1 & 2 Samuel

Coming soon…Of Kings and Prophets

First there was The Bible (2013), then Noah (2014), and Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), now…

Of Kings and Prophets, about the life of Saul and David based on the books of 1, 2 Samuel. See trailer below.

The show is scheduled to air on ABC in the middle of the 2015-2016 season. Before you show it to your kids, it looks PG-ish (I’d say much of the Bible is R-rated, see my next book).  (Thanks for Jeremy Chen for bringing this trailer to my attention.)

All I know about Of Kings and Prophets is what I’ve seen from this 2 minute trailer, but it does appear like some aspects of the story have been changed.  Some Christians want their video versions of the Bible to be as accurate as possible to the text, and when Hollywood deviates from the story as they understand it, they find it highly offensive.

While I understand this concern, I just appreciate the fact that film and TV producers want to retell the biblical story and I will cut them slack as they express their creativity.  In fact, contemporary preachers and even the writers of Scriptures often exercise creative license as they retell and summarize stories from the Bible.

Why are we shocked or offended when the artists who create these video portrayals do the same?  

For any of these video biblical retellings I ask, “How did they follow the text? How did they deviate from the text? Did I like it? Why or why not?”  We’ll have to wait a few months to see how these questions are answered, but I’m happy more Bible is coming. Hopefully, it will get people to think about and discuss the biblical text.

What do you think?  

Samuel: A Trustworthy Prophet

Hannah presenting Samuel to Eli (van den Eeckhardt, 16XX)

Hannah Presenting Samuel to the Priest Eli

“Samuel, Samuel.”

Most readers of the Old Testament are familiar with the story of young Samuel sleeping at the tabernacle, under the care of the priest Eli (1 Sam. 3).  Each time YHWH calls to the boy, he runs to Eli thinking the priest called him.  Only on the third time does Eli figure out that YHWH wants to give Samuel a message.  Eli tells Samuel to say, “Speak, YHWH, for your servant is listening,” which he then does and YHWH delivers his message finally.

Most times when this story is taught, the actual message is ignored, de-emphasized, or forgotten.

Do you remember the content of YHWH’s message? 

It was a brutal one.  God told Samuel that he was going to punish Eli, his family, and his priestly dynasty, basically cutting them off from the priesthood because of the blasphemous behavior of Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas (taking the best portions of the meat for sacrifices and sleeping with the women who served at the tabernacle).

Why speak to the boy and not to the priest directly? 

Good question.  As the narrative is laid out, YHWH had already spoken to Eli via a prophetic man of God a similar message (1 Sam. 2:27-36; because of the language, scholars typically attribute this message to a Deuteronomistic redactor—what do you think?  If so, which one: Dtr1, Dtr2, DtrH, DtrN, or DtrP? A Deuteronomistic school, perhaps?).

To his credit, Eli seemed to know what the message was about.  The next morning he told Samuel to give him the brutal truth, even pronouncing a curse on Samuel: whatever the judgment was in the message it would befall the boy if he wasn’t fully honest.

To his credit, Samuel spoke truth to Eli, telling him everything, hiding nothing.

Why would this message be hard for Samuel to deliver?

Eli was a priest, Samuel was a boy.  Eli was essentially Samuel’s father; he calls the boy “my son” twice in the story (1 Sam. 3:6, 16).  Most of us have a hard time confronting others.  Young Samuel needed to do it to the old man who served as priest and judge for the nation of Israel.  As the boy Samuel became a man, he became known as a “trustworthy prophet of YHWH” (1 Sam. 3:21).

What made Samuel a trustworthy prophet?

Because Samuel was able to speak truth in difficult situations, as YHWH, and even Eli, had taught him.  He rebukes the nation of Israel for idolatry (1 Sam. 7).  He twice rebukes Saul, the man he himself had anointed to be king, first for a premature sacrifice and second for an incomplete slaughter (1 Sam. 13; 15).  He then essentially commits an act of treason, by anointing David as king, while Saul is still on the throne (1 Sam. 16).

We like the story of the boy who heard from God, but we don’t like the part about delivering bad news of judgment for disobedience to people in authority.  Trustworthy prophets, like Samuel, speak truth, even to those over them.

What do you think of Eli, good guy, bad guy?  Does he get a bum rap?  

Image “Hannah Presenting Her Son Samuel to the Priest Eli” by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (c. 1665)

Good Stories Bear Repeating

sluggo-on-repetition1I received an email from a friend a few days ago.  She asked about the duplication and repetition in Scripture, specifically why there were two versions of the Ten Commandments.

