Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Not For Children

Not For Children

Once upon a time… is how all good fairy tales begin. But has been often pointed out by Jane Yolen and her ilk is that fairy tales were not originally intended for children. If one reads the original Brothers Grimm, one finds the stories encased in the volume not just to be grimm, but ugly and violent and sexually explicit. Much of the same transformation that has happened to the fairy tales of old has also been done to the Bible. For those of you who only know the Bible from Sunday school stories—even if you suffered through years of repetition and memorization—I am sorry to say that you don’t actually know the Bible. No butchered Bible story transformed to fit our cultural mores for children (or bleeding heart liberals) can accurately represent the ancient text. If the Bible were accurately portrayed in a movie, it would at least get an R rating, if not NC-17. Well, we have one of these stories to look at right now. So we will begin it properly, as a fairy tale…

Once upon a time there was a priest who lived in the north country of Israel. He took a concubine from the tribe of Judah, who lived in the south part of Israel. She didn’t care for the way he was treating her, so she ran off to her father’s house in Judah. So the priest traveled all through Israel with a donkey and a slave to her father’s house. While there, he gently wooed her back and she agreed to return with him to the north country.

Before they left, however, her father wanted to show them a great display of hospitality, so he gave the priest a great meal. The priest ate and drank so much that he became woozy and spent the night at her father’s house. The next day, the priest was preparing to leave and his concubine’s father said, "Leaving so soon? I have such a great meal prepared! Surely you can stay for one more meal!" In this way the father detained him for three days. On the fourth day, the priest was determined to go, and the father agreed, "Just have some bread with me and then leave." But he prepared another feast, and detained them until late. "Why not spend the night," the father proclaimed. But the priest took his concubine and left, though the hour was late.

It was not long until they were looking for a place to spend the night. The priest’s servant recommended that they stay in the city of the Jebusites (known later as Jerusalem), but the priest refused. "I would feel more secure if I stayed with some of my own nation. Come, let us go to the Benjamite town of Gibeah."

As they entered Gibeah, at such a late hour, the men at the gate were very inhospitable. They avoided looking directly at the small party, and no one offered them a place to stay. The servant thought he heard a man mutter, "Filthy immigrants." The priest was prepared to set up camp in the courtyard, when an older man approached them. "What are you doing?" he exclaimed. "Come to my house and stay there, but do not sleep in the courtyard!" The priest explained their situation briefly, but the old man just hurried them up to his house.

After they had settled in for the night, a knock thundered on the door. The old man cautiously opened the door, only to find a mob of drunk men there. "We know you have immigrants in there. Send the man out." The old man said, "And what will you do with him?" "Oh, we won’t take him anywhere… we’re going to keep him right here in front of your door and we’ll rape him until he’s blind. That’ll teach filthy immigrants from trying to come into our town." The old man pleaded with them, "Please, don’t do such evil! It would be better for you to take my young daughter and this man’s concubine—but do not be so abusive against my guest!"

The mob moved forward to attack the old man, but the priest acted swiftly, grabbed his concubine and threw her out the door to them, grabbed the old man back in and blocked the door. The mob pushed against the door, but to no avail. So they grabbed the concubine and raped her all night.

The priest arose the next morning, nervous but refreshed after his sleep. He stepped out the door and almost tripped over his concubine going out. He looked at her lying there and said, "Get up, we’re leaving." But she did not move. So he picked her up, laid her on the donkey, and they traveled back to the north country. Somewhere along the way, perhaps after she didn’t move all that first day or perhaps when she wouldn’t get up to eat, the priest discovered she was dead. The priest was furious. After all his effort, and those callous abusers of strangers in Gilead just killed her!

Finally, after the priest arrived back home, he took out a huge butcher knife and cut his beloved wife into twelve pieces of meat. He sent each of these pieces to each of the tribes of Israel, with a messenger proclaiming his story. "No evil such as this has ever been done in all of Israel!" the messengers cried.

All the tribes of Israel were appalled, horrified. They gathered a huge army and approached Benjamin, the tribe where Gibeah was located. "Give us the men of Gibeah, so we can be rid of them," they said to the army of Benjamin. The leaders of Benjamin refused, "Why should we surrender these men up? The priest from the north country shouldn’t have been in our land, in any case."

The tribes of Israel attacked the next day. Benjamin defeated them, killing 22, 000 men. The next day, Israel attacked again. Benjamin defeated them again, killing 18, 000 of their men. Finally, Israel attacked again, and Yahweh attacked with them and the Benjamites were destroyed, decimated, with only 600 men of all their tribe left. The Israelites were so angry at these unnecessary battles, they looked at the 600 Benjamites and said, "You deserved what you got! You should have surrendered the men! As it is, may you disappear as a tribe. Who know who you will marry, but not a single one of us will give you our daughters to marry, you are so disgusting to us!" And so they vowed before God, and so it was.

As the Israelites went home, and cooled off, they realized that their decision was rash. "Israel should not be missing a whole tribe—that would be disasterous for us all!" Having compassion for the Benjamites, the Israelites attacked the town of Jabesh-gilead and killed all the men and married women there. Out of that city was left four hundred unmarried women. So they invited four hundred of the Benjamites to live in that town and to marry those women.

"But" the compassionate Israelites said in turn, "What about the two hundred others? What shall they do for wives?" Then they remembered about the festival in a city named Shiloh. The unmarried women of Shiloh would prance out of the town once a year and dance in the fields. The Israelites then took the two hundred unmarried Benjamites left and brought them just out of Shiloh. In accordance with the Israelites instructions, the Benjamites hid in the fields, waited for the women to dance by, grabbed one woman each, kidnapping her and ravishing her. Thus were the final two hundred married, and each Israelite kept their vow to God.

In the Bible, this story ends, "There was in those days no king in Israel."


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