Friday, September 21, 2007

Halpern and the Beerothites

I've been reading, with great enjoyment, Baruch Halpern's David's Secret Demons. There is much of value in the book, as well as much with which I would vigorously disagree. Nevertheless, it is certainly a tour de force. (Interesting how calling something a tour de force can be either a compliment or a criticism.)

One point of disagreement I would spotlight here is Halpern's statement that the Gibeonites were responsible for the murder of Ishbaal, Saul's son and heir:
Two non-Israelites, from the Gibeonite town Beeroth, assassinated Ishbaal and rushed his head to Hebron — presenting it to David on a plate. ... It is no coincidence that Ishbaal's assassins were Gibeonites, from the town of Beeroth. Saul, the text states, had expelled the population of that town. Although David avenged the killing — of his enemy and rival — it was not much later that he allowed the Gibeonites the joy of avenging themselves on the House of Saul (2 Sam. 21). (Halpern, pp. 308, 310, see also pp. 31, 81)
The text Halpern refers to is 2 Sam 4:2-3:
Saul’s son had two captains of raiding bands; the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab. They were sons of Rimmon a Benjaminite from Beeroth—for Beeroth is considered to belong to Benjamin. (Now the people of Beeroth had fled to Gittaim and are there as resident aliens to this day). [NRSV]
These verses are not quoted by Halpern, et pour cause, for they say, rather plainly, that Ishbaal's killers were not Gibeonites, but Benjaminites, i.e., Israelites, from the same tribe as Ishbaal himself. True (says the writer), they were from Beeroth, a town of Gibeon, but at this time, Beeroth belonged to Benjamin, the natives having fled to Gittaim. (The text also does not say that Saul expelled the natives, although it is a reasonable guess.)

This is not an insignificant detail, because Halpern builds up an elaborate theory that David himself was a Gibeonite, or a Gibeonite sympathizer, and in fact colluded with these men to have Ishbaal killed. If the killers were not native to Beeroth, however, a major prop of this theory falls to the ground. Halpern has to deal somewhere with the clear statement of this text — but he never does.

Judging from the book as a whole, I think Halpern would probably claim that the assassins were in fact Gibeonites, and that the assertion that they were Benjaminites was a falsehood concocted by David's apologists to counter the idea that David was complicit in the slaying. But he never says this outright, and winds up giving a false impression of the story.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Baruch Halpern, David's Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2001.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Blogger Scott Becker has died of cancer. His blog Aufhebung ("Cancellation") has been a moving, and sometimes harrowing, account of his last months. I didn't know Scott, but I know some who did, and by all accounts he was a most remarkable man and Christian.

In his first few posts — less than 10 months ago — he said:

[M]y life thus far has been extraordinarily rich, a fact that has been impressed upon me especially in the last couple of weeks, as people from all different moments of my past have surfaced to express their love and support. Yes, I am aware of a certain Job-like quality to my life: three bouts with cancer, heart failure, a number of related physical difficulties and a couple of major career setbacks. But there is something truly wonderful about this life that I of all people have been given. At almost every point along the way, I’ve been allowed to connect with others in such a way that my current circle of good friends includes people I knew in college in the early 80s, kids from my first youth group twenty years ago and hundreds of people who became a part of my life during my years in Carnation, Seattle, and now Pasadena, dozens of whom I would feel quite confident turning to in a moment of crisis. I think, too, that I inherited from both of my parents an ability to find tremendous pleasure in relatively insignificant things: a well-made omelet or bowl of oatmeal, catching a tiny bit of air beneath my skis, a 10-mile bike ride, or a clever turn of a phrase. My siblings are a lot of fun to be with, and I’m insanely happy in my marriage. This has been very good, and if my threescore and ten comes up a score short, I can’t really say that I’ve been cheated.

He also stated his intent to continue

certain practices and disciplines by which I have sought to abide, if not always successfully, since my teen years: the daily habit of Scripture reading and meditation; the habit of choosing, when the choice is given to me, to express gratitude, to make space in myself for someone who is different from me, to forbear rather than to find fault; the mental discipline of referring life experiences and questions back to the central narrative of God’s self-revelation in Christ.

Keep his family and friends in your prayers.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I (heart) Popery

The return of Francis Beckwith, president of the Evangelical Theological Society, to Catholicism, happened quite a while back, but still is being talked about. I'm not a member of ETS, so I'm not familiar with their bylaws, but I can't think of any prima facie reason why a Catholic should not be a member (or President). Nevertheless, I've read some pretty nasty reactions to the whole thing from Protestants.

I think Protestants should start thinking that the Reformation (and the Counter-Reformation) might be over, and accept that Catholicism is part — the larger part! — of the household of faith. The attitude of Thomas Browne, so rare in the 17th century, could still be adopted with profit:

We have reformed from them, not against them; for (omitting those Improperations and Terms of Scurrility betwixt us, which only difference our Affections, and not our Cause,) there is between us one common Name and Appellation, one Faith and necessary body of Principles common to us both; and therefore I am not scrupulous to converse and live with them, to enter their Churches in defect of ours, and either pray with them, or for them. (Religio Medici)