Wednesday, June 30, 2010

1 Kings, Chapter 1

David is cold. The best solution his advisors can come up with: lie with a naked virgin. Jerry Falwell, of course, would have you believe this was standard medical practice, old men fucking young girls. I'm sure it was very... theraputic. The unfortunately-named Abishag is brought to his bedside and does her best, but poor old David can't get it up even for her fine feminine attributes.

One of David's sons, Adonijah, sensing an opportunity, declares himself king. He recruits Joab the general and Abithar the priest to lend credence to his claim, but several other key players refuse to acknowledge him, even after he sacrifices some sheep. Personally, I'd be convinced by anything if there was barbecue involved.

But no, Nathan goes to Bathsheba, the woman David saw bathing naked from a rooftop and whose husband he had killed after he impregnated her. Nathan reminds Bathsheba that David supposedly promised to make their son Solomon his successor. How many soap operas has this plot appeared in?

So Bathsheba goes along to David's chamber, where Abishag is still uh, ministering to the king. She reminds him of his promise and asks him to depose Adonijah and put Solomon in his place. Nathan comes in and backs Bathsheba up. David agrees to make Solomon his successor. He orders his minions to take Solomon to Gihon on his mule and crown him. The people get so excited with their shouting and dancing that it causes an earthquake. Good thing they didn't have vuvuzelas, then.

Adonijah hears the trumpets and figures out the jig is up. He runs into the temple and grabs onto the altar, refusing to let go until Solomon promises not to kill him. Solomon promises that as long as Adonijah behaves, he can keep his head, and goes back to the party.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapters 22-24

Chapter 22

David, apparently on his deathbed, although he'll be around for several more books, sings a song. Sadly, the bible does not give the tune. Among the highlights: god flies around on cherubs, which are not the winged babies we think of, but winged creatures with the face of a lion, ox, griffon vulture or man. David thinks pretty highly of himself, it seems, for he claims god has rewarded him according to his righteousness and the cleanliness of his hands. He's also full of self-praise for his battle victories and his ability to stamp his enemies as the mire of the street (v. 43). As depicted in Lego, click here.

Chapter 23

David is tired of deathbed songs, and is now making his deathbed speech. He urges the next ruler to be just, and must fight the men of Belial (a rival god) with iron spears. We then get a listing of David's strong men and their feats. Some of the most impressive: Adino the Enzite, who slew 800 men with his spear and Shammah, who killed a bunch of Philistines in a bean field.

Another curious incident is recounted: one time, David was super thirsty and three of his men broke through the enemy's lines to draw water from a well for him, but then he didn't even drink it! He just poured it on the ground for god.

More strong men: Benaiah killed two lionlike men of Moab (v. 20) and an actual lion in a pit. Oddly, the strongest of his strong men, the man David Plotz likens to David's own Donald Rumsfeld, Joab, is only mentioned as being the brother of some of David's other generals. So much for being a vicious infighter.

Chapter 24

Apparently we're time-travelling. At some point in his reign, god gets angry and commands David to take a census. No, that is not what normal gods do when they get angry. I wonder if this is what Michelle Bachman uses to justify her own irrational hatred of the census? Joab protests, but is overridden and goes out to count the people. Nine months later, he comes back to report that there are 800 000 battle-ready men in Israel, of whom 500 000 are Judahites.

David sees the error of his ways, even if the rest of us don't, and begs the lord for forgiveness. Gad the prophet approaches and tells him he can choose his punishment: seven years of famine, 3 months of losing battles to his enemies or three days of pestilence. David opts for the pestilence, which kills 70 000 people in 3 days. That must have been... smelly.

But wait! Just as the angel is about to destroy Jerusalem, god forgives the Israelites. David pleads for their lives and gets his answer again from Gad. Gad tells him to go make an altar on a threshing floor. So David goes, and when the farmer sees him he asks what he's doing. The farmer offers his own oxen as sacrifice and his threshing instruments for kindling. David insists on buying it all, then has a nice little barbecue which somehow ends the plague.

