A Fan Down Under
Still taking suggestions? I prefer BR. Please don’t change a thing.
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
David as Murderer
More Con than Pro
In his review of Steven McKenzie’s King David: A Biography (“King David, Serial Murderer,” BR 16:06), Hershel Shanks writes, “Yes, the text is sympathetic to David.” “What we have is an account surely sympathetic to David.” “Yes, it is apologetic.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. The Court Historian’s account of David’s life in 1 Samuel 16 and 1 Kings 2 is, on balance, not sympathetic to David and is not apologetic in nature. Au contraire, it is better read as a polemic against him. For an account more sympathetic to David, see the Chronicler’s account in 1 Chronicles 11–29.
The finished product of the Court Historian contains more material that belittles, mocks and disparages David than material that honors him. Although the Court Historian includes both pro- and antimonarchical material, the narrative is skewed toward the antimonarchical viewpoint. The skillful narrator, as is common among biblical writers, will deliberately set down two contradictory accounts of an episode, not only to respect diverse, treasured tales, but also to signal to the thoughtful reader the author’s lack of certainty in the matter.
Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada
Lots of Warts on Biblical Heroes
David as Saddam Hussein? That is a bit unfair, even if all of Steven McKenzie’s allegations are true. Not many of our biblical heroes come off well if we lift them from their historical and cultural contexts and beam them unchanged into the 21st century. Jesus is the one exception that springs to mind.
I especially like the closing paragraph of Shanks’s review (see “King David, Serial Murderer,” BR 16:06), in which he writes, “Instead of capturing the grand sweep of David’s life, McKenzie reduces David to nothing but, as he says, a petty tyrant.” Then Shanks ends by saying, “McKenzie’s biography lacks reality.” I agree.
If we look at “the grand sweep of David’s life,” we see that God forgives David’s sins, totally, and God speaks often of His love for David. Judging by the number of times God speaks in praise of David, it appears to me that David is one of His favorites. God spares Israel by saving Judah, the tribe of David, because of His love for David. Even if the Bible is seen entirely as fiction, the major character, God, loves David.
Iowa City, Iowa
Why Solomon, Not David, Built the Temple
Michael Homan’s “The Divine Warrior in His Tent,” BR 16:06, clarifies why Yahweh rejected David’s commendable offer to build Him a Temple. As David made preparations for the Temple before his death, he explained to his son Solomon that Yahweh had not allowed him to build the Temple because he had shed much blood and waged great wars. Instead, Solomon, a man of peace, was to build it (1 Chronicles 22:6–10). While Yahweh fought to give Israel the land He had promised them, He lived in a military camp. Through David He completed His intended conquests as He commanded His army from His war camp. When this fighting was finished, He could continue His presence among Israel in His palace, the Temple.
Thomas on Screen
Thomas Left Out in the Cold
As a matter of fact, we Catholics did suppress the Gospel of Thomas (Stephen J. Patterson, “Now Playing: The Gospel of Thomas,” BR 16:06). You have a problem with that?
The books that appear in our present New Testaments do so because bishops decreed that they could be used at Mass. For most of the third century, 22 of our 27 New Testament books were agreed upon. The list that we now use first appeared in 367, in the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius. His Old Testament wasn’t the same as ours (Wisdom was in and possibly Baruch; Esther was out), but in 382 the Council of Rome decreed the list of both Old and New Testament books that we find in modern Catholic Bibles. The Catholic canon was ratified again at the Council of Hippo in 393, the Third Council of Carthage in 397, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 and declared infallible at the Council of Florence in 1441.
But then Martin Luther justified ignoring James 2:26 (the only time that the phrase “faith without works” appears in the Greek New Testament: “faith without works is dead”) by using the early church’s doubts about Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation to remove them from the “true and certain, main books of the New Testament,” placing them in his New Testament Apocrypha section. In response, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the traditional list in 1556; modern Protestants follow the Council when it comes to the New Testament.
The Catholic logic about this is simple: Christ founded the church—he didn’t write the Bible. The successors of the apostles decided which of the apostolic writings were inspired, under the guidance of the Spirit that Christ promised the Father would send. So the New Testament could never contradict what the Catholic Church believes, because we’re the guys who put it together.
By the way, the word “stigmata” comes from Galatians 6:17: “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks [stigmata] of Jesus on my body.” Slaves and devotees of certain gods were branded with stigmata to show to whom they belonged. Paul writes that his scars are like those brands.
Paul Not Influenced by Zoroaster
N.T. Wright (“Paul, Leader of a Jewish Revolution,” BR 16:06) was right on the mark in his response to the facile assertion that Zoroastrianism was the source of the Jewish belief in the resurrection. Edwin Yamauchi, in addition to confirming the late date of the sources (ninth century—see “Life, Death, and the Afterlife,” in Richard Longenecker, ed., Life in the Face of Death [Eerdmans, 1998], p. 48), also points out that there is no convincing evidence that Cyrus was a Zoroastrian, nor can a Zoroastrian belief in resurrection be dated before the fourth century.
