“I will strike you down and cut off your head”: Biblical trash talking

“I will strike you down and cut off your head.”  These words are uttered by the boy David to the giant Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:46.  It’s hard to imagine the same person writing many of our favorite psalms (“The LORD is my shepherd as I decapitate foreign monsters…).  From Sunday school we’re all familiar of David’s highly accurate shot to the giant’s noggin, but the graphic ending of the story is often left out (I’m sure teen boys would love it).  David followed through on his prophetic trash talking as Caravaggio’s painting (1610) so vividly illustrates (1 Sam. 17:51).

I gave a paper on trash talking during the summer of 2008 in Oxford at the Society for Old Testament Study (SOTS).  (Although many Brits weren’t familiar with trash talking, there is a similar phenomenon in cricket called sledging.)  While David’s insult may seem shocking, he was simply responding to the taunts of the Philistine who called out to David as he approached, “I am a dog that you come at me with sticks” (1 Sam. 17:43).

As I researched the paper, I was surprised at how many places taunting appears in the Old Testament.  So, there’s a book idea–A Theology of Trash Talking.  I’ll be blogging through a few more examples of biblical trash talking, but I’d love to hear your examples, because I’m sure there are a few I haven’t noticed yet.  Where do we find trash talking in Scripture? 

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4 comments

  1. Hehe, I always chuckle a bit when I read through Mark 2:25. Jesus asks the Pharisees (I’m guessing rhetorically), “Have you never read what David did…” Maybe this isn’t super-obvious trash talking, but to imply that a Pharisee wasn’t familiar with every nook and cranny of David’s life would be pretty insulting.

  2. Jim, I hope so. Any requests?
    Evan, Jesus is subtle in Mark 2:25, less subtle in Matt. 23. It’s derogatory, but not obviously in a context of competition.

  3. Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal come immediately to mind. He mocks the foreign deity who does not answer because perhaps he is “relieving himself, on a journey or asleep” (1 Kgs 18.27).

    Exodus 15 is a sort of trash talking, though it is post victory trash talk.

    In my mind, the most serious trash talker in scripture is Paul. In Romans Paul trashes Gentiles (Rom 1.18ff.) as a set up to trash Jews as well (Rom 2.1ff.). Without reservation Paul trashes the divisions in the Corinthian church by mocking their preferences for rhetorical eloquence (1 Cor 1-4), describing the faith of those who do not believe in the resurrection as empty and vain (1 Cor 15) and showing the ministries of so-called “super apostles” to be a foolish endeavor (2 Cor 10-11). To the group calling for circumcision among the Galatians, Paul challenges them to go all the way and emasculate themselves (Gal 5.12). Paul trashes the authorities opposing the Christian communities in Thessalonica living like it is still night (1 Thess 5.1-12). etc.

    Interesting concept. I know Luke Timothy Johnson has an article on NT slander of Jews in the context of ancient polemic that might be worth checking out from a NT perspective.

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