Monday, June 28, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapter 21

There's a famine. Divinely commanded of course. David asks god what's up, and he says it's punishment for the time Saul killed all those Gibeonites. Except... Saul didn't kill any Gibeonites. Remember? They tricked Joshua into signing a treaty all those books ago. According to Jerry, Saul violated that treaty, which isn't a very satisfying answer. And of course he doesn't bother to address why, exactly, god is turning against his chosen people for another people for a crime committed by someone who is already dead.

In the very next verse, we find out that Saul only sought to slay the Gibeonites, not that he succeeded. David goes to their king and asks how he can atone for Saul's crimes. The king asks for seven of Saul's descendants, and David chooses two of his remaining sons and five of his grandsons, including five of his ex-wife Michal's sons. Way to stick it to your ex, David! You're a model for psychotic ex-husbands everywhere!

The seven men are hung on a hillside in Gibeon. Rizpah, one of Saul's daughters, sits under the trees and chases off the carrion birds.

David hears what Rizpah's doing and he gathers Saul's and Jonathan's bones, then the bones of the seven hanged men and buries them on consecrated ground.

This book is very bad about transitions. In verse 14, David's praying to god for forgiveness for Saul's crimes. In verse 15, the Philistines invade again. Wouldn't that be better as the first verse in a new chapter? But I digress. The Philistines have giants again. First Abashai kills Ishbibenob, the first giant. Then there are several more, including Goliath's brother. Finally, one comes along with extra fingers and toes and is killed by David's nephew. That's the end of the giants for now.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapter 20

David hasn't been doling out his political patronage very judiciously, favouring the Judahites, and the other tribes are itching for their fair share. Sheba, a Benjaminite, raises an army, which camps out together, possibly in his garden.

David meanwhile, deals with the 10 concubines Absalom slept with in chapter 16. He locks them up in a house, where they will have food, but will live as widows (ie no more sex). That taken care of, he orders his servant Amasa to gather the men of Judah there within three days.

Amasa takes his sweet time, so David tasks another servant, Abishai, with the task. Then he orders them to go after Sheba. Joab and Amasa go off together. As they're riding along, Joab's sword 'falls out' of its holster. He picks it up, then holds Amasa by the beard as if to kiss him then stabs him viciously in the fifth rib (v. 10). Then Joab and Abishai continue along together.

The people are not impressed by this little act of barbarianism, and after they pull Amasa off the highway and bury him, go off to join Sheba.

Joab's men catch up to Sheba in the town of Abel, which is walled. An Abelite woman asks to speak to Joab. She asks him why he's besieging her city. He says he isn't, he's just trying to get Sheba. She promises to throw Sheba's head over the wall. She goes back into the city and soon the head comes sailing over the wall. True to his word, Joab leaves.

The chapter leaves with a listing of David's chief bureaucrats.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

2 Samuel Chapters 18 & 19

Chapter 18

David's army is back in the thousands rather than the 600 he's been running around with for most of his story. His people beg him not to go and fight Absalom so he sends his generals instead, with orders not to kill Absalom.

The battle takes place in a forest, and 20 000 men die, approximately the same number of military deaths as on D-Day. The forest must share some properties with the island in The Life of Pi, because the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured (v. 8). Even Absalom is a victim. He's riding along on his mule when suddenly his head gets caught in a tree branch and he ends up hanging there, comically, by the neck.

Someone sees this, and when he picks himself up from laughing on the ground, he goes and tells Joab about it. Joab rebukes him for not smiting Absalom against David's orders, then goes and thrusts three either daggers, darts or javelins through Absalom's heart, depending which translation you're reading. Ten of his men witness this barbary and get in on the act, killing him again some more. Then they throw him very unceremoniously into a pit and cover his body with stones. This is somehow humiliating.

