David and His Women
I am not a great fan of David, the so-called “Greatest King of Israel.” In fact, one of the biblico-theological reflections I have written and am most proud of is on David and is entitled “The Conspiracy of a Dynasty.” It scrutinizes the rape of Tamar, the only daughter of David, by her half-brother Amnon, who was the heir to David’s throne, who was eventually killed by Absalom, another brother and second heir to the throne, who initially silenced Tamar to protect the dynasty, but eventually killed Amnon so that he would be the next in line to the throne. (Game of Thrones ang drama dito!) I then asked the question, “How could this happen to David’s household? How could David, the greatest king of Israel, have raised a rapist and a murderer?” The paper ended pointing to an earlier narrative where David himself raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband Uriah. The narratives expose how the males in a household, even in the household of God, rape women and murder their own to protect and perpetuate their power.
Bathsheba is not the only woman in David’s life and if you look closely at the stories you will feel uncomfortable about how he treated women. He was given Michal as a reward by her father, King Saul, “at the price of one hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” (2 Sam. 3:14). The text explicitly says, “Saul’s daughter Michal loved David” (1 Sam. 18:20) Nowhere in the text does it say that David loved Michal. In fact, soon after, in Chapter 25, David woos and marries another woman, Abigail, the wife of Nabal, who David wanted to kill when he was not given the proper respect by Nabal. Furthermore, in 2 Samuel 3, six sons were born to David by six different women. The birth of the six sons of David meant that the House of David was strengthened. And as both of the children of King Saul, Michal and Jonathan protected and took the side of David, the House of Saul weakened. David had wives, sons, Jonathan and Michal. With the turn of events, Saul, the charismatic king is rejected as king, even by God.
From a tribal confederacy under Saul, David’s military prowess and political ambition created a dynasty. According to the narrative, God establishes the dynasty of David saying, “… I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. …Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me, your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16) David became the “it” male. The ultimate heterosexual lover, the virile king, the supreme male, the chosen one.
Yes, David was a great lover. But not of women.
David and Jonathan
In 1 Samuel 18:1, after David defeated the Philistine, Goliath, the text reads, “…the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” In 1 Samuel 20, Jonathan, the son and heir of Saul, made a covenant of faithful love with the house of David, to his father’s detriment and his own. He surrendered his father’s monarchy and his own right to the throne. This exhibited his great love for David. The text explicitly reads, “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.” (v. 17) After Jonathan revealed to David his father’s plan to kill David, the text reads, “…and they kissed each other, and wept with each other; David wept the more.” (v. 41) In 2 Samuel 1, after the death of Saul and Jonathan, David mourns for Jonathan saying, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
Seven women loved and bore sons to David. Jonathan and Saul both loved David. But David loved only Jonathan.
David is the “it” male. The ultimate heterosexual lover, the virile king, the supreme male, the chosen one. He was all that in Israel. He was all that for Israel. Israel and it’s monotheistic God required this ultimateness, virility and supremacy.
As a feminist, I have always taken the side of Bathsheba, Michal, and Abigail. These women’s lives were sacrificed in the creation of the greatest king of Israel. But an effort on a queer reading of the text reveals that, to be the ultimate, virile and supreme males, in the obligation to keeps wives and concubines and in the reproduction of sons and heirs, male lives are also sacrificed.
Beyond Israel David did not need to be king.
Beyond Israel David did not need to have wives and concubines.
Beyond Israel David was not burdened with producing sons and heirs.
Beyond Israel David could love Jonathan fully.
Beyond Israel David did not need to be ultimate, virile and supreme
Going beyond Israel is about resisting power and patriarchy.
I would like to end my critique on David with his acts of violence against the sons of Saul. The story in II Samuel 21: 1-14 begins with a famine of three years during David’s reign. In the narrative, when David asked God what caused it, God said that Saul was guilty over the killing of the Gibeonites. David, then, asked the Gibeonites what it is that he can do so that they may have justice, and they answered, “let seven of his sons be handed over to us, and we will impale them before the Lord….” (v.6) David, the king, handed them over. The king took the sons of Rizpah, the concubine of Saul, and the five sons of Merab, the daughter of Saul. And the Gibeonites impaled them, a form of torture where a victim’s body is pierced with a stake, like an animal for roasting. Seven sons from the house of Saul were tortured and killed.
