Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: 1 Samuel 19, Proverbs 23 and Augustine's Confessions 26

1 Samuel 19 – Saul speaks to his son Jonathan about his desire to kill David, but Jonathan of course warns David. The next day, Jonathan speaks to his father about David.  He reminds Saul of the many services David has performed from him and tries to tell him it will be a very great sin if he harms him without cause.” Saul heeds the voice of Jonathan” (19:6), for the time at least. These stories of Saul’s vacillating relationship with David seem so real to me, so reflective of what has to have been a serious mental illness in the king. He is amenable to reason sometimes, but then the paranoia comes over him and he becomes lethal.

But later, the same evil spirit comes upon Saul, and in an unexpected moment, he tries to “pin David to the wall with the spear” he has in his hand (19:10). David flees. 

His wife Michal warns him that night that he will be killed in the morning if he does not run away. He does, and Michal takes an idol and makes it up to be human size and human looking (19:13).  Saul realizes that Michal has tried to fool him. She tells him that David threatened to kill her if she didn’t help him by trying to deceive Saul’s men.

David flees to Ramah where Samuel lives.  Saul sends messengers after him to get him.  They encounter David and Samuel with a group of prophets in a state of frenzy (20:20).  The messengers too fall into the frenzy.  The same thing happens with another set of messengers; so finally Saul goes down himself and he too falls into a prophetic frenzy (20:23). He strips off his clothes and lays naked all day and all night.

Proverbs 23 – Pretty much the same here:

“Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle” (23:4-5).

“Commit yourself to instruction; listen carefully to words of knowledge. Don’t fail to discipline your children” (23:12-13).

“O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways” (23:26)

”Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks” (23:29-30).

Augustine (354-439)

26 - And yet, you stream of hell [the educational system of the day, that forces these god-stories into children’s minds], into you are cast the sons of men, with rewards for learning these things; and much is made of it when this is going on in the forum in the sight of laws which grant a salary over and above the rewards. And you beat against your rocks and roarest, saying, "Hence words are learned; hence eloquence is to be attained, most necessary to persuade people to your way of thinking, and to unfold your opinions." So, in truth, we should never have understood these words, "golden shower," "bosom," "intrigue," "highest heavens," and other words written in the same place, unless Terence had introduced a good-for-nothing youth upon the stage, setting up Jove [Zeus] as his example of lewdness:—

    Viewing a picture, where the tale was drawn,
    Of Jove's descending in a golden shower
    To Danaë's bosom . . . with a woman to intrigue.
    And see how he excites himself to lust, as if by celestial
          authority, when he says:—
    Great Jove,
    Who shakes the highest heavens with his thunder,
    And I, poor mortal man, not do the same!
    I did it, and with all my heart I did it.

Not one whit more easily are the words learned for this vileness, but by their means is the vileness perpetrated with more confidence. I do not blame the words, they being, as it were, choice and precious vessels, but the wine of error, which was drunk in them to us by inebriated teachers; and unless we drank, we were beaten, without liberty of appeal to any sober judge. And yet, O my God—in whose presence I can now with security recall this—did I, unhappy one, learn these things willingly, and with delight, and for this was I called a boy of good promise.

You cannot really understand Augustine without some knowledge of the myths he was being forced to learn and regard as sources of knowledge of life’s deepest mysteries. The whole story of Danae can be checked out in brief at this site: http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977031557.

Danae was the daughter of a king who heard from the Delphic oracle that he would never have a son, but his grandson would kill him. So he tries to lock his daughter up so she won’t meet anyone and want to marry. The god Zeus called the “promiscuous father of the gods” is the only one who can get to her, but he does and she has a son – Perseus.

These stories were part of the fundamentals of Roman education. Terence was a Roman author in Northern Africa in the 2nd century. When Augustine was a boy, Terence’s plays would have been part of the curriculum.

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