Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saul has killed his thousands

The life of David has numerous hair-raising moments. One of them is the slaying Goliath, after which the daughters of Israel come singing his praise. They do it with adoring voices that hide the horrific meaning of the words, words that glorify slaughter on the battlefield. Here is this moment, in the voice of David:

But now I realize one thing: I must be coming out of a stupor. I realize this because only now do I pay attention to what it is these girls around me are singing. 
The song has started in soft tones just a few minutes ago, and now that I hear it, I take note of the words, "Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands! Tens of thousands! Tens of thousands! Tens of thousands!”
Which of course is wrong on both accounts. The blood on my hands means I am the slayer of Goliath—but for sure it does not amount to taking the lives of tens of thousands souls. 
And as for the king, I doubt he has made his way into the battlefield at all, because with his military experience he must stay out there, to oversee the movement of our forces from afar, and direct them to go here or there. So in truth, he has killed not a single soul.

David knows that this song will enrage the king, and awaken his jealousy. The next time he is brought before Saul, it is the king who does a strange 'reprise' of the song:

Then Saul does the most incredible thing: he hums a tune. in my opinion, it is quite a catchy one! Even so, I have never known him to be particularly musical. On his lips, the notes are bungled. Not only are they out of step with the way you expect to hear them—but they impart a flavor, the bitter flavor of jealousy. 
The words sound vague, they are barely expressed—but everyone around us knows what is rattling in his throat.
Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands...”
Is that a threat, glinting in his eyes? I tell myself it isn’t, it cannot be, and promptly forget all about it—until much later.

The king is so jealous that David is forced to flee, and he tries to go to the enemy stronghold, the city of Gath, which is where the Philistine advisers perform their own 'reprise' of the song, mocking him: 

Meanwhile, both his advisers take turns jeering at me, flapping the wings of fat under their arms, and raising the pitch of their voices from one phrase to another. “Saul has slain his thousands—”
“And David—”
“And David—”
“Oh, yes, David! What about him?”
“Let’s sing his praise, let’s sing a hymn—”
“For the king of the land—”
“He’s so bad—”
“Let him reign—”
“It’s plain, he has slain—”
“With his own bloody hands—”
“Down there in the sands—”
“With barely a stain—”
“He has slain—”
“No, no! Don’t you know? He’s stronger than Saul!”
“Stronger than everyone, big and small!”
“He’s slain tens of thousands!”
“Our walls shake, shake and fall!”
This performance makes everyone burst into laughter. Some of them step forward from behind their podiums, others slide off their benches. One by one, they come down to the center of the floor, and start hopping all about, faster and faster around the circular hearth, and shout my name. The hall fills with echoes of the original tune, performed with a twist of mockery, which makes my blood boil. 

Over generations of art, the song "Saul has slain his thousands" has inspired numerous paintings depicting the strange scene, where David, surrounded by cheering girls, is carrying the blood-stained, impaled head of Goliath over his head. The writing of Rise to Power I have been inspired by the way numerous artists depicted this strange moment:

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