Going beyond Israel is about resisting power and authority, and alongside it, the inclination towards violence and oppression. In a final act of ultimacy, virility and supremacy, David annihilated the sons and heirs of Saul. Perhaps it can be said, when males are consumed by the need for power and authority, they lose their own humanity. How much kinder would David have been if he had no desire to embody the power of Israel? How much kinder this world would be if males (and females) could allow themselves to become human, vulnerable, and, yes, sexual? How much kinder David could have been if he knew that there is a world beyond Israel?
The second part of my sharing is about escaping Eden.
The Perfect Garden
The Garden of Eden is a construct. In the Christian traditional interpretation of the text, Eden is the perfect place created by God. The perfect place with the perfect couple – Adam and Eve. In Genesis Chapter 2, the narrative gives an account of how Eve is created so that Adam, the man, “should not be alone.”(v18) Then, not only is her creation a response to another being’s need but she is a derivative. The origin and host is the male. (v22-23) Finally, the text reads “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (v24) The man, of his own free will, leaves his parents and becomes a separate entity, while the woman is subsumed and loses her self-identity and self-determination. In the creation myth in Chapter 1, the narrative states that humankind was created in God’s image and God created both male and female. (v26-27) Then, both are blessed and given stewardship of creation. (v28-30) In the creation of humankind in Chapter 1, there is no essential difference that separates the male from the female. This a sharp contrast to the Adam and Eve narrative where Eve is created second only to Adam, is a product of Adam’s body, and is then made one-flesh with Adam. In this creation story, there would be no Eve if there was no Adam.
With a critical perspective one can really posit some very relevant questions: Why should Eve be merely a derivative of Adam? Why could they not have been birthed or brought forth from a tree at the same time like in the myth “Si Malakas at si Maganda?” Whoever said that Adam and Eve are made for each other or must remain together just because their lives began together? What if they were not attracted to each other? On another note, why would they want to spend their life naming animals and plants; sustaining and nurturing them? What if they wanted to do something else? Finally, what if the garden was too small for them? What if they wanted to experience life beyond Eden? What if this departure from Eden is not as a punishment by God but an act of resistance of Adam and Eve? What if Adam and Eve escaped from Eden?
The idea that someone wants to escape from Eden is not new. Lilith, in Jewish myth, was the first wife of Adam. She, according to the Midrash, was created in the Genesis 1 narrative where males and females were created together. Lilith believed that she and Adam were created equal. One day, Adam, to assert his power over her, insisted that she be beneath Adam during sexual intercourse. She resisted, because she believed they were equal, and escaped from him. Adam, both angry and lonely, asked God to send out three angels to bring her back. They found her in the Red Sea but she did not want to go back to Adam. In response, the angels threatened her that hundreds of her children will die everyday. The myth ends with how Lilith is the spirit that causes infants to die.
Escaping from Eden is not a new idea. But, then and now, escaping Eden is considered a sin.
Marcella Althaus-Reid, spoke of “beyond Edens” in her book, Queer God. She says that we have limited God’s presence to Eden. Eden, to us, may be family, marriage, heterosexuality, a doctrine or the church. Eden represents all that we hold sacred. The problem is God is contained, limited and held captive. She argues that God can be found beyond Eden, wherever we experience life and fullness. And then she says, God is in the alleyways, inside the closet and in the darkest space; in the wilderness, the deserts and the most treacherous places. God is not just in the Garden of Eden. God can be found beyond Eden.
What is beyond Eden? In an effort to answer the question, I found a poem I wrote entitled “Wild and Free.” It reads –
If I feel the wind in my hair,
I must be flying free
If I can see beyond the borders
I must have gone where I have always wished to be
If I can run with the eagle above me,
I must have been riding strong.
If I no longer feel the ground beneath me,
I must be wild and to the universe belong.
