Saturday, January 03, 2009

Constituent myth and its trauma

The story of David defeating the Philistine champion Goliath in a duel is famous. And how important David's figure is for the mythical genealogy of Israel, this I do not need to point out. The short youngster, the eighth son of Saul's servant Jesse, who came out bearing only his sling and five stones and faced this giant جالوت (Jalut, and Julyat in the Arabic religious texts) has been a great hit in storytelling. Generations of children have been introduced to the myth, which may also carry along moral conclusions, such as "one may be small, but one may be a lion", "it is the character that grants victory", or rather "God decides on power, according to faith and strong belief".
Caravaggio's David and beheaded Goliath
I do not believe that I will ever forget those multicoloured pictures with David showing the severed head of his gigantic opponent to the crowds and the Philistines fleeing away. I am happily tempted to agree with the views of several scholars such as Azzan Yadin and Martin Litchfield West that the description of the scene and of Goliath's armour in particular, brings strong the perfume of Greek imagery, from the various Homeric duels which took place under the walls of Troy. And that the metallic armour fits better the description of a Greek armour of the 6th cent. B.C. than a Philistine one of the 10th cent B.C. Let it be this way or the other, texts travel and create harmonious or clashing commonwealths of their own, stronger and more long-lasting compared to the ones marked on the political atlas.
I remember that during the start of the 1st intifada (1987) I was impressed by the reversal of the biblical scene. The Philistine shabab were throwing philistine stones, many times using their slings, or bare hands, against the invading tanks (armors) of the Israeli army. It seemed that Goliath had shifted sides meanwhile. Did you take a look at the hundreds armors which surround the Gaza Strip, promising nothing good at all? Now David is جالوت and he plays safe.

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