The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 5:51:22

Subjectivity in antiquity

Katie van Schaijik, Jan 29, 2018

The Old Testament daily mass readings lately have been telling the story of David, and day by day I am struck by the way they reveal the priority of subjectivity. Today's is typical. It's from the second book of Samuel. An informant tells David that the hearts of the people have turned against him and toward his son Absolom. In deep anguish, he and his men flee Jerusalem. Along the way, a man from Saul's family comes out of his house and begins shouting curses and throwing stones at David and his company.

"Away, away, you murderous and wicked man!
The LORD has requited you for all the bloodshed in the family of Saul,
in whose stead you became king,
and the LORD has given over the kingdom to your son Absalom.
And now you suffer ruin because you are a murderer."

One of David's officers wants to kill the man for his insolence. He has committed a capital offense in hurling curses at the king. According to the law, he deserves to die.

"Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?
Let me go over, please, and lop off his head."

But David responds:

"What business is it of mine or of yours,
sons of Zeruiah, that he curses?
Suppose the LORD has told him to curse David;
who then will dare to say, 'Why are you doing this?'"

In other words, as David see it,  the prime moral truth of this man's action may well be that God inspired him to do it. Note that he isn't exactly speaking of the man's motivations. He's not saying, "What he's doing is objectively wrong, but maybe he means well, so I'll be merciful." Rather, he is humbly acknowledging the mystery of the way God acts providentially in and through human persons. In that light, everything changes. The barrage of insults is not a criminal offense, but a just chastening from God.

David recognizes it, because he is attuned to interiority, his own and others'.