Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Mike Pence and the Spider

 After the vice-presidential debate with Mike Pence and Kamala Harris, all anyone could talk about was the fly that landed on Pence's head.  Arguably of more consequence is Mike Pence's spider.  The following occurs in Bob Woodward's Rage:

"Pence recounted [to Dan Coats] the Old Testament story of David, who was hiding from King Saul in a cave when God sent a spider to weave a web across the cave opening.  On seeing the web, Saul did not enter the cave.  The spider had concealed David's presence and saved his life. The story showed that even a spider might be an instrument of great salvation in the hand of God. 

   "Marsha Coats [Dan's wife], whose grandparents were ministers, had never heard a sermon as serious and deep. The story raised obvious questions. Could a spider, normally a cause for fear, bring salvation?"

I don't know if this story influenced Pence or Dan Coats to support Trump; Woodward does not say so. But the important thing to note is that this story is not in the Bible at all.  It is found in the late Jewish midrash the Alphabet of Ben Sira:

וכשנחבא במערה מפני שאול המלך שלח הקב״ה עכביש וארגה על פי המערה וסגרה אותו, בא שאול וראה ארוג אמר בודאי לא נכנס אדם הנה שאם נכנס היה קורע הארוג לקרעים והלך ולא נכנס לשם, וכשיצא דוד וראה העכביש נשקה ואמר לה ברוך בוראיך וברוכה את

When David hid in a cave from King Saul, the Holy One, blessed be he, sent a spider, and she wove a web at the mouth of the cave and closed it. Saul came and saw a web, and said, "Certainly no man has entered here, for if he had, he would have torn the web to pieces." So he left and did not enter. And when David came out, he saw the spider and kissed her and said, "Blessed is thy creator and blessed art thou!"

My experience has been that, in general, Catholics, growing up, do not acquire the same degree of biblical literacy as Protestant evangelicals.  Not a criticism, just an observable fact.  So it is completely possible that Pence believed this story was found in the Bible.  I am surprised that Wheaton grad Dan Coats bought this as a biblical citation, though (if he did).  And beyond all this, I am wondering where Pence heard this story.  Does it have some currency among conservative Christians?  Inquiring minds want to know.

By the way, the same story is told in Islamic legend of the prophet Mohammed.  Good stories have a way of getting around.

This post is dedicated to the memory of the late Fr. Bill Gartig, Ph.D., on what would have been his 68th birthday.