Monday, April 30, 2007

Introducing David

I've started a book on Sefer Shmuel, and one of the things I've learned is that Sefer Shmuel introduces King David twice.

The first time we meet David, in Samuel 16, he's a shepherd tending sheep when Samuel arrives to anoint him. The great seer first attempts to anoint each of David's seven brothers, but eventually gets it right. Immediately after, a kind of demon strikes Saul, and his courtiers recruit David as his musical therapist. "Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him."

In the second story, told in Samuel 17, a still-unknown David arrives at the front to visit his brothers. Goliath the Giant challenges the Hebrew soldiers, and David is offended on their behalf. He volunteers to fight the Palestinian champion, and is introduced to Saul, who doesn't recognize him. [In the first comment, BSN cleverly compares this to Mr. Burns failing to remember Homer Simpson though they meet in almost every episode]

After David kills Goliath, Saul asks "whose son is that young man?" without seeming to know his court musician. Introductions are made, and "From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house" and as a reward, David is given Merav, Saul's daughter.

There's an incongruity between the two stories, one easily explained if we can accept that the Goliath story is a folk legend, and one that is familiar to us: An ogre, or dragon is slain, by an unknown man of slight stature and limited prowess. After his success, the king rewards him with the hand of his daughter.

However (and listen carefully Chaim G) the *possibility*, that the Goliath story is not true should not disturb us. Whoever wrote the story, and decided to include it here did not do so unreflectivly. Even if David never killed Goliath, the story is written in a way that demonstrates David's bravery and resourcefulness, while also illustrating that God protects his people, even when they are badly out-numbered and over matched.

A modern man expects strict accuracy from historical accounts, but ancient men didn't share this bias. To the ancients "history" or the retelling of stories, was about imparting lessons, about ethics or morals, not facts. To an ancient man the message the Goliath story contains was reason enough to weave the story into the text, while presenting it as history.

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