not for nothing I like to say to people almost every day – We are not only the luckiest people in the world – we are the luckiest people in the history of the world. Some days it is harder to believe than in others, but nevertheless, I still think it is true.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

David and the Game of Thrones

When I was growing up, I could take a rock and literally hit the houses of two other kids named David. It wasn’t very far. One was across the street and one next door. And, if I threw the rock as far as I could, then ran picked it up and threw it again, I could hit the homes of two more Davids. 

There were a lot of Davids where I grew up. I lived in a neighborhood with a fair amount of Jews and Jewish parents were partial to the name. It was so popular, it was number 2 for boys after Michael the year I was born (1959) according to one baby name website. Right now it is not that popular – down at number 45 in 2016, according to another baby centered website.

You might be aware that it’s an Old Testament name and that King David, once a lowly shepherd, and slayer of the colossus Goliath, was one of the most revered figures in the Bible.

What you may not know is that he was quite the character and his life (or fictional life - no way to know) would make for a very dramatic mini-series. Of course, they’d have to leave a lot out or rate it X. I haven’t written about the Bible in a while*, so I thought I’d relate his story in a summary and breezy way. There's a lot of violence, but also a lot of sex and backstabbing. George R. R. Martin, author of The Game of Thrones, did not invent the genre. The Bible was way ahead of him.

*5/22/07 - "Would you have father Abraham for your father?" and 2/11/15 - "Atheist and Bible to marry! Read all about it!" come to mind.

I’ll mostly use the King James Version as my source, because I prefer it to all other English versions. As always, I do not need to be comprehensive – you can read the Bible if you like – but simply will write about such things as are on my mind now and which I think might interest someone who is not too religious and has any interest in history or literature.

I am simply following the Old Testament here, and do not go into the later interpretations and traditions among Christians, later Jews (in the Midrash), Muslims or even Hollywood or modern literature. There are, even in the Bible (of course) contradictions. So has it always been.

So, once upon a time . . .

There was a battle between the people of Israel and the people of the Philistines, both who were arrayed on the sides of mountains. each looking across the valley at one another, when a Philistine known as Goliath of Gath came forth. Let us just say he was a big guy with metal armor, a hell of a big spear and a shield bearer.

Goliath issued a challenge to the Israelis. Let one of them fight him. If the Israeli could kill him, then the Philistines would be their servants. But, if Goliath killed him, well, you know.

And he issued this challenge for 40 days. You’d think they’d get bored and just fight after a few days, but apparently, they’d rather Goliath just issue this challenge. Big as he was, I expect the Israelis just looked down at their sandals or pretended to be pulling off a hangnail.

Now, there was a man of Bethlehem, Judah by the name of Jesse. He had a bunch of sons. The three oldest followed the Israeli leader, Saul, to battle . . . or went to listen to Goliath issue his challenge day after day. Jesse also had a son named David. David was his youngest and he tended to his father’s sheep. One day, Jesse asked David to take some bread and cheese to the army.

When David got there, it looked like there was going to be a battle. But, Goliath of Gath came forward again and issued his challenge. And the Israeli men, perhaps trying to cajole some witless fool to fight Goliath, said, whoever kills him would be made wealthy by the King, get the King’s daughter – always big in these stories – and shall free his father’s house, whatever that means.

David, hearing this, asked who was this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the army of God? David’s oldest brother reproached him, asking him who is looking after the sheep and wasn’t he the naughty one?

Eventually, someone repeated David’s words to Saul, who called for him. David repeated that he would fight the Philistine. David told Saul a rather unlikely story of a lion and a bear who took a sheep from his flock, and that he slew them. You see, David had the Lord on his side, and the big Gathian was just one more beast to him.

Saul gave David a weapon and some armor, but David rejected them, not having tested them. David went out to meet Goliath and his shield bearer armed with just a staff, some stones and his sling. Not surprisingly, Goliath mocked him a bit, but David came back with a rejoinder that must have gotten some cheers from his side – “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: But I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou has defied” and other bravado.

