Thursday, February 05, 2009

The finale of 2 Samuel

Last time, a question arose about the threshing floor at the end of 2 Samuel and its relation to the site of the Temple later built by Solomon:

24  And the king4428 said559 unto413 Araunah,728 Nay;3808 but3588 I will surely buy7069 7069 it of4480 854 thee at a price:4242 neither3808 will I offer5927 burnt offerings5930 unto the LORD3068 my God430 of that which834 doth cost me nothing.2600 So David1732 bought7069 853 the threshingfloor1637 and the oxen1241 for fifty2572 shekels8255 of silver.3701

25  And David1732 built1129 there8033 an altar4196 unto the LORD,3068 and offered5927 burnt offerings5930 and peace offerings.8002 So the LORD3068 was entreated6279 for the land,776and the plague4046 was stayed6113 from4480 5921 Israel.3478

Araunah's threshing floor (via Wikipedia):
Threshing floors would usually be in places likely to catch the wind so that the wind would assist the separation of wheat from chaff. Hence, it is quite plausible for the threshing floor to have been located on a high hill. The narrative of the Book of Chronicles claims that the altar built by David on the site became the Temple of Solomon, and that the site had formerly been Mount Moriah; the equation of the Temple of Solomon with mount Moriah is viewed as dubious by many scholars, though David's altar being the same site as Solomon's temple is seen as plausible.

Note: It is difficult to avoid wondering about echoes of the imagery of wheat, chaff, winnowing.

Chaff and wind (ruach) return in Psalm 1:

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
In the Middle Ages, the act of separating the wheat from the chaff served as a common metaphor for the task of reading -- separating the inner kernal of meaning, truth, from the outer (verbal, literal) husk of the text. As you'll recall from our reading of Dante's Purgatorio, many medieval commentators assume that ancient texts are allegories that require careful attention to be read aright.

At the very end of Samuel, a book that has much to say about hearing and interpreting indirect, often devious messages and messengers, it is difficult to avoid considering whether this threshing floor where the messenger of the plague ends and sacrifice begins might obliquely beckon us to reflect upon our experience of the text, glimpsing new dimensions of significance through intelligent reading.

A text that problematizes interpretation could well provoke questions about how it is to be read. This returns us to the fundamental differences between Homer and the Old Testament raised by Erich Auerbach (in his Mimesis) some time ago, when we read Hesiod's Theogony. For Auerbach, the brighly lit world of the Greeks gives us a wealth of information and descriptive detail - we enjoy the brilliance of the creation. The murky, enigmatic, elliptical tales of the Old Testament -- "fraught with background," in Auerbach's memorable phrase -- appear to hold something back, calling for further interpretive work.

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