King Saul’s Downfall Stemmed from His Transactional Approach to Serving God

March 15 2019

In 1Samuel 15, read in synagogues tomorrow, King Saul leads the Israelite army into victorious battle with the Amalekites at the behest of the prophet Samuel. But rather than destroy their enemies’ livestock, as God had commanded, the hungry Israelite soldiers plunder it for food. For this act of disobedience, as well as for failing to slay the Amalekite king, Saul is rejected by God. Shlomo Zuckier explains the mistaken attitude that lies behind Saul’s actions:

[Saul insists to Samuel] that he did follow God’s word, and that the people took the animals, adding the qualification that the animals were meant for sacrifices. As God did not request any such sacrifices, this line might best be read as Saul’s attempt at bribing God. Utilizing a transactional logic, he effectively [declares], “I made a mistake, God, but surely You’ll be happy if I give you these offerings? I’ll give you a cut of the spoils!” Thus, not only in not following the divine command properly, but even in responding to [Samuel’s rebuke], Saul disregards God’s will, . . . trying to pay God off instead of coming to terms with his failure. . . . Samuel responds that God desires not sacrifices but heeding the divine word; one can influence God neither with magic nor with bribes. . . .

[Saul] sees God as an obstacle to be navigated around. . . . As he learns all too well, what God really expects is that His will be followed; no bribe can be efficacious, and there is no divine workaround.

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More about: Hebrew Bible, King Saul, Religion & Holidays, Sacrifice, Samuel

 

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat