Courtesy The Pierpont Morgan Library
Saul’s method, muster-by-dismemberment, recalls an earlier incident recounted in judges 19–21 that resulted in the Benjaminite civil war: A Levite and his concubine spend the night in the town of Gibeah (later the birthplace of Saul). Men from the town demand that the Levite be surrendered to them for homosexual rape; instead the Levite throws them his concubine, who is then raped and left for dead at the house stoop. Demanding retribution, the Levite cuts up her body and sends the parts among the tribes, who respond to his call to punish the Benjaminites. In the ensuing civil war, the tribe of Benjamin, Saul’s tribe, is nearly wiped out.
The biblical narrator, author Cohen argues, deliberately connects Saul’s assembling his troops with earlier events in which Benjaminites were the cause of so much destruction in the land of Israel. Thus Saul’s victorious campaign against the Ammonites, the act that supposedly confirms him as divinely chosen, ironically diminishes rather than exalts him.