Puzzling the Bible 3
Image: The Wrath of Saul by Gary Locke, Clubhouse Magazine, March 2006, p. 18.
I started off this series with one idea in mind, and instead have ended up thinking about a lot of other things! First, let me give a shot at the original idea.
Here are my original questions:
- What does this picture represent?
- What do jigsaw puzzles have to do with the discussion on Psalm 51 that Suzanne has been facilitating?
Now that we have the full image it's pretty easy to tell what we're looking at. It is the face of King Saul as he asks Jonathan why David isn't at the meal:
24 So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon festival came, the king sat down to eat. 25 He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David's place was empty. 26 Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean--surely he is unclean.” 27 But the next day, the second day of the month, David's place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn't the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”
28 Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. 29 He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king's table.”
30 Saul's anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don't I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?
(1 Samuel 20:24-30, NIV)
So, that's the answer to the first question.
The answer to the second question is a bit more difficult partly because my thinking is a little muddled at this stage! I think my intention in asking the question was to call attention to our own cultural viewpoint when we look at stories in the Bible. If you look at the full image above, what do you see? I see a king with a golden crown on his head. I also notice the fork on his plate. What's wrong with this picture? It's pretty unlikely that Saul ever sat at a table on a red velvet throne! Imagine the art director for Clubhouse Magazine talking to the illustrator and saying, "For this story we want a picture of King Saul sitting at the table at the moment when he discovers that David is missing in 1 Samuel 20." Then the illustrator went to the drawing board and thought to himself, "What kind of picture can my young readers understand?" The result was this comical fellow looking like Good King Wenceslas on the Feast of Stephen. Does this image have any relation to the actual historical event?
On one hand, the illustration is helpful because it helps the young readers to imagine the scene. What's less helpful about it of course is that for many of the readers, they will forever imagine King Saul looking like this. And I think that happens to us a lot. It's hard for me to think about Jesus without seeing something like this:
Image: Christ in Gethsemane by Warner Sallman, Sallman Archives, Anderson University
And in the same way when we imagine the color of sin or purity in Psalm 51 we use our own culture to read back into the original text meaning that may or may not be there. For my Mozambican students, the image in the puzzle was a complete mystery. One student was able to identify Saul as a king because he was wearing um chapeu dum rei, a king's hat. But other than that, they didn't really know what the picture was supposed to refer to. Interestingly enough, Mozambicans probably have in their mind's eye a closer image of the original scene because African culture is in this case much closer to the culture at the time of Saul than American culture.
I ended the previous post with a few questions that I'll ask again here:
- How close is this image to your mental image of the original story? And would a Better Bible link the original story to our culture or help us bridge the cultural and historical divide? How would it do that?
- How do we exegete a text without creating a caricature? How do we translate a text without transmogrifying it?
- Did you discover the truth about the puzzle by assembling the pieces in your mind or by putting together the text? How do text and images interact?
- How did The Lord Of The Rings movies affect your enjoyment of the book? What about The Passion Of The Christ?
Today, I begin two intensive weeks of checking the Nyungwe translation of Mark and 1 Timothy. Each of us brings to the table a different image of the original text which affects the way we translate the text. Imagine the trouble we had several years ago translating this strange scene from Luke:
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.
(Luke 7:36-38, RSV)
How do you stand behind someone sitting "at the table" (36) and wash his feet and dry them with your hair?
Well, sorry to be rambling on incoherently like this but I have to run. I look forward to hearing your answers to the questions above.