Sunday, February 21, 2010

'מלכים ג: Revisited

I mentioned a while ago that I was "interested" in reading a book called "מלכים ג" by Yochi Brandes; now I'm actually reading it. As I suspected, it's a very interesting story, and is written in a very interesting perspective that, so far, has made me think differently about such concepts as "שבטיות", "גירות" and the woman's place in love in the Tanach.

"שבטִיוּת": By that I mean the tribal divisions that had a major place in our nation even during the Unification Period of the First Commonwealth until it's end. The author understands every event in the Tanach in terms of the tribal differences. The protagonist of the story comes from the land of Ephraim (Samaria) and was raised in a very Ephraim-oriented viewpoint. They're upset the Temple was built in Jerusalem (in the portion of Judah) and that their Temple in Shiloh was destroyed (an event that's spoken of in the 78th psalm. Which, as I recently found out, is actually the source for such famous verses as "וְהוּא רַחוּם" that we say every night and "יְשַׁלַּח בָּם חֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ" that we say at the seder). They see the Judeans as conquerors who want all the tribes to subdue themselves to them. They also don't like Judah because, as sons of Joseph, they prefer the Rachel tribes (Joseph and Benjamin, or Ephraim, Menashe and Benjamin) over the sons of Leah (including Judah) and especially over the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. According to the author, the tribe of Ephraim feels that many of the episodes that we view as history were actually fabrications of the Judahites to engender spite towars the Rachel tribes. For example the famous story of the "Pilegesh B'Giv'ah" in the end of the book of Shoftim was not totally honest, but was made to make the Benjaminites out to look worse then they were, and to make their capital, Giv'ah, look worse than it was. Especially considering that right after the book of Shoftim, in the beginning of the book of Shmuel, we find Saul coming from Giv'ah and it becoming the capital of the first Israelite monarchy.

As far as the traditional viewpoint goes; it is correct to some extent (I mean, most of it is pretty spelled-out in that psalm I quoted) but some of it is a bit heretical, for example suggesting that some of the events related in Shoftim and Shmuel are either untrue or very one-sided.

"גירות": This word might be translated as "conversion", but I'm using the word in the biblical sense, and it's the biblical understanding of the word and it's meaning that I always find a bit elusive. Even from the beginning I did have a greater understanding of it's biblical context than just "conversion". I knew that it had more of a Talmudic "גר תושב" connotation, which means that it's not usually speaking of someone who accepts only the G-d of Israel and follows His Laws, but any foreigner who is residing in the land and accepts the basic premise of Israelite beliefs and respects the Israelite people (though there are of course full-fledged conversions in the Tanach, such as that of Ruth the Moabite). One, therefore, supposes that there is not much similarity between the ancient Ger and the modern Ger, since the first is geographical and cultural and the second is religious, but the story made me start thinking the stronger connection modern Gerim have with the biblical "stranger"; for besides for the religious changes, the modern Ger also has to become a stranger in a strange land, adopt new cultural customs, and hope to be accepted by her new neighbors.

"אהבה": Since the book was written by a woman, some of it discusses love from the perspective of the woman, as opposed to how it's related in the Tanach, as the woman being only the "חפץ" in a man's love. The funny thing is that the Tanach itself is actually replete with descriptions of love from the female perspective. Shir Hashirim is famous for taking an uncommonly feminist viewpoint on love, in that much of it is written from a woman's viewpoint. Ruth as well obviously. Even the very episode of Rachel and Leah's wedding switch has unmistakable Gossip Girl elements at play. So, looking at it in that light, it's really nothing new to the Tanach.

Anyway, if you read Hebrew, and you haven't read it, you should look into it. Bible-based stories is a novel genre for the Hebrew market, and hopefully with enough support the concept will take off.


kisarita said...

on the pilegesh bgivah story- you'll notice that it appears twice in tanach- the sdom story is incredibly similar.

my take on it is that it is an event that truly occurred, but is ancient enough that it's no longer remembered who what and where.

however, shoftim is thought by scholars to be one of the oldest, most accurate books of the tanach, so I would venture that the givah version is more likely than the sdom version. Also note that the givah story is strictly natural, no divine intervention,which sorry--- but makes it more believable.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

ki: "you'll notice that it appears twice in tanach- the sdom story is incredibly similar"- Yeah, I noticed it's pretty much word-for-ford, which only exacerbates the "Judahizing of the text to make the tribe of Benjamin look evil" theory..

"but is ancient enough that it's no longer remembered who what and where"- Yeah, I mean, I think it's correct what some people say about it: you can't make this stuff up!

"Also note that the givah story is strictly natural, no divine intervention"- I actually wanted to mention that in the post but forgot to: there is a form of Divine intervention, but it's much more unusual than in the Torah. In this story the tribes of Israel inquire to G-d "Is it right for us to be fighting this 'שבט בישראל'"? And G-d says "HELL yeah. Go for it". Then they lose the battle and 50,000 men with it. The next day they ask G-d again, "Uhh, should we go out??". And G-d answers in the affirmative, and they get slaughtered again. Finally the thirst time they send Pinchas to the Mishkan Shiloh, and he asks G-d "Are you SURE we should go out again?!" and G-d says "Yeah, but this time you'll win. Trust me." : ). And they do win, but it's the only time in Tanach where G-d TOLD them to go but didn't grant them victory. So yeah, there is a Divine aspect to the story, but it's also very naturalistic (as are the whole נביאים ראשונים for the most part).

Seriously, you should read the book, you'd probably like it. If you want, I'll have it delivered to you after I'm finished with it!

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Something else I wanted to mention about Giv'ah: I looked into it, and as it happens the multiple settlements throughout history in the area of Giv'ah (which was traditionally the capital city of Benjamin, and the capital city of Israel during the reign of the first monarch) is located in what's known today as "Tel Al-Ful", which the Jerusalem neighborhood after Pisgat Ze'ev was built over and around (and I used to think the only thing special about Pisgat Ze'ev was the Moroccan Bakashot they hosted on Shabbat). During the second Temple period the agricultural products of the area were the main supplier of the Temple's wine and oil.

While Pisgat Ze'ev was obviously named after Ze'ev Jabotinsky, I think it's funny that since it's essentially the renewed Benjaminite capital city, it's called "Ze'ev" Peak, since "בִּנְיָמִין זְאֵב יִטְרָף", i.e. it's the sign of their tribe and was representative of who they were. So it could be the ones who made the name had that in mind, since they're usually very archaeologically sympathetic.

kisarita said...

could be.

thanks for offering but i'm too loaded down w schoolwork to read anything just for pleasure