I’ve expanded and edited it, but this is basically what I said.

Scripture is full of repetition.  There are four gospels, with a lot of overlap, particularly among the three synoptics (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  Chronicles overlaps with major sections of Samuel/Kings.  Isaiah 36-39 seems to be cut and pasted directly from 2 Kings 18-20.  David’s song of thanksgiving of 2 Samuel 22 is found almost verbatim in Psalm 18.  Speaking of psalms, 14 and 53 are literary doppelgangers.  This doesn’t even count the places in the New Testament where the Old Testament is being quoted.  There are two accounts of the Ten Commandments (or as I like to say, The Fourteen Commandments).  There are more examples, but I think I’ve made my point.

Why the repetition?  Some things bear repeating.  In the same way a text will repeat a word to emphasize it (and I highlight it to bring out the repetition), Scripture repeats stories to highlight and emphasize important themes.  Paul’s conversion is retold 3 times in Acts, but each time with slightly different things included.

Good films are worthy of being watched more than once, and with each repetition you discover new things, and your appreciation grows.

I find it curious when a story isn’t repeated, like why do only two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke) include the story of Jesus’ birth?  And yet in Christian culture, Christmas is the biggest holiday of the year.  Hmm…

Thinking about the Ten Commandments, for the command about the Sabbath (#5) the Exodus version refers to creation (Exo. 20:11), as taking a Sabbath is to remind us of how God rested on the seventh day.  But the Deuteronomy version of the Sabbath command (Deut. 5:15) recalls the deliverance from enslavement in Egypt, because God gave them rest and deliverance from oppression.  They are emphasizing different aspects of God’s story.  Immediately after they came out of Egypt they didn’t need to be reminded of the deliverance, but of the creation.  They just lived the deliverance.  However, forty years later in Deuteronomy as they were about to enter the Promised Land it was appropriate to recall the Exodus, to help the next generation remember.

Since we humans often forget what God has done in the past we need to be reminded, so there is a lot of retelling of the story.  Good stories bear repeating.  Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 retells the Old Testament story with a negative spin (your ancestors were hard-hearted), while the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 retells the OT story with a positive spin (your ancestors were people of great faith).

Why else does Scripture repeat things?

“I Will Strike You Down and Cut off Your Head”

If you are into trash talking, you may want to check out my recently published article,

” ‘I Will Strike You down and Cut off Your Head’ (1 Samuel 17:42) Trash Talking, Derogatory Rhetoric, and Psychological Warfare in Ancient Israel.”

It just appeared in a collection of essays entitled,

Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contexts, edited by Brad Kelle, Frank Ames and Jacob Wright, from SBL (June, 2014)

Who trash talks in the Bible?  David, Goliath, Elijah, Jezebel, Jehu, the Rabshakeh, and even Yahweh himself.  David is the one who promises to “cut off” the head of his opponent Goliath from the title.

So, is it OK, or even good to trash talk?  Do you trash talk?  Should we trash talk today?  

I also have a series of nine blogs about OT trash talking (click here).

I begin with Shakespeare’s Henry V, then move quickly to John Cleese’s French knight in The Holy Grail (how often do you encounter Monty Python in academic works?) before working through examples in literature of the ancient Near East and the Bible.

I really like some of the section titles,

1) Introduction
2) Insults, Boasts and Predictions
3) Trash-Talk Research
4) Bulls and Birds, Falcons and Foxes: Trash Talking in the ANE
5) Flailing Flesh and Smoldering Stumps: Trash Talking in the Hebrew Bible
6) Canine Consumption: Elijah, Jezebel, Jehu, and Others
7) Eating Dung and Drinking Urine: The Rabshaheh, Hezekiah, and YHWH
8) Lions, Bears, and Dogs: David and the Philistine
9) Biomorphic and Zoomorphic, Scatological and Theological

I first gave an earlier draft of this in Oxford in July 2008, but many of the scholars weren’t familiar with the term “trash talking”, instead they spoke of “sledging” which is apparently what taunt speech is often called in cricket.

Other contributors to the volume include the three editors, as well as,
Saul M. Olyan
Nathaniel B Levtow
Thomas Römer
Kelly J. Murphy
Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell
Rüdiger Schmitt
Mark S. Smith
Susan Niditch
Jason A. Riley
T. M. Lemos

Where else do we find trash talking in the Bible?