The story of Mary and Martha (“Mary, Martha and the Kitchen Maid,” BR 16:06) has interesting parallels in the parable of the prodigal son. Both are found only in Luke and involve a dutiful sibling who does the “right thing” but becomes resentful of a less responsible sibling. Jesus never says one word to Mary or Martha about the choices they have made until Martha complains about Mary. The father in the parable does not tell either son what choice to make. Jesus defends Mary against Martha’s accusations, and the father defends his generosity toward his younger son. Would Jesus have defended Martha if Mary had criticized her for busying herself with dinner? Could this text be a warning about the poison of resentment?
God, and Moses, as Feminine?
Jerry and Lorraine Kotler (Readers Reply, BR 16:06), referring to Hershel Shanks’s April 1998 Insight, “Does the Bible Refer to God as Feminine?” offer a possible explanation for Moses’ addressing God with the feminine at (you) rather than the masculine atah (Numbers 11:15): Moses is appealing to God’s compassion. The Kotlers point out that the Hebrew word for “compassion” is rachamim and is derived from rechem (womb). Moses, they suggest, uses the feminine at because he calls upon God’s feminine attributes when asking Him for compassion.
They add that the only other occurrence of at in the Pentateuch is in Deuteronomy 5:24, where the Israelites ask Moses to speak to God because they are afraid to hear His voice directly again. At this point, they address Moses with the feminine at. The Kotlers feel this is because they are asking for compassion from Moses and therefore they wish to appeal to his feminine attributes.
However, if Moses was thinking of God as feminine, or if the Israelites were addressing Moses with the feminine “you,” the verbs used with the pronouns would have been in the feminine. Yet the Hebrew in Numbers reads at-oseh (with a hyphen between the pronoun and the verb in Hebrew); the verb oseh is masculine rather than feminine (osah). In Deuteronomy 5:24, this one verse has the masculine form of “you” at the beginning (o’rav atah) and the feminine at the end (ve-at t’daber)! However, in both cases the verb is masculine, not feminine.
The verb form is highly significant. Agreement of verb with subject in both number and gender is essential in Hebrew. It would be jarring in Hebrew to use a masculine form of the verb if the subject were thought of as feminine—as jarring, if not more so, than saying in English “I is” or “she are.”
Then how to explain the use of at with masculine verbs rather than atah? I’m far from sufficiently knowledgeable in Hebrew to provide a definitive answer. Biblical Hebrew seems to be more varied, more flexible, than modern Hebrew. For example, in the modern language there is only one word for “I” (ani). Yet in ancient Hebrew, both ani and anokhi were used. Perhaps there was no sharp division between at and atah in biblical Hebrew as long as the verb form made clear the gender of the subject.
Fredonia, New York
Ronald S. Hendel responds:
Mr. Zlotchew is quite right. The verbs are masculine, even though the pronouns look feminine. In fact, there are eight places in the Hebrew Bible where the form at occurs instead of the masculine atah. In some of these places, the Masoretes added atah in the margin to indicate how the word should be read [the Masoretes were the Jewish scribes who added vowel markings to the traditional consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible. See Marc Brettler, “The Masoretes at Work: A Tradition Preserved,” sidebar to “The Leningrad Codex,” BR 13:04.—Ed.]. Some scholars have inferred from these eight cases that at was a form of the masculine atah in some Hebrew dialects. There is evidence from other forms of the masculine singular pronoun “you” (on perfect verbs, for example) that indicates a variation between –at and –atah. So at is probably still a masculine pronoun, even if it looks feminine.
Kenneth C. Way (Readers Reply, BR 16:05) writes that “Vladimir Berginer’s recent suggestion that Goliath may have suffered from acromegaly…is not original. This idea was first proposed in 1968 by endocrinologist Robert B. Greenblatt.” He continues “one [meaning me—V.B.] ought to give credit where it is due.”
My article (“Neurological Aspects of the David-Goliath Battle: Restriction in the Giant’s Visual Field,” Israeli Medical Association Journal 2 , pp. 725–727) does indeed cite the article by Dr. Greenblatt, and other papers. It is worth noting that numerous authors have arrived at a similar diagnosis (that Goliath may have been an acromegalic giant). My contribution to the medical explanation of the David-Goliath battle is that I provided textual evidence that Goliath suffered from visual field restriction, an indication of advanced acromegaly.
Thank you for your wonderful magazine!
We apologize for misidentifying the artist Katherine Janus Kahn and for reversing the image of her painting, Cain and Abel: The Assassination of Rabin, which appeared in the
A Fan Down Under
Still taking suggestions? I prefer BR. Please don’t change a thing.