God as Tormenter? The Case of Saul (2)

I have not followed up in several months on the question of why God would torment his own chosen one – in this case, Saul. See previous post here.

Joshua – 2 Kings: The Deuteronomistic History (DH)

Before discussing God’s torment of Saul in 1 Samuel, it is important to look generally at the portrayal of Saul in this book and in the broader sweep of something called the Deuteronomistic History (DH), the narration of events in the Bible from Joshua through 2 Kings.  I should note for those using a Christian Bible – instead of a Jewish one – this would exclude Ruth, which was likely written during the Persian period (that is, much later).  This swathe of books is called the Deuteronomistic History (DH), since it evaluates events from the perspective of the ethical and cultic norms of the book of Deuteronomy.  Only Josiah gets a very strong rating.  Hezekiah does ok.

In the Deuteronomistic History, Saul is a transitional figure between the time of the Judges and the time of Kings.  Some passages in 1 Samuel, in fact, seem to portray Saul as simply an extremely powerful judge.  Others make it clear that his role is more kingly.

How Saul is like a Judge:

The Judges in the book of Judges are not really Judges.  With the exception of Deborah, the lone female “Judge,” none of them actually settle disputes.  Instead, they are more like warrior-prophets, inspired fighters.  Some, like Ehud, operate through cunning; others, like Gideon or Jephthah lead an army.  Samson, the Hebrew Herakles, operates with the force of an army, but usually acts alone through brute force with the spirit rushes upon him.

Saul, interestingly, is often portrayed just like a Judge, and, in fact, with Samson’s rage and the spirit coming upon him and sending him into a frenzy (see 1 Sam. 10:6), but without the brute strength and with the assistance of an army (1 Sam. 11:6 and following).

Is Saul, too, among the prophets? (1 Sam. 10:12)

Of course, Samuel, too, is portrayed as a judge-like figure (1 Sam. 7:14-8:3).

How Saul is something other than a Judge:

The reason Saul achieves a more powerful position than any previous leading figure is the heightened threat to the east; that is, the Philistines.  The Philistines based out of five major cities had a powerful social organization that the loose confederation of tribes that worked under the time of the Judges just could not match.  To defeat them – or at least hold them off – one had to develop a more centralized power structure.

In general, though, he provides a transition from the time of the Judges to the times of a dynastic monarchy as found in David and his successors.  Saul is either an all-powerful Judge – instead of a locally powerful judge – or he is a king without a dynasty.  He does not quite fit the mould in either category; he is betwixt and between, which is part of the reason why there are many reports about him in tension with one another. Another reason might be sources, which I will get to in my next post about this matter.


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