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.

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