“Ouch,” the Unkindest Cuts of All

During the years of my Jerusalem childhood I was raised in the Antiochian Orthodox tradition. My brothers and I served as altar boys in the St. Simeon’s Qatamoun Orthodox Church, a church we attended until the harassment, harangue, and stone throwing by interloping male Jewish children and adults became life-threatening.

Eventually we’d attend St. Andrews Church of Scotland as well as services at the YMCA, a prominent Jerusalem landmark. Most of the itinerant preachers at the YMCA were visiting tourists, mostly from the United States. The latter had to have been charismatic end-of-times preachers touched by Jerusalem’s beautiful landscape, a landscape that has since been blighted by Israel’s destruction of Palestine’s rich and variegated architectural heritage. The rolling hills of Jerusalem and Palestine are now dotted with obtuse 21st century high rise structures,  phallic edifices that have usurped and disfigured the quaint and serene Palestinian landscape in the same manner that Palestinian lives have been uprooted and brutalized by a so-called Holocaust surviving tribe.

Have the victims of Europe’s carnage not learned from history?

Like their modern day Evangelical counterparts, most of these American preachers seemed to take liberty in quoting lengthy, disjointed bible passages splattered with a plethora of screaming, foot stomping, hip’n thigh-bible-thumping gesticulations that increased in crescendo as “conviction,” whatever this means, took over and rendered the worship service into an inebriating circus of meaningless babble that I would years later encounter in a charismatic Ft. Worth, Texas, church and a few rural Arkansas churches..

Needless to say, these experiences of emotional religious outbursts chiseled at my core beliefs. While I’ve not migrated away from core beliefs, at 75, I’ve become more wizened to religiosity, including the use and abuse of religion as a tool to justify wars, violence against the have nots, and the justification that God is “on our side because we are His people.”  And I tire of hearing preachers chant the phrase “God’s people.”

Today Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in every corner of this miserable world are fighting age-old hatreds to justify their theft of others’ lands, resources, and cultural heritage.

La Belle Femme and I attend her childhood church and belong to an adult Sunday School class with an evenly equal number of members of the right and left leanings. I am pleased to report that each side respects the other’s views; cordiality has been and will continue to be our guiding light, for after all, we gather to read and study the scripture and abide by its message of love and harmony, and a strong “do unto others” core values.

In recent years different class members have led the discussions. I did so for a while and opted out only because I have very strong sentiments (call me a heretic) that much of the Old Testament scripture passages that preach violence, ethnocentricity, and “The God is on my side” mindset that “grants me” the right to do as I wish are not core beliefs that I espouse or wish to discuss.

These passages are not the inerrant, infallibly inspired words of God, as Evangelicals would have you believe. Rather, they were handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the other.

The text for 22 November 2020 Sunday School’s lesson (held on Zoom) is from 2 Samuel which describes King David’s moving the Arc of the Covenant to Jerusalem, a text that, in addition to describing David’s breaking the law, exposes him for what he is: a self-aggrandizing egotistical character who,  during his celebratory dance-moments, exposes himself to his maid slaves (yes, slavery was a common practice in Israelite society), a kind of Anthony Weiner/Jeffrey Toobin moment. The text states that:

When David returned home to bless his household, Saul’s daughter Michal came out to meet him. “How the king of Israel honored himself today!” she said. “He exposed himself today in the sight of the slave girls of his subjects like a vulgar person would expose himself.”

Poor Micha! The young maiden is bartered off in what appears to be expediently arranged and politically motivated marriages.

Today’s lesson was led by a cherished friend and an esteemed educator, a former Dean of the College of education. Earlier today I penned the following to her and copied four others.

Greetings, Friend, and Others,

As Usual, Outstanding Lesson.

Towards the end, when C. mentioned David’s killing of 100 Philistines. I was about to interject – but decided not to detract from your outstanding ability to take a text full of legalistic narrative and narcissistic behavior and turn it into a parable about humanity’s  relationship to God and the perennial struggle between  Good and Bad, Righteousness and Evil, Faith and Religiosity.

