Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Rape Victim Jailed, Denied Eme... | College Students Are Really Cl... »

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bad King David

posted by on January 30 at 13:43 PM

This man is Pierre Bayle:

He lived a long time ago (November 18, 1647 December 28, 1706), he was French, a Calvinist, and author of Historical and Critical Dictionary, a book that was enormously popular in his day. Bayle is now forgotten. Little thought is spent on his turbulent life and the great influence his writings had on the enlightenment. Why dig up this forgotten thinker now? For the eyes and edification of forgetful American Christians.

Central to all of Bayle’s brilliant ideas and opinions was his position that reason could not explain God. Human reason was too limited to comprehend Him and so faith in Him could not be reasoned. Like God’s ways, faith had to be mysterious. Bayle’s famous illustration of this point was made in the Historical and Critical Dictionary. It concerned King David, who, Bayle explained, was a criminal, a murderer, a rapist, an adulterer, and adored by God. Evil King David was chosen, elected, loved by the King of Kings. To human reason, this is clearly unacceptable; it wants to judge King David as a criminal and have him punished. And so, Bayle concluded, human reason is not compatible with His mysterious reasoning. If this were not the case, then God would have punished the bad man and rewarded a good one. Because humans have no idea what God is really up to, Bayle advocated humility and tolerance in all areas of life. To be an intolerant Christian, to force your beliefs on other people, was to act as if you knew God’s mind, grace, and plan. But the only thing you, as a Christian, as a human, could know about God is simply and finally your belief in God. That’s it. To reason Him to yourself and to others is to be arrogant, overconfident.

Bayle died in tolerant Rotterdam.

RSS icon Comments


King David was punished. After his affair with Bat-Sheva, and carefully arranging the death of her husband, the prophet Nathan told him an allegory about a man who stole a sheep despite having plenty of his own. David realized it was an allegory and exclaimed, "Ben-mavet hu!" meaning "He's a capital criminal." He then asked who this criminal was, and Nathan explained that he, David, was the criminal.

If you look in Dvarim (I forget the name in English, but it's the fifth book of the Torah), you find that the punishment for the theft of a sheep is that the thief must pay back four sheep. For causing the death of Uriah the Hittite, Bat-Sheva's husband, G-d took from David four sons, the child he conceived with Bat-Sheva; Amnon, killed by his other son Absalom after Amnon raped Tamar, his half sister and Absalom's full sister; Absalom, when Yoav killed him after Absalom attempted to seize David's throne; and Adoniyah, killed after he tried to steal the throne from Solomon.

Also, as he had too much blood on his hands from the conquest of the Philistines, he was denied the honor of building G-d's Temple in Jerusalem. That honor was left to his son, Solomon.

Posted by Gitai | January 30, 2007 2:12 PM

Most of that punishment was meted out to other family members, who were nasty pieces of work in their own right, not to David himself.

Posted by keshmeshi | January 30, 2007 2:23 PM

Yes, but the losses were horribly painful to David as well. He wept and fasted to repent in the hopes G-d would not kill the child, and famously said, "My son, Absalom! My son, my son, Absalom! Would God I had died instead of thee, Absalom, my son, my son!" That's the most dramatic one, but he was pretty upset over the death of Amnon and Adoniyah as well.

Posted by Gitai | January 30, 2007 2:39 PM

There is a gaping hole in Bayle's argument and it goes like this: Comprehensible knowledge is prepositional. Knowledge of why God favors David would take the form of knowing "that God favors David because of x". If such prepositional knowledge as "that God favors David because of x" is impossible because one cannot know the mind of God, then such prepositional knowledge as "that God favors David" is similarly impossible.

I agree with Bayle's conclusion, but his argument is incohesive.

Posted by Dakota Solberg | January 30, 2007 2:48 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).