Posted by panch from customer-148-233-71-104.uninet.net.mx (188.8.131.52) on Monday, February 17, 2003 at 5:39PM :
Having Fun With The Bible.
I've been taking an extended romp through Gordon and Rendsbergs, "The Bible and The Ancient Near East". They quote the Bible extensively and offer some interesting insights, however on the whole I'd say it's just one more in a long long series of books that seeks to put the best possible spin on them old Jews...and of course the worst possible explanation for the behavior and achievements of the Assyrians.
Jesus was descended from the House of David...or at least that's the way it has to go because the Messiah was supposed to come from that line. So what was David like? He is the national hero par excellance of the Jews...and since everyone and Mother Hubbard's dog has felt perfectly free to, and has taken great delight in exposing our kings...I thought to return the compliment. Now mind you, I don't like this sort of thing...don't like accusing someone dead for almost 3000 years of things I can't be sure he did...when he isn't here to expalin himself...and besides morality and things like ethics are peculiar to the time and place. As this hasn't stopped any number of "experts" and moralists from selecting the worst possible light in which to view the ancient Assyrians, I will take a lesson from my betters and call into question the character of people I don't know. But, come to think of it, that's only been the case among Jewish and Christian Westerners...I doubt the Iraqis share this awful image of their Assyrian ancestors...ahem.
The ancient Hebrews didn't care for kings and despots...unless you consider the patriarch of a family, or a tribal chieftan as a mini-despot. Anyway, they had no king ruling over the people until the time of Samuel, around 1000 BC whn they got tired of the Philistines lording it over them. The Jews. according to this book, had to go to them for something as simple as sharpening a tool. Samuel was prevailed upon to select a worthy candidte for kingship and he chose Saul, a respected farmer, who never had a palace or anything near to one but governed from under a tree. Samuel and Saul fell out so that Samuel chose David to succeed Saul...or as Samuel says, "the spirit of Yahwe lit upon David".
In their book, Gordon and Rendsberg, describe David as, " ...gifted, charming and handsome; a man with the kind of loyalty toward his friends that won in return loyalty toward him." It's worthwhile to make a note of this as one by one several of his agents and sons betray him and the people rise up against him. You can't win them all...you just aren't supposed to point out negative traits unless they belong to an Assyrian king and hero...handsome or not.
First we learn that David didn't kill Goliath...and didn't "not" do it with a sling. Elhanan killed Goliath and did it with a "weaver's beam". The bible mentions both versions and admits which is the correct one. Maybe David meant to kill Goliath???
Saul gets jealous of David, probably afraid he'll start taking credit for all kinds of things he also didn't do...and throws a spear at David while the latter is playing the harp. We are assured that David was a good musician with a sweet voice...but if this story goes the same way as the Goliath one...it's quite likely that he was awful...and Saul couldn't get him to stop any other way. In between bouts of trying to have David killed, Saul offers his daughter Michal in marriage but stipulates first that David must bring back 100 Philistine foreskins. David, being an epic hero brings back 200. Aside form the tastefulness of this sort of thing...I mean who counted them? How did David get the foreskins...and what did anybody DO with them? A belt or necklace perhaps?
Saul still wants David killed so that he's forced to run away and hide. He finds 400 outlaws who haven't managed to live among the people and places himself at their head. As the book says..."Upon becomming their chief, David began his career of leadership among men, on his own; a leadership that was to culminate in the establishment of a long dynasty." From such beginnings...
Although David had a few chances to kill Saul, he refrained. This is explained thus, "rarely did he fail to do what would command the respect of the public. David usually treated people as he himself would want to be treated." This about an outlaw chief with 400 thugs under his control. The use of the key words, "rarely" and "usually" allow for exceptions to David's noble behavior "most of the time". The exceptions however would have been fatal to an Assyrian king's character...but never mind. The Assyrians didn't write the bible.
He is singled out further..."David, as distinct from many orientals in the Biblical world. and even later times, was not bent on extirpating the line of his predecessor. On the contrary, he vowed he would not destroy Saul's seed, a vow of which he was later mindful."
Now, "mindfull" is another one of those words just ambiguous enough to slip past any Jew or Christian. An Assyrian, however, must pause and re-consider...just as in the case of "rarely" and "usually". Much later, after David has been king for some years, the Gibeonites insist that the remaining members of Sauls family must be put to death to avenge some slight or other. People were quick to take offense in those days, and give it too. David sends the remaining children of the House of Saul to their slaughter except for one..."in order to keep his promise". A strange sort of moral high ground. What would be condemned in every instance if done by an Assyrian, or anyone else, is either glossed over or explained away when committed by a Jew...especially when that Jew has to be the ancestor of Jesus. You'd think we would have learned from their example how to revere every single ancestor, even one as slippery as David.
David and his band of Merry Men supported themselves as outlaws will. When David send his men to collect tribute at a wedding the book cuts to the point by saying, "In other words, a band of outlaws could be a force to be reckoned with in a given district in Israel and impose the payment of 'protection money' on private citizens."
