Are the accounts of Saul’s death contradictory?

Beit-Shean-shutterstock_105300557(Beit-She’an where Saul’s body was impaled)

If you read the accounts of Saul’s death in battle you invariably get the impression of two seemingly contradictory stories. 2 Samuel 1: 1, 17-27 which is the First Reading for Proper 8 (Year B) alludes to one of the stories in which an Amalekite reports finding Saul mortally wounded. Upon Saul’s request, the Amalekite kills Saul, “for I knew he could not live after he had fallen” (2 Sam. 1: 10). Then he took Saul’s crown and armlet and delivered them to David at Ziklag.

While the Amalekite expected to be rewarded by David, he was slain instead. “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?” David remarked.

The second account is in 1 Samuel 31 in which the Philistine army prevailed over Saul’s at Mount Gilboa killing many including Saul’s sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua. As in the other account, Saul was mortally wounded by the Philistine archers. Saul asked his armor-bearer to slay him rather than be defiled – if you like – by the barbarians. Again, Saul was not going to be alive much longer at that point.

Unlike the Amalekite, Saul’s armor-bearer could not lift his hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed. Determined, Saul fell on his sword – he committed suicide – and his armor-bearer followed suit.

There has been a lot of discussion as to which of the two is the actual record of what happened. Did he commit suicide or was he killed by the Amalekite?

The Amalekite brought Saul’s crown and armlet to David, three days after Saul’s death. In the second account it was the day after Saul’s death that the Philistines discovered his and his sons’ bodies. They cut off Saul’s head and impaled his body on the wall of Beit-She ‘an.

There is no doubt that Saul died at the hands of the Philistine army – that is the larger view. Had the events of the battle at Gilboa not happened, had he not been mortally wounded, he would have lived. The details, or the narrow view makes the second account more plausible than the Amalekite story. It would appear that the Amalekite did indeed come upon Saul’s dead body and retrieved his crown and armlet. When the Philistine army arrived at the scene later, the crown and armlet were gone; so they impaled the bodies on the wall.

How to overcome fear with attitude

david_showing_goliaths_head_caravaggio_16051327114963023

The pitting of David and Goliath in the First Reading for Proper 7 (Year B) has been depicted in various forms of art throughout the centuries – and for good reason. The writer of 1 Samuel 17 depicts a giant “whose height was six cubits and a span, (who) had a helmet of bronze on his head, and armed with a coat of mail. The weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his

Now, this is a most frightening sight that would scare anyone. That was exactly what happened to Saul and the Israelites as they faced the prospect of battle with the Philistines. “They were dismayed and greatly afraid”.

In the midst of this deep fear an unlikely voice sounds hopeful.

David, “a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance” – the exact opposite of the giant – declares to the adversary, “You come with sword and spear and javelin; but I come in the name of the Lord of hosts”. He goes on to say, “the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s…”

I don’t know about you but I have heard those words many times. There are those times when one is facing impossible odds. I have seen people struggling against addictions and having cried and tried all they could, they come to realize that the battle is not of swords and spears.

Recently, a dear friend died after a long battle with cancer. In those years of struggle she reminded everyone around her that it was not her battle, but the Lord’s. Yes, she finally died – as everyone must one day – but she was not afraid and she was not defeated. Furthermore, she strengthened everyone around her.

Even in times of tragedy, fear does not have to have the upper hand.

We live in a world that puts trust in swords and spears and javelins. We have built a mindset of strength through weaponry – just like Goliath and the Philistines. Yet, it is true now as it was in David’s time that fear only breads more fear.

Is the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe an indication of a universal threat?

TOPSHOTS Anti-Zionist, Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men clash with Israeli police as they protest against the removal of ancient tombs in Jaffa, just south of Tel Aviv, on June 16, 2010 where construction is due to take place at the site where religious men say Jewish graves are located. AFP PHOTO/JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)(Photo Credit should Read /AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, June 11, Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati, hosted AJC Cincinnati’s symposium, The Surge of Anti-Semitism in Europe: A European Perspective, and moderated by Rabbi Jonathan Cohen,  Dean of the Cincinnati campus, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. It was a presentation by two experts of European and world affairs: Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, Director of AJC Paris and Dr. Philipp Ackermann, the Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission of the German Embassy in Washington, DC.

There was acknowledgment that anti-Semitism is rising in Europe, not only in Germany and France, but also in Scandinavian countries. These are countries with the largest immigrant Muslim populations and the two speakers attributed that as one of the factors in the surge. The second reason – mentioned by Miss Roden-Benzaquen – is the growing far right and far left ideologies. She noted however, that this may not be so much of a threat because the ideologues don’t have one common issue.

A third factor noted by both speakers but underplayed by both – in my view – is the worsening relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Both Dr. Ackermann and Miss Roden-Benzaquen pointed out the role of the media in painting a negative picture of Israel. However, when we are talking of perspectives (European vs. American, for example) we need to recognize that the European public is far more internationally informed and takes greater interest in international affairs than its American counterpart. As a result, injustices in Israel, real or perceived, will have more negative impact in Europe than, say, the U.S.

Both speakers also emphasized the efforts by European governments to combat anti-Semitism through education. While such efforts are absolutely necessary, the bigger challenge is whether education is enough to change the public views of injustice.

As Dr. Cohen remarked in his closing statement, this is but just the beginning of what ought to be an ongoing dialogue, especially among people of faith.

3,000 year old prophecy comes true in our own world

U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships under way in formation on the final day of Keen Sword 2011. The exercise enhances the Japan-U.S. alliance, which remains a key strategic relationship in the Northeast Asia Pacific region. Keen Sword caps the 50th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. alliance as an "alliance of equals." The Tipping Point study's "Shaping Navy" scenario focuses on continuous engagement and interoperability with partners such as Japan. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob D. Moore

A little over 3,000 years ago – according to the First Reading for Proper 5 in Ordinary Time – the Prophet Samuel warned the Israelites about their desire for a king. He warned: “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots…some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers” (1 Samuel 8: 11-15).

How prophetic!

The Israelites had chosen a king rather than God – to be like the other nations, not to be different.

Today we do not have a king like Saul. Perhaps we rejected monarchy and royalty precisely on the same principles of Samuel’s warning. But, think of the institution that has taken the place of the king. Do you see any differences?

Two things come to mind:

First, the war machine: Samuel warned the Israelites that they would bear a costly price on the king’s war machine both in terms of human life and their economy. According to the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S spent $682 billion on defense which was “more than the combined military spending of China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy and Brazil”. The countries listed are in every respect, major players in world affairs and their combined expenditure was $652 billion.

Think also of the lives that have been lost in conflicts because of the war machinery and how the cycle of violence increases almost proportionately to the military spending. And of course the whole society is directly and indirectly involved in running the war machine – there is no difference between sons and daughters.

The second thing is the inequality in the economic system. Everyone contributes proportionately to the economic well-being of the state. Yet some – like the king’s courtiers – benefit disproportionately from it. We have a system where a few are becoming wealthier and wealthier while a large majority are becoming poorer and poorer.

Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of our time – especially for people of faith. It is not simply that prophetic voices should be heard from priests and pastors, rabbis and imams, but that congregations especially, be vocal in obedience to prophecy. And perhaps this is strong language, (which, of course, we are afraid to own), but, in the words of Albert Einstein, “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”.

So, what are you going to do?