Sunday, May 28, 2006

מַחַר, חֹדֶשׁ; הַיּוֹם, סְכַּנְדָּל

Goot Khaydesh!

Yesterday we read the haftara of Mahhar Hhodesh ("Tomorrow is New Month's Day"), from Shemu’eil/Samuel 1:20:18-42. It tells the story of [future King] David and Yonatan [son of Sha’ul, the present king], and how notwithstanding Sha’ul's paranoid fear and hatred of David, David and Yonatan were very close friends who cared deeply for each other. David avoided going to the Rosh Hhodesh meal of Yonatan's family, because he knew that Sha’ul wanted to kill him, and so Yonatan devised a way to warn him of impending danger.

Due to various ways the book of Shemu’eil describes the relationship between David and Yonatan, many people today have come to the conclusion that David and Yonatan had some kind of homosexual relationship. Now, I'm not actually going to discuss the evidence for or against such a reading, because what I want to discuss is something I am sure of — whether or not Yonatan and David had such a relationship, King Sha’ul definitely thought they did.
Shemu’eil/Samuel 1:20:30
And then Sha’ul's anger burned against Yonatan, and he said, "Son of perverted rebellion! Don't I know that you choose Yishai's son to your own shame and the shame of your mother's nakedness?!"

He then goes on to point out to his son that by supporting David, Yonatan is undermining his own chances to inherit the throne of Israel from his father. But what I find intriguing is the language that Sha’ul uses in berating Yonatan — it's sexual terminology. ‘ERVA (nakedness). BOSHET (shame or private). He doesn't say that Yonatan is "choosing" David 'to your downfall, and the downfall of your father's kingdom' (which would fit with the next verse), but 'to your shame, and the shame of your mother's nakedness'. And he refuses to spell out exactly what David has done to deserve capital punishment, simply chucking his spear at his son instead.

14 Comments:

Blogger Knitter of shiny things said...

That haftarah is actually my bat-mitzvah haftarah. I think the translation I had of that line was "son of a rebellious woman" but now looking at the Hebrew, that's obviously wrong. [Back when I had my bat-mitzvah, I knew practically no Hebrew, and it never occurred to me to re-read the hafatarah since then...]

But very interesting.

5/28/2006 10:24 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

The "rebellious woman" translation is based on emending the text so that instead of נעות (perversion of) it reads נערת (young woman of), assuming that it's meant to be an early Israelite "jo mama" insult.

5/28/2006 10:43 AM  
Anonymous brother yonatan (was he the older one?) said...

"boshet" is commonly used as a replacement for "baal", especially when referring to foreign gods. now imagine if that's the case here, as well.

also: chucking a spear? pretty sexual image there too.

5/28/2006 11:04 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

So what would the boshet~ba‘al connection imply? That by "betraying" his father, Yonatan was also betraying God?

David had a few older brothers that we know about.

5/28/2006 11:31 AM  
Anonymous brother eliav said...

Uh no....do I have to spell it out for you?

"Ba'al" = Baal the god, but also "husband", "sexual master" ("bo'el" from the verb "liv'ol")

If "boshet" is once again taking the place of "baal" here, Yonatan taking "the son of Yishai" as "his boshet" ("his baal/boel") would mean that attacking Yonatan for (among other things) acting with David in the way a wife/sexual conquest would.

5/28/2006 3:30 PM  
Anonymous brother eliav said...

..that *Saul is* attacking Yonatan...

5/28/2006 3:31 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

OH okay yeah that's another level of sexual terminology there. I get it now. I try and avoid the word ba‘al for "husband" so i don't think of it :-P .

5/28/2006 11:39 PM  
Blogger Warren Burstein said...

I always understood Saul to be flinging an insult that shoots in all directions, "your mother would die of embarassment if she was still alive to see this (and this is her fault for bringing you up wrong, that /non-PC word for a woman/)". Together with overtones of "if you can't fight for your father against this usurper, you're not a man.". I also suspect that we (I use "we" loosely, I forgot to set my alarm clock and got to shul at kiddush) read this due to a mistake - someone wrote "machar chodesh" on a Shabbat, just meaning "tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh" and someone else thought it was the name of a haftarah.

Or it's pro-Davidic propaganda. Years ago, I heard a shiur by a MK from the NRP (Avner Shaki, maybe?) about the midrash where Yerovam is invited to reconcile with Rechavam, the only condition is that when they go to the Temple, Rechavam will get to sit in the courtyard because everyone but a Davidic king had to stand, and he rejects the deal over that. It didn't convince me to vote for his party, but I did wonder if he was going to have it renamed the Monarchist Religious Party.

There are a lot of Boshet names in Saul's family. I wonder if that's significant. (And they also have Baal varients.)

Saul had a son named Eshbaal/Ishboshet, who tried to succeed him as king.

Jonathan's son was named Meribaal/Mephiboshet, (there was another Mephiboshet, a son of Saul who got killed in I Sam 21:8 or whose name got copied from the previous verse by scribal error). Is it grasping at straws to compare foot injuries sustained as a child in the case of Mephiboshet and Oedipus? Was there a Phonecian dirty joke about a guy with a limp which has been forgotten?

There's also a guy just named Baal in I Ch. 8:30 and 9:36 (a rerun of the previous) who is somewhere in Saul's ancestry, although I can't tell if he's a direct ancestor or a great-great...-uncle.

OK, so our ancestors were pagans. We know that, we say that at the seder. And it's not so hard to imagine that during the the period of the Judges that Saul had one in his family. Still, idolatry seems to have been on the decline by from the time of Saul until Shlomo took up with those 1000 women, so what's with all the Baal names in Saul's descendents?

Could this all be anti-Saul propaganda inserted by scribes who lived under the Davidic dynasty? Or did the Isralites originally pick up "Baal" from the Canaanites, originally they used it to just mean "God", but later on it came to mean only the Canaanite idol and they replaced it with Boshet (although why not change the names of the good guys to an -el or -yahu ending instead?).

Then I noticed that the Baal names are all from Ch. and the Boshet names are from Sam. II Sam 9:21 also changes Yerubaal to Yeruboshet. Shouldn't Samuel be earlier? Then why change Boshet to Baal instead of the other way?

The traditional view is that Samuel wrote his own book (Gad and Natan wrote the parts after he died) and Ezra wronte Chronicles. I think the scholarly view is that Sam. was redacted later during the First Commenwealth and Ch. in the early Second Comm. So there goes my theory about replacing Baal with Boshet, unless the original sources of both books said Baal, the author (or redactor) of Sam., for whom Baal-worship was an issue, edited them, but whoever did Ch. either didn't find that a problem, or didn't think an editor's job includes renaming the characters.

There's also a son of David named B'elyada/Elyada, which I guess shows that if you're part of the dynasty that writes the books, you get a kippah drawn onto your bareheaded university photo, and if you're from the losers, your name is mud.

5/29/2006 7:05 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

What was the point of the (N/M)RP MK's shiur? That the present government is insufficient and we need malkhut Beit David?

My theory is that around the time of Saul, we were experimenting with appropriating the title ba‘al from Ba‘al-Hadad as a term for YHVH. Eventually, though, we realized that (unlike Eil) it was too closely tied to a particular Cana‘anite deity against whom Israelite religion was still struggling, and so it was abandoned. And then some later prophets/sages/writers felt that names involving Ba‘al should be emended, while others didn't think there was a problem with preserving the names. So i agree with your theory that when ‘Ezra-and/or-whoever was putting together Divrey Hayamim, (t)he(y) didn't feel a need to polemically edit ba‘al out of the names, since Ba‘al-worship wasn't much of an issue anymore.

5/30/2006 9:33 AM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

more reasons why i should visit this blog more often.

but what to you expect from the goblin king who has to bicker with his underlings in a constant struggle for survival. :-)

the post it's self is interesting.

and i wonder if this whole discussion has much to do with the terminology of both the whole shir hashirim, and the aishes chayil.

(both if which i hold are meaningfull both in aligorical senses and in the litteral sense. shir hashirim i feel is both extoling the relationship between isreal and hashem, as well as upgrading the marital relationship and cannonizing it as intrinsicly holy, and not only holy but holy of holies. also it informs us that it's a good thing to love your wife and hashem wants this of us. this is countering the silly and rediculous claims of later religions [as well as apperently some current segments of judaism] that it's a desireable and perfectly good thing to have)

5/30/2006 11:21 AM  
Blogger Amishav said...

Heeb magazine had an interesting art section of scandalous scenes from the bible. David and Jonathan were included.

I'm going to avoid invoking the obvious Brokeback Midrash references.

5/31/2006 11:19 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Very interestng chidush. Makes sense to say that this is what Shaul thought, and that you are very confdent about this) makes sense. (On the other hand, other thngs people say - not so much).

6/11/2006 5:15 PM  
Blogger Beisrunner said...

You give perhaps a reasonably interpretation of "boshet" and "ervah" (though the Torah does not seem to treat homosexual relations as "ervah" but rather as a kind of disgusting not-quite-sexual behavior, similar to bestiality).

But the interpretation falls down when you look at the rest of the story. Shaul is consistently (and probably clinically) paranoid about the idea that David wants to rebel against him. This obsession (which, by the way, had a basis in reality) informs virtually every action of Shaul's from chapters 18 through 27. His attacking Yehonatan fits right into the pattern, so why go out of your way to invent a different motivation for which there's virtually no textual evidence? (Even if David and Yehonatan had a sexual relationship, it's not clear that Shaul would have known about it.)

The trigger for Shaul's anger is not that Yehonatan and David are together - rather it's that they are apart, that David is absent (specifically, WOL) and (in Shaul's mind) probably plotting some kind of rebellion, while Yehonatan is in the palace covering his back. If Shaul was angry about a sexual relationship, David's current physical location would be irrelevant. He'd have attacked Yehonatan without asking pointless questions first.

Shaul attacks Yehonatan because, as with the people of Nov and Keilah, Shaul is furious that they help David to escape. With Nov and Keilah there's no hint of homosexual activity; neither does there need to be here.

Textually, let's look at the phrase "you choose Yishai's son", the other half of Shaul's statement. It's hard to argue that the "choice" is sexual. I don't think the ancient world, and certainly Shaul, had a conception of homosexuals "choosing" to have a "relationship". Instead, homosexual behavior was seen as an isolated act that one might do solely for pleasure. You wouldn't say that a man "chose" a prostitute, nor would Shaul say that someone "chose" a partner for anal intercourse. Rather, the "choice" refers to loyalty in the Shaul/David power struggle.

And if the issue is homosexual behavior, Shaul should say "you choose David". The fact that he says "Yishai's son" instead indicates that he is referring to a potential dynastic conflict, not to an individual's sexual behavior.

12/10/2006 11:18 AM  
Blogger Beisrunner said...

as well as upgrading the marital relationship and cannonizing it as intrinsicly holy

Perhaps the marital relationship was ALREADY regarded as holy - this was regarded as a given by the author and intended readers of Shir Hashirim. If so Shir Hashirim is not trying to change our views about marriage, though it may have that effect on people with Christian- or Greek-influenced morality. :)

(If you don't say this, you may get into a kind of circular logic where love makes religion holy, and religion makes love holy, and in the end you haven't proven that anything is holy.)

12/10/2006 11:24 AM  

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