King David

Of Kings and Prophets: Canceled

of_kings_and_prophets_abcLike the dynasty of Saul it portrayed, the ABC TV show based on the books of 1, 2 Samuel Of Kings and Prophets was cut short, canceled after only two episodes due to low ratings and bad reviews.  (Here’s my initial blog.)

I discovered the cancellation after watching episode #2 this morning while on my exercise bike.  I searched for the third, which should have already been recorded, but it was nowhere to be found. For more explanation, check out this USA Today article.

Why didn’t people watch it?  Who knows, but here are some possible reasons.

  1. It was confusing.  The two episodes I watched were a bit hard to follow, and I’m pretty familiar with the subject matter.  Most ABC watchers won’t have read or written as much about David as I have (including this article on David’s Trash Talking).
  2. Bible Overload.  Perhaps watchers think there’s too much Bible to watch lately, between The History Channel’s The Bible, Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and other things.  Even though I had problems with this portrayal of the lives of Saul, David, and Samuel, I am always happy to watch the Bible’s story, and see how people interpret it.
  3. Too much sex.  (Don’t they say, “Sex sells”?) While I think we need to talk about the scandalous sex stories in Scripture, perhaps Christians feel uncomfortable watching it come from the Bible.  The scandalous stuff in episodes #1 and #2 were all extrapolations, not based on the biblical text.
  4. No familiar faces.   Apart from Roy Winstone (who isn’t that well known in the US), most of the faces are unfamiliar to most American viewers.  The fact that this series had a higher percentage of people of color than many other biblical TV and film dramas is a very good thing and a welcome change.
  5. No drama.  People already know that David will defeat Goliath and become king, and Saul will die, so there aren’t really any shockers there.  I still enjoyed watching The Martian, even though I had read the book beforehand, but some of the drama was gone because I knew what would happen to Mark Watney.

You can still watch the first two episode on the ABC website, but no decisions have been made about when other episodes might air.

Did you see it? What did you think?

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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?  

David’s view of David and Goliath’s View of David and Goliath

Goliath had as much chance against David…as an Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an [opponent] armed with a .45 automatic pistol” argues historian Robert Dohrenwend, quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Using scholars like Dohrenwend, Gladwell concludes that Goliath was the real underdog against David.

I’m about halfway through Gladwell’s latest book and I’m loving it just as I’ve enjoyed two of his other books, The Tipping Point and Outliers, but I have a few problems with his interpretation of David’s epic battle against the Philistine giant (1 Sam. 17).

I’ll call the giant Goliath as Gladwell does, but to be clear the narrative refers to him as “Goliath” only twice in the chapter (17:4, 23), and uses the term “the Philistine” over ten times as often (e.g., 17:10, 11, 16, 23, 26(2)…) probably because of its derogatory connotations. While you may not frequently insult your friends anymore by calling them “You Philistine” (we do in our family) the term still has negative connotations today.

(To read Gladwell’s own narrative of how he rediscovered his Christian faith while writing D & Gclick here for the article in Relevant Magazine.)

A few weeks ago, I was in Bellingham, WA taping courses on the books of 1, 2 Samuel and 1, 2 Kings for Logos Bible Software. Since I was thinking a lot about David’s story for this Samuel course I had decided to focus on Gladwell’s new book for my morning cycle on an exercise bike. Despite my positive inclination toward all works Gladwellian, I found myself arguing with the author in my head as I pedaled.

Everything else I’ve read from Gladwell previously was about subjects I didn’t know much about, but I’m a  bit more familiar with the Old Testament, the book of Samuel and particularly, the narrative of my namesake.

Gladwell does good research (using, among other resources, Baruch Halpern’s book, David’s Secret Demons), but concludes that Goliath was a clumsy, half-blind oaf. Goliath’s armor made him immobile and his pituitary gland disorder (acromegaly) impaired his vision so severely that “the world around him is a blur” (p. 14). Goliath was a cross between Andre the Giant (The Princess Bride) and Mr Magoo.

david-and-goliath-1544Gladwell’s arguments are well-argued, but ultimately not persuasive. He focuses on a few obscure secondary aspects of the text and hinges his entire argument around them, ignoring the main thrust of the text. For example, Goliath says, “You come at me with sticks” but David just had one stick, therefore Goliath couldn’t see well.

Why would the Philistines pick a “hero” like the one Gladwell describes to represent them in battle? Even junior high school basketball coaches know that big guys are not necessarily good basketball players. For Goliath to defeat the hundreds or perhaps the thousands of people necessary to be chosen as a national champion he couldn’t have been an “Andre Magoo”, but needed to be more of a “Spartacus Maximus“.

The entire nation of Israel was afraid of Goliath.  Saul himself was not only tall, but also quite a warrior (the women later sang of Saul killing thousands: 1 Sam. 18:7; 21:11; 29:5). Warriors are not generally afraid of half-blind oafs.

The way Gladwell and Dohrenwend spoke about the supposed accuracy of ancient slingers (people who used sling-shots), it is surprising that US soldiers are not still using sling-shots to take down the Taliban in Afghanistan. I just don’t buy it.

I realize in the world of publishing, Gladwell is a “giant,” while Lamb is more of a “David”. Think of this post as a smooth stone aimed, not at Gladwell the person, but at his interpretation of one of the best-loved stories in the Bible. While I love to see new things from the text, sometimes the traditional understanding is the right one.

David, the underdog, defeated Goliath the champion with the help of his God.

Counting publications and soldiers

I was working on my CV today (I’m not applying for jobs, I just update it regularly), and I decided to count up my publications by category (books, articles, dictionary articles, book reviews). As the number grew, I suddenly thought, “Perhaps this isn’t a good thing for me spiritually…

Abacus

Then I thought of David and the census. I’ve been thinking about David and the Israelite monarchy a lot lately since last week I was at Logos Bible Software taping courses on 1, 2 Kings and 1, 2 Samuel. The book of 2 Samuel ends with a bizarre story where YHWH is angry at his people so he incited David to count the people (2 Sam. 24:1-17).

1 Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” 3 But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” (2 Sam. 24:1-3)

In Chronicles it was Satan who incited David to count the people (1 Chron. 21:1). Did the biblical authors sometimes get confused between God and Satan? That’s not something you want to mix up.

The text of 2 Samuel 24 isn’t exactly clear what’s wrong with counting the people. After all, the book of Numbers does a lot of counting (hence the catchy title). But Joab clearly knows David shouldn’t do it.  For David, it seems to be related to pride in the size and strength of his military.

Gideon, after all, had too many soldiers and had to whittle down his army to 300 which was still ample to defeat the Midianites (Judg. 7) since it was YHWH that was fighting for Israel. Just as Gideon needed to depend upon YHWH and not the size of his military, David should do the same. By counting the people under his control, David would know how large his forces would be. He would then be tempted to rely on his enormous standing army for victory in battle, and not on the God who had delivered him from Goliath, the Philistine giant (1 Sam. 17).

Tragically, for David the divine punishment was severe upon the people. But why did YHWH punish them, for something David did that he provoked David to do? Great question–any thoughts?

For me counting publications, book sales or speaking requests can lead to pride, arrogance and a lack of dependence upon the God who’s given me my gifts, experiences and abilities.  As an act of penance, I decided to write a blog about the topic.

Next time I feel like counting, I’ll count my blessings.  I may even name them one by one.

How do we “take a census” today? Why is census-taking unhelpful spiritually?