Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s flat-out rejection of the UN’s proposal for a multinational investigation into the Gaza flotilla raid continues to ratch up tension between various factions clamoring to, and for, the “facts” surrounding the incident. The war over such facts continues unabated between contesting sides whom have managed to pot-shot evidence which supports the other’s case while using the same evidence to confirm theirs. Anyone who’s not been shagging sheep in the countryside for the past few weeks will know what evidence I’m talking about. (here, here, here, here, and here)
In my opinion, the matter would be best dealt with by the Israeli Supreme Court or the attorney general’s office, because the government first and foremost needs to be held accountable to their electorates as a democracy. More importantly, an independent Israeli investigation in a country where (a) the average life span of a sitting government is 25 months, and (b) where Knesset coalitions are the rule not the exception, would demonstrate to the international community that Israel as a country is not a monolith of opinion and can more than capably handle an internal inquiry.
Judgment from within also has a long, long history in Judaism. Jews practically wrote the book on criticizing their leaders in response to catastrophe. Take for example King David’s most licentious act; the adultery of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. The story opens with an ironic exposition that sets the theme for the story. While all of Israel is doing battle with a nearby enemy, David, the king, is awakening from a late afternoon nap, sauntering on his rooftop voyeuring young women. He sees a particularly vivacious woman name Bathsheba bathing not too far off, has her sent for and brought to his palace where he proceeds to indulge his sexual appetite. Bathsheba soon claims she is pregnant, and David tries to conceal his adultery by calling back her husband Uriah from the frontlines of the battle so that he may sleep with his wife to cover up David’s sin. When Uriah refuses to sleep with Bathsheba in solidarity with his brothers fighting far away from their wives, David sends a message to his general to have Uriah covertly killed in the battlefield when he returns. Unbeknownst to him, Uriah carries the death warrant himself back to the frontlines, is killed, and David usurps his wife.
The remarkable literary quality of this short story is acutely apparent in its clever condemnation of David. One such passage is the opening paragraph:
“And it came to pass, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried at Jerusalem.”
The first sentence, significantly longer than the second, appears to be nothing but excessive exposition, bulky and unsubtle. However, the second sentence provides a wonderful contrast with the first; one might be led to believe that the only person left in Jerusalem is David the King. Given that Ancient Near East custom dictated that military campaigns made or broke the legitimacy of kingships, and that up until this point in the Bible, David has led a grotesquely large number of campaigns, it becomes doubly unusual that David is idling alone back home. A further ironic sting is laced between the two sentences, as “when the kings go out to battle,” which becomes reduced back in the second sentence to essentially, “but David stayed at home.” This incongruity between sentences provides a charged meaning that will continue throughout the rest of the story, as David’s idleness and sin grow more depraved. A more telling passage that reflects the author’s critical yet subtle tone towards the Davidic monarchy occurs when Uriah, fresh from battle, meets David, refuses to go down to his home to his wife, and responds thusly why back to the King:
“And when Uriah was come unto him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered. And David said to Uriah: ‘Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet.’ And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of food from the king. But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.”
Here, David’s shrewdness shines through. David’s reception of Uriah is given nothing more than simple ‘how are things’ banter and polite conversation, and David appears quite cordial and friendly. David’s kind offer to allow the battle-fatigued Uriah rest his laurels at home with his wife appears to further extend his benevolence. Although Uriah would never have been summoned for idle chit-chat, the impression David gives Uriah with these gestures is that the more important issues will be left for the next day. However, David’s real plan to have Uriah inadvertently cover up his adultery is exposed when Uriah returns the next day having not fulfilled his unintentional mission, vexing David.
“And when they had told David, saying: ‘Uriah went not down unto his house’, David said unto Uriah: ‘Art thou not come from a journey? wherefore didst thou not go down unto thy house?’
And Uriah said unto David: ‘The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in booths; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field; shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.’”
At face value, it appears Uriah does not indulge in that which David wants him to out of some kind of idealistic solidarity with his brother-in-arms. Uriah is an example of leadership and fortitude to the adulterous and leacherous king, which echoes the introductory paragraph’s contrast between the people and the king. Uriah’s words also provide a bitter irony to David’s actions, suggesting the possibility that word of his wife’s infidelity with the King has reached him. Uriah does not simply state that he shall not take part in indulgences his fellow soldiers are denied, but emphatically states to the King what going down ‘to thy house’ entails; that he shall not eat, drink and lie with his wife, which is exactly David’s behavior away from battle. Such poisoning words no doubt prompts David’s decision to have Uriah killed. David is not sure whether Uriah knows about the infidelity, and Uriah certainly isn’t going to blatantly acknowledge that he knows, preferring a subtle indictment.
The story ends with a clever parable from the prophet Nathan, who outright condemns David for his behavior; an act towards a king that was unthinkable in the Ancient Near East. The story ends by concluding that the battle begun in the opening was successful, albeit a somewhat pyrrhic victory as a symbolic reminder of David’s crimes. The King stayed in Jerusalem, the people waged his war, he reaps the benefits and names the fallen city as his own; a fitting conclusion for a man who covets a citizen’s wife and calls it his own.
Although I could digress perpetually on this carefully worded story, its brevity speaks volumes about the King’s weak, indecisive and extremely immoral behavior in a critical and intelligent tone. The authors and redactors, most likely writing in exile in Babylon, were responding to history by interpreting it and finding meaning in its events to preserve and remake a morality considered central to ancient Israelite religion.
Rather than obsessing with evidence in the present, why not also create a historiosophy that speaks to the future? Where are all the storytellers amongst the rabble?