Tuesday, September 13, 2005

In David's Palace

Back by popular demand: another excerpt from "David and Abishag." This one goes out to Dr. Joe Cathey, with best wishes for his continued good health.

The scene: Gur the harpist has an appointment in Jerusalem, in the palace of David.

No day dawned in Jerusalem without the the renewal of the sounds of hammers, saws, cranes, wheels, pulleys, and shouting workmen. Jerusalem, the ancestral citadel of the Yebusi kings, was being made over into the capital of the House of David.

Dominating the hill south of the old Yebusi tower was the royal palace, built in the Tyrian style with massive blocks of limestone, hugely piled, course upon course, with a few great square entrances. The severe, gigantesque impression of the exterior was softened, in some of the living quarters, by occasional facings and moldings carved out of cedar. Nevertheless the edifice as a whole still looked — and was, in parts — raw and unfinished.

Gur sighed as he entered the west entrance of the palace compound. The new palace (still "new" after 25 years) was undeniably imposing, but David and his minions had absolutely no sense of style. Those inner walls, now — could not some plaster be laid over the naked stone and some pictures and designs painted on them? Cedar was all very well, but even the few rooms that were completely paneled in wood seemed austere and dark. But that was the Phoenicians for you — swift, elegant little ships on the sea, but great clumsy buildings on land.

And David was not so very different from his Tyrian allies. Not that he, or any Israelite, would be caught dead in a ship: no, indeed. But David was no more a city dweller than they were — he was a soldier, and a farmer, and would rather live in a campaign tent, or at least a country villa, than in a house made of ashlars and cedar wood. His palace, and the other royal buildings going up in Jerusalem, owed more to David's image of what belonged to royalty than to his personal inclinations.

Even so, there was still something of the farmhouse about the palace of David — donkeys, sheep, and camels were often quartered in the lower rooms next to their keepers instead of in a stable; and sometimes horses were found tied to pillars in the entrance portico. Roosters were likely to walk out from behind a chair at any time, even in the throne room. The scent of manure mingled with the odor of cooking food and unwashed bodies.

However, a palace was a palace, and had advantages, thought Gur, as he sat in an anteroom and let a slave wash his feet. In Egypt the slave would have a bowl to dip his feet in, some sweet-smelling stuff to rub on them, and a cloth to dry them off. Here the slave just poured water from a jar over his feet and let the water run over the flagstones, then he handed Gur a fistful of hay to clean and dry them off himself. And instead of giving him house sandals, the slave clapped his road shoes together, making the dust fly, and then handed them back. Still, Gur thought, I'll take these cool stone walls and country servants over Yawab's camp tent with no walls at all any day.

He was then ushered into a dining room at the upper levels, one with a balcony facing west to catch the breeze, if there was one. The appointments were no more lavish than elsewhere, but here all was neat and clean, and the table was laid with wine, snow-cooled water, figs, dates, and pomegranates, while fresh fish roasted on a grill nearby. A harp and stool were set out ready for him.

1 comment:

Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


You have a gift for narrartive! I almost felt that I was in Jerusalem with David and Gur. Thanks for thinking of me! Please continue to write this story! I look forward to reading the complete work to my daughter some day and saying Daddy knows this man.