Goliath approached and David moved towards him fast. And quick as you can say “Jack Robinson,” David nailed Goliath on the head with a stone from his sling shot. Running up to Goliath, David climbed atop him, drew Goliath’s sword and cut his head off. And so was born one of the most iconic moments in history – at least literary history, which is familiar to hundreds of millions of people in the world even today.

You can imagine, the Philistines took one look at David holding the giant head and tore off, running wee, wee, wee, all the way home, or something like that.  David put his armor in his tent – though where he got a tent from is not clear to me – but carried the head with him when Saul called him. It was traditional in ancient times to ask whose son someone was, and so Saul inquired of David, who told him he was Jesse’s son.

Saul’s son was Jonathan. Jonathan and David made a pact with each other and Jonathan gave David his sword and other weapons, even his clothing.

After that, Saul put David “over his men of war.” And though David behaved himself admirably, when Saul found out that women were praising David more than him, well, you can imagine how he felt. An evil spirit from God came upon Saul, and he hurled his javelin at David, intending to pin him to the wall.  Had he hit him, I’d likely have a different name today.

Saul, who sounded a little unstable to me, then put David over “a thousand,” that is, a large group of warriors. He also promised his eldest daughter, Merab, in exchange for David’s fighting for him.  For reasons I can’t fathom, Merab was given to someone else, but his other Daughter, Michal, was in love with David (which, by the way, probably means “beloved” or “beloved one”). The whole point was to ensnare David to die in battle. David was told rather than a dowry, which was traditional and unaffordable to David and his family, he could pay Saul with one hundred Philistine foreskins.  Yes, foreskins.

Apparently, David was quite good at getting Philistine foreskins, for he brought back twice as many as required. In that way, David won Saul’s daughter. But Saul became even more afraid of him and his enemy. At least, so we learn in 1 Samuel 18, although the writer appears to have forgotten that Saul had already tried to pierce David’s flesh with a spear himself, and the whole bunch of them seemed a little crazy. Family was tough, even in those days. Saul told his son Jonathan, among others, to kill David. But, Jonathan ratted out his dad and sent David into hiding. All for no good purpose, as Jonathan soon talked his Dad out of killing David, who went out and killed an even greater bunch of Philistines. But, not for long. Soon Saul changed his mind – the evil spirit from the Lord again visiting him, and he tried once again to pin David to the wall. Fortunately, David slipped away. Saul was more aggressive this time and planned to have David killed in the morning. Saul’s daughter, David’s wife, advised him to run and he did, out the window. Michal though played, maybe for one of the first times in history, the ole dummy in the bed trick, while David escaped. I kid you not.

And Saul continued to pursue David, but Saul’s son, Jonathan helped him escape and David fled and gathered to himself the sword of Goliath and fled again and feigned madness in fear of another king. And David’s family came to him.

In the meantime Saul gathered his people and started asking question, and slew many of them he felt helped David. And so a game of hide and seek ensued, with David always a step ahead of Saul.

Until at last Saul entered a cave where David and his men hid. And rather than slay Saul, he cut off a piece of his clothing secretly. When Saul left the cave, David followed him and calling to him, showed him how he had spared his life and prostrated himself. Saul wept and declared that David was more righteous than he was.

Saul then promised David would surely be kings, but made David swear he would not cut off Saul’s seed and destroy his family name. And then Saul went home and David and his men back into their cave. If you think I understand what just happened, you are wrong because it seemed like they patched things up – but apparently not.

David then came upon a rich sheepherder, who refused him help. David girded his sword and with his men went to slay him. But, the herder’s wife, Abigail, interceded and begged him off. Soon the old coot died because the Lord, who wasn’t shy about smoting someone in the Old Testament, smote him.  And David took Abigail and another woman to wife. And it was a good thing, because back at the fort, Saul had given David’s first wife, his daughter, to another man.

Good story so far, right? Sex and violence sells. They are going to sell more.

Soon after Saul and his men head out after David again. This time, David sneaks into the camp and, rather than kill Saul, or let his man do it, he takes Saul’s spear and some water, and steals off. This time when Saul and him face off, David shows him the spear and lets him again know that he spared him. And again, Saul forgives him and they go their separate ways. I wouldn’t trust Saul for anything. I definitely would not turn my back to him if any javelins were around.