My comment would have been: Saul asked David to deliver the lives of 100 Philistines to him. Seems like the Israelites were given a carte blanche by their God to kill, willy nilly, the undesirables in calamitous beheadings and ritualistic carnage in which tens of thousands are slaughtered.  And as proof of this murderously frivolous crime, David was asked to deliver 100 Philistine foreskins as proof of his sadistically serial Freudian targeted assassinations. The Gallant warrior he was, David doubled the number. He killed 200 Philistines, clipped their foreskins in a most matter of  “factly” fashion, delivered them to Saul as payment (I call it the monstrously ‘ouchy’ barbarous dowry) for his daughter’s hand.  To extrapolate on the biblical text, did David carry the bag of male mutilation into Saul’s court and count  the 200 trophies, one by one, laying them out on the altar of sadism (or perhaps pegging them on a totem pole) for all to see these 200  ‘unkindest cuts of all’?

Aside from the glorification of this sadistically barbarous and brazen crime, was David’s transgression a paganistic act of a deep-seated Freudian castration, a kind of primitive ethnic cleansing?

I’d give anything to see a Steven Spielberg Hollywood reenactment of this most barbarically pagan orgy.

To wit the following: What the Israelis are doing to Palestinians is no different from what their co-religionist ancestors did to the ancient Philistines, Jebusites, and Canaanites. If the Old Testament accounts are true, then the God of the Israelites had to have had genocidal tendencies of great magnitude.

Too bad those who write our SS lessons get caught up in legal technicalities and absurd commentary – with selective texts that render Higher Truth to formulaically legalistic narratives that leave us with tiny morsels of moral instruction. Those who lead the discussions always rise above this abuse and misuse of biblical texts and leave us with spiritual sustenance. Having attempted to lead discussions in the past, and having struggled with texts with which I have serious questions, I admire each of the discussion leaders. Thank you, J.H., for a job well done.

And, on a closing note, King David is hardly the example I would use for a leader whose lack of integrity, moral fortitude, honesty, decency, humility and exemplary character I would hold up as exemplary traits in sermons or public discourse. And the Jeffresses, Hagees, Grahams, Hucksterbys,  who use King David as a prototype to condone and excuse the actions and behavior of today’s villainous and badly flawed characters, are merely whitewashing all the pain and misery inflicted on American citizens and across the globe, a kind of orgiastic and pagan ritual of “foreskinning”  and mutilation of  the weak, the dispossessed, the down and out,   the meek, and defenseless masses whom the Palestinian Jew, the Christ of Nazareth, chose as his audience, and with whom he broke bread, tended to and healed their wounds, and gave them hope – Hope Eternal.

Salam to you, Dear Friends, Raouf

Within the hour J.J., Professor of Chemistry and Dean Emeritus of Natural Sciences, sent the following response:

And on that note, I must relate an old 1964 Dr. Blackman story. We were discussing in Hebrew Heritage the Old Testament battles and the taking of foreskins. One young lady raised her hand and asked, “Do you have to kill a man to take his foreskin?” Dr. Blackman quickly replied, ‘You’d have to kill me to take mine.’  Pandemonium broke out.

On Sunday, November 22, 2020, I celebrated my 75th birthday, and here is how I responded to a birthday wish from J.J.:  “Even though reliance on a heating pad, Ben Gay, Melatonin, knee surgery, a temporary  walking stick, Arthur-itis, stiff joints, reading glasses,  and occasional memory lapses are becoming  more frequent inevitabilities, the best is yet to come.”

For Dinner La Belle Femme had steak, a large baked potato, asparagus, and my favorite desert, a Pecan (Peecan) Pie.

Popping the cap off the bottle of champagne has never sounded more delightful.

Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist. halabys7181@outlook.com