Thursday, May 03, 2007

Disguised Royalty: Kings and Queens of Tanakh

(This post is in merit of and for the speedy recovery of Chaya Mitchell. It should be read with her in mind.)

I once mentioned the great beauty and complexity of our parallel stories in Tanakh. Here is another case of a fantastic, compelling and telling parallel.

Saul, King of Israel, finds himself in a desperate position. The Philistines have gathered their hosts and Saul is sore afraid; his "heart trembled greatly" (Samuel I 28 :5). He desires guidance, but the prophet Samuel is dead. He turns to God, but God does not answer him, "neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets" (Samuel I 28 :6). Saul is now faced with a problem. In accordance to the law, he has done away with witches and sorceresses. Now, however, he has no choice but to consult such a witch. In direct violation of his own law, therefore, Saul orders his servants to find him a woman who divines by a ghost. His servants report back to him and establish the existence of the Witch of En-dor.

Clearly Saul cannot approach the witch in his rightful garb as king. That would be ridiculous given the circumstances, as she would immediately assume that he was there to arrest, banish or slay her. Therefore, he goes incognito. He "himself, and put on other raiment, and went, he and two men with him, and they came to the woman by night" (Samuel I 28: 8). Not only does Saul change his garb but he approaches the sorceress under cover of darkness.

She does not immediately recognize him, or at the very least, does not own up to recognizing him. It is quite possible that she realizes who her visitor is, which would make her question regarding her visitor's knowledge of the king's law extremely clever. After Saul has sworn not to harm her, he is of course bound by his oath.

The Witch of En-Dor divines for Saul and calls upon the spirit of Samuel. Samuel delivers dire news:
    יח כַּאֲשֶׁר לֹא-שָׁמַעְתָּ בְּקוֹל יְהוָה, וְלֹא-עָשִׂיתָ חֲרוֹן-אַפּוֹ בַּעֲמָלֵק; עַל-כֵּן הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, עָשָׂה-לְךָ יְהוָה הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.

    18 Because thou didst not hearken to the voice of the LORD, and didst not execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day
    יט וְיִתֵּן יְהוָה גַּם אֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל עִמְּךָ, בְּיַד-פְּלִשְׁתִּים, וּמָחָר, אַתָּה וּבָנֶיךָ עִמִּי; גַּם אֶת-מַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל, יִתֵּן יְהוָה בְּיַד-פְּלִשְׁתִּים.

    19 Moreover the LORD will deliver Israel also with thee into the hand of the Philistines; and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me; the LORD will deliver the host of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.'
Saul collapses due to combined fear (due to this horrible prediction) and hunger (he has eaten nothing all day). The Witch of En-Dor presses some food upon him; interestingly her words mimic those of the patriarch Abraham's. She too states that she will set a "morsel of bread" before Saul; instead, she "kills a fatted cow" in addition to giving him unleavened bread (according to the Midrash that it was Pesach when the angels visited Abraham and Sarah, this section is an absolute echo.)

In this scenario, Saul attempted to contact God through every means possible, failed, finally went to the witch himself under cover of darkness and disguised, was recognized after she had summoned up Samuel and ate at the witch's house.

The second scenario takes place in the time of Jeroboam (Kings I: Chapter 14). Jeroboam's son Abijah falls ill. Jeroboam, however, has just finished creating an entire kingdom that will secure his political power, which means creating new holidays and preventing his people from serving God at the Temple. This means he could hardly go consult prophets or prophetesses whose advice he refuses to heed. Instead, he sends his wife (quite unlike Saul, who confronted his destiny himself.) Jeroboam orders his wife to "disguise thyself, that thou be not known to be the wife of Jeroboam" (Kings I 14: 2).

Now the story revolves so that it is the complete opposite of Saul's situation. While Saul did not eat and was faint and weary, and indeed, had to be prevailed upon to eat, Jeroboam has his wife follow the Jacob tradition (Genesis 43: 11) of taking a tribute/ food to the one who wields power:
    ג וְלָקַחַתְּ בְּיָדֵךְ עֲשָׂרָה לֶחֶם וְנִקֻּדִים, וּבַקְבֻּק דְּבַשׁ--וּבָאת אֵלָיו; הוּא יַגִּיד לָךְ, מַה-יִּהְיֶה לַנָּעַר.

    3 And take with thee ten loaves, and biscuits, and a cruse of honey, and go to him; he will tell thee what shall become of the child.'
Jeroboam's wife does this. Now comes the real crux of the tale- the powers of the blind Jewish prophet outdo those of the sighted witch. The blind prophet instantly recognizes Jeroboam's wife for her true royal self because he is told who she is by God (14: 5). Not for him, these tentative guessing games or sly extracted promises. No, he is forthright and honest, clearly telling Jeroboam's wife what the fate of her house and son will be:
    י לָכֵן, הִנְנִי מֵבִיא רָעָה אֶל-בֵּית יָרָבְעָם, וְהִכְרַתִּי לְיָרָבְעָם מַשְׁתִּין בְּקִיר, עָצוּר וְעָזוּב בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל; וּבִעַרְתִּי אַחֲרֵי בֵית-יָרָבְעָם, כַּאֲשֶׁר יְבַעֵר הַגָּלָל עַד-תֻּמּוֹ.