Then David went into the land of the Philistines, even to Gath, from whence came Goliath, and is given land. And then David went on the warpath, and “smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel, and returned, and came” back to the Lord of Gath, who seeing David had attacked Judah and Israel, and made them abhor him, would be his subject forever.

Now the Philistines came to Israel, and the Lord of Gath brought David with him. Saul, panicking, sought out a seeress, though he had driven all those with familiars or wizards out of the land. And she raised the spirit of Samuel, the holy man, who Saul and David had known, and let me tell you, Samuel made Saul feel pretty small about what was going to happen, and Saul was going to depart, feeling weak and tired, but the seeress, being a nice girl underneath it all, made something for him and his men to eat. So Jewish.

But then, the other lords of Philistine, being numbskulls, insisted that David not fight alongside them and convinced David’s new lord to send him packing. So, back to the land of the Philistines David went.

It was a good thing, because while the men were out fighting an Egyptian raiding party had come in and grabbed all of the women and children. David and his men followed, and finding one left behind by the Egyptians, treated him well, promised not to kill him, and he led them to the party. David and his men killed almost all of them, except for those who escaped by camel, and recovered their families. David, showing some of the wisdom he’d become famous for, gave equal shares to the men who were exhausted and guarded the baggage and then sent gifts to some of the elders of the tribes of Judah.

Meanwhile, things did not go swimmingly for Saul. Without David to defend them the Philistines beat them silly, killing Saul’s men, even his sons, even Jonathan. Saul asked his armor bearer to run him through, but he wouldn’t, so Saul literally fell on his sword to avoid being abused by the uncircumcised Philistines, who found him, cut off his head and strapped up his body. Some Israelis took him down, burned his body and buried his bones under a tamarisk tree. Tradition.

An Israeli came to David in the land of the Philistines. He told David what happened and that Saul and Jonathan were dead.  David asked him how he knew. Saul, it turns out, dying, couldn’t quite manage to turn the corner himself, and asked the man to kill him. David and his men lamented. Then, because David was, albeit "wise," still a member of a barbarian tribe, he had the man killed because he had killed Saul - even though Saul asked him to do it.

Now David moved back to Judah and was made king over it. And one of Saul’s sons was made king of Israel. Some of Saul’s men and some of David’s met around a pool and decided to fight. It was a ridiculous fight, at first seeming like a very violent contest and then a ridiculous chase scene that may have inspired Benny Hill (those who don’t know who Benny Hill is – he was a very silly but funny man). At the end of the day though, David’s men overwhelmingly triumphed.

The war went on and David triumphed more and more and had some kids. In the meantime, Saul’s son, the king of Israel (you wouldn’t remember his name if I told you) insulted the commander of the army, Abner, whose name is easy to remember, asking him why he slept with his father Saul’s, concubine. Abner was fit to be tied and went to David and offered to trade allegiances and make him king of Judah and Israel. David said fine, but only if you bring me back Michal, his wife whom Saul gave to another man. So, this Abner did, and a pitiful scene arose, with Michal’s new husband following them the whole way, crying. Finally, Abner told him to go home, and just like that he did.  Abner convinced the elders of Israel to accept David. He went and told David what he had done and was allowed to leave in peace. Everybody’s happy.

But, it never lasts long in the Bible. When Joab, David’s general returns, he learns that Abner had been there and allowed to leave in peace. He tells David that he was hoodwinked, Abner just wanting to spy on him. Not to mention, Abner had killed Joab’s brother in battle. Joab goes and gets Abner, takes him aside to talk, but plunges his dagger into him, killing him. David finds out, curses Joab and his family, which in Biblical times is a big deal, and orders a funeral for Abner. Much lamenting ensues. David’s followers say to him to eat something (so Jewish) but he refuses to eat until the sun goes down. That doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but it somehow lets everyone know that David had no part in killing Abner. David whines that he is king, but the “sons of Zeruiah” – his nephews, Joab and his brother, are too strong for him. We’ll see about that.

