The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 1 appears
in this issue.
|Chapter Two: Sha’ul|
My Father Sha’ul !
Even though I have grown old and am standing on the threshold of death, I see his image in my mind as if all these years have never passed. It is strange to think that Sha’ul had never reached my age; he will always stay the same young man in my memory — tall and slim, his hair and beard black and curly — who taught me to take life as it seemed right to him.
“Come, let’s run to the fields!” He would call out, completely forgetting about being the King of Israel. Then, when I stumbled on my short legs, barely managing to walk properly, he snatched me up, a girl of two, three or four; he carried me on his arms or on his shoulders away from the King’s House, out of Giv’at Sha’ul, to the hills, to the scattered vinyards, among the herds of sheep and goats; shepherds or vinegrowers, sowers or reapers then stood wondering at the strange behavior of their king.
When we had tired of running and wandering, Sha’ul would lie on the ground, put me on his knees, show me a pink flower or a shiny pebble and tell some fancy stories about them; often he called out to a passing hare or a singing bird as if to old friends, or turned a rock to show me the crawling world underneath. The wind in the branches, a cloud in the sky, migrating flocks of birds, could be subjects for discussion; and if we were lucky to catch a ewe dropping her young in the field, it was as if the sun itself had opened its eyes on a great day.
I was his mirror image as a girl, like him tall and slim with dark, curly hair and black, flashing eyes; but that was before the grief came to stay in his eyes, before madness changed them with its menace. He was a beloved of Ashtoret, both as a king and as a victim.
* * *
As a child, he had been adopted by the Goddess through the care of his grandmother Maakha. His mother had died having given birth to too many children who died soon after, and he was left alone to his father at the age of three. Maakha took Sha’ul away from his confused father — her son Kish — and brought him to the Ashtoret temple in Giv’on. ‘You take him, bring him up for me,’ she told the chief priestess when she herself returned to her family.
Once, Maakha had lived in that same temple; that was before she made a covenant with the Israelite leader to stand by him as his official wife. She made her husband the Father of Giv’on, marrying him in order to strengthen the alliance between the Israelite tribe of Binyamin and the ancient Canaanite inhabitants of the town of Giv’on.
The priestesses made the boy their favorite, taught him to worship the Goddess. He lived there with all these women until, at the age of seven, Kish took him back home, to grow up to be a man among the men of the family.
Sha’ul was always very quiet, an innerlooking person, always going his own way. He was not exactly what one calls ‘a good boy’ — he was not beyond breaking the rules, offending against conventions. But he never learned to lie about his actions; if caught, he would own his crime, calmly waiting for a just punishment. This he withstood bravely, unflinching. His utter honesty sometimes stirred his friends to mock him, regarding it as stupidy; but the sense of justice, accompanying his courage even then, raised their admiration.
* * *
As he grew up, it was clear that Sha’ul’s readiness to accept judgment was accompanied by the courage to judge others as well. Many times the boys chose him to arbitrate between them; better than anyone else he knew the difference between right and wrong, and how to mete justice without bias or design. It was a trait admired by people, even when judgment went against themselves.
His father Kish sometimes chided him, but gently: “Sha’ul,” he would say, “you can’t make judgment against this man; he is too rich and he has a powerful standing in our tribe.”
“But Father,” the boy would answer, “it is clear to me that the man is lying brazenly, he has no justice on his side.”
Then, when Kish said, “But he has power, he can harm you badly,” Sha’ul answered quietly, “I am not afraid of him.” Because, indeed, he was never afraid of anyone.
* * *
I remembered then how Maakha used to say, when talking more to herself than to me — the little girl sitting on her lap — that the blessing of the Goddess lay on Sha’ul, the blessing he had received from the priestesses who had loved him more than any other child growing in the temple.
It must have been that blessing which granted him his charisma, placing him on a higher plain than any other man of his generation. It surrounded him like a halo, affected all people around him, made them follow him through wars and in times of peace. It made men admire him, women adore him, strangers love him; and, because of this blessing, they wanted him as their king.
Unfortunately, because of this blessing, the Underworld priestesses also wanted him for themselves, as a victim for their yearly sacrifice to the Goddess; but they could not have him because the people did not allow it. They wanted him to continued as king after his season was due, even when madness had taken over his soul, until he had to sacrifiece himself — because no other man had dared do it.
My memories gush like a stormy sea under a strong wind, going in all directions at once. I can see myself no more a baby but still sitting on my father’s lap (the innocent love between father and daughter!). He would put me on his knees, play with and kiss my fingers, and I would play with his beard and playfully lick his nose — while he was sitting at the King’s council! The wrath of his wife Re’uma rose on such occasions, she scolded me and chided him.
“Mikhal, leave the room at once!” she would say, “Sire, it is not proper for her to sit with the men. She is not a little child any more, she will soon be betrothed.”
My father then pushed me away unwillingly, and I approached his wife with a cloudy face.
* * *
Today, I can understand Re’uma much better than I could then, even pity her. She used to be the beauty of her clan — tall and full of body, with fair hair and skin; she ruled her household with a glance out of her grey, serious eyes. In my memory, I never see her laugh or smile; for, when I reached a discerning age, Re’uma had nothing to laugh about anymore.
Re’uma was a relative of the Kish family, and she loved Sha’ul from childhood. Of course, I never knew them as young people, but sometimes I used to visualize them as such in my imagination. They must have been an impressive couple, both tall although he had a willow form and she a full, majestic figure; but the most impressive thing about them was the way their coloring contrasted, and the complete opposites of their characters. Sha’ul was the dreaming idealist, and Re’uma the clever, practical, earth-bound woman. I can imagine them as young lovers, the black curly head hidden between the full, shiny white breasts as he plants his seed in her fertile body, expecting the birth of his healthy children.
After their marriage, she managed his life and his household with a sure, knowledgeable hand. She loved Sha’ul as her husband and the father of her children, in the same way she loved her children, her animals, her possessions — everything that belonged to her by right and privilege. She admired and supported him as a judge, always ready to give him some of her practical ideas as advice; but she could not understand what he needed the kingship for. What did he lack as a judge, a husband, a father? She could never understand that.
* * *
I was born when Sha’ul was king and never knew the days when the arguments were raging about the kingship. Our family stems both from a branch of the Canaanite rulers of Giv’on, and the Israelite tribe of Binyamin. Maakha had been a Canaanite and Ashtoret’s priestess. Among her children from the Chief of Binyamin, some came to believe in Ashtoret and supported the idea of kingship. Others continued to worship Yhwh alone and objected to kingship. Still others combined the two into a double ritual, where the Desert god took on himself the character of El, the bull that was consort to the Moon goddess.
The alliance between Israel and Canaan would strengthen two small peoples against their surrounding neighbors, and for a while Maakha’s husband, the Father of Giv’on, lead this alliance successfully. But when he died, both peoples felt they needed one prominent leader to accomplish the unity; and they wanted this leader to carry the title of ‘king’. Not all the Israelites wanted a king, those who continued their worship of Yhwh alone, claimed their loyalty to their god but strongly objecting to having a king in the name of Ashtoret.
The charismatic Sha’ul who was a famous judge at the time, and many thought he could be that king. Nobody had ever bothered to ask him if he wanted that role, and even if they had asked him, they might never have received a straight answer, because Sha’ul could never make a decision about his personal fate. Though most determined in matters of justice, Sa’ul was completely indecisive in all personal or political matters and had nothing to say about his being made king.
I can see him in my mind’s eye, sitting among the arguing opponents — his father, his uncles with their grown sons, and some of the women who were interested in the discussion, all of them led by Maakha — keeping silent, never opening his mouth. When the argument flared up, almost reaching blows, Maakha used to watch, smiling. For some reason, she was excited by the discord, and although her support was given to the one side, she also liked to hear the other side’s arguments, encouraging them to explain their words only to refute them afterwards!
* * *
But when the clash increased to reach a fistfight, Re’uma would step in and end the quarrel with a few sharp words which silenced everyone — until the next flare-up. She herself never took part in the argument, never expressed her opinion. She belonged to Yhwh’s people, did not believe in kingship, certainly did not want to see Sha’ul as king. She knew very well the conditions, which accompanied it — that a king must first go through a sacred marriage with a priestess, and then he must be sacrificed! But most of all, she hated all arguments, dissensions and quarrels; in her house, she used to suppress these with a strong hand and a sharp tongue, and no one would stand up against her.”
Still, she was unable to stop Sha’ul’s crowning, for that she did not have enough power. Her secret opposition (because she never revealed her standing) to Sha’ul’s kingship was one of the reasons for the terrible conflict which had started growing within his own soul...
The conflict between Yhwh’s and Ashtoret’s worshippers took place inside Sha’ul’s own soul. Though he had grown up on the knees of the Goddess and kept adoring her all his life, he had no strength within his heart to oppose the belief of Yhwh, which formed the basis for his tribe’s existence.
The image of Ashtoret was embodied in all the women he had known: his grandmother Maakha represented the wisdom of life. The Great Mother appeared in the figure of his wife Re’uma. Ahino’am personified the Spring and Love goddess and was the love of his life. The Goddess’s image as a wild, free girl was shown in his daughter Mikhal. And as a submissive slave she appeared in the figure of his concubine, Ritzpa. Five women, five loves, in each of which he saw and worshipped the Goddess.
In the spirit of Yhwh, though, the pure spirit of the desert, Sha’ul found the support to his abstract, relentless way of justice. He believed that it was the spirit of Yhwh which had ‘rested on him’ when he jumped into battle at the head of his people with no consideration for danger. It was there when he sank deep into his meditations; and when he stripped of his clothes and his sanity to prophesy like one of the desert prophets.
Re’uma was a strong believer in Yhwh. She did not want her husband to wed, even ceremoniously, the Goddess’s priestess. She certainly did not want him to beget that woman’s children, who would have rights for a kingship, which was outside her own children’s reach! And of course, she did not want the sacrifice of the man who was the father of her children, the man she had loved and wanted all her life!
So, because Re’uma wanted no part in that business, she was unable to help Sha’ul in his trouble, to solve his inner conflict as she used to do so many times before his crowning, when he was sitting as a judge. That was how the breach had been formed — the breach in Sha’ul’s soul, and the breach between him and his wife — which led in the end to the breach between Sha’ul and his people.
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar