I taped a TV show last week on Absalom, one of the sons of King David. I’ve never paid much attention to his story before but it’s an awfully juicy one. If it were a play in two acts, the first would treat his fratricide — his eldest brother has raped their sister and Absalom avenges her – and the second his almost-successful campaign to overthrow his father and take the throne. Lots of interesting things happen along the way. An advisor turns traitor, a crop is burned for small political gain, Absalom flees Jerusalem and returns, David flees Jerusalem and returns, a spy is used effectively, a wise woman is manipulated into making a prophetic comment and adds a comment of her own, and there’s a kind of truth and reconciliation affair at the very end. Absalom even has a cool death. While he’s fleeing the battlefield, his mule passes under a tree and he is caught in the branches. David’s commander is led to the spot and, against David’s instructions to deal gently with his son, kills him. David dies not long afterwards, probably from grief.
What I didn’t point out on the show (for several reasons) were the parallels between Absalom and Jesus, parallels that become all the more interesting in light of my interlocutor’s argument to the effect that Absalom’s sin was perfection. There’s a Jewish argument for you, and no surprise coming from an Orthodox rabbi: “be perfect” is just not advice that works for Jews. That argument is his and I cannot duplicate it here. It has to do with Absalom’s much touted physical perfection, his restraint as a life-long Nazirite, his apparent lack of regular human relationships, and his inability to tolerate the injustices endemic to regimes. But I can say in more detail what’s mine.
-Absalom is born to the most illustrious father and a lowly mother (his mother was a captured slave woman).
-we have no childhood stories; after the account of his birth he re-enters the narrative in his prime.
-he is very beautiful.
-he is a defender of women.
-he believes the ruling regime in Jerusalem to be unjust, and makes the idea known.
-he starts a revolution to defeat the Jewish leadership.
-he rides a mule.
-someone refuses to betray him for 10 (or 1000) pieces of silver; he is nevertheless betrayed.
-he ends up hanging from a tree, pierced by spears.
-his body is taken down and placed into a pit, which is then sealed.
-he is much mourned by his father.
What might happen when you tie my argument about the parallels to my interlocutor’s argument that Absalom’s sin was to be too perfect could be very interesting, and might give a whole new spin to the scorn in which Absalom is held by the Jewish tradition.