In the meantime, it wasn’t going so well for Saul’s son, the king of Israel, either. Two Israeli banditos came to see him and stabbed him. They fled to David and told him that he was avenged. But, David, remembering that he had put to death the man who brought him the news that Saul was dead, decided he could do no less with these two, and his men hacked them to pieces. He found Saul’s son, and buried his head in Abner’s tomb. That makes little sense to me, as Abner and the king parted enemies, but, these fellows are hard to explain.

Is this all brutal enough for you Game of Throne's lovers? I assure you – it gets worse.

The Elders of Israel came to David and offered him the kingship. He had been king of Judah 7 years. Another 33 he would rule over both. But, the citizens of Jerusalem resisted him, sort of saying, “Nyah, nyah, nyah, you can’t get us.” Using a water-shaft, he did and took the city, renaming it the City of David. The Philistines attacked again, twice, and twice he defeated them. He had, after all, God on his side, and that’s hardly a fair fight.

But, God also had his testy side. David sent for the Ark of the Covenant, upon which God was enthroned. How this is different than having an idol, I’m not sure, but it isn’t looked upon so. In any event, as the procession was occurring, the Ark was shaken and one of the escorts put his hand on it to steady it. God took offense at this, because in the Old Testament, he was a temperamental and jealous psychopath, and zapped the poor guy.

Now, we haven’t had any female characters getting crazy, but that’s about to change. David was now afraid of the Ark, so he put it in someone’s house for a few months. When all went well, he had it brought to the city. It was a big party. They sacrificed some animals and David started “dancing with all his might.” His first wife, Michal, who had recently rejoined him, saw this, and for whatever reason women have to get mad at their husbands, this qualified. When she saw David dancing, she said “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of all the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would.” You can just hear a more modern version of Michal snarling, "Why don't you just go dance with your little whore girlfriends?"

David, of course, got on his high horse, frat boy that he was, and mocked her father (though he was always defending Saul to others) and her family, sort of saying, "God picked me, your family sucks, nyah, nyah, nyah. And I’ll dance like a fool if I want to." But, he was right, and Michal never bore any children. Personally, I kind of feel sorry for her. All David had wanted was her, took her from her husband - and big surprise, now they couldn't stand one another. Another great tradition started.

Soon after David admonished himself to his friend, Nathan, that he was keeping God in a tent while he himself lived in a house of cedar. I get his point. He wanted to build God a house. But Nathan had a vision and God revealed to him that he never asked David for a house, but he was going to reward David by making his child king, and the kid would build him a house. It’s actually an important chapter for Jews but also Christians and Muslims, all of whom believe David’s life was revelatory for their own religions, because it promises that David’s house and throne and kingdom would last forever.

Then David and his men went all about basically kicking ass and taking names, defeating all comers. “David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.” Here’s an example of Davidian justice, so that you get the idea:

“David also defeated the Moabites. He made them lie down on the ground and measured them off with a length of cord. Every two lengths of them were put to death, and the third length was allowed to live.”

Sounds more like an obsessive-compulsive serial killer to me, but . . . . Arguably, in modern terms, David was plain nuts. But, you can see how royalty would love the message of David. In one chapter he finds one of Saul's descendants, a lame son of Jonathan, and treats him wonderfully, even though Saul repeatedly tried to kill him. 

It worked out well for everyone there, but, sometimes we know kindnesses are met with suspicion and it doesn’t always work out so well. Another time, David sent some envoys to a local tribe, trying to be nice to the son of a man who was good to him. But, that leader’s advisors told him that David was just trying to spy on them. So, he cut off half the beards of the envoys and also the garb around their buttocks. You can imagine them returning to David with half beards and their asses hanging out. David told them to keep their distance until their beards grew back – yes, that’s the apparently the part that bothered him. It wasn’t a good idea for the other tribes though. Much as they tried, David kept defeating them.

That’s all for this week, but I’m going to do Part II next week. It’s going to start getting even more Games of Thronish. Stay tuned. Same Bat channel, same Bat time. And if that doesn’t mean anything to you, then you are probably just a lot younger than I am.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .