Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The South Will Rise Again

You learn something new every day.  It's one of the joys of being truly alive.

This is especially true if you take your time with something, and really pay attention to it.  You notice detail and nuance that eluded you before.  You grasp a thing more deeply, because you're really attending to it.

I had just such an experience during the three month course I recently taught on the Deuteronomic Histories.  Meaning, if that term doesn't just pop something right to mind, the cycle of biblical stories about ancient Judah and Israel that begins with 1 Samuel and ends with 2 Kings.

I'd read them before, perhaps a dozen times over the course of my ministry and seminary education.  I cranked through 'em in two weeks for my Hebrew Bible coursework.  The stories, all faintly familiar through the pastel haze of Sunday School.  Saul the struggling psychotic.  David and Goliath.  David, the imperfect, soft-hearted poet-King.  Solomon and all his shiny golden wisdom.  

But in the rush of study and the granular picturebook isolation of individual tales, a larger truth hadn't quite seeped through into my awareness.

This year, I spent months moving slowly through those stories with my adult education class.  As week of careful class prep followed week of careful class prep, something came into focus.

Though the history we have was told from the perspective of Jerusalem...a perspective that was buffed, polished and retold centuries later by the revisionist, hagiographic Chronicler...Judah was the runt of the litter.  

From the time of Jeroboam's rebellion, through the Omride Dynasty and on to the final fall of Israel, Judah was considerably weaker than her Northern neighbor Israel.  Even as presented by its own storyteller, Judah was less wealthy, had a weaker army, and was more likely to be kicked around by the other powers in the region.  Again and again, tribute was wrung out of Judah, which strove and fumbled for power.

In the North, there was real power and significant dynasties and regional recognition.  In the South?  Dreams of what once was, of a heritage squandered.

It's a strange dynamic, writ into an ancient story.

And so odd, how history somehow manages to create the same familiar disharmonies, over and over again.