Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Homoerotic (and Naked!) Ecstacy of the Prophets of Ancient Israel

David and Saul (1885) by Julius Kronberg.

Get ready for this amazing Queer interpretation of the Old Testament, which comes from "Jacob's Wound: Homoerotic Narrative in the Literature of Ancient Israel" by Theodore W. Jennings Jr.

Saul was told, "David is at Naioth in Ramah." Then Saul sent messengers to take David. When they saw the company of prophets in a frenzy, with Samuel standing in charge of them, the spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also fell into a prophetic frenzy. When Saul was told, he sent other messengers, and they also fell into a frenzy. Saul sent messengers again a third time, and they also fell into a frenzy. Then he himself went to Ramah.... He went there, toward Naioth in Ramah; and the spirit of God came upon him. As he was going, he fell into a prophetic frenzy, until he came to Naioth in Ramah. He too stripped off his clothes, and he too fell into a frenzy before Samuel. He lay naked all that day and all that night. Therefore it is said, "Is Saul also among the prophets?" (19:19-24)

When Samuel told the youthful Saul that he was the Lord's chosen, Samuel also told him that he would receive three signs that he was indeed the one favored by Adonai. In the third sign, Samuel said:

You will meet a band of prophets coming down from the shrine with harp, tambourine, flute and lyre playing in front of them; they will be in a prophetic frenzy. Then the spirit of the LORD will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person. (10:5-6)

The Queer interpretation Theodore makes of these Biblical passages is scholarly and fascinating. Here are some highlights:

The element upon which I want to particularly focus is the notice that Saul stripped off his clothes and lay naked for a day and a night. What has nakedness to do with prophetic frenzy?

...we may also note an intriguing parallel between the initial description of the band of prophets and the description that anticipated David's dancing before the ark. In both cases we have groups of men dancing; in both we have them accompanied by the wild music of lyre, flute, tambourine, and harp. Is the whole tale of David's dance before the ark modeled on the behavior of these ecstatic "prophets"? Is David, who is king and who will act as priest when the ark arrives at its destination, also taking the role of prophet in his own ecstatic dancing before the Lord?

There too we are told through the words of Michal that David's dancing was a naked cavorting. That is, nakedness seems to be a part of the ecstatic response to being possessed by YHWH.* It was the nakedness of David there that signaled to Michal his unfitness to be king, or so she said. But more than that, it was the naked cavorting that had awakened her sexual jealousy.

This brings us back to Saul dancing, throwing off his clothes in orgiastic ecstacy, and then falling into a swoon where he lies naked for a day and a night. We first observe that Saul's stripping off his clothes is identified as something that he has in common with the others who are in ecstatic frenzy: "He too stripped off his clothes." Getting naked is not something that distinguishes Saul from the other cavorting nabi'im but rather his identification with them. Naked cavorting is something "prophets" do.

What this episode is suggesting is that being possessed by Adonai leads males to whirl and writhe in naked ecstasy. The possession by the spirit of the Lord is an overpoweringly erotic, indeed sexual, experience.

I was raised in a Jewish household, dutifully went to Sunday School (though I often complained about it being boooo-ring), and at 13 was Bar-Mitzvah-ed.

Somehow, this fascinating and homo-positive history of what these Ancient Prophets of Israel did (the naked-ecstatic-dancing-cavorting-gay-orgies part...) was left out of my education.

What a shame. It would have made things a lot more interesting back then...

Well, at least we know about it now, right?

Hope you enjoyed learning about this as much as I did.


*YHWH is an intentionally un-pronounceable acronym for "God," which is part of the Jewish tradition of not writing out the word "God" but using other symbols and words to represent that idea. Other usages you may see include "G-d" and "Yahweh" instead of the Hebrew word for God, "Adonai." In Theodore's text, he distinguishes the character of God as portrayed in the Bible from the concept of God, and his use of YHWH represents the character of God in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament.

The quotes above are from pgs 83 - 93.

1 comment:

Em said...

I don't know how much you care, but "Adonai" is actually a textual dodge, too - it translates as "My lord". Traditional Hebrew texts write the word for G-d as YHVH with the vowels for the word "adonai" to remind people to pronounce the name like that.

Love your blog, by the way. =]