Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Reader's Diary #344- The Good News Bible: Samuel I (FINISHED)

"All the king wants from you as payment for the bride are the foreskins of a hundred dead Philistines."
--Samuel I, Ch. 18, V. 25

Nine books into the Bible I'm almost desensitized to the violence. But from a literary stand point, the villains have up til now typically been portrayed as bad people (they rape, worship other gods, eat unpasteurized cheese, and so forth). So, despite the fact that I didn't usually agree with all the revenge and tactics of the Israelites, I at least knew how I was supposed to feel. This time around, it's even harder to get behind the so-called heroes when they set out to destroy the Amalekites-- "all the men, women, children, and babies; the cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys"-- when their only crime seems to have been that their ancestors opposed the Israelites when they came from Egypt. Based on their seeming determination to slaughter every living thing in their path, I'm one to think perhaps they had reason. It seems as if it was assumed that by now readers should be behind the Israelites no matter what and that vilifying their enemies is no longer necessary.

I did enjoy a couple characters in the novel: Saul and David. (The title character Samuel was a bit of a dud and was almost non-existent after the first few chapters.) Of course enjoying the characters and liking them are two separate things. Starting with Saul, he is the more overtly flawed of the two. He has fits of rage, is jealous, and at his absolute worse, is murderous. However, Saul is not an unsympathetic character. His downfall followed when he did not follow God's instruction to a tee. Instead of destroying all the Amalekites and their livestock, Saul kept the best sheep and cattle for themselves (for a sacrifice to God, he claimed) and spared King Agag's life. Because of this insubordination, God not only rejected Saul but sent evil spirits to torment him, causing him fits that could only be subdued by David's harp playing. Then when God decided to protect and essentially promote David, King Saul is consumed with jealousy, despite David's unfaltering loyalty. No I don't condone Saul's spear throwing or plots to kill David, but I'd say he's been one of the most realistic and complex characters in the Bible so far.

As for David, I wasn't as taken with him as I think we were supposed to be. While his loyalty to Saul was definitely admirable, he seems to be most remembered for his bravery, especially in facing Goliath. Of course, the Biblical definition of bravery seems to be putting one's trust in God for protection, while the modern North American definition seems to be trusting in oneself and well... I guess I'm a product of the times. To me, David's actions are akin to Superman playing Russian roulette. Both know they are in no real peril, so what's the big deal? Furthermore, he infiltrates the Philistines and sneaks off everyday and "kill[s] everyone [in the neighbouring regions], men and women, so that no one could go back to Gath and report what he and his men had really done." Again, this seems like a rather antiquated definition of bravery.

Still, interesting characters, even if not likable.

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