nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,

Jumping Jehoshaphat!

After a hiatus, because the latter part of I Kings got a bit boring with the competing Bad Kings of Israel and Judah, I am back reading the Bible and romping towards the end of I Chronicles, which seems to tell the same stories, only slightly differently. This is something I enjoy when it’s in the works of JRR Tolkien or indeed fandom, but it can get tedious when it’s the various kings of Israel and Judah. I definitely think that Andrew Davies should make a Bleak House style soap opera of the David story. He wouldn’t even have to add any sex and violence.

II Kings contains the incident of Elisha, the little children, and the bears (which I hadn’t realised is the reference in the “Scripture Verses” in What Katy Did, thank you tree_and_leaf). Specifically:

23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

So far, the best (as in, most mind-boggling) explanation as to how this can be reconciled with an all-loving God who generally doesn't think that children should be massacred for minor rudeness (not a problem, one assumes, for the original authors – I’m really enjoying Slate Blogs the Bible, from a secular Jewish POV, who points out that Jezebel is the first Biblical character to wear make-up, filling me with the urge to cry "lipstick and nylons!") is "There may have been elements of public safety involved":

"A careful study of this incident in context shows that it was far more serious than a "mild personal offense." It was a situation of serious public danger, quite as grave as the large youth gangs that roam the ghetto sections of our modern American cities. If these young hoodlums were ranging about in packs of fifty or more, derisive towards respectable adults and ready to mock even a well-known man of God, there is no telling what violence they might have inflicted on the citizenry of the religious center of the kingdom of Israel (as Bethel was), had they been allowed to continue their riotous course." (See here)

That's right: the children were not children, they were violent young hooligans, they probably had guns and were on drugs, and they certainly weren't white and protestant, and having them torn apart by bears was the only way to prevent their rioting and destroying Manhattan! Ahem. What fascinating thought processes these people have.

As an aside, I rather enjoy the occasional appearances of the “Sons of Belial”, which sounds like it ought to be a name for an early nineteenth century club patronised by friends of the Prince Regent.

Romping through some more Kings and their inadequacies, wishing that the narrator had chosen to tell one story at a time so that Bad King Ahab was an entertaining saga rather than all over the place, it’s time for another bit that I’ve heard of, and happily it is in novelistic rather than chronicle style. Sennacherib has turned up, or rather his ambassador, Rabshakeh, who has clearly been reading the Mordor Guide to Diplomacy.

19 And Rabshakeh said unto them, Speak ye now to Hezekiah, Thus saith the great king, the king of Assyria, What confidence is this wherein thou trustest?
20 Thou sayest, (but they are but vain words,) I have counsel and strength for the war. Now on whom dost thou trust, that thou rebellest against me?
21 Now, behold, thou trustest upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it: so is Pharaoh king of Egypt unto all that trust on him.
22 But if ye say unto me, We trust in the LORD our God: is not that he, whose high places and whose altars Hezekiah hath taken away, and hath said to Judah and Jerusalem, Ye shall worship before this altar in Jerusalem?
23 Now therefore, I pray thee, give pledges to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.
24 How then wilt thou turn away the face of one captain of the least of my master's servants, and put thy trust on Egypt for chariots and for horsemen?
25 Am I now come up without the LORD against this place to destroy it? The LORD said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.
26 Then said Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, and Shebna, and Joah, unto Rabshakeh, Speak, I pray thee, to thy servants in the Syrian language; for we understand it: and talk not with us in the Jews' language in the ears of the people that are on the wall.
27 But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?

I think we can all guess what he does next.

28 Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and spake, saying, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria:
29 Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand:

"The rabble of Gondor and its deluded allies"... And so on. This is an utterly brilliant passage, not only because of the terrific literary style, but because what is happening is so recognisable. Rabshakeh sounds as if he could give lessons to Darth Vader because this is how invading armies behave, and it's how governing powers behave, too. It's not only Rabshakeh's propoganda and threats that are familiar, but the attempts of the rulers of Jerusalem to get him to shut up before the people hear. (Incidentally, my favourite bit of timeless social behaviour is 2 Kinds 6.5 "Oh God, my axe has just fallen into the river - and it was only borrowed".)

Finally, speaking of Assyrians and their cohorts gleaming in purple and gold, I love this poem by Ogden Nash.

Very Like a Whale

One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by the authors of simile and metaphor.
Authors of all races, be they Greeks, Romans, Teutons or Celts,
Can't seem just to say that anything is the thing it is but have to go out of their way to say that it is like something else.
What does it mean when we are told
That that Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold?
In the first place, George Gordon Byron had enough experience
To know that it probably wasn't just one Assyrian, it was a lot of Assyrians.
However, as too many arguments are apt to induce apoplexy and thus hinder longevity.
We'll let it pass as one Assyrian for the sake of brevity.
Now then, this particular Assyrian, the one whose cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
Just what does the poet mean when he says he came down like a wolf on the fold?
In heaven and earth more than is dreamed of in our philosophy there are great many things.
But I don't imagine that among them there is a wolf with purple and gold cohorts or purple and gold anythings.
No, no, Lord Byron, before I'll believe that this Assyrian was actually like a wolf I must have some kind of proof;
Did he run on all fours and did he have a hairy tail and a big red mouth and big white teeth and did he say Woof Woof?
Frankly I think it is very unlikely, and all you were entitled to say, at the very most,
Was that the Assyrian cohorts came down like a lot of Assyrian cohorts about to destroy the Hebrew host.
But that wasn't fancy enough for Lord Byron, oh dear me no, he had to invent a lot of figures of speech and then interpolate them,
With the result that whenever you mention Old Testament soldiers to people they say Oh yes, they're the ones that a lot of wolves dressed up in gold and purple ate them.
That's the kind of thing that's being done all the time by poets, from Homer to Tennyson;
They're always comparing ladies to lilies and veal to venison,
And they always say things like that the snow is a white blanket after a winter storm.
Oh it is, is it, all right then, you sleep under a six-inch blanket of snow and I'll sleep under a half-inch blanket of unpoetical blanket material and we'll see which one keeps warm,
And after that maybe you'll begin to comprehend dimly
What I mean by too much metaphor and simile.

Ogden Nash
Tags: atheist reading the bible, literature, tolkien
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