Yesterday I typed two pieces, one of which I wrote Sunday (“The Magic of Elena the Beautiful”) and the other which I wrote and typed up on Monday, “The Woman Who Loved David.” It is a story about a fictive woman plausibly could have existed but whom we had no evidence did exist. Her feelings for David resemble a woman in love, and yet the folk stories she collects about her king are supposed to be patriotic and religious only. In the short story–and I admit it is very short, a mere 7 pages–her stories are collected for a larger work The Annals of King David, which is referred to in 2nd Chronicles but is now lost to people who are familiar with the Bible today.
“The Woman Who Loved David” leaves it open to the reader how much of the unnamed narrator’s lore is actually true: What was David’s real relation to Saul? Did David fight on other king’s (outside Israel’s) side who might have hired him to fight Israel? Did David have a relationship with Bathsheba and was that the true reason Solomon was David’s heir? And how much of the “real” David does the Biblical reader—or the fictive narrator—know? Yet I also try to indicate that in a sense believing in Biblical faith makes it, so the “real” David matters less than our experience of him. It doesn’t matter if the “real” man let us down all those years ago in Israel. We love our David.
Our David is the David not just of 1st and 2nd Samuel, but of the Psalms and the Midrashim. He is “the Sweet Singer of the Lord,” but also a military figure. In Isaiah he is declared to be the ancestor of the messiah. In Ruth he is declared to be the descendent of a Moabite. Though the Great Hero of the Jews, Christians try to claim him, too, using him in their genealogies to prove Jesus was of Davidic descent. Of course, if he is the Great Hero, he is the Great Sinner, too: he slept with Bathsheba, his soldier Uriah’s wife. Faced with his guilt by the prophet Nathan, he shows the appropriate remorse but too late. He loses control of his own family, and his own sons Amnon and Absalom die as a result, with the previous raping his daughter Tamar and the latter raping his father’s harem. Yet David grieves for his children. In this repentance he shows us what it is like to be a human being.
Someday I hope to write about the scripture’s mystic spark which makes it live. Perhaps the stories are not the truth that fundamentalists want to believe in declaring the Bible “inerrant” but, after all, perhaps the truth of scripture mediated in the heart as well as the head. Without knowing if she died believing in God, I will quote Emily Dickinson,
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —