Sunday, September 30, 2007

"The Hidden Ones"

I'm going to buy "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History. " It's fascinating to reflect on some of the themes raised in the New York Times book review. For instance, "bad behavior" is most often relative, subject to time, place, culture and, sometimes, motivation. Murder, for instance, is universally proscribed by law, and yet there have been and always will be exceptions to our condemnation of such behavior. In the Bible, Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, aids and abets the invading Israelites to kill her own townspeople of Jericho. For her assistance, Rahab and her family are spared after victory by the invading army of Joshua, the leader of the Israelite tribes. Rahab later marries a prominent Israelite, Salmon, and becomes an ancestress in the line of Christ through her son, Boaz. Boaz married Ruth (another "foreigner"), who becomes mother to Obed; Obed is the father of Jesse; and Jesse is the father of David, who is the founder of the Davidic line of Iraelite kings. During the times of the Judges (after Joshua but before Saul was annointed as the first King of Israel), Jael, "the wife of Heber the Kenite," commits an atrocious murder and is hailed for it in a song that praises the suffering of the dead man's mother. There is war between a Canaanite king, Jabin, and the Israelites. An Israelite prophetess, Deborah, who also acts a female Judge (in the days before the kings of Israel were established), calls upon Barak to lead an army against Jabin's forces, which are led by Jabin's general, Sisera. Interestingly, Barak says he will lead the fight, but only if Deborah accompanies him and the troops. Deborah then says yes, she will accompany him, but - perhaps as a result of his doubting the word of God as delivered through Deborah that victory against Sisera would be his - she tells Barak that the death of General Sisera will be at the hands of a woman: Judges 4:9: "Without fail I shall go with you. Just the same, the beautifying thing will not become yours on the way that you are going, for it will be into the hand of a woman that Jehovah will sell Sisera." With that Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. The Israelite forces are victorious, and Sisera runs for his life, seeking shelter in the tent of Jael. While he sleeps Jael takes a tent spike and strikes it through his temple with a hammer, driving the spike all the way through into the ground below. When the pursuing Israelite forces, led by Barak, arrive at her camp, she comes out to meet him and says "Come and I shall show you the man you are looking for." Judges 4:22: So in he went to her, and look! there was Sistera fallen dead, with the pin in his temples. Jael is hailed as a heroine. Here are parts of the victory song of Deborah and Barak: Judges 5:24: Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, will be most blessed among women, Among women in the tent she will be most blessed. (25) Water he asked, milk she gave; In the large banquet bowl of majestic ones she presented curdled milk. (26) Her hand to the tent pin she then thrust out, And her right hand to the mallet of hard workers. And she hammered Sisera, she pierced his head through, And she broke apart his temples. (27) Between her feet he collapsed, he fell, he lay down; Between her feet he collasped, he fell; Where he collasped, there he fell overcome. (28) From the window a woman looked out and kept watching for him. The mother of Sisera from the lattice, 'Why has his war chariot delayed in coming? Why must the hoofbeats of his chariots be so late?' (29) The wise ones of her noble ladies would answer her. Yes, she too would talk back to herself with her own sayings, (30) 'Ought they not to find, out they not to distribute spoil, A womb - two wombs to every able-bodied man, Spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera, spoil of dyed stuffs, An embroidered garment, dyed stuff, two embroidered garments For the necks of men of spoil?' But there would be no ransom demand made for the life of Sisera, for which his mother could contribute finely embroidered and dyed garments made with her own hands. Sisera was already dead, at the hands of another woman, who gave him milk - ironically described as "curdled milk," so that rather than being the sustenance of life, as milk from a mother's breast, its curdled form was a precursor of death. Three thousand years later, Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, among others, serve up "curdled milk" to their own children. Their names will live forever in the case-histories of psychiatric tomes. Yes, I think Ulrich is correct. It's the bad girls of history that have gotten publicity - not the good girls.

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