All creatures have a wildness in them
Before they are tamed and caged.
They see a world without any borders
Follow the voice within and feel brave.
And then they find someone who steals their spirit
Possessing the wings that once soared
They are forced to the ground to kiss the earth
And feel fear as sharp as a sword.
The hunger for freedom is a wound that never heals
It summons the spirit to find courage.
It begins with a dream and a vision,
And it is nurtured by a healing spirit or a deep rage
All creatures have a wildness within them,
With a song they will weave courage and strength
The moment will come to leap and stride again
To feel the wind, to run free, in a journey that has no end.
That is my proposition, there is a wilderness and wildness beyond Eden. And we want to escape Eden because it places us on a leash, in a cage, in a box. It domesticates and tames us. We lose our powers and our very identity. We deny who we are and all we can be.
In the field of psychology, Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, a Jungian analyst and a cantadora or myth-maker, celebrates the ‘Wild-Woman’ as the archetype of wholeness for the modern woman. She says,
A healthy woman is much like a wild wolf: robust, chock-full, strong life-force, life-giving, territorially aware, inventive, loyal, roving. Yet separation from the wildish nature causes a woman’s personality to become meager, thin, ghostly, spectral. We are not meant to be puny with frail hair and inability to leap up, inability to give chase, give birth, create life. When women’s lives are in stasis, ennui, it is always time for the wildish woman to emerge; it is time for the creating function of the psyche to flood the delta…It means to establish territory, to find one’s pack, to be in one’s body with certainty and pride regardless of the body’s gifts and limitations, to speak and act in one’s behalf, to be aware, alert, to draw on the innate feminine powers of intuition and sensing, to come into one’s cycles, to find what one belongs to, to rise with dignity, to retain as much consciousness as we can.
The Garden of Eden narrative has been interpreted as a source of truth for centuries even when there are un-truths in it. It defines that male and female are created for each other, that human beings are sinful and in need of God’s grace, and that we are stewards of the earth. But feminist theologians have pointed out how Eve being created from Adam’s rib is a direct inversion of reality. Everyday, women give birth to bring forth new life. Men do not. In the narrative, God says that anyone who eats of the fruit from the tree of life will die. Adam and Eve eat but do not die. That was not true either. Actually, the serpent, the very embodiment of evil in the narrative, was the only one who was genuinely truthful in the story. The serpent promised that they would become wise and that they would not die. These two were proven to be true. Our constructs of Eden and sin has denied us all life and dignity. We must re-capture our wildness and, more often than not, we will find that it lies beyond Eden.
Lilith escaped from Adam and she is a symbol of those who want to be wild and free. Eve remained with Adam and is a symbol of those who will defend marriage and patriarchy. And I have been asked the question again and again of how I want the next generation to be. So I wrote down this poem entitled “Lilith Eve.” I don’t know if you will agree with me but this vision of a girl-child also brings to mind a boy-child that many of you may have wanted to be. I hope that as I read it, you will know that we have a shared vision for tomorrows children to be true to themselves, to dream beyond Israel and escape Eden for a more loving and fuller humanity.
Lilith Eve is the child of our tomorrows and eons past,
The daughter of Eden and earths beyond it.
She is the fruit of souls touching, of sacred pleasuring,
and of dreams of an unlimited universe.
She will be warmed by her mother’s fire
and lulled in the waves of her father’s song.
She will burn with passion for those whose only hope is the Divine
and slowly erode the oppressive lies and structures with both
gentleness and fierceness.
She will dance like a flame and enchant like her mother.
And inspire people of different ages like her father.
She will play with goddesses and mortals
and welcome them in the sanctuary of her universe.
Lilith Eve is the child of the universe.
She whispers to the stars, kisses the flowers,
touches the tenderest creatures, and charms the strong and the wild.
She will run to the mountains and explore the deepest seas,
sleep under the moon and swing on the boughs of trees.
At times she will be restless and want to be alone and free.
But there will be many moments when she comes to lay between you and me.
Poster by Metropolitan Community Church in Quezon City, Philippines