    10 therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam every man-child, and him that is shut up and him that is left at large in Israel, and will utterly sweep away the house of Jeroboam, as a man sweepeth away dung, till it be all gone.

    יא הַמֵּת לְיָרָבְעָם בָּעִיר, יֹאכְלוּ הַכְּלָבִים, וְהַמֵּת בַּשָּׂדֶה, יֹאכְלוּ עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם: כִּי יְהוָה, דִּבֵּר.

    11 Him that dieth of Jeroboam in the city shall the dogs eat; and him that dieth in the field shall the fowls of the air eat; for the LORD hath spoken it.

    יב וְאַתְּ קוּמִי, לְכִי לְבֵיתֵךְ; בְּבֹאָה רַגְלַיִךְ הָעִירָה, וּמֵת הַיָּלֶד.

    12 Arise thou therefore, get thee to thy house; and when thy feet enter into the city, the child shall die
Jeroboam's wife's reaction is very different from Saul's. While Saul, afraid and horrified by the evil tidings collapses to the floor, she very mechanically simply gets up and walks away, "arose, and departed, and came to Tirzah; and as she came to the threshold of the house, the child died" (Kings I 14: 17).

So, then, if we were to compare these two scenarios in a chart:

King SaulJeroboam's Wife
TimeNight.It seems to be day
Reason for GoingAfraid of Philistines.Her son is ill.
Alone?No. Accompanied by two others.Yes.
Eats nothing (is fasting.) Must be prevailed upon to eat fatted cow/ unleavened bread.
Brings a tribute of 10 loaves, and biscuits and a cruse of honey
Intended PersonThe Witch of En-Dor (but really wants any diviner of spirits)The blind prophet Ahijah
Who recognizes the disguised party? Witch of En-Dor only admits to recognizing Saul after calling up SamuelAhijah is told by God that Jeroboam’s wife is disguised
ReactionFalls on face/ collapses/ is afraidVery unemotional. Simply gets up and walks home.

This beautifully demonstrates the differences between the characters and monarchies. Saul is a man of God despite the fact that he is visiting a witch. He is sincere, honest, truly unhappy about what he has been told. Knowing what will happen, he still has the courage to go to war and fight, which is absolutely amazing. The Witch, in Saul's situation, is cunning. She knows that she is in violation of the law but makes certain to receive the guest's solemn promise that he will not harm her, protecting herself. That having been said, she is still a good woman as evidenced by her care of the king, her desire to feed him, telling him she will give him a mere morsel of bread but actually providing him with fatted cow and unleavened bread.

In the case of Jeroboam, the fact that he delegates the task to his wife suggests that he does not care as much about his son. After all, if he did, wouldn't he go to the prophet in person? Ahijah does not bandy about words needlessly and extract promises. Instead, he tells Jeroboam's wife exactly what will happen, painting a portrait of a gruesome future. She does not protest it or make any sound at all; she does not even speak. If we are kind to her, we can say it is because she is simply numb; if we are not kind, we can attribute it to a cold and unemotional attitude. She does not even delay in going back to her city, even though she knows that "as soon as her foot touches the threshold" her child will die. Mightn't she have attempted to get around the prophet's words by going elsewhere? But she does not...

Fascinating, isn't it?

P.S. A thought I just had in terms of food: The Witch follows the Abraham tradition of saying little and doing much (in terms of proferring food to the king.) Jeroboam's wife follows the Jacob tradition in bringing tribute. The role reversal is fascinating. This Witch, who according to the roles of the Torah is committing a sin, is a good person who cares about the king's welfare, this very king who under other circumstances would have her stoned. By bringing tribute to Ahijah, however, Jeroboam's wife admits that she and her husband are not in the position of power. She is attempting a bribe in hopes of a good prophecy (almost like the dream interpreter in the Talmud who required two zuzim for his services); she does not truly care about the prophet's welfare. Ahijah responds in kind, scorning her overtures of friendship and mincing no words.


the only way i know said...

I'm not sure what the intended message of noticing the differences between the two scenarios is..
or is it just something interesting to note?

A feeling that I get when reading,
is the remorse, pain, and sincerety of Saul, that is touching and true and connected to G-d -
as opposed to the almost indifferent mannerisms of Jerobam and his wife.

But what to make of it? And how it connects to Chaya Mitchell (perhaps in the mannerism of Saul to leave no stone unturned in seeking help?)

I leave that for you to answer

Chana said...

Oh, it's just my Torah learned and in honor of Chaya Mitchell (not about her.)

And yes, it's something interesting to note, compare and contrast. I love seeing how similar situations are yet very different. They help you to characterize Saul and Jeroboam's wife, just as you did. They come across differently, despite the similarities.

Also, it's interesting to note the differences between Ahijah, a man of God, and the witch woman. Both confronted by royalty in disguise, how do they react? What does that say about them?

P.S. I ended a clearer end section now. Hope that helps. :D

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Hoping Chaya has a refuah sheleimah bimheira...

the only way i know said...

Interesting additions!

smoo said...

The reason for the parallel between Abraham scene and Saul is because both are a product of the J author who happens to use many parallel themes and allusions to tie his story together well. The Jeroboam story isn’t part of his work and thus doesn’t follow the same pattern.

See The Hidden Book In The Bible: The Discovery of the First Prose Masterpiece by Richard Elliot Friedman for a fascinating read of the J story in all its glory.