Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Haven’t you just come from a military campaign?

As Uriah is summoned back to the court I ask myself, why is he so obstinate, so determined not to visit his wife? It is possible that a hint, a rumor of his her adultery has already reached his ears? If so, is there any course of action open to him? I mean, what can a soldier do to defy a king? 
When he comes before me I ask him, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why don’t you go home?”
Uriah the Hittite says to me, “Your majesty, the Ark of God is staying in a tent.”
“What? Have you become Jewish all of a sudden?” I ask. “I mean, what is it to you, where the Ark stays? You can go to your house and have a merry good time, and forget living in a tent just because God does.”
“How can I forget?” he asks. “My commander Joav and my lord’s men are camped out there, outside Rabbah, in the open country. How can I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live I’ll not do such a thing!”
Then he grows exceedingly quiet. By the look in his eyes I see what he thinks. The only way open to him is silent resistance.
I feel for him, because I know how it feels to be in his shoes, simply by remembering my years in the court of my predecessor, king Saul. With a shriek, his spear would come singing straight at me. 

I remember: depending on how close it came I would catch the thing—or else dodge it, letting it hit the wall. It would hit hard, then fall bouncing to the stone floor. The entire space would fill with echoes of it, ringing.
“Here,” I said, picking it up, returning it dutifully to Saul. 
“Boy,” said the king, watching me with a crazed look in his eye, as I went back to my place behind him. “What would a king do without his jester.”

Now, even without hurtling a spear, I am the one using Uriah for my jester. 
I decide to give him one more chance to redeem himself in my eyes before I give up on him, before I begin to despair of my own redemption. 
So I tell him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I’ll send you back.” 
He remains in Jerusalem that day and the next. I invite him to eat and drink with me, which allows me to take a stab at trying to make him drunk. 
I slap him on his shoulder with a fine sense of camaraderie. I even give him my goblet. I fill it for him so it is overflowing with beer. He gulps it down dutifully. One keg after another is brought in. Meanwhile I discuss how it is flavored with hops, which add a hint of bitterness, and act as a natural preservative, and how during the process of fermentation, herbs may be added to one keg and fruit to another, for no better reason than achieving variety in taste. By the end of the evening I am exhausted by all this talk, and so, I think, is he. 
After all this effort on my part I am astounded to learn that nothing, nothing at all comes of it. Uriah goes out in the evening to sleep on his mat among my servants. He is steadfast in refusing to go home. Perhaps he fails to understand that being stubborn may cost him dearly.

My writing is greatly inspired by art of all ages. Here is an unusual painting which I love because of its overlay of painting techniques )splashing paint, scratching it out) and because of its overlay of modern and ancient references. It is titled David gets Uriah drunk by Ivan Schwebel. After a year travelling in Europe, a love affair with an Israeli brought the artist to Israel in 1963. The love affair ended, but he stayed. Schwebel had a passion for the bible and Jewish and Israeli history. He delved into all of it for his subject matter, bringing together characters and narratives regardless of time, and setting them in modern- day Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, the Judean hills, or New York City. He liked to play with ideas, and thoroughly mixed his visual metaphors. He showed David and Bat-Sheva next to a Nazi deportation train, and Job despairing over his relationship with the Palestinians. Here, he presents David and Uriah in Ben-Yehudah street in Jerusalem.

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