Sunday, May 10, 2009

Quote of the Day (Jerome Charyn, on King Saul)

“He is a king without issue, a kind of walking shadow, a ghost boy who hides in the baggage. Saul is constantly with the night….Saul’s constant night turns him into a metaphorical man. He’s the king of a ‘dark’ nation that will flower under David. He lives in a dark time, without voices or visions. He serves as a sacrificial bridge that connects a primitive, warlike people with many gods and many tribes to a nation that serves one Lord, one God, with a continuous line under King David.”—Jerome Charyn, “1 Samuel: Meditations on the First Book of Samuel and King Saul,” Congregation: Contemporary Writers Read the Jewish Bible, edited by David Rosenberg (1987)

Has anybody out there seen that new NBC show, Kings, starring Deadwood’s Ian McShane? I haven’t, but from what I hear, they’ve set the story of Saul in the contemporary world, except that here he’s called King Silas, leader of Gilboa, only he still has a young David in the background who, the leader fears, will supplant him.

The series is garnering some interest, and even decent reviews. Give the producers credit for knowing a good story when they see it.

The news about this show sent me scurrying to dig out my copy of Congregation. It’s quite a varied anthology revolving around close readings of chapters in the Hebrew Bible by 37 leading American novelists, poets, and critics, including Elie Wiesel, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Mordecai Richler, Phillip Lopate, Harold Bloom, Francise Prose, and Cynthia Ozick. (Well, maybe we should call them North American—Richler, after all, was Canadian.)

The Charyn essay on King Saul (the image accompanying this post, is, of course, by Rembrandt, with the young David playing the lyre) is particularly perceptive, capturing how this first king of Israel, thrust into power without any particular bond with his people or God, became subject to the dark forces in his nature, finally undone by his obsession with threats to his position—a dark parable for all leaders.

The Rembrandt painting, based on 1 Samuel 18:10, renders one of these dark moments—the “evil spirit” inducing the moody king to thrust his javelin at the young musician, driving him from his presence—through characteristically expert use of lighting, particularly on the mouth, with its tight expression indicating the mood that has stolen over the uneasy monarch.

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