In an earlier article in BR (“Saul and David—Crossed Fates,” BR 05:03)a, Jan P. Fokkelman attributes to Saul the dignity and high seriousness of a tragic hero—a view in striking contrast to Kenneth Cohen’s portrayal of him as a grossly inappropriate choice for monarch. Although Fokkelman acknowledges that Saul’s own weaknesses make him the subject of Samuel’s ire and God’s rejection, Israel’s first king “resists his fate with all his strength…. Saul is innocently caught in the inner conflict of an ambiguous prophet (Samuel), who appears to accede to the pressing demand of the people for a new form of government, a monarchy, but who in his heart resists. For this, Saul must pay dearly. He is in effect a plaything of forces beyond his control—the demand of the people for a king and the theocratic party’s natural resistance to the rejection of its own ruling authority.”

Saul has a brief career as an able and resolute king, successfully unifying the tribes of Israel into a single people to fight the Ammonites and the Philistines. But his authority soon begins to disintegrate, Fokkelman argues, as Saul is rejected by Samuel and David appears on the scene. The rest of the narrative “may aptly be titled ‘The Crossing Fates.’ For in it we witness the downfall of Saul against the background of David’s rise to power. The narrative is actually an interaction between the two processes. As one man’s fate goes down, the other’s goes up.”

Despite Saul’s numerous later failures, his need to depend on other figures—his son Jonathan, David and Samuel—in fulfilling the duties of kingship, and his sporadic fits of melancholy, Saul, for Fokkelman, remains a large and tragic figure even to the end, when he takes his own life on Mount Gilboa: “He has taken into his own hands the initiative to meet his end and in so doing has accepted his fate in an exceptional way. He has embraced his doom by executing the divine judgment himself, with his own sword. The choice, carried out in horrifying desolation, is his…. Israel’s first king, a truly tragic hero, is dead.”