In a non-sequitur, we are told that Absalom had erected a pillar in honour of himself, because he had no son. Never mind that period of intensive reproduction when he was locked in his house and fathered no less than 4 kids in 2 years.

Then there's a weird dispute over who's going to tell David that his son is dead. Eventually they both leave. David sees them approaching from different directions. The first one doesn't have any news about Absalom, so David asks the second, who tells him his son is dead. This leads to David's famous lament: O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! (v. 33)

Chapter 19

David is grieving dramatically, as is his style. Joab is disgusted and points out that the king loves his enemies more than his friends, because he doubts he'd be carrying on like this if his entire army had died and Absalom had lived. He tells him to get outside and give comfort to his people or they'll all abandon him. David goes, but this produces further confusion.

David calls for the priests and asks them to bring everyone together. They invite him back to Israel. Shimei, the stone-thrower from a couple of chapters ago, apologises to the king. Mephibosheth, Saul's son is next. David magnanimously gives him some land. An 80 year old man, Barzillai, escorts David and is invited to dinner. But Barzillai is a crotchety old man and only wants to go home. Why show up, then?

As David arrives, a dispute immediately arises between the tribe of Judah and the others over who owns more of the king.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapters 16 & 17

Chapter 16

David is riding and is intercepted by Ziba, a servant of Mephibosheth, Saul's grandson. Ziba has provisions and asses for David. David asks where his master is, and Ziba informs him he went to Jerusalem in hopes of getting his kingdom back. David tells him he shouldn't steal from his master and rides on.

The next person he encounters is Shimei, another member of Saul's clans. He curses at David and throws stones at him. One of David's men wants to go and punish him, but David is still wallowing in his own misery and refuses. Shimei follows, cursing and hurling stones, as David rides away.

Meanwhile, Absalom is in Jerusalem. One of David's old followers comes to him and offers praise. He asks why he didn't leave with David, and the friend says god has chosen Absalom.

Absalom asks one of his advisors, Ahithophel what to do next. Ahithophel tells him to have sex with his father's concubines, as predicted in chapter 11.

Chapter 17

Ahithophel asks Absalom for 12 000 men to pursue David with. That's overkill, isn't it? I mean, David only has 600 men with him and ran away from a guy throwing rocks. Anyway, Ahithophel promises to only kill David and to return his people to the fold. Absalom likes that plan, but wants a second opinion, so he calls on another advisor, Hushai. Hushai thinks he should wait, because David is still pissed off and dangerous. So dangerous he runs from rock-throwers. This is some bad advice, my friends.

Hushai also advises that he should go himself when the time comes and kill everyone with David. Furthermore, if David takes refuge in a city, they should destroy it utterly. Everyone agrees with Hushai, which is all part of god's plan to wreak evil on Absalom.

Hushai tells the priests to send messengers to David and tell him to get himself to a city. A boy sees them and sends word back to Absalom. Poor David has to hid in a well, a la Saddam Hussein in his spider hole. Absalom's servants, oddly less of a crack team than the US Army, fail to find him and move on. David escapes into Jordan, where he is well-received.

Ahithophel, finding his advice isn't followed, goes home and dies, which seems somewhat dramatic.

Absalom follows his father over the Jordan river into Gilead.

Monday, June 14, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapter 15

Absalom starts his campaign to undermine his father by parking his chariots outside the city gates and intercepting anyone coming to David to solve disputes and telling them he's the only magistrate available. He gradually gets the entire nation behind him with his sound judgements.

After 40 years of this, Absalom tells his father he vowed to return to Hebron at some point, and he thinks now's the time. While he's in transit, he sends his men around to say that when the trumpets sound, Absalom is king.

Finally, one of David's men hears about it and warns him. He flees, leaving his 10 concubines behind, but taking his 600 most loyal followers. We get a couple of scenes of David having heartbreaking conversations with his followers, sending them back and telling the bearers of the Ark of the Covenant to go back to the city lest god think him disloyal.

