Friday 15 May 2009

Walter Brueggemann on 1 and 2 Samuel (2)

Walter Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990).

The books of Samuel present the transformation of Israel from a ‘marginal company of tribes’ to a ‘centralized state’. Judges witnesses to ‘an amorphous and unstable tribal mode of life, easily open to religious idolatry, syncretism, and political and military barbarism’, whereas 1 Kings attests to ‘a centralized political power that pursued an economic monopoly and claimed theological legitimacy for the new institution of monarchy’, and the books of Samuel ‘occupy the transition point between these two social and political systems’ (1).

Brueggemann suggests that three factors are at work in this transition: (1) the influence of political power, social pressure, and technological possibility; (2) the transition wrought through the extraordinary personality of David; (3) Yahweh, the God of Israel (1-2).

The books of Samuel speak about ‘the tension, overlap, juxtaposition, and convergence of these three forces’ – the sociological, personal, and theological (2).

‘I submit that the main challenge is to interpret this narrative with attention to all three elements of political and social realism, the peculiar power of David, and the inscrutable presence of Yahweh’ (3).

Against an excessively ‘historical’ reading of the books and an excessively ‘theological’ reading of the books, Brueggemann suggests that ‘an artistic reading that follows the contours of the narrative is not only faithful to the intended convergences of the text concerning realism, David, and Yahweh but is peculiarly required in our cultural situation of brute power and monopolistic certitude’ (5).

He points particularly to the power of speech in the narratives, and hopes that a return to the text will ‘evoke a fresh discernment of life as a place where the power of speaking and listening matters to God and to us’ (6).

No comments: