The King’s Daughter
by Tala Bar
Table of Contents|
Chapter 4, part 1 appears
in this issue.
Chapter 4: Shemu’el|
part 2 of 2
“I believe this is the edict of Ashtoret,” Sha’ul replied, “it is part of the covenant of kingship; but I don’t like it.”
“What is your faith, Sha’ul?” Asked the seer after a pause. Sha’ul gazed at Shemu’el with wide-open eyes — two black pools saturated in pain.
“I grew up on the knees of the Goddess,” he said, appologetically.
“Who created the world?” Shemu’el continued to ask, as if examining him.
“Ashtoret created the world,” Sha’ul answered without hesitation.
A deep sigh escaped from the seer’s heart. “And who brought our People out of Egypt?” he went on.
After a long reflection, Sha’ul declaimed in a faraway voice the words of the covenant, as if pulling it out of his heart: “Yhwh led us in the desert, brought us to the chosen land. In this land Ashtoret, the Great Mother who is devoted to all her creatures took us under her wing.” He paused, then turned to the seer, looking straight at Shemu’el. “How can Yhwh help us here,” he posed the question, “where our lives depend not on the wind of the desert but on the rains of heaven and the fruit of the earth?”
“Would you agree,” the seer asked after a long deliberation, “that Ashtoret rules the body of the place while Yhwh rules the spirit of the people?”
Avner saw clearly the cunning of Shemu’el’s words, but Sha’ul was unable to answer. A long silence fell.
“I have a proposition for you,” Shemu’el said at last.
“What is that?” Sha’ul asked, innocently.
After another pause Shemu’el said, “I suggest that I anoint you as King in the name of Yhwh, in addition to your being crowned in the name of Ashtoret. In her name you are King of the Earth; in Yhwh’s name you will be King of the People. This will improve relationship between the two factions of Israel.”
* * *
Shemu’el was a smart man, and Sha’ul’s mind was too simple to understand the danger in the prophet’s suggestion; the King never saw that by accepting Shemuel’s patronage in the name of Yhwh, he would only deepen the breach in his own soul. But, as was his wont, he let things take their own course. It was Avner, who wished to remove the kingship from the Goddess’s tutelege and ally it to the worship of Yhwh, who found this idea to his liking.
The three men left the room and climbed the ramp in front of the people. After Avner had hushed the crowd, Shemu’el poured on Sha’ul’s head a few drops from the holy oil used for burning on the altar as an offering.
“Long live King Sha’ul, in the name of Yhwh!” He called out loudly. The people cheered. They always loved ceremonies, and had no need to understand their meaning.
* * *
My father found strange comfort in the spontaneous joy expressed by the followers of the God of the Desert. In spite of his deep belief in the Goddess, his fierce faith in her rule over man and beast and his burning desire for Ahino’am — basically, he was not a pleasure-loving man. He had been deeply affected by the universal wisdom of his grandmother Maakha and by the mysteries of Ahinoam’s body; but his simple, straightforward mind tended toward the abstraction of Yhwh’s ritual. Having been crowned in the name of Yhwh, he felt for the first time the elation of the spirit divorced from any earthly connection.
That night, Sha’ul went to bed with the continuing monotonous music chanted by his newly acquired subjects still pulsing in his head, over and over, stirring in his body some baleful reactions he had never experienced before. For a long time he stayed awake, and when at last he fell asleep, he had strange dreams.
He found himself wandering in an endless, empty yellow desert, full of harshly pointed peaks; it markedly contrasted with the rounded hills of Binyamin, devoid of any signs of fertile green and brown, and of any moving, live creature. The wind rose, a sudden sandstorm wrapped him all round, blurring his senses, penetrating into his mouth, his nostrills, his eyes, his brain. It fixed him in his place unable to move, to walk, to stand, to sit or lie down. Suddenly, he felt himself carried on top of a sand column, up toward the white empty sky; his spirit divested from his body, mixed with the hot, scorched sand, twisted and twirled, spread and scattered, vanishing in the wide distances...
When Sha’ul woke in the morning, he was overcome by depression and confusion; in his melancholic state, he was not sure whether the dream had portended good or evil. Like his body in the dream, he felt himself detatched from the world, not sure whether he was standing with his feet on the ground, whether his head was floating away in the clouds...
On their way back to the Giv’a, Sha’ul remained in deep silence. The sun rose on one of these scorching days of autumn, which are reminiscent of summer. The hot, quivering air created phantoms of misleading sights in the distance. The sun rays hit the King’s head, and he, blinded and still shaking from the night’s experience, turned away from the road; his servant boy followed at his side, worried. Sha’ul felt the glare surrounding him, did not know where to turn for escape; he envisaged some spirit pulsing in the glare, revolving on its axis, turning his head. He started turning with the spirit, dancing as if forced, his arms flailing to all sides, his mouth frothing; the heat pounded on his head and the glare pulsed in his brain as the spirit turned round and round in his mind.
“Sha’ul! Sha’ul!” he heard voices calling out to him from the glare, from the blowing of the wind.
“Here I am!” He answered without a sound, not hearing himself calling. On and on he danced, shedding his clothes as if he was shedding his body; never a great dancer, he danced as if his life depended on every movement he made. At last he collapsed, dizzy and dazed; through the blinding light he saw Avner’s anxious face peering at him.
“You have been prophesying,” Avner said.
“What?” Sha’ul asked; he shut his eyes, embarrassed. Avner covered his nakedness, and they let him lie for a little while where he had fallen.
When the sun slanted in the west he was slightly revived and they helped him on his ass, supporting him as the animal walked on. Toward evening they reached Giv’at Sha’ul and the king was taken directly to his bedroom, where he was attended by women with medicines and oinments; Maakha came as well, looking at him for a long time while humming a prayer to Ashtoret. After much tossing and turning relief came to him, and he slept.
A few days later Sha’ul was himself again, even more than ever believing in Ashtoret; he no longer expressed any worry about the sacrifices, as if explaining to himself their necessity for the people’s wellbeing. Re’uma, blaming him for the death of Avinadav, ignored his existence, unforgiving.
* * *
For a few years Sha’ul remained in a simile of equilibrium. When Malkishua went on the altar, Re’uma sorrow’s for the loss of her sons, together with her hostility toward Sha’ul, turned into a festering disease which began to consume her flesh, causing her infernal pain. Her body wasted away; her grey eyes, which used to be a source of calm for her surroundings, burned with a strange fire. Sha’ul, who loved her as much as a husband loves his wife, grieved with her but could not comfort her.
The desert dream returned to him occasionally; a battle was launched between Shemu’el and Ashtoret for the supremecy in Sha’ul’s heart. His anointing in the name of Yhwh had granted the seer a moral power over the King. The prophet began appearing at the Giv’a, having avoided it completely after Sha’ul’s coronation; his demands from the King stood in complete constrast to the ways of the Goddess.
* * *
The belief in Ashtoret depends on the alternating of life and death in an eternal cycle; the belief in Yhwh breaks the cycle, denies death as a part of life, sees in it an unnatural disaster. It regards life as an abstract existence full of unfulfillable ideals, and death as an eternal nonexistence. Between these two faiths lies an unbridgeable abyss. These oppositions were forced upon Sha’ul, whose sensitive, delicate soul was unable to carry such a burden.
Having tried to pull Sha’ul to his way of thinking, Shemu’el realized at last that Sha’ul would never be his man wholeheartedly. Not only he was unable to realize Yhwh’s ideals; his anointing in the name of the God could not overcome years of belief in the Goddess.
After a short time the seer removed his support of the King, stopped coming to the Giv’a and kept away even from the Rama. Sha’ul, aware of Shemu’el’s abandoning him, was hurt, felt even more strongly the war taking part in his own heart, which he was unable to overcome.
All this time Re’uma was lying ill, sometimes hallucinating, sometimes floating somewhere in other worlds; she, the one whose practical advice had always formed a solid support in Sha’ul’s life, was no longer able to give any advice to support her own life.
He was left alone. Maakha had never given Sha’ul any practical advice and could not begin to do it now. When she saw the misery of her grandson’s misgivings, she was able to tell him one thing only, “You must go and consult the Goddess of the Underworld at the Oracle of the ‘Three Assess’.”
Sha’ul, who had been there before his coronation, hated the place. He hated and feared everthing connected with death. I still remember the unwonted heat with which he spoke about it; death for him was such a definite, such a final state, deprived of the love he had found in Ahino’am, he could not accept it as a part of his faith in Ashtoret. In this sense he was different from all true believers, who had always accepted her as the double Goddess of Love and of Death, as seen in the changing faces of the moon. Concerning death, Sha’ul identified himself completely with the believers of Yhwh, he saw no starting point for life in it.
The thought of going to the Temple of the Three Asses to consult the Oracle about the well-being of Re’uma and about his own future depressed him; his eyes deepened in their sockets, and the sadness had come to stay in them permanently, later alternating only with madness.
Copyright © 2005 by Tala Bar