Flipping through my beloved New York Times is the sacred ritual that jump-starts my morning. Yesterday, I opened the paper and read “Time Stops in an Italian Village to Honor the Madonna.” The article recounted how for 500 years in the village of Guardia Sanframondi, every seven years the locals participate in a colorful festival where they reenact Biblical stories. I was expecting a quaint human-interest piece, a chance to escape the violence that bludgeons me with every CNN update. I glanced at the article’s photo caption: “Above, re-enacting the Bible, a resident dressed as Samuel anointed a young boy playing David, Israel’s future king."
I had written about the anointing of David in my new historical novel, David and the Philistine Woman. Clearly, the Times photo of a bearded man clutching a knife while restraining a helpless boy was not of Samuel anointing David. Okay, the New York Times makes precious few mistakes. This was one. I realized that the mislabeled photo actually showed a re-enactment of Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac. I hastily emailed the New York Times. They corrected the caption online.
I was struck that in these anguished times, we are assaulted everywhere by images of violence—real or threatened—even when we least expect them. A sublime tableau of anointing can be replaced by a scene of human sacrifice. Ironic, because the very thing that drew me to write about Samuel anointing David in “David and the Philistine Woman” was its gentleness:
“At first, the liquid touched David with the gentle warmth of summer rain. Then it grew hot as bread baking in his mother’s oven. From somewhere deep within him, came a joy too absolute for his mind to grasp, a joy too complete for his lips to shape into words. In that moment, he discovered a place in his heart that he never knew existed, a hidden wellspring that connected him to all things out of the past, and all things yet to come. His face was flushed and his breath came quickly, as if he was climbing a high mountain. He was ascending at such a pace now that his feet left the earth and he flew, soaring all the way to the summit. From there, he was poised to enter a world beyond imagining.”
The moment when Samuel anoints David is one of the most spiritual in my novel “David and the Philistine Woman.” As depicted in the Hebrew Bible, it is a turning point in the history of religion: When Samuel anoints David as king, he is choosing the ruler who will lead the united kingdoms of Israel and Judah to greatness, the ruler who will make Jerusalem his capital and will father Solomon, builder of the First Temple. Most importantly, David is anointed to be the ruler who, in Jewish and Christian belief, will establish the bloodline of the Messiah.
In our WiFi-strangled world, it is easy to forget that sometimes the most meaningful events are the most difficult to capture, even with the latest iPhone. It is easy to forget that sometimes the most profound moments are also the most peaceful. Sometimes history can be made without shedding a drop of blood.
For a copy of David and the Philistine Woman click here.