Monday, October 20, 2008

Of Textual Analysis and Presidental Elections

Some time ago I was reading a book by a fellow named Rex Mason and I came across this passage:
It is difficult to know exactly how the 'kingship' to which Saul was appointed was understood. There are conflicting accounts of how he came to be made king. In 1 Samuel 8, the people come to Samuel and demand a king, much to Samuel's displeasure. In 1 Samuel 9.1-10.1, Samuel, the prophet, is directed by God to anoint Saul, who turns up at his house asking for an oracle to guide him to his father's lost sheep. In 1 Samuel 10.17-25, Saul is chosen by lot at an assembly of the Israelites convened by Samuel. In 1 Samuel 11, Saul is designated because of his military prowess against the threat of the Ammonites and is 'made king' at Gilgal.

In the midst of all this confusion, Mason concludes that this jumble results from pro-David, anti-Saul propaganda cranked out by the Davidic court, obscuring the truth about how Saul really became king.

I find this sort of interpretation terribly aggravating not because Mason ignores the claims of Scripture as God's revelation and in the process badmouths one of my favorite Old Testament figures. No, I find the interpretation of Mason and those like him aggravating because it's so darn uncreative. Are they so naive as to believe that coronations are always cut and dry affairs, and any other sort of account must have been manipulated?

Let us assume that years from now a Masonite analyst is reading over an account of our own times; his commentary might run something like this:
It is difficult to know exactly how the 'presidency' to which George W. Bush was elected was understood. There are conflicting accounts of how he came to office. In 1 Linderman 8, a faction of the people come to Bush and 'nominate' him president. In 1 Linderman 9.1-10.1, Bush loses the popular vote of an election, and presumably the office. But in 1 Linderman 10.17-25, Bush wins the votes of a body known as the 'Supreme Court,' which does not make him president, but allows him to win an election in one particular state, called Florida. In 1 Linderman 11, Bush wins yet another election, this one in a body called the 'Electoral College'. Then in 2 Linderman 1 Bush is 'sworn into office' by a judge, election by yet another means.

Clearly, nothing that complex could ever have really happened...

This post first appeared on the Quincy House blog in September 2007, under the title, "A Note on Textual Analysis."
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