To round out his character as a noble leader of men, David and his men joined the Philistines in battle against Israel...except that the Philistines, "suspected his loyalty and therefore Achish (their king) found it wise to excuse him and send him back home". What power words have. The use of these namby pamby terms to describe a traitor to his king and country hide a multitude of sins and explain how we came about our peculiar notions of "loyalty", and therefore "treachery" as well. We have a whole lot of Christian Assyrians eager to help the Philistines of this day, the United States government, in attacking their home country. Their "loyalty" is highly suspect...in both cases...to the United States, which they hardly understand and to BetNahrain, which can't understand THEM. And neither will respect them in the end. In any case and without David's help, Saul and his son Jonathan are both killed in battle and David, upon whom Yahwe's spirit had indeed "lit" hard, became king.
There comes a paragraph about Israel's uniqueness in the realm of historiography that is worthy of an Aprim. There is a lot of humor in the bible...not one jot of it intentional, but howlingly funny just the same.
"With the rise of the monarchy, Hebrew historiography comes into its own, for the sense of national greatness evoked a pride in the story of the nation. The composition of real (!) history is the greatest achievement of that period. It antedates Greek hisoriography by over 500 years... it still remains a miracle that not the large nations(such as Babylonia, Assyria, or Egypt) but tiny Israel made that momentous contribution to civilization".
I'll just let that stand there, in all its "historic" hysteria.
David goes on to unite the tribes of Israel, combining the northern Israelians and the southern Judeans into one nation with the cultic center moved to Jerusalem. Though a prophet tells David his hands are too bloody to build the lord's Temple and that it would have to wait for someone else, David manages to create an "empire". You really have to appreciate the Hebrews' ability to make an empire of a molehill...and reduce a true empire, like that of Assyria and Babylonia to a postscipt of their own greatness.
"David's cnquests extended in all directions. He vanquished Philistia, Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Aram up to the Euphrates where he erected a stella of victory. In some cases he was brutal. Moab was conquered and two thirds of the population were put to death (an Assyrian no doubt would have killed them all). According to 2 Samuel 8:6 the land of the Arameans around Damascus was conquered and governors sent by David to rule there. The same was done in Edom...Accordingly, in the the course of but a few years, David transformed Israel from a minor state under the domination of the Philistines into an international empire (sic). It's spheres of influence stretched from the Sinai Desert and the Gulf of Eilat in the south and southwest to the Euphrates River in the northeast, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Syrian Desert."
Sounds rather large when put that way...sort of like describing Atour Golani as being "ALL the way from his head to his little toes"...an Assyrian Giant.
The book does add...in the interest of "historiography", that..."One of the reasons for the establishment of such an empire (sic) at this time was the decline of the traditonal powers, Egypt in the one direction, Assyria and Babylonia in the other". Afraid of having possibly dimished the achievements of their national hero by telling the plain unvarnished truth, in this instance at least, the book adds..."Nevertheless, we should take nothing away from David, who exhibited true political and military genius in forging the international empire."
No indeed...we should take nothing away from the Jew ancestor of Jesus while we take everything of merit and value away from the Assyrians...everything except their great "good sense" in salvaging what shreds of humanity and decency were left to them after centuries of debauchery and murder by running after the descendant of this Jewish builder of empires. An empire that included a few mud walled villages in a howling wilderness of sand and sky. One that was "international" but only lasted for 60 odd years. You'd think the Jews would be ashamed to even call their sandbox an empire, or the acts of David as "heroic"...instead they and their offspring have made us and our offspring ashamed of what we achieved...especially because we treated them so badly.
David marries several times even sending his faithful soldier Uriah to his certain death because he lusts after the man's wife, Bathsheba, with whom he commits adultery as well...and from whom Solomon will come. But even this is put to their credit when the book says, "The narrative (bible) makes no attempt to cover David's sin, thus demonstrating one of the Bible's truly unique qualities. In any other society in the ancient Near East, it is obvious (sic) that no king's faults would have been portrayed in such an open and public manner." That may be...but open or not...or whenever uncovered, it's still the case that the Jew is forgiven everything, while the Assyrian is condemned for everything.
In time the people grow restless and David's son Absalom raises the revolt against his father but is killed. The book says, "It is important for us to remember that from the standpoint of the Israelites, particularly of the tribe of Benjamin, David was a usurper who had sinned against the House of Saul. The fact was detrimental to the unity of the Hebrew tribes because the feeling that the Davidic Line was a line of usurpers contributed to the division(never to be mended) after Solomon's death." In other words, the only time the Hebrews were ever united in a "great international empire" was accomplished through usurpation and force...not by subjugating their enemies, but the Israeli people themselves. Absent that, there never would have been any "unity" or "greatness" or "empire". It took a crime to give them a feeling on "nationhood"...and they're still at it.
By now David is an old man so that, "A Shunamite girl named Abishag was brought to him to nurse him and keep him warm. The latter service means only the physical therapy of keeping the old man warm through the application of young body heat to his body. Sexual implications should not be read into the text." No...never, not unless they can put an Assyrian king in as negative a light as possible.
