1. I finished Randall Short’s The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David. Randall aims to refute a notion within biblical scholarship that the History of David’s Rise in I Samuel 16-II Samuel 5 was an apology for David’s replacement of King Saul and accession to the throne of Israel. According to this view, opponents of David viewed David as a bloodthirsty terrorist who murdered his enemies, and so the History of David’s Rise was composed to explain away their concerns so that the Davidic king could rule in peace. Scholars have compared the History of David’s Rise to the Hittite Apology of Hattusili.
If I were to write a book review of Randall’s book—for a class or for publication—I would read the Apology of Hattusili in The Context of Scripture, which is at my school’s library. I may do so at some point, or I may not. The reason I’d do so is to see if I agree with Randall’s characterization of it. Randall made an effective argument when he pointed out that the Apology of Hattusili emphasizes Hattusili’s royal blood-line, whereas the History of David’s Rise acknowledges that David lacked royal blood. But Randall also contends that the Apology of Hattusili is flat in its depiction of the characters—Hattusili is good, and his enemies are bad—whereas the History of David’s Rise highlights good and bad characteristics in both David and Saul. I wonder, though, if the Apology of Hattusili is thoroughly flat—in the sense that it portrays Hattusili as flawless. That may be something for me to check out, at some point!
On page 194, Randall cites Steven McKenzie, who refuses to take the biblical narrative at face value because its presentation of David contradicts how other Middle Eastern kings acted, as well as “human nature in general”. McKenzie and other scholars think that David in real life was worse than his character in the History of David’s Rise. But Randall wonders why we should necessarily think the worse of David.
What’s ironic is that McKenzie is basically upholding a Christian belief in human corruption, even as Randall appears to acknowledge some goodness in human nature in his attempt to defend the biblical narrative. This sort of issue pops up in other contexts. Many Christians dislike postmodernism because it questions the existence of absolute truth. But postmodernism’s point is that people promulgate narratives in order to safeguard their own selfish interests—money, power, etc. Postmodernism’s view of human nature looks rather Christian! The difference is that many Christians (at least several of the conservative ones) would deny that the Bible is tainted by the selfishness of human nature, presumably because it’s a divine book.
I’m also reminded of something a friend and a colleague of mine once said to me. He’s a conservative evangelical, and he criticized historical-critics for projecting their own characteristics onto the biblical authors: because they’re selfish, the biblical authors must have been self-seeking, they seem to assume. But my friend wondered why we should assume the worse about the biblical authors. I’m with him on that. But why should we always assume the worse about human nature period? Christianity made a contribution to anthropology when it said that humans are selfish and corrupt, but is that the sum total of what human nature is about?
Another point: I wish Randall had fleshed out a little more how the History of David’s Rise would have functioned for ancient Israel. He says that it upheld the election of David and of Israel in a time when the nation was vulnerable. For Randall, it’s virtually impossible to attach that to a specific historical context, for there were many times in Israel’s history when she was vulnerable and needed assurance. But I’m curious about what kinds of situations the History of David’s Rise could have been addressing. When Joab kills Abner in the story, what is the message for ancient Israel? In my post, Joab and Gedaliah?; Neusner and the Hillel and Shammai Passages, I refer to Randall’s statement that the story warns Israel of “the ongoing threat against God’s elect from the treachery and lies of enemies, whether from within or without” (126). But I wonder what a specific historical example of such treachery and lies would be.
I enjoyed Randall’s book. Now, I’m going to move on to a book by another friend of mine named Randall: Randall Heskett’s Messianism within the Scriptural Scrolls of Isaiah. I’m interested in this issue for a couple of reasons. First, in my Harvard Divinity School thesis, I tried to demonstrate that Isaiah 11 and 53 were Messianic, but my professor said that I was projecting a later construct (Messianism, in an eschatological sense) onto biblical books. Randall Heskett appears to wrestle with this sort of issue in his work.
Second, I’ve been interested in Second-Third Isaiah lately. When Duhm says that the Servant Songs were from the time of Third Isaiah (Israel’s post-exilic period) and were incorporated into Second Isaiah, I wonder what he has in mind. Why were the Servant Songs incorporated into Second Isaiah, and what were they referring to? Does Randall interact with these sorts of issues? He does discuss Duhm, so we shall see!
2. I finally finished Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. Here are some points:
First of all, you know how liberals criticize Reaganomics (lower income tax rates) because they think the rich will just sit on their money and not use it to stimulate the economy? Hazlitt’s response to that kind of argument (in the 1940’s) is that saving actually helps the economy. When the rich put their money in the bank, it can then be lent out to people so they can start businesses.
Second, Hazlitt makes points that are relevant to our current economic climate, probably because he was writing not long after the Great Depression! He said that people hoard money because of economic uncertainty, which occurs because they don’t know how the government will interfere in the economic sphere. We hear this argument from conservatives today: people are reluctant to invest their money, because there’s a possibility that their taxes will go up, or new regulations will be put into place.
Third, Hazlitt defends profits (which were criticized even in his day) because they provide an incentive for people to take the sorts of economic risks that create jobs. That may be true. But I wonder how Hazlitt would respond to the gross escalation of profits, on the level of hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as the recent phenomenon of CEOs running their companies into the ground and getting rich doing so.
Fourth, Hazlitt made the claim that printing more money leads to inflation. But, as economist Bruce Bartlett points out here, there is now more money in circulation, and yet we’re experiencing deflation. The reason is that the money is not being used. People aren’t spending or borrowing money to create new businesses. The money is just sitting there. Bartlett’s argument (if I understood it correctly) is that people will start spending if they realize that inflation is right around the corner.