Part II: Battle Narrative in the Bible

Part II traces the ways in which the heroic and royal patterns are used and reshaped in the historical books of the Bible. Exodus 14 contains arguable the most important narrative which tells how the Lord alone, without any human assistance except for Moses raising his staff, defeats the Egyptians at the Red Sea. This story asserts the fundamental theme in the Bible: The Lord is the hero.

Chapter 5 examines the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17), which closely follows the heroic pattern with the exception of the unlikely hero. While the traditional hero typically manifests the ideals of manly strength and virtue, David is a boy, an unlikely hero, and this motif recurs throughout the biblical tradition. Chapter 6 examines this motif first in the story of Judith which reshapes the heroic pattern for her triumph over Holophernes. The Book of Judges likewise tells of the victories of other unlikely heroes often with their weapon of deception: the left-handed Ehud, the woman Jael, the frightened Gideon, the bastard Jephthah, and the blinded Samson. In each case, the unlikely hero points to the basic biblical theme: The Lord is the hero.

Chapter 7 explores the royal pattern which celebrates the relationship between the king and the deity. In the book that bears his name, Joshua shows himself the most faithful servant of his Lord. The pattern also shapes a number of the stories in 2 Chronicles as well as the stories about the kings of Judah. The kings of Israel, however, introduce a new tension with the prophet who represents the Lord. The main tension of these comedies turns on the recognition of the Lord as the true hero, a recognition that the kings of Israel are loathed to give. As such, these stories are less about a battle with a foreign enemy and more about the tension within our community.

Chapter 8 explores battle and defeat which runs contrary to the traditional pattern. This break with the tradition can be a sign of a shift of allegiance to history and the reality of defeat. The death of the enemy hero is comic in the sense that it must be celebrated because the threat to our life and values and culture has ended. However, some death is tragic–the result of sin or flaw or fate. This death evokes sadness and pity, and we find it in the stories of David the King and most especially in the death of Saul and his Jonathan.


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Mighty in Battle by Harry Hagan, OSB, © Saint Meinrad Archabbey, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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