At one point he goes up a mountain to pray, and one of his followers begs him to go back to the city and ask to be Absalom's servant.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapter 14

Joab notices that David is missing Absalom. He bribes an old woman to dress herself in mourning and pretend to be grieving, and tells her to repeat another parable. I think David really likes it when people sit down and tell him bedtime stories.

So she goes to him and throws herself at his feet. He asks what's wrong and she tells him her two sons fought and one killed the other, and now her neighbours are harrassing her to turn over the surviving son for punishment, only she doesn't want to because then she won't have any children left. David sends her home and tells her not to worry about what her neighbours are saying, because he absolves her son. Before she leaves, she asks if she can just say one more thing. He agrees, and she asks why he'll forgive her son, but not his own. D'oh!

David thinks about it for a second and finally asks her if Joab put her up to it. She confesses that he did. David calls for Joab and asks him to bring Absalom home, but still won't look at him face to face.

We then get a couple of verses praising Absalom's physical beauty. Apparently he has very thick, luxurious hair that he only cuts once a year. We also find out that he uses his time under house arrest productively, fathering three sons and a daughter in two years. Yup, he's also a polygamist. He names the daughter Tamar, and she's also beautiful.

Eventually Absalom gets tired of waiting for his father to summon him, so he summons Joab, who ignores him. This goes on for a while, but fortunately Absalom is a sociopath, so when he gets frustrated, he sets Joab's barley field on fire to get his attention. It is effective, and Joab shows up all grumbly, but finally agrees to set up a meeting with David.

Monday, June 7, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapter 13

The inspiration for Faulkner's novel Absalom, Absalom!, which I have not read yet because I am still intimidated by his writing, having failed to even get through the first chapter of The Sound and the Fury.

It's also an incest story. I complained recently about incest in modern fiction, forgetting, apparently, Abraham's 'she's my sister' ruse, Lot's daughters, Judah and Tamar, and no doubt many more tales of forbidden love in the holy book.

So, the biblical Absalom is one of David's sons. He has a full sister named Tamar, who is beautiful. Amnon, David's oldest son, is in love with Tamar, but can't think of a way to get her alone. He confides in his friend Jonadab, who tells him to play sick and ask his father to send Tamar to nurse him.

Tamar comes in obediently, and as she's making the cakes, he sends all the servants out of the room. As she goes to feed him, he grabs her wrist and tries to pull her into the bed. She protests Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly. (v. 12) He doesn't listen. She tries another tack: begging him to ask David for her hand in marriage. Gross. Also forbidden in Leviticus. That doesn't work either and he rapes her.

Having established his dominance over her, Amnon is seized with a feeling of loathing and he kicks her out. She points out that this is more shameful than raping her, but he isn't listening again. He has his servant lock her outside.

She's wearing a multi-coloured garment, the same kind as Joseph used to wear in Genesis, and she rends it and pours ashes over herself while crying. Absalom somehow notices that something is wrong, and puts two and two together. He tells her not to worry and gives her sanctuary in his house.

David, meanwhile, has heard the story and is angry, but doesn't punish Amnon because he's the oldest. Absalom seethes silently and stops speaking to his brother. He bides his time for two years, until there's a harvest festival in another town. He invites all of his brothers, but David refuses. Absalom begs him to send Amnon, then. He instructs his servants to kill him once he's drunk. The others flee.

David is upset, but Jonadab explains only Amnon is dead because of what he did to Tamar. Absalom has fled into neighbouring Geshur, where he's taken refuge in the king's house. The other sons return shortly, though David misses Absalom.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapter 12

Nathan the prophet comes to David with the news about two men who live in the town: one rich, one poor. The poor man had a lamb that he raised as one of his own children, not unlike many pet owners today. A traveller came to town recently and stayed with the rich man, who, rather than feeding him one of his own flock, killed the poor man's lamb.

David, clearly not a Republican, is incensed, and orders the poor man's flock restored fourfold. But wait! It's a parable! Nathan points out that David is the rich man, because of this whole Bathsheba incident. His punishment will be to have his wives taken away and given to his neighbour, who will then publicly consummate the marriages.

David is contrite, but Nathan says god has already forgiven him, but his son is going to die. Well, that seems fair. Lo and behold, the boy Bathsheba was pregnant with in the last chapter is sickly and no amount of praying and fasting can save it. It dies after a week.

David gets up then and washes, prays and takes food again. David points out that now that the kid is dead, there's no point hastening his own demise. He even starts having sex with Bathsheba again, resulting in Solomon. God loves this baby and calls him Jedediah.

Meanwhile, Joab is still fighting the Ammonites and trying to conquer Rabbah. David goes to his assistance. Upon winning, he takes the king's heavy crown and the rest of the spoils. Depending which translation you believe, he then either has the people tortured or enslaved.

Next chapter: sibling rape goes wrong.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapter 11

David has sent his men off to war while he rests up in Jerusalem. One evening, David takes a walk on his roof and happens to look down and see a hot chick bathing. That's so damned clich├ęd. He asks around and finds out her name is Bathsheba and she's married to Uriah the Hittite.

Because he gets off on cuckolding other men, David sends for her and sleeps with her, then sends her home. Of course she gets pregnant and tells him about it. Probably not wanting to take responsibility, he recalls Uriah from the front, and tells him to Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet (v. 8), which, just so we're clear, is code for: fuck your wife and we'll just call it yours. He even sends along some meat to get them in the mood. Uh, try chocolate and strawberries. But Uriah is either stupid or gay, and he camps outside the castle. David hears and goes down to encourage him to go home, but Uriah babbles some bullshit about how the ark and the army and all sleep in tents, so why should he get to go home to walls and comfy sheets and a wife? Anyone else's gaydar just spiking off the charts, here?

Uriah hangs around for two days, until a desperate David gets him drunk, but he still refuses to go home to his wife. Nope, instead he takes to his bed with some of David's servants for a big gay orgy.

David gives up and sends him back to the front with a letter for Joab, his general, instructing him to put Uriah into battle and get him killed. So Uriah goes and is killed. Joab sends word to David. Bathsheba also hears and goes into mourning. The minute she casts off her widow's weeds, of course, David marries here, but we are warned ominously that god is nevertheless displeased.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

2 Samuel, Chapters 9 & 10

Chapter 9

David, missing Jonathan, decides to find out if any of his family members are still knocking around. Why yes, Jonathan's son with the lame feet didn't participate in the war. David sends for the boy, Mephibosheth, who falls on his face at David's feet. David promises he'll show him kindness, restore Saul's land, and they'll eat all their meals together. The reward for the old slave who told him where Mephibosheth was? He gets to till the land! And then harvest it! And cook for the bastard! Oddly, the slave, Ziba, also has 20 slaves and 15 sons.

Chapter 10

Despite all the soaring rhetoric of 'love thy brother' and 'don't punish the child for the sins of its parents' in this book, it doesn't often come into practice. The old king of Ammon dies. You'll remember him for how he threatened to, and possibly did, gouge out the eyes of the Israelite messengers in 1 Samuel. So David decides to pay tribute to the father in the same fashion.

He sends envoys to the king, whose advisors are skeptical. So before they can carry out their plans, the king shaves half their beards and cuts half their clothing off and deports them. Well, hell, here we are 2000-odd years later and relations between Israel and its neighbours are no better.

David hears about what happened and rather than advising them to shave their beards off and start over, he tells them to hang out in Jericho until they grow back in. It must have been like the 1970s. Gross.

The Ammonites, sensing their little prank didn't go over very well, hire some Syrian mercenaries to defend themselves against David. David likewise raises an army. Apparently, mutually-assured destruction was not a deterrent back then, so they fight. And fighty-fight fight some more, until David gets into it and kills 40 000 men and 700 charioteers, and the Syrians are convinced not to fight for money anymore.