Just before his death a second son, Adonijah plots another revolt. David makes Solomon co-ruler and he sets about to kill his brother and several of his father's most trusted and loyal servants. After David's death, Solomon practically enslaves the Israelites to force them to build the grand buildings that were the glory of his reign and Hebrew history so that, "the people's king (as Saul had been) had changed into an oriental despot, which was against the natural inclination of the citizenry". You'll note that once again whenever anything distasteful happens to affect a Jew it's always laid at the feet of an "oriental"...I guess that's us. He couldn't have changed into a "Hebrew despot"...becomming a despot at all meant he also became oriental...a non-Hebrew. Nt only were we orientals rotten people...we were a bad influence on the Hebrews as well.
The empire was apparently on shakey grounds from the start and didn't last long and might not have produced all the wonders attributed to it. The book goes on to say, "The Bible concentrates on Solomon's building of the Temple and his own palace. Recent archeological work in Jerusalem has not produced evidence of these structures". Now that's odd. Both those buildings are the glory of the Biblical Hebrews and not a trace has been found yet? Were they as small and ephemeral as the "empire"? There isn't a whole hell of a lot to find in Israel...how come no trace of the wonders of Solomon?
The book quickly adds, lest you might think he built nothing imposing that could be found.."but other Solomonic(notice these little but recurring tricks of language...Solomon's reign, of which nary a great building can be unearthed today, merits nonetheless its own descriptive caption, "Solomonic"...which by the evidence produced so far should mean "non-existant"...or "very small") building projects have been found. The most impressive (sic) of these is a very large stepped stone structure: its exact use is still a matter of question, though most likely it served to strengthen Jerusalem's steep slopes and/or it was used as a platform of some sort." What a builder...what an empire...what buildings. All they've managed to find was a buttress to a hillside??? They think.
Solomon's building projects, whatever their scope, and the added taxation to pay for all this brilliance irked the people more and more..."What the Israelites(particularly the northeners, who felt abused by the Judean king) had to pay in labor and wealth for Solomon's prosperity, was regarded as plain oppression". I don't want to seem petty but it seems to me the better system would be to go find others to oppress rather than enslave your own people...but then I'm Assyrian.
When Solomon sends Jeroboam, an official in his trust, to force the people to obey, he takes the opportunity instead to, "work with the enslaved masses of Israel to win support and make things ready for the right moment when a crisis should confront the realm". In other words...more treachery.
With this we come to the end of the period of "glory" for the Hebrews. The book syas it all...in all seriousness too.
"The period of David and Solomon was the golden age of ancient Israel. The country achieved the height of its political, military and economic power during the tenth century. As numerous examples from world history instruct us (Classical Greece, Imperial Rome, Elizabethan England, Napoleonic France etc.) a country at the height of its power (sic) is also a country with flowering artistic and cultural achievement." I have to break in here to point out yet another instance of making up in clever use of language what you lack in buildings...as in comparing in the same breath, the puny empire of Israel with Napoleon's, Elizabeth's and Augustus'. While we had the greatest, we like to make of ourselves the least worthy...while the Jews inflate themselves right up to the top. It's great to be humble, I wouldn't know...but self-effacing?
It turns out the one thing we want our children to be most proud of, so we say...is also the thing we tell them was a shame and a disgrace and the bloodiest episode in world history, whose worst crime, one that outstrips any positive achievement, was that the Assyrians were not kind to the Jews. Then we tell them to rejoice for they are now Christian and have turned their backs on that bloody/glorious period of their ancestry. Well which is it?
To continue..."The burgeoning of power (sic) and the burgeoning of the arts go hand in hand. We know little of Israel's achievement in the plastic arts (like you can't find a temple or palace) and, in fact, due to the second commandment, there probably were restrictions to some extent ("Thou Shalt Not Make Temples That Can Be Found"). But in their creativity in writing, the Israelites were unsurpassed in antiquity."
That last line says enough. In "creative writing" no one could sling it like them ole Hebrews.
So what conclusion do I draw? I don't fault them for anything. I can understand wanting to make the most with the least. There they sat in that "enviable" land that had no rainfall to speak off...visited by droughts, locusts and famine that forced them periodically to go to Egypt in order to survive...there was Assyria and Babylonia blessed with abundant water as well...and there was Israel...a cluster of tribes squabbling among each other until one "great man" arose who was an outlaw, a traitor, a lecher, a fornicator, a murderer...who would one day produce the Messiah...and they wanted to be great too...so they "disovered" creative writing like no one had ever seen because no one else needed to lie like that to compensate for a woefull lack of accomplishment...hell they even had to steal Sargon and Hammurabi and Gilgamesh and who knows what else...and if they hadn't produced in Jesus someone whose simple message wasn't appealing to slaves and slave owners...they would have left behind no trace at all.
We are the ones who civilized them...and today they've convinced us we are better off distancing ourseles from the real glory we achieved...something they would have killed for and tried to... but had to fabricate and steal instead.
Let others write the history and build the great empires...it's a lot